10 Little-Known Facts About the U.S. Civil War

Updated on May 23, 2018

Bearded President

Up until the election of the sixteenth U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln, no American president had sported a beard while in office.1 But a note from a little girl was enough for the soon to be President to sprout some whiskers.

Eleven-year-old grace Bedell of Westfield, New York wrote the soon to be President letting him know that she could persuade her four brothers to vote for him if he would let his whiskers grow as he would “look a great deal better for your face is so thin… All the ladies like whiskers and would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”

He made a stop in Westfield, NY. On his was to Washington and acknowledged little Grace Bedell who was in the crowd and was brought on stage with the President.2

A Very Strange Stonewall

Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson is undoubtedly one of the most famous names in the Civil War besides Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. He earned his nickname at the First Battle of Manassas in 1861 and was a brilliant tactician. But Jackson, besides being General Lee’s “right arm,” was also a bit of a hypochondriac.3

Of his many peculiarities, one was his thought that his body was “out of balance.” Being that he was right handed he would hold up his left arm to correct his equilibrium, and actually wound up getting shot in the left hand for this reason. He wouldn’t eat pepper because he thought it made his left leg weak, sucked on lemons to help his dyspepsia and believed that standing was better for him so that his internal organs were “naturally aligned.”4

Resistance is Futile

When the Civil War broke out after the shots on Ft Sumter on April 12, 1861 many thought the war would start and be over in a matter of months. However, when the Union and Confederate armies showed up to fight the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) on July 21, 1861, they began fighting on retired Virginia militia Major Wilbur McLean’s farm.

Concerned for his family’s safety, he moved them to a place in Virginia called Appomattox Court House. Little did he know that four years later, General Robert E. Lee would surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 and would choose McLean’s parlor to sign the surrender. Unable to escape the war it can be said that the Civil War started in McLean’s backyard in 1861 and ended in his parlor in 1865.5

War Chicken

There has been a lot written about General Robert E. Lee, from his unflawed character, his deep conviction and noble leader to him being a traitor. There is no doubt that Lee has left an indelible mark on America.6

While there are many tales to tell of General Lee’s life, one that provides a little chuckle is the story of his “pet” hen Nellie. Nellie was a black hen that Lee acquired at Petersburg. The story is relayed by his body servant, William Mack Lee, of how Nellie would daily lay an egg every morning and how fond the general was of Nellie.

But on July 3, 1863 William stated that, “we was all so hongry and I didn't have nuffin in ter cook, dat I was jes' plumb bumfuzzled” and determined there wasn’t enough to feed all the generals on hand, so he went and cooked up Nellie. The general was not pleased. According to William, this was the first, and only time Lee scolded him. Will said that,

Marse Robert kep' on scoldin' me mout dat hen. He never scolded 'bout naything else. He tol' me I was a fool to kill de her whut lay de golden egg. Hit made Marse Robert awful sad ter think of anything bein' killed, whedder der 'twas one of his soljers, or his little black hen.7

Angel’s Glow

The Battle of Shiloh took place on April 6, 1862 and produced over 23,000 casualties, more than any American battle up to that time. After the battle, the wounded lay for two days on a muddy and wet battlefield while waiting to be taken to field hospitals.8

What is odd is that as then men lay there, they began noticing that their wounds were emitting a blue glow. While having an open wound is scary enough, having one glow would have been terrifying.

Turns out that the glow was actually caused by a soil bacterium called Photorhabdus luminescens or P. luminescen. This bacterium resided inside nematodes that normally would have perished with normal human body temperature, but with the cold, damp situation they found themselves in, they thrived, and in turn actually aided in healing those soldiers infected with it by clearing out the harmful germs. Thus, the name “Angel’s Glow.”9

The Other Custer

The name George Armstrong Custer does not raise much attention in regards to the Civil War, even though his role was significant. He is mostly remembered for the ill-fated Battle of Little Big Horn. What is even lesser known is that Custer’s younger brother, Tom, was not only in the Civil War, but received the Medal of Honor, twice.

Lt. Tom Custer seized the Rebel flag at Namozine Church, just west of Petersburg while serving with General Phillip Sheridan, and earned his first Medal of Honor.

His second came just three days later at Sayler’s Creek, where he was wounded in the face capturing the enemy colors, and then tried to return to battle, only to be placed under arrest by his own brother George so that he could get medical attention.

Both brothers survived the war, but sadly both died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876.10

Private Stanley, I presume?

The phrase “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” is not normally associated with the American Civil War, but the man who spoke those words had a very unique role in the war.

Henry Morton Stanley started off as William Stanley in the Dixie Grays in the 6th Arkansas Infantry on April 6, 1862. At the Battle of Shiloh, he was sickened by the view of the dead on the battlefield and the next morning as Union troops were about to bayonet him he said that he, “dropped my weapon incontinently. Two men sprang at my collar, and marched me, unresisting, into the ranks of the terrible Yankees.”

He swore allegiance to the Union and was on his way to Harper’s Ferry, VA when he came down with dysentery and was listed as a deserter on August 31, 1862.11

Near the end of the war he served in the Navy on the USS Minnesota, earning him the distinction of having served in both armies and one navy during the Civil War.12

Bully Division

It was a completely common event for households during the Civil War to be split in allegiance to the North and South. Brother literally fought brother and many families were torn apart due to their unflinching devotion to the North or South.

Theodore Roosevelt, the eventual 26th President of the United States, was a three-year-old lad when the war had begun in 1861. His father, Theodore Sr. was a staunch Union man, supporter and personal friend of President Lincoln, and Union philanthropist.

His wife, Martha, was from Savannah, GA. whose father was a slave owner. The future President had uncles who served in the Confederate army, and his father opted to pay the $300.00 fee for a substitute rather than dishonor his wife’s family by fighting.13

“Teddy” Roosevelt became the first sitting President to visit the South after the war and stated that,

It’s has been my great fortune to have the right to claim my blood as half Southern and half Northern, and I would deny the right of any man to feel a greater pride in the deeds of every Southerner than I feel.14

Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?

We’ve all heard the joke. Some say “no one” as Grant and his wife are “entombed, not buried there. Yet others will say the obvious “Grant!” Both are mostly right, however, there is a third option that many are not even aware of.

The general who ended the Civil War and future 18th President was born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Point Pleasant, Ohio. However, when Hiram Grant applied to West Point, they had his name incorrectly registered as Ulysses S. Grant and to receive his commission he had to accept the fact that he was now Ulysses S. Grant. When asked about the middle initial, Grant explained that it stood for “nothing.”15

But his new initials would take on a whole new meaning after the battle at Fort Donelson, TN. where Grant found himself negotiating his first surrender. Thinking he was dealing with General Gideon Pillow, who he did not like, and not his friend, General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Grant issued terms that would become synonymous with his new initials, “unconditional surrender.”16

So who is buried in Grant’s Tomb? No one, Hiram Ulysses Grant, and Ulysses S. Grant.

Are you insane, General Sherman?

General William Tecumseh Sherman is a name associated with sealing the fate of the Confederate army as well as being hated anywhere in the South (even to this day). “Sherman’s March to the Sea” went through Georgia and the Carolina’s and left a trail of destruction in its wake with Sherman’s method of “total war.” It brought victory for the United States, but Southerners saw it differently. But there is an ironic twist to Mr. Sherman many do not realize.

Prior to the Civil War, Sherman was assigned to posts in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina and in 1859 accepted a position to head the Louisiana Military Academy. Sherman didn’t have a problem with slavery or southerners. But when the Civil War broke out and Louisiana decided to secede, Sherman resigned. Why? Because Sherman “refused to accept disunion” regardless of the circumstances.17

This feeling was so strong, that he would take his “total war” to the South, not because of slavery, but because he believed the South had to pay for its disloyalty. Yet, Sherman would avoid battles, if possible, preferring to destroy resources rather than his men, or the South’s men. His goal was to bring the war to a quick end, for the sake of both sides.18

In a final twist, Sherman’s nemesis during the war, General Joseph Johnston, and Sherman became good friends after the war. General Johnston showed up at Sherman’s funeral in 1891, stood in the rain without his hat because he believed “Sherman would have done the same,” came down with pneumonia and died two weeks later himself.19

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