1.Confederate general Robert E. Lee had his sprawling Virginia home confiscated by the Union.
Ever heard of Arlington National Cemetery? In the 1850s it was just called ‘Arlington’, and it was the home of General Lee, his wife Mary and their children. Once war broke out the Lees fled their estate and eventually it was taken over by the Union for unpaid taxes totaling approximately $90.00. President Lincoln authorized the building of a cemetery on the property stating that if Lee ever returned he would “have to look at these graves and see the carnage he created”. Eventually, Lee’s family returned, but Lincoln was right, they wanted nothing to do with it.
The view of the Potomac from Arlington, VA
2.The Civil War was very, very bloody.
625,000 people died during the Civil War. More than the American death toll of World War 1, World War 2, the Vietnam War and the Korean War combined. That number comes from an exhaustive study performed at the end of the war by two Union officials. Recently, historians suggest that the number may climb as high as 850,000.
3.Over 60% of Civil War deaths were disease related.
It’s widely known that the Civil War is responsible for the most American casualties in any conflict. Roughly 360,000 of those deaths were the result of the unsanitary, bacteria-breeding conditions soldiers lived in. Lack of nutrition, cold, and poor medical care contributed to outbreaks of mumps, malaria, and tuberculosis.
4.There were 60,000 amputations performed throughout the war.
Battles were chaotic and often soldiers shot in the leg or the arm could be saved by an amputation. Surgeons were called “sawbones” and the best of the best could perform a full amputation in 5 minutes or less.
A Union soldier displays his leg wound,
5.The national divorce rate increased by 150% in the 20 years following the war.
Divorce popularity skyrocketed in the years following the war. This may in part be due to the fierce schisms and divides that plagued families across the country. Financial problems were widespread during the Reconstruction Era as the economy adapted to the absence of slavery and displaced people began to rebuild their lives.
6.1/3 of the soldiers who fought for the Union Army were immigrants.
In keeping with the spirit of the ‘Great American Melting Pot’, more than 600,000 of the 2, 128,964 Union soldiers were immigrants. 10% of them were German, another 7.5% Irish, and the remaining 82.5% a mixture of French, Italian Polish and Scottish.
7.Prisons were full.
Roughly 475,000 soldiers were taken as prisoners of war by both sides. The prisons were horrible places where disease ran rampant, and violence and starvation took almost 56,000 lives. One particularly brutal prison, Camp Elmira in New York was known as the “Freezing Camp”. At Elmira, observation decks were erected for civilians to observe the prisoners. Admission cost 15 cents, plus the cost of lemonade, cake and peanuts from the concession stand.
A prisoner of war in Richmond, VA
8.There was some foreshadowing of the Civil Rights movement that would take place 100 years later.
There were a significant amount of African American soldiers fighting for the Union Army, and it’s believed that their contribution may be what turned the tide of the war and earned the Union a victory. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that black soldiers earned $10 to a white soldiers $13, minus the fee they had to pay for food and clothing, bringing their total income to $7. What you may not know is that for 18 months soldiers refused pay to protest the inequality. In response, congress corrected the policy, equalizing pay.
9.The Civil War was known by more than 25 different names.
The Civil War divided not only the country, but families and friends as well, earning it the name “The Brother’s War”. Additionally, both sides used titles as propaganda; the Union went by a few different names, “The War for the Union” and “The War of the Rebellion”. Conversely, the Confederacy referred to it as “The War to Suppress Yankee Arrogance” and “The War Against Northern Aggression”. In some outdated textbooks used in the south, the Civil War is occasionally still referred to as “The War Against Northern Aggression”.
10.Slave escapes increased dramatically.
Before the civil war an estimated 5,000 slaves tried to escape each year. Tight patrolling, The Fugitive Slave Act, and brutal punishments discouraged slaves from escaping. Once the war started however, much less attention was paid to slaves on the run, and the number shot to 5,000 a month. Thousands fled up north to join the Union Army, while others ran west to escape it all.
Unidentified African American Union Soldiers
The Civil War is one of the most widely studied events in American History. From the bloody battles to political strife and a shattered social order, it’s full of secrets and un-spread stories, with many more rocks to overturn.
To learn about the above topics and more, come see us on Governor’s Island this summer (home to one of many civil war prison camps)!
-Emma van Lent