10 Things You May Not Know About the Civil War (pt. 3)

Time to wrap up our little series of curious facts and dispelled myths about the Civil War. If you wish to read about the first seven items in our list, check out parts one and two.

Let’s start by recapping the first seven items on our list:

1. The first death in the Civil War was an accident.
2. The first non-accidental deaths in the War were not in combat.
3. The first true combat death was all because of a cow.
4. The War was largely brought about by one man’s Oedipal complex.
5. Northerners were racists, too.
6. The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t do what you think it did.
7. The end of the War did not mean the end of slavery.

Got it? Good. Let’s move on…

Ely Parker (left) with Gen. U.S. Grant (center) and staff

8. Robert E. Lee’s papers of surrender were not penned by a white man.

They were known officially as General Orders No. 9. The hand that penned them was that of a trained attorney, but one who could never sit before the bar, because he was not a U.S. citizen. Despite that, he rose to the level of lieutenant colonel under the command of his old friend, General Ulysses S. Grant, and earned a brevet as brigadier general following the War.

In Grant’s staff, he was known for his fine handwriting and law knowledge. Those skills were put to task as he not only helped draft Lee’s letters of surrender, but personally penned the formal copies.

Lee mistook him for a black man, but apologized upon realizing his error, saying,

“I am glad to see one real American here.”

The man was Ely Parker, born Hasanoanda, a sachem (or high chief) of the Seneca nation. Parker replied to Lee, suggesting a tone of reconciliation,

“We are all Americans, sir.”

Following the war, Parker finished his time in the military and was later appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs under Grant’s presidency, becoming the first Native American to hold the position.

9. The South was not united in favor of secession.

Of the Confederate states, only one (Virginia) ever put their secession to a popular referendum. The others instead elected delegates to secession conventions. Therefore, it’s difficult to gauge just how many Southern voters favored disunion. Factor in that women had no legal right to vote and the number becomes even more difficult to nail down.

One clever Civil War buff has made a noble attempt at doing so. His results indicate that only 49% of Southern voters approved of secession. If one considers Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri as Southern states, the number drops even lower. It should be noted that those who did oppose secession largely did so conditionally – so long as states’ rights were honored.

If the majority opposed secession, how then did the South end up leaving the Union? For one, the choice was often not between secessionist and unionist delegates, but rather between immediate secessionists and those who represented more of a wait-and-see attitude.

The answer also lies partially in the same tactics white Southerners would use to deny black citizens their voting rights a century later: intimidation. One account from a Methodist preacher in Mississippi illuminates the issue:

“Approaching the polls, I asked for a Union ticket, and was informed that none had been printed, and that it would be advisable to vote the secession ticket. I thought otherwise, and going to a desk, wrote out a Union ticket, and voted it amidst the frowns and suppressed murmurs of the judges and by-standers, and, as the result proved, I had the honour of depositing the only vote in favour of the Union which was polled in that precinct.”

Loreta Janeta Velazquez, a.k.a. Harry T. Buford

10. Hundreds of women, disguised as men, fought in the War.

Rarely mentioned in popular history, the phenomenon of women assuming male identities to fight for either North or South is as curious a fact of the Civil War as exists. Recent estimates put the number of women serving in disguise in the Confederacy as high as 250. Other estimates go even higher. The number itself is difficult to pinpoint, because unless they were injured in battle (and discovered as a result of treatment) or revealed their secret after the war, most went undetected.

In their 1867 tome Women’s Work in the Civil War, L.P. Brockett and Mary Vaughan referred to women who…

“… from whatever cause … donned the male attire and concealed their sex … did not seek to be known as women, but preferred to pass for men.”

One woman who penned her own tales of Civil War adventure was Loreta Janeta Velazquez, a Cuban-born woman who took the name of Harry T. Buford at the outset of the war. Whether the tales in her book – with the rather long-winded title of The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T Buford, Confederate States Army (whew!) – are true is debatable. What is unquestioned is their status as high entertainment.

Rather than recount her exploits in full, we’ll allow the subtitle of her book to speak for itself:

In Which Is Given Full Descriptions of the Numerous Battles in which She Participated as a Confederate Officer; of Her Perilous Performances as a Spy, as a Bearer of Despatches, as a Secret-Service Agent, and as a Blockade-Runner; of Her Adventures Behind the Scenes at Washington, including the Bond Swindle; of her Career as a Bounty and Substitute Broker in New York; of Her Travels in Europe and South America; Her Mining Adventures on the Pacific Slope; Her Residence among the Mormons; Her Love Affairs, Courtships, Marriages, &c., &c.

Velazquez’s stated goal was to fulfill a destiny as a modern-day Joan of Arc. Between being twice discovered by Confederate troops, recruiting her own company of Arkansas men, fighting alongside her unaware fiance, denying charges of being a Northern spy, becoming a spy for the Confederacy and fighting in the battles of Bull Run, Fort Donelson and Shiloh, we’d say she managed to to come pretty close … save that whole burning at the stake thing.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 10 Things You May Not Know About the Civil War (pt. 2) | Real Southern Men - June 9, 2011

    […] Continue on for our final three curious facts and dispelled myths about the Civil War. […]

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