Facts About The US Civil War That Made Us Say 'Really?'

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Vote up the most surprising facts about the US Civil War.

It was the war that pitted brother against brother and threatened to collapse the great American experiment a mere century after its founding. The bloodiest conflict in US history, the Civil War is a fascinating and tragic chapter in the nation's story.

Facts about the Civil War are easy to come by, at least for students who were schooled in America. But there are still plenty of weird Civil War facts that slide under the general radar, such as the naval duel fought off the coast of France, Lincoln's heartfelt letter to the people of Manchester, or the science behind the mysterious "Angel's Glow" at the Battle of Shiloh. Vote up the Civil War facts you just learned today.

  • Abraham Lincoln Acknowledged Manchester's 'Sublime Christian Heroism' For Supporting The Cotton Blockade
    Photo: Keith Edkins / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
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    Abraham Lincoln Acknowledged Manchester's 'Sublime Christian Heroism' For Supporting The Cotton Blockade

    During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln imposed an embargo on Southern cotton, enforced by a blockade of Confederate ports from 1861-1865. The lack of US cotton imports was devastating to European textile factories. The Guardian notes that Lancashire imported three quarters of its cotton from southern plantations (1.3 billion pounds), leaving them operating at 40% capacity.

    Many British workers turned against Lincoln and the Union. The Guardian writes,

    Whilst the British government loosely supported Lincoln, many mill and shipping companies wanted the Royal Navy to smash the blockade, allowing the precious cotton back into Europe. In Liverpool, a city made wealthy by cotton imports, it was said that there were more Confederate flags flying along the banks of the Mersey than in Virginia.

    Despite this economic hardship, the workers of Manchester agreed to support the embargo in 1862. Mill workers starved and lost their jobs, and some northern towns even broke into riots. In 1863, Lincoln wrote a letter thanking the workers of Manchester for their sacrifice:

    I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the working-men of Manchester, and in all Europe, are called to endure in this crisis..... Through the action of our disloyal citizens, the working- men of Europe have been subjected to severe trials... Under the circumstances, I cannot but regard your decisive utterances upon the question [of rebellion and slavery] as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country.

    Today, there is a statue of Lincoln in Manchester that commemorates the city's solidarity with the Union. 

  • After The War, Prominent Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard Advocated For Black Civil Rights And Suffrage
    Photo: Mathew Brady / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In a sense, P.G.T. Beauregard started the Civil War, since he ordered the first shots fired at Fort Sumter in April 1861. Though he did not get along with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, he was regarded as a hero among many southerners.

    After the war, Beauregard founded the Reform Party, an arm of the Democrats that platformed on improving race relations between Black and white Americans. As one of his descendants writes,  

    This was not out of any special concern for the plight of Blacks but for purely pragmatic reasons. The Republican government held power mainly because of its ability to draw the support of Black voters. Reformers like Beauregard, Williams wrote, "were convinced that the salvation of the state lay in persuading the colored voters to leave the Republicans and unite with the whites in a new political organization," which would drive out the carpetbaggers.

    In 1873, Beauregard put forth a plan to create "complete political equality for the Negro, an equal division of state offices between the races, and a plan whereby Negroes would become landowners." This included a systematic hiring of Black Americans and the end of segregation.

    This initiative was not warmly received, and Beauregard left politics to work as the supervisor of the Louisiana Lottery.

  • After The Battle Of Shiloh, Some Soldiers' Wounds Glowed Blue
    Photo: Thure de Thulstrup (restored by Adam Cuerden) / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    After the Battle of Shiloh, many soldiers had to wait two days before they could be treated by a medic. At night, they noticed that some of their wounds glowed blue. Stranger still, after being treated by a physician, the soldiers with glowing wounds healed faster than their non-glowing comrades. They dubbed the miracle "Angel's Glow."

    It sounds like the stuff of legend, but in 2001, a microbiologist suggested the glow could have been caused by a type of bioluminescent soil bacteria known as Photorhabdus luminescens. The bacteria shares a symbiotic relationship with a tiny, parasitic worm that uses the bacteria to feed on insects and other microorganisms. When the worm vomits up the bacteria, these microorganisms expire.

    Normally, the nematode worms and their bacteria can't live inside a human body; it's too hot. But soldiers left outside in the rainy, muddy Tennessee nights could have caught hypothermia, lowering their body temperature enough to harbor the worms and their glowing bacteria. At that point, P. luminescens would have killed the harmful bacteria infecting the soldiers' wounds, which explains why they healed faster.

  •  David Dixon Porter Sent A Dummy Ship To Stop A Real Ironclad From Being Used By The Confederates
    Photo: Harper's Weekly / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    David Dixon Porter Sent A Dummy Ship To Stop A Real Ironclad From Being Used By The Confederates

    The USS Indianola, an armored Union gunship, was captured by the Confederates in February 1862 but the South didn’t get much use out of the prize. An audacious scheme by Union Admiral David Dixon Porter caused the Confederate engineers to blow up the ship.

    Porter devised a fake “ironclad” to be sent off in the direction of where the southern salvage crews were working on the Indianola. A wooden hull resembling the armor of an ironclad was grafted onto an old flatboat complete with “cannons”. Smudge pots were lit to give the impression of a working steam engine. With the taunting words “Deluded People Cave In” adorning its side, the improvised vessel apparently cost just $8.63 to put together. At the approach of Dixon’s dummy ironclad, the salvage crew panicked and set charges to the real ironclad to prevent it from being recaptured by the Union.