21 Interesting and Unusual Facts About the Civil War!

civil war for history teachers fun & interesting facts
Weird Civil War Facts!

Steep your students in the Civil War with these amusing and interesting facts - PERFECT for students of virtually all grade levels!


Chances are 4th and 5th graders on up likely know of some of the more significant events and individuals associated with the American Civil War, fought between 1861 and 1865 and that is was one of the nation's longest, costliest, and bloodiest conflicts. They'll likely know, at least to some extent, about the secession of the southern states to form the Confederacy, the desire of the Confederate states to maintain the practice of enslaving Black Americans, the organization of Union forces by northern states to end secession and reunify the country, and the eventual surrender of General Lee and the confederate forces to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865 which finally brought the end of the war. They have also likely learned about the Emancipation Proclamation, the efforts of Harriet Tubman and other abolitionists to provide a way for enslaved peoples from the south to escape to the north, and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth just after the end of the war.


What your students likely do NOT know about the Civil War though are some of the weird facts we'll explore in this article! 


Obscure pieces of historical knowledge & fascinating facts that can help to capture the imagination of your students when teaching on this topic!


These strange facts are important to include when studying this period in history, for a number of reasons:

  1. Provides better historical context: By learning about the less well-known aspects of the Civil War, students can gain a more complete and nuanced understanding of the events and people involved in the war. This can help to combat oversimplifications or misunderstandings of the war's history.
  2. Encourages critical thinking and curiosity: By learning about obscure facts, students are encouraged to think critically about what they know and what they don't know about a given topic. This can lead to a deeper understanding of the subject and a greater curiosity about other aspects of history.
  3. Increases engagement and enthusiasm for learning: When students learn about unusual or surprising facts, it can increase their engagement with the material and make them more excited about learning. This can be especially important for students who may not otherwise be interested in history.
  4. Improves historical literacy: Understanding obscure facts can help to improve historical literacy, which can be defined as the student's ability to critically analyze and interpret historical events and information. This is an important skill for all students to have, regardless of their future career plans.
  5. Supports cultural competency and empathy: Learning about the Civil War, including the lesser-known aspects, can help students to understand different perspectives and experiences from the past. This can promote cultural competency and empathy, which are important skills for students to develop in order to become well-rounded, culturally sensitive individuals.


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Now that we've covered the "why", let's jump into a collection of fascinating facts that your students have likely never heard of -- from medical care and war time communication practices, to the involvement of women, and little known anecdotes about some of the historical figures who helped to shape the conflict-- related to the Civil War.


Interesting Civil War Fact #1:

Advances in Technology Changed the ways in which Americans "saw" the War

The American Civil War was the first major conflict in history to be extensively captured in photographs. Numerous photographers visited battlefields, union and confederate army camps, battlefield hospitals, and war time prisons to document the scale and scope of the war as it unfolded. Some of the images captured by these photographers were truly strange and unusual. For example, there are photographs of dead soldiers lying on the battlefield, as well as images of doctors performing surgeries without gloves or antiseptics. A vast collection of Civil War Era photographs can be viewed through the National Park Services website.

Sources: https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/collections.htm and https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/10-facts-civil-war-photography


Interesting Civil War Fact #2:

Medical Care During the Civil War

Medical care during the Civil War was anything but advanced. Many doctors and surgeons had little knowledge about infectious diseases, how to prevent sepsis, or how to treat massive numbers of wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Despite these shortcomings, a number of medical advances did occur over the course of the war.


For instance, in 1862, General George B. McClellan organized and authorized the creation of the first ambulance corp to care for his Army of the Potomac on the battlefield. Prior to the Civil War, wounded soldiers were often left to die on the battlefield, but during the Civil War, the first ever ambulance service was established. Many Union and Confederate Army units followed General McClellan's lead, establishing their own ambulance corps. These ambulances were horse-drawn wagons, staffed with men trained to assist the wounded, that transported wounded soldiers from the battlefield to field hospitals.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/first-american-ambulance-civil-war


In order to try to stop the spread of communicable diseases-- such as measles, mumps, typhoid and cholera-- the Union established the U.S. Sanitary Commission in June 1861. The job of the commission was to promote the value of hygienic practices, including clean water, well prepared food, and clean camps, in order to try to help prevent the spread of diseases through union army camps. The commission also worked to create sanitary hospitals staffed by trained nurses to care for injured and ill soldiers. In spite of these efforts, more than half a million soldiers would die of communicable diseases over the course of the war. Still, the creation of the U.S. Sanitary Commission represented a major advance in understanding how cleanliness (including clean water and food) could help to keep soldiers healthy and battle ready.

Source: https://www.utoledo.edu/library/canaday/exhibits/quackery/quack8.html


Interesting Civil War Fact #3:

Weird Methods of Communication

Both Union and Confederate armies utilized some "weird" communication methods in order to send messages across the battlefields of the Civil War. This included utilizing animals, drummers, and even the first instance of


For instance, carrier pigeons were widely used by both the Union and Confederate armies to send messages back and forth during the Civil War. The pigeons were trained to fly back to their home coops, even when they were hundreds of miles away.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/how-pigeons-were-used-as-messengers-during-the-civil-war


Dog were also used, most notably by the Confederate army, to carry messages between units. The dogs were trained to carry small pouches containing messages around their necks and were able to navigate difficult terrain and avoid enemy fire to deliver their messages.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/dogs-as-messengers-during-the-civil-war


In addition to using dogs to carry messages, Confederate armies also used their drummers to convey messages on the battlefield. The drummers would beat a specific pattern of drum beats to communicate messages, such as orders to attack or retreat. This was a particularly useful method of communication because it could be heard over the din of battle and was not easily understood by the enemy.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/civil-war-communication-drums


In the first instance of using an "aircraft" for surveillance during war time, the Union army made use of hot air balloons to gather information about Confederate troops and their movements. A soldier would ascend in the balloon and use a set of binoculars to survey the battlefield and gather information that was then communicated back to Union commanders on the ground. The Confederate armies would also eventually make use of hot air balloons as well, sending their observers up high above the battlefield to send reports to their commanders on the ground. This was the first time balloons were used for military purposes and was a major technological innovation at the time.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/civil-war-balloons-reconnaissance


Sending coded messages was also common during the Civil War. For example, Union soldiers used coded messages to communicate sensitive information without the risk of it being intercepted by the enemy. One such code was known as the "Albert D. J. Cashier Code," named after a Union soldier who served as a code clerk. The code consisted of a series of numbers that were used to represent letters and words, making it difficult for Confederate soldiers to decipher the messages.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/civil-war-codes-communication


Interesting Civil War Fact #4:

Fashion & Clothing in the Civil War Period

When thinking about the Civil War, fashion and clothing is probably not top of mind! However, several interesting trends occurred during the war, from the way soldiers groomed their faces, to the ways in which they dressed!.


During the Civil War, it was common for soldiers to sport beards, which was a departure from the clean-shaven appearance that was popular in the years prior to the conflict. Some soldiers grew beards as a form of rebellion against the traditional norms of the time, while others did so as a practical measure to keep themselves warm, as well as to avoid having to use harsh chemicals to clean their faces.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/the-beards-of-the-civil-war


Confederate soldiers often wore irregular materials, made from different materials, as their army units did not have standard uniforms or dress codes. The clothing worn by Confederate soldiers was often made from whatever materials were available to them. Some soldiers wore jackets made from blue or gray cotton, while others wore jackets made from homespun wool. Some even wore jackets made from recycled materials, such as old blankets or curtains.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/what-did-confederate-soldiers-wear-during-the-civil-war


While Union soldiers were provided uniforms and had to adhere to a uniform dress, code, they were often issued socks made from recycled silk. The silk was collected from old clothing and household items, such as curtains, and then woven into socks. The socks were durable and warm, making them a practical choice for soldiers on the battlefield.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/what-did-union-soldiers-wear-during-the-civil-war


Interesting Civil War Fact #5:

The Economic Impact of the War

The Civil War had numerous economic impacts on both the northern and southern states. Some of these economic impacts were relatively positive-- for instance, in northern states that were part of the Union, many individuals found employment in the manufacturing sector, which boomed as it provided materials and goods for the Union Army and the general war effort. However, many economic impacts were less positive.


The paper money issued by the Confederacy quickly became worthless as the war dragged on and inflation increased. Both Union and Confederate soldiers often used food as currency, a way to exchange goods they had, for goods they needed. For example, a slice of bacon could be traded for a cup of coffee, or a loaf of bread could be traded for a pair of socks.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/how-food-became-currency-during-the-civil-war


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Interesting Civil War Fact #6:

The Role of Women in the Conflict: Female Soldiers during the Civil War

During the Civil War (as well both before and after), few roles existed that allowed women to participate directly in the war. Some women followed the large army encampments to cook for and take care of individual soldiers (often these were family members). Other women served as nurses in hospitals caring for wounded soldiers off of the battlefield. However, some women wanted to participate much more directly in the war, and did so -- often in disguise.


During the Battle of Gettysburg, a group of women known as the "Lady Spies" gathered intelligence for the Union army. They posed as Confederate sympathizers and used their social networks to gather information about Confederate troop movements and plans. This information was then passed along to Union commanders, who used it to their advantage on the battlefield.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/women-spies-gettysburg


Still other women, passionate about the cause they believed in, disguised themselves as men and joined the army to fight in the war. It is estimated that hundreds of women successfully disguised themselves in this manner and served as soldiers during the conflict.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/women-who-fought-in-the-civil-war-disguised-as-men


The first-- and only-- woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor was a surgeon. Dr. Mary Edward Walker served as a battlefield surgeon, was held a prisoner of war, and was widely suspected to have been a spy for the Union. Following her release from imprisonment, she served as a doctor and surgeon at a women's prison in Louisville, Kentucky and at an orphanage in Clarksville, Tennessee. In 1865, at the recommendation of Major General William T. Sherman, among others, she was awarded the Medal of Honor in recognition of her service during the war and her suffering during her time as a prisoner of war in the Confederacy.

Source: https://www.nps.gov/people/mary-walker.htm


Another notable woman who served during the Civil War was Susie King Taylor. Susie Taylor had spent her early life enslaved in Georgia. In 1862, she managed to escape enslavement and moved North. After marrying a black officer serving in the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment, Taylor served as the regiment's unpaid nurse and laundress for more than four years. After the war, she would open a school for African American children in Savannah, Georgia.

Source: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/susie-taylor


Another nurse, Clara Barton, would come to be known as the "Angel of the Battlefield." Barton repeatedly risked her life to provide medical care and supplies to wounded soldiers on the front lines. She would later go on to become the founder of the American Red Cross and is remembered as a hero of the war.

Source: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/clara-barton


Interesting Civil War Fact #7:

Black Union Soldiers During the Civil War

African American soldiers played a critical role in the Union army during the Civil War, despite facing significant challenges and discrimination. One interesting fact about these soldiers is that many of them were actually formerly enslaved peoples who had escaped to freedom and joined the army as a way to fight for their rights and gain their freedom. Many black soldiers saw the Civil War as an opportunity to fight for their own freedom and the freedom of their families. Some had escaped from slavery and made their way north, while others joined the Union army after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863. These soldiers proved to be highly dedicated and effective, and their bravery and sacrifices helped to pave the way for greater civil rights in the future.

Sources: "African American Faces of the Civil War" by Ronald S. Coddington and https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2012/11/16/163887404/african-american-faces-of-the-civil-war


Here are some additional facts students might not know about Black soldiers who served during the Civil War:

Black soldiers were often paid less than white soldiers. Even though they were risking their lives on the front lines, black soldiers in the Union army were paid only $10 a month, while white soldiers were paid $13 a month. It wasn't until later in the war that Congress passed a law granting equal pay to black soldiers.

Source: https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war


In addition, Black soldiers often played crucial roles during various battles over the course of the war-- for instance, during the Union victory at the Battle of Milliken's Bend. In June 1863, a group of Union soldiers, including many newly recruited black troops, were sent by General Ulysses S. Grant to defend a supply depot at Milliken's Bend, Louisiana, as part of General Grant's campaign during the siege of Vicksburg, a critical Confederate port. The soldiers, led by Union Colonel Hermann Lieb, were tasked to defend their post against a Confederate attack. Despite their minimal training, the black Union soldiers commanded by Colonel Lieb fought fiercely and repelled the Confederate forces, in spite of being heavily outnumbered and suffering numerous casualties. Their valiant fight proved to many Union commanders that black troops were capable of defending themselves and contributing to the war effort.

Sources: "Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867" by William A. Dobak and https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/millikens-bend


More than 10% of the Union Army would eventually be comprised of black men-- nearly 180,000 altogether. An additional 19,000 black men would serve as part of the Union Navy. Black solders died and were killed at a disproportionately higher rate than their white counterparts. By the end of the war, nearly 40,000 black men would die in the service of the Union, including deaths during combat, from infection, and from diseases that ravaged the army's encampments over the course of the war. Black Americans would serve in a variety of roles over the course of the war-- including as infantrymen, artillerymen, carpenters, chaplains, cooks, laborers, surgeons and more-- making an invaluable contribution to the Union effort to win the war, and reunify the nation. Nevertheless, they often faced severe discrimination, from both Union and Confederate troops, including being treated poorly as POWs and as civil war veterans following the conclusion of the war.

Source: https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war


Interesting Civil War Fact #8:

The Role of Propaganda & Mass Media to Influence Public Opinion

Both the Union and Confederate governments used "propaganda" to influence public opinion and rally support for their cause. Propaganda is information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. Types of Civil War propaganda included posters, documents, pamphlets, poetry, newspapers, clothing, envelopes, stamps, and other forms. Both sides held rallies where representatives would speak in front of enormous crowds. One of the best known Propaganda clubs of the North was the Union League. This was the first time in American history that propaganda was used on such a large scale, and it was a major factor in shaping public opinion during the war.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/propaganda-during-the-civil-war


Interesting Civil War Fact #9:

Open Fire! The First Shots Fired During the Civil War

The beginnings of the Civil War can be traced to April 12, 1861, when the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter. The fort, which was located within the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, was manned by Union troops. Following the secession of the state of South Carolina, tensions steadily increased, as southern states formed the Confederacy and began mustering their armies. However, the first shot on Fort Sumter-- the shot that would start a four-year-long brutal conflict--was not actually aimed at the fort. The Confederate soldiers who fired the shot were actually trying to hit a stray Union flag that had been raised over the fort.

Source: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/fort-sumter


Fascinating Facts about Major Battles of the Civil War

Despite being a 4 year long conflict fought across much of the eastern United States, the Civil War had a number of critical battles that would help to shape the eventual outcome of the war. Some of these battles lasted for days on end. Others were relatively short, but had tremendous consequences on the course of the war as it unfolded. Of course, there are also little known facts about many of these battles, which can help bring greater context to the way they unfolded and the impact they had on the overall course of the war.


Interesting Civil War Fact #10:

The First Battle of Bull Run

Fought during the early days of the Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run was a chaotic and confusing affair, with both Union and Confederate soldiers getting lost and wandering into the wrong battlefields. At one point, a group of Union soldiers even stumbled upon a picnic being held by Confederate officers.

Source: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/first-battle-of-bull-run


Soldiers often carried strange and unusual items into battle. Some soldiers brought their pets, such as dogs and cats, with them to the front lines of the Battle of Bull Run. One soldier even brought a pet pig with him! According to the National Park Service, "some soldiers felt that having their pets with them helped to ease the tension of war."

Source: National Park Service - https://www.nps.gov/mana/learn/historyculture/bull-run.htm


The First Battle of Bull Run also marked the first time that a hot air balloon was used for surveillance during battle. Union General Irvin McDowell ordered a hot air balloon to be inflated and sent up in the air to spy on the Confederate troops. The balloon, called the Union Army Balloon, was able to provide some information about Confederate troop movements, however it was not very effective due to strong winds and limited visibility.

Source: "The First Air Force: A History of the Army Air Corps" by Robert F. Futrell


Interesting Civil War Fact #11:

The Battle of Shiloh

Fought in April 1862, the Battle of Shiloh was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, with over 23,000 casualties. It was the first major battle in the western theater of the war, and it had a profound impact on the course of the conflict. The Union victory at Shiloh helped to secure Union control of the Mississippi River, which would later prove to be a major advantage for the North.


Because the Battle of Shiloh was fought on a Sunday, it actually disrupted a church service that was taking place nearby. The Pittsburg Landing Methodist Church was just a few miles away from the battlefield, and as the fighting intensified, some of the worshippers fled to safety while others stayed to tend to the wounded.

Source: "Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War" by Larry J. Daniel


During the battle, a Union general named William Tecumseh Sherman was shot in the hand, while another bullet (which Sherman felt had been meant for him), struck and killed one of Sherman's orderlies. Despite the nasty wound on his hand, Sherman would continue to fight throughout the Battle of Shiloh, and following the engagement (despite the fact that his troops had been overrun), General Grant would promote Sherman to major general of volunteers in May 1862. General Sherman would go on to become one of the most important Union generals of the war.

Sources: "Memoirs of General William T. Sherman" by William T. Sherman and https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/civil_war_series/22/sec5.htm


Due to the terrible number of casualties suffered by both the Union and Confederate armies at the Battle of Shiloh, it would become one of the most remembered battles of the war. One soldier who survived the battle wrote that "the scenes and horrors of that day and night will never be forgotten by those who were there."

Source: "The American Civil War: A Military History" by John Keegan and https://www.historynet.com/at-the-battle-of-shiloh-young-soldiers-faced-unexpected-horrors/


Interesting Civil War Fact #12:

The Battle of Antietam

Fought in the state of Maryland over the course of just one day, September 17, 1862, that days stands as the single deadliest in U.S. military history with nearly 23,000 casualties. Despite that stark and sobering fact about the Battle of Antietam, there's one other much lesser known fact about that battle, and perhaps equally as significant! 


In the summer months leading up to the Battle of Antietam, the Confederacy experienced numerous battlefield victories over the Union and France and Great Britain, both of which were experiencing cotton shortages due to their trade with the South, came dangerously close to recognizing Confederate independence and intervening in the war to mediate a peaceful end to hostilities. The Confederate envoys were advised that "the event you so greatly seek" — diplomatic recognition — "is very close at hand" by the son-in-law of British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, two days before news of the conflict reached London. However, after hearing about Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, the two powerful and influential European nations decided to stay neutral.

Source:  https://www.history.com/news/7-ways-the-battle-of-antietam-changed-america 


Interesting Civil War Fact #13:

The Siege of Vicksburg

One of the most underrated military accomplishments of the Union Army was their Vicksburg Campaign. Led by Union General Ulysses S. Grant both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis viewed Vicksburg as "the key" for the Confederacy. Strategically located for trade and commerce, Vicksburg is located in the state of Mississippi along the Mississippi River. Perched atop a high bluff on the east bank of the river, it's elevated location served as a natural defense barrier. 

After numerous failed attempts at capturing Vicksburg, Grant decided to try to capture Vicksburg by moving his Union forces away from it. Grant led his troops by first marching to the south of Vicksburg and then east of the town, both times marching deeper in Confederate-held territory. He then orders Union troops under the command of General William T. Sherman toward the major Mississippi city (and Mississippi State capitol) of Jackson, primarily to serve as a distraction. The ploy worked as Confederate forces headed to Vicksburg to help reinforce it, were sent to Jackson. This allowed Grant to focus his efforts fully on capturing Vicksburg, which ultimately led to a long, drawn-out, 47-day siege of the town and it's eventual Union capture on, of all days, July 4th, 1863.

Source: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/10-facts-vicksburg-campaign


Interesting Civil War Fact #14:

The Battle of Gettysburg

By far one of the deadliest-- and perhaps most famous-- conflicts of the war, was the Battle of Gettysburg. Fought over the course of three days, from July 1st - July 3rd, 1863, more than 50,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured. Despite the heavy losses, the Union army was able to emerge victorious, making it a major turning point in the war in favor of the North.


The Battle of Gettysburg was fought, quite literally, in the middle of the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was located in the heart of the Civil War's Eastern theater. As a result, the town and its residents were caught in the middle of the battle. Many of the town's buildings and homes were used as field hospitals. Other homes would end up being located in the middle of battlegrounds, with residents enduring hours of trying to survive bullets flying through their windows and walls.

Source: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/battle-of-gettysburg


Such a deadly, bloody battle would not quickly be forgotten by either the Union or the Confederacy. In response and in memoriam of the great sacrifices made by the Union Army at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln would give one of the most famous speeches in American history in November, 1863: The Gettysburg Address. Delivered by President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, the speech was only about two minutes long. However, the Gettysburg Address remains one of the most powerful and enduring statements about the meaning of the Civil War and the importance of preserving liberty and equality for all.

Source: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/gettysburg-address


Interesting Civil War Fact #15:

The War Ends: The Surrender at Appomattox Court House

The Appomattox Court House in Virginia was the site of the famous surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865.


One interesting fact about this surrender is that the soldiers on both sides reportedly mixed and shared a meal together, despite the hostilities between their respective armies. This moment of civility during a time of war was a sign of hope for a peaceful future.

Source: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/10-facts-appomattox-court-house


In addition, When Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Lee was actually wearing a brand-new uniform. He had received the uniform as a gift just a few days prior to the surrender.

Source: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/appomattox-court-house


Interesting Civil War Fact #16:

The Emancipation Proclamation

Issued on January 1st, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation made the practice of slavery illegal. Written and delivered by President Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation was vitally important to enslaved peoples and abolitionists across the Union and the Confederacy, and marked a major first step towards ending enslavement in the United States. However, students may not realized the following facts about the Emancipation Proclamation:


The Emancipation Proclamation was influenced by the abolitionist movement, which sought to end slavery in the United States. In the years leading up to the Civil War, abolitionist leaders and activists, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass, had worked to raise awareness about the horrors of slavery and to build support for its abolition. The Emancipation Proclamation was a direct result of their efforts, and it helped to galvanize support for the Union cause during the Civil War.


When President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it only applied to Confederate states. Union states, which did not allow slavery, were not affected by the proclamation. This meant that slavery was still legal in parts of the United States even after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.


Despite the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, many Confederate states continued to hold enslaved peoples even after the proclamation was issued. In other areas, such as the border states (which supported the Union cause to reunify the nation, but still supported the practice of enslavement), slaveholders simply ignored the edict. It was not until Union troops occupied Confederate states, and the Union was reunified, that enforcement of the proclamation occurred and many enslaved people were finally freed.

Source: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/emancipation-proclamation


Fascinating Facts about Historical Figures from the Civil War

Several major historical figures made crucial contributions to the way that the Civil War unfolded, as well as in shaping the future of the United States after the reunification of the Union and the end of the war. From presidents to generals, to angels of mercy, the following facts can help to contextualize these individuals for young students studying the history of the Civil War.


Interesting Civil War Fact #17:

General Ulysses S. Grant

A critical figure for the North, General Ulysses S. Grant would be integral to turning the tide of the Civil War in favor of the Union, and ultimately in bringing the war to a close. Years later, General Grant would become President Grant, the 18th President of the United States, and a major player during the period of Reconstruction following the war. Here, however, are some little known facts about Ulysses S. Grant:


General Grant was known for his love of horses, and he had a favorite horse named Cincinnati. Cincinnati was a big and powerful horse, and Grant rode him during many of his most important battles. According to legend, Cincinnati was so well-trained that he would often stop and wait for Grant to catch up to him when the general fell behind.

Source: "Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters" edited by Mary D. McFeely and William S. McFeely


Long after the war, General Grant (by then, President Grant!) was once arrested for speeding in his horse and buggy. In 1872, Grant was traveling in his carriage through Washington, D.C., when he was pulled over by a policeman for driving too fast. Grant paid the $20 fine and later joked that he had been "riding to get away from office-seekers."

Source: "Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant" by Ulysses S. Grant


General Grant had a sweet tooth, and he was especially fond of a particular brand of hard candy called "Mexico Mints." These mints were made with a special recipe that included cinnamon and peppermint, and they were a popular treat during Grant's presidency. In fact, Grant was known to keep a bowl of Mexico Mints on his desk in the Oval Office.

Source: "The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace" by H.W. Brands


Interesting Civil War Fact #18:

President Abraham Lincoln

President of the United States from 1860 until his assassination on April 14th, 1865 (just a few days after the surrender at Appomattox Court House), Abraham Lincoln is widely considered by many historians to be one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States. However, Abraham Lincoln was not always the tall, bearded figure in the stovepipe hat we have come to associate with the Civil War. Here are a few weird facts about one of the United State's greatest leaders:


Long before he was elected, President Lincoln was an accomplished wrestler. According to biographers, he only lost one of around 300 matches he participated in. As a young man, Lincoln was known for his strength and agility, and he was able to use his long arms and legs to his advantage in the wrestling ring. According to one story, Lincoln once challenged an entire crowd of rowdy men to a wrestling match and won.

Sources: "Abraham Lincoln: A Life" by Michael Burlingame and https://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/education/youth.htm


President Lincoln was the first president to have a full beard, which he grew in response to a letter from a young girl. In 1860, 11-year-old Grace Bedell wrote to Lincoln and suggested that he would look better with a beard. Lincoln replied to her letter and said that he would consider growing one. After he was elected president, Lincoln grew a full beard and became known for his distinctive appearance.

Source: "Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years" by Carl Sandburg


Interesting Civil War Fact #19:

General Robert E. Lee

A major figure of the Confederacy, General Robert E. Lee would become the most well known leader of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. However, many students may not know that Robert E. Lee was actually offered command of the Union army at the beginning of the Civil War. Lee declined President Abraham Lincoln's offer, and instead chose to fight for the Confederacy.

Source: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/robert-e-lee


General Lee was well known for being an excellent equestrian and could ride a horse in any direction without using the reins. According to one story, Lee once rode his horse up the steps of the Capitol building in Richmond, Virginia, and into the governor's office, just to prove that he could.

Source: "Robert E. Lee: A Life" by Roy Blount Jr.


Interesting Civil War Fact #20:

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Elected to lead the Confederacy on November 6th, 1861, Jefferson Davis was actually born in Kentucky, a state that would remain part of the Union during the Civil War. Despite the fact that his native state remained part of the Union, Davis chose to fight for the Confederacy and became the President of the Confederate States of America.

Source: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/jefferson-davis


Jefferson Davis was thought of as a traitor by much of the Union, and went into hiding following the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House. He would be seized before dawn, on the morning of May 10, 1865, while wearing a loose-fitting, water-repellent overcoat, similar to a poncho, and his wife’s black shawl over his head and shoulders. Northern newspapers quickly twisted the story of Davis's capture and gleefully reported that he had actually been arrested while disguised in women’s clothing. Popular lithographs (illustrations of the time) portrayed Davis dressed in hoop skirts and bonnets. The serving U.S. Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, kept the overcoat and shawl from public view rather than end the myth.


Also, Jefferson Davis would spend more than two years a political prisoner at Fort Monroe in Virginia, before being released on $100,000 bail in 1867, while he awaited a decision regarding whether or not he would be tried as a traitor to the United States. Ultimately, the case of United States v. Jefferson Davis never went to trial, and Davis would be granted amnesty in a decision finalized in 1869. The federal government reached its decision in part because it feared that Davis would either prove in a jury trial that secession was legally permitted under the U.S. Constitution, or would be transformed into a martyr if he were to be convicted and executed.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-jefferson-davis


Interesting Civil War Fact #21:

The Confederate Flag

The flag that is most commonly associated with the Confederacy-- also known as the "Southern Cross"-- was actually not the official flag of the Confederate States of America. Instead, it was a battle flag used by Confederate troops during the Civil War.

Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/flag-of-the-Confederate-States-of-America



I hope these interesting facts about the bloodiest war in American history aid you in providing your students with context, excitement and engagement as you study the Civil War!




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-Jillian (a.k.a. the "Lesson Plan Guru") 


















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