3 Facts About the Civil War I Bet You Didn’t Know

Here’s 3 facts about the Civil War I bet you didn’t know. From President Abraham Lincoln to a little-known maritime disaster, there’s much more to this historic contest that meets the eye. I hope what you read makes you want to learn more about the American Civil War, aka The War Between The States.

FACT #1: President Abraham Lincoln had the power of a DICTATOR!

In 1861, President Lincoln addressed Congress stressing the importance of ending the secession-run that had begun in 1860 (South Carolina being the first) and the havoc that had been caused at Fort Sumter. With only a total of 225,000 troops in the North as of July 6, 1861, President Lincoln pushed Congress in his speech to increase that total to 400,000 troops and a budget of . . . wait for it . . . $400,000,000! That number was to increase well into the BILLIONS by the end of the war! (Sandburg: 634)

As Carl Sandburg put it:

“… the extralegal, dictatorial and proscriptive acts of the President in the emergencies since his proclamation of war in April met little direct opposition. He had gone out of his way to do so many things without the required authority from Congress.” (252)

Although I’ll always be a fan of President Abraham Lincoln, he used his authority from Congress as a blank check to make any decision he felt necessary to win the war. He often did this without asking. From saddling the nation with insurmountable debt to hiring and firing generals, Lincoln carried the power of a dictator, yet he uncharacteristically had the personality of a studious schoolboy. The irony and eloquence of Lincoln is that although he used his carte blanche power outside of the chain of command, he was a man who had the power of a lion and the personality of a mouse!

FACT #2: The Confederate Flag is NOT the Confederate Flag!

What most picture as the “Confederate Flag” is actually not the flag of the Confederacy. Let me rephrase that: the saltire flag pictured below is NOT the flag of the Confederate States of America (CSA), the secessionist government that fought against the North in the Civil War. What you see is actually more like a regimental BATTLE FLAG that was carried on to the battle field. There are many versions of this flag that were used by various regiments and states.

battle flag of the confederate states CSA
Confederate BATTLE FLAG

It is also inappropriately called the “Stars and Bars.” This militia flag is NOT the Stars and Bars, although it is colloquially used that way; it’s easy to make that assumption as it is popular and has stars and bars on it! In 1861 there was a “Southern Cross” flag submitted to the Provisional Congress which was popular but never made the cut, it eventually became William Porcher Miles’ battle flag design (Brown: 25-7) and a predecessor to the popular flag shown above.

The term “Stars and Bars” actually refers to a design by a Nichola Marschall which was adopted as the CSA’s official government flag on March 4, 1861 (Brown: 83). Marschall’s flag only had 7 stars on it. I’ve illustrated where the term “Stars and Bars” actually comes from.

Flag-stars-and-bars_Confederate_States_of_America-CSA
Confederate States of America GOVERNMENT FLAG = Stars and Bars

FACT #3: America’s Worst Maritime Disaster was a 260 foot boat!

Titanic? Titanic? Titanic? While tragic, yes, it was not the worst. The worst maritime disaster in US history was the sinking of the Civil War steamboat the SS Sultana on April 27, 1865. Although the war was technically over, this little wooden boat was carrying recently-freed prisoners and war-bedraggled soldiers home along the Mississippi River.

The Sultana was 260 feet long with a legal carrying capacity of 376 passengers. It was a wooden steamer. The Sultana Disaster occurred 27 years BEFORE the sinking of the Titanic.

The Sultana ended up taking on over 2,400 passengers! That’s more than 6 times its capacity! By comparison, the Titanic was 883 feet long and had 2,227 passengers on board.

1,522 people died on the Titanic. 1,800 people died on the Sultana making it the worst maritime disaster in US history.

steamer sultana maritime disaster

SOURCES:

  • Sandburg, Carl. 1993. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years One-Volume Edition. New York: Galahad Books.
  • Brown, Kent Masterson. 2014. The Confederacy’s First Battle Flag: The Story of the Southern Cross. Gretna: Pelican Publishing.
  • Potter, Jerry O. 1992. The Sultana Tragedy: America’s Greatest Maritime Disaster. Gretna: Pelican Publishing.
  • Huffman, Alan. 2010. Sultana: Surviving the Civil War, Prison, and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History. New York: Harper Collins.
  • Salecker, Gene Eric. 1996. Disaster on the Mississippi: The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.

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