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The Civil War remains the defining moment in America’s history. While the Revolution gave birth to the United States, the Civil War  determined what kind of nation it would be.

According to the Library of Congress, over 70,000 books have been written on the civil war and that doesn’t include books that may contain Civil War related material but are catalogued separately.

Here are 5 little known, yet interesting facts about the Civil War that you may not be aware of:

1. One-third of the soldiers who fought for the Union Army were immigrants
I was surprised to learn the number of immigrants among the ranks of Civil War soldiers was that high. As it turns out, the Union Army was a diverse, multicultural fighting force. We often hear about Irish soldiers (7.5 percent of the army), but the Union’s ranks included even more Germans (10 percent), who marched off in regiments such as the Steuben Guard. Other immigrant soldiers were French, Italian, Polish, English and Scottish. In fact, one in four regiments contained a majority of foreigners.

At right is a recruitment broadside aimed at  New York’s German immigrants to fight for “your country”: Bürger, Euer Land ist in Gefahr! Zu den Waffen! Zu den Waffen! (Citizens, your country is in danger! To arms! To arms!)

 

Sketch of the John Adams, which carried Tubman, firing upon the Combahee Ferry

2. Harriet Tubman led a raid to free slaves during the Civil War
Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who led others to freedom on the Underground Railroad before the war, arrived at the Union camp at Port Royal, South Carolina, in the spring of 1862 to support the Union cause. On the night of June 2nd three federal gunboats set sail from Beaufort, South Carolina up the Combahee River. Tubman had gained vital information about the location of Rebel torpedoes planted along the river from slaves who were willing to trade information for freedom.

Because of this information Tubman was able to steer the Union ships away from any danger. She led the ships to specific spots along the shore where fugitive slaves were hiding and waiting to be rescued. More than 720 slaves were shuttled to freedom during the mission reminding Tubman of  “the children of Israel coming out of Egypt.” On the ferry mission, Tubman liberated ten times the number of slaves she had freed in ten years operating the Underground Railroad.

3. More men died from disease than bullets during the Civil War
Approximately 625,000 men died in the Civil War, more Americans than in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined. Although rifles were by far the war’s deadliest weapons, deadlier still was disease. For every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died from disease. In 1861, as armies massed, men once protected from disease by isolation now lived, marched and fought side by side in close proximity to one another. Camps became breeding grounds for childhood diseases such as mumps, chicken pox and measles. Soldiers on both sides contracted malaria and dysentery, and epidemics were common.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

4. Some bullets fired during the Civil War actually fused together
The two Minie balls pictured at left collided in midair on “Bloody Hill” during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, August 10, 1861. One is .69 caliber, the other .58 caliber; they were recovered in the early 1950s. Two bullets colliding in midair is a relatively rare occurrence, and bears witness to the heavy fighting that took place on “Bloody Hill.” Sergeant George W. Hutt, of the 1st Kansas Infantry, described the fight as “a perfect hurricane of bullets.”

 

 

Photo taken on November 17, 1865, depicting Company E, 4th US Colored Troops at Fort Lincoln, North Dakota

5. The Emancipation Proclamation did not ban slavery
Prior to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 obligated non-slave states to return escaped slaves back to their owners. Lincoln’s Proclamation was meant to punish the Confederate States, not make slavery illegal. Since Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri didn’t rebel against the Union, they were allowed to keep their slaves. Slaves who managed to escape the Confederate States into Union territory could join the military in return for a salary, but could not become Union citizens. Black soldiers eventually made up one-tenth of the Union Army. Some historians believe that this influx helped to turn the tide of the war in favor of the Union.

What interesting facts do you know about the Civil War? Please share in the comments below.