Weird Stories of the Civil War

William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant are now known as the heroes who won the war for the sake of the Union. Sherman’s March to the Sea is regarded as the deathblow to the Confederacy, and Grant’s overall command of the Union forces would ultimately lead to the war to a decisive finish. However, neither were particularly liked or trusted going into the conflict. Grant was known to be a heavy drinker, and his early career was plagued with issues of drunkenness on off days, when he had little to do between fights. Sherman was even less liked.

In October 1861, Sherman, then commander of Union forces in Kentucky, told U.S. Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, he needed 60,000 men to defend his territory and 200,000 to go on the offensive (the Union army at this time across the country was less than 200,000 total). Cameron called Sherman’s request ‘insane’ and removed the general from command.

In a letter to his brother, a devastated Sherman wrote, “I do think I should have committed suicide were it not for my children. I do not think that I can again be trusted with command.” But in February 1862, Sherman was reassigned to Ulysses S. Grant, who saw not insanity but competence in the disgraced leader. Later in the war, when a civilian badmouthed Grant, Sherman defended his friend, saying, “General Grant is a great general. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always.”

Gen. Sherman and Gen. Grant

A Wound with the Angel's Glow

In the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, soldiers began to report a strange phenomenon: glow-in-the-dark wounds. More than 16,000 soldiers from both armies were wounded during the battle, and neither Union or Confederate medical personnel were prepared for the carnage. Wounded soldiers laid in the mud for two days, in the midst of a rainstorm.

Many of them noticed that their wounds glowed in the dark. In fact, the injured whose wounds glowed seemed to heal better than the others. In 2001, two Maryland teenagers solved the mystery (and won a top prize at an international science fair). The wounded became hypothermic [when your body temperature drops to an unsafe temperature], and their lowered body temperatures made ideal conditions for a bioluminescent bacteria called Photorhabdus luminescens, which also stops dangerous bacteria from breeding and multiplying. They were saved by something soldiers later termed…the Angel’s Glow.

Civil War weaponry were poorly assembled and unreliable. Soldier’s rifles were cumbersome, and were very slow to reload. What’s worse, the soldiers had to meticulously [carefully attentive to every small detail] maintain and clean the barrels and keep mud and dust clear of the firing chamber as much as possible. Misfires and injuries often occurred, and sometimes in the heat of battle soldiers would forget they had loaded a cartridge into the barrel, and thus doubled up by inserting a second bullet into the already-jammed weapon. Men would often not even know that their weapons weren’t firing and would repeat the process numerous times.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, the discarded rifles on the battlefield were collected and sent to Washington, D.C. to be inspected and reissued. Of the 37,574 rifles recovered, approximately 24,000 were still loaded; 6,000 had one round in the barrel; 12,000 had two rounds in the barrel; 6,000 had three to ten rounds in the barrel. One rifle, the most remarkable of all, had been stuffed to the top with 23 rounds in the barrel!

An 1860 Civil War Army Revolver

Maj. Gen. Rutherford B. Hayes

Seven future U.S. Presidents served in the Civil War:

Ulysses S. Grant

Rutherford B. Hayes

William McKinley

James Garfield

Benjamin Harrison

Chester A. Arthur

Andrew Johnson

General James Garfield

The youngest soldier in the Civil War was a 9-year-old boy from Mississippi. The oldest was an 80-year-old from Iowa. More than 10,000 soldiers serving in the Union Army were under 18-years-old.

An estimated 800 wounded men burned to death at the Battle of the Wilderness because they were unable to crawl away from advancing brush fires set by firing weapons.

If the names of the Civil War dead were organized similar to the names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Civil War memorial would be over 10 times longer.

Nearly 3,000 people died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. About the same number of men died in the first 15 minutes at Grant’s assault at Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864.

From 1861 to 1865, the number of orphans in the U.S. more than doubled.

The average Civil War soldier was 5-foot 8-inches tall, weighed 143 pounds and was 23 years old.

Horses and other draft animals had about a 7-month life expectancy during the Civil War. As many as 300,000 horses died. More than 3,000 horses were killed at Gettysburg alone.

Most Civil War soldiers marched 15 to 20 miles a day.

After the Southern states seceded, both the United States and the Confederacy created the first ever national income tax. Ever since the Civil War, Americans have always known of the Internal Revenue Service–the IRS.

Susie King Taylor, a runaway slave from Georgia and Civil War nurse, was one of the first African American nurses in United States history. She also taught soldiers to read and write.

On average, of every 100 deaths on the battlefield, five soldiers died from limb wounds, 12 from punctures to the lower abdomen [stomach area], 15 from damage to the heart or liver, and more than 50 from cuts to the head or neck.

In 2008, the body of a Union soldier was discovered within the Antietam National Battlefield. His remains were laid to rest in the regimental home of New York State.

Nearly one-third of the Union Army soldiers were immigrants (7.5% were Irish; 10% were German). Other immigrant soldiers were French, Italian, Polish, English, and Scottish. Approximately 1 in 10 were African American.

The Gatling gun was a Civil War invention. Richard Gatling [of Indiana] hoped his rapid-fire gun (very similar to today’s machine guns) would help the Union win. It, unfortunately, came too late in the war to make any measurable difference.

The Civil War lasted 48 months. The 13th Amendment–which outlawed slavery–has 48 words.

Resource Used:

Battle of antietam facts & summary. (2020, December 15). Retrieved March 11, 2021, from https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/antietam?ms=googlepaid

Photograph Resource Used:

Davis, W. C. (1989). Rebels and Yankees: Fighting Men of the Civil War. Sunflower Bks (Gallery).