Here Are 10 Unknown Facts from the Civil War, Including Elephants At Gettysburg!

Posted: March 21, 2016 in History


There’s no way you heard of all these. Or maybe you have. I don’t even know you. Anywho, as a longtime History and Social Studies teacher of some renown (at least in my mind), I’m privy to a few facts that aren’t found in the ol’ textbooks if you know what I’m sayin’. You know, stuff like how the good folks at Jamestown resorted to cannibalism that first cold winter on the east coast of the “new” world. My kids used to love that one, especially the part about the husband who killed his wife and ate her. Oh, and they also enjoyed the stories of Chris Columbus and how he and his crew became so hungry they resorted to eating rats, sawdust and the soles of their shoes. Good times!

I particularly loved teaching about the Civil War, and I always enjoyed telling kids about the famous battles like Gettysburg. Chamberlain’s Charge and Pickett’s Charge were always popular subjects as well.

But sometimes it was the other, lesser known historical nuggets that really caught my classes’ attention. Hence, the point of this blog. Let’s go over some interesting, almost unheard of facts about the Civil War for your perusal:

  1. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at the end of the war, but it wasn’t the first attempt on his life. In 1863, Lincoln rode alone by horse to his family’s summer residence. Soldiers at the gate heard a gunshot, and moments later Lincoln came galloping in on his horse, but without his hat. Troops searched for the assassin without luck, but they did find Lincoln’s hat–which had a bullet hole right through it. Yikes. But for a few inches, the entire course of history might have changed.
  2. Some might be surprised to hear this, but a full 33% of the cwsoldiers who fought for the Union Army were immigrants. In addition, although less than 1% of the north’s population was African-American, a full 10% of the northern army was comprised of African-American soldiers. And get this – 85% of northern African-Americans joined the army.
  3. More than 600,000 people lost their lives in the Civil War, which amounted to approximately 2% of the country’s population at the time. By comparison, that would equate to nearly 6 million people today. More soldiers died in the Civil War that in the combined number killed in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
  4. Although over 51,000 soldiers died at the Battle of Gettysburg, it wasn’t the only unusually bloody battle. In the Battle of Shiloh, more Americans were killed in two days than in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 combined. At Cold Harbor, Virginia, more than 7,000 men died in less than half an hour. And the Battle of Antietam only lasted a day but took the lives of more than 10,000 Union soldiers, which exceeds the tally of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Amazing really.
  5. Approximately 40% of Civil War dead were not able to be identified. deadsoldiersongettysburgbattlefieldThis was because of the unprecedented number of men being killed during the battles, which meant many of the dead were simply abandoned as troops had to march to the next battle. They didn’t have time for funerals or burials, so by the time family got there to recover the body (if they got there at all) the bodies were unidentifiable.
  6. Medical understanding of disease transmission was very rudimentary in the mid-1800s. Surgical tools were not sanitized beyond simply wiping off the blood from a previous surgery, which obviously led to many soldiers contracting terrible diseases while being treated for battle wounds. And because there were no antibiotics at the time, amputation was a regular practice to avoid future infection of injured limbs. In addition, nobody understood bacteria so human waste was often dumped upstream of where soldiers got their drinking water. Nasty.
  7. It’s estimated that around 20% of Confederate troops were under the age of 18 when they enlisted, due in part to the fact that the South had no minimum enlistment age. Soldiers on both sides could be very young, though, and there’s even record of a drummer for the north being 8-years old. Think about that for awhile.
  8. On both sides of the war, women were not allowed to enlist. However, many ladies had a burning desire to fight for their civilwarwomencountry, so they took up disguises and fought dressed as men. Most historians estimate that around 400 female soldiers participated in the war. This was made somewhat easier because of the aforementioned young age of many soldiers. Crazy.
  9. As wild as it may seem, the Department of Veterans Affairs still pays a pension to one surviving daughter of a Civil War veteran. Irene Triplett is in her 80’s now, and her father, Mose Triplett, fought in the Civil War. He was married to his first wife for many years, and when she died, Mose married a woman 50-years younger than him. She gave birth to Irene, who still collects a monthly pension of $73.13 from the government. On a related note, good for Mose, huh?
  10. King Rama IV of Siam sent a letter offering elephants to aid in the fight elephants1against the south. Lincoln declined, but can you imagine a herd of elephants emerging from the treeline at Shiloh or Gettysburg? Wow. The mind reels.*
    * The elephants were originally offered to preceding President James Buchanan in 1859. 
    The Civil War was a fascinating, bloody, horrific period in the history of the United States, and sadly a lot of cool facts are left out of the history books. I hoped you learned a little today. The test will be Wednesday and will include multiple choice with some essay questions at the end.
    You are dismissed.

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