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Strange facts about the Civil War – families divided by the war

Updated on February 17, 2012
Abraham Lincoln was plagued by questions of Mary Todd Lincoln's loyalties.
Abraham Lincoln was plagued by questions of Mary Todd Lincoln's loyalties. | Source

When running for the Senate in 1858, Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Students of history know that the Civil War created divisions with friends and sometimes family finding themselves on opposite sides. Sometimes the fighting was philosophical, but the fighting was often literal.

  • Union Brigadier General Edmund Kirby was the cousin of Confederate General Kirby Smith.
  • Union Major General George Meade’s sister was married to Confederate Brigadier General Henry A. Wise.
  • Union Brigadier General John Wood was a second cousin of Confederate Brigadier General Benjamin H. Helm, who was married to Mary Todd Lincoln’s half sister.

  • Brigadier General Philip St. George Cooke fought for the Union. His son, Brigadier General John Rogers Cooke, fought for the Confederacy, as did his son-in-law, Lt. General J.E.B. Stuart.
  • Fractured families literally went all the way to the top. Abraham Lincoln may have been the foremost Union man, but his in-laws were equally staunch Confederates. Mary Todd’s sisters were all married to Confederate officers, including General Benjamin H. Helm, who was killed at Chickamauga. Four Todd brothers also served in the Confederate army. One of them, Lt. David P. Todd, was charged with brutalizing Union prisoners in Richmond. The Todd’s well-known secessionist beliefs fueled a great deal of speculation about Mary’s loyalties, and at one point, Senate members of the Committee on the Conduct of the War met to consider charges of treason against her.

Jeb Stuart was one of many Confederate soldiers with families ties to Union men.
Jeb Stuart was one of many Confederate soldiers with families ties to Union men. | Source
  • Frederick Hubbard was a Confederate soldier in the Washington Artillery of New Orleans. His brother, Henry, served the Union in the 1st Minnesota Infantry. The brothers had not seen each other for seven years when both were wounded in battle at Bull Run, and ended up in adjoining beds in the makeshift hospital.
  • From the first battle of the war, fractured friendships were apparent. Major Robert Anderson commanded the Union troops at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Anderson, a West Point graduate, was so adept an artillery pupil that his instructor had taken the almost unheard-of step of keeping him at the Academy after graduation to serve as a teaching assistant. That instructor, P.G.T. Beauregard, was the Confederate artillery commander that opened fire on the fort.

  • It’s hard to imagine a more devoted Confederate than Stonewall Jackson. His sister, Laura, was equally as fervent in her devotion to the Union. In one message she wrote that she could “take care of wounded Federals as fast as brother Thomas could wound them.”

Stonewall Jackson may have been unbeatable on the field, but he was unable to convince his sister to support the Confederacy.
Stonewall Jackson may have been unbeatable on the field, but he was unable to convince his sister to support the Confederacy. | Source
  • The state of Missouri contributeed 39 regiments to the siege of Vicksburg – 17 Confederate and 22 Union.
  • At one point in the war, the Confederate 7th Tennessee Regiment captured the entire Union 7th Tennessee Regiment, down to the last drummer and cook.
  • Divided loyalties weren’t evident only on the battlefield. Union guards arrested a pretty young woman for smuggling quinine to Confederate troops when they discovered she had sewn the medicine into her skirts. She was released from Washington’s Old Capital prison when she was identified as Louisa P. Buckner, niece of Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General of the United States.


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    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 

      7 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      My favorite quote in your article was Laura Jackson's. Deacon Tom probably chuckled, too.

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 

      7 years ago from Corona, California.

      Hi Angie, A very well written, and obviously, well researched article. There were a lot of families divided through history. The Civil War was one of the most outstanding because it was so close to home.

      If you look at households today, there are a lot of political and relgious differences within families, mostly political. I know of families that don't even communicate because of "stupid" political differences. Well done. Greg

    • wayseeker profile image


      7 years ago from Colorado

      I love the Civil War and have always known that there were many families divided by its fallout. I'm surprised, however, to learn more of the details. In particular, how Abraham Lincoln himself, along with a number of other prominent names you list here, had strong divisions within his family so very close to home.

      Imagine the difficulties these kinds of pressures had to have added to an already terribly messy situation.

      History is fascinating.



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