10 Things you May Not Know About the Civil War

“You lost. Slavery’s bad. But you guys got NASCAR … and the Allman Brothers.”

This quote from Ben Stiller’s character to some “Civil War guys” in the family romp Night at the Museum typifies what most people in the North think of the South … and what most everyone thinks about the Civil War.

Never content to let you rest on your …ahem … laurels, we’ve decided to dispel some common misconceptions about the War and give you some info you may have never heard. At best, you’ll leave this post with a better appreciation for the complex nature of American history. At worst, you’ll be able to win a few bar bets. Here goes:

No soldiers died in the Battle of Fort Sumter

1. The first death in the Civil War was an accident.

After nearly three days of bombardment by Southern forces, Major Robert Anderson of the Union army prepared to surrender Fort Sumter. As the color guard lowered the American flag to a planned 100-gun salute, a cannon prematurely fired, causing an explosion and killing Pvt. Daniel Hough of the 1st U.S. Artillery. Another soldier, Private Edward Gallway, died of his injuries a few days later.

Four years later to the day, on April 14, 1865, Anderson, now a major general, returned to Sumter and raised the flag once again.

The Baltimore Riot of 1861

2. The first non-accidental deaths in the War were not in combat.

Five days after the death of Hough, Luther Crawford Ladd, a 17-year-old volunteer from New Hampshire was killed in Baltimore, not by Confederate forces, but by a mob of locals. A letter from Mayor George M. Brown of Baltimore to Governor Andrews of Massachusetts explained it this way:

“No one deplores the sad events of yesterday in this city more deeply than myself; but they were inevitable. Our people viewed the passage of armed troops to another State through the streets as an invasion of our soil, and could not be restrained.”

Ladd was a member of the 6th Massachusetts Regiment en route to D.C., responding to Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to serve for 90 days to end the insurrection of the South. While changing trains in the pro-secession city, the soldiers were attacked by civilians with bricks, boards and pistols. A few soldiers fired into the crowd and all hell broke loose. In the end, four soldiers and twelve civilians lost their lives in what is alternately known as the Battle of Baltimore and the Baltimore Riot of 1861.

3. The first true combat death was all because of a cow.

It was May 22, 1861. In areas like Western Virginia (what would become the state of West Virginia) where loyalties were split between North and South, the collective temper was tempestuous at best. It was under such conditions that Thornsbury Bailey Brown, a member of a Virginia militia loyal to the Union, encountered Daniel W.S. Knight, a member of a Virginia militia loyal to the Confederacy, upon the Fetterman Bridge.

Brown and a fellow Union soldier were returning to their company in nearby Grafton following either a recruitment mission or a spy mission, depending upon which account you believe. Knight and two other fellows were patrolling the bridge on behalf of their company and refused to grant Brown passage. Brown was incensed – not because Knight was a Confederate, but because the two had a history.

Sometime before the war, Brown had reported Knight to the local sheriff for stealing a cow. Now, with the country on the brink of all-out war, Brown refused to accept the authority of a known troublemaker like Knight and opened fire, striking Knight on the ear. Knight, for his part, had vowed revenge for his arrest at the hands of Brown. He got it. Reeling, but returning fire, Knight struck Brown in the heart with buckshot, killing him on the spot … all because of a cow.

4. The War was largely brought about by one man’s Oedipal complex.

For more on that story, read our full feature, “The Family That Broke A Nation?”

Read the next three curious facts and dispelled myths about the Civil War.


  1. 10 Things You May Not Know About the Civil War (pt. 2) | Real Southern Men - June 8, 2011

    […] previous post gave you four of the promised 10 curious facts and dispelled myths about the Civil War. Today, […]

  2. 10 Things You May Not Know About the Civil War (pt. 3) | Real Southern Men - June 9, 2011

    […] about the Civil War. If you wish to read about the first seven items in our list, check out parts one and […]

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