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20 Interesting Facts about the Civil War You Might Not Know

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The consequences of the Civil War can still be felt today, although it was fought 150 years ago.

One of the most interesting facts about the Civil War is that this was the first war to be extensively documented with photographs. Perhaps it’s the photographs of the soldiers that draw us in and make us want to learn more about the Civil War.

There was a terrible loss of life on both sides of the Civil War. The emergence of railroads allowed troops and resources to be quickly mobilized, resulting in many bloody battles.

Despite the bloody nature of the war, Civil War facts continue to enthrall us. Here are 20 Interesting Facts about the Civil War You Might Not Know.

20 Interesting Facts about the Civil War

The Civil War was fought over slavery and the rights of states in the United States of America. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This document announced the end of slavery in the United States. The Civil War was a fight for freedom and equality.

1. Capital ‘C’, Capital ‘W’

Civil War Facts

A civil war is any war fought between people who are part of the same sovereign nation. This may be a fight for an independent state or a fight for a new government altogether.

There have been many civil wars throughout history. In the United States, the American Civil War is known simply as the Civil War.

2. After Lincoln’s Election 7 States Seceded Before His Inauguration

Civil War Facts

In the 1860 election, the Republicans, who had Abraham Lincoln as their candidate, were running on a platform against slavery in the territories. Lincoln won the close election. Before he could be inaugurated, seven slave states seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America.

Abraham Lincoln Facts

3. South Carolina Seceded Only a Month After Lincoln Was Elected

Civil War Facts

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the United States, or what would be called the Union, during the war. South Carolina would be one of the most vocal of the states that challenged the Union.

It was December 1860 when South Carolina argued for states’ rights in their declaration to secede from the union.

4. Southern States Formed Their Own Government on February 4th, 1861

Civil War Facts

The first seven states to secede from the United States formed their own government. The government was called the Confederate States of America and was founded on February 4, 1861.

The Confederate states took control of forts, federal establishments, and post offices that were in their jurisdiction.

5. The Civil War Started at Fort Sumter on April 12th, 1861

Civil War Facts

While some Civil War facts are debated, most historians agree that the war started on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter. Fort Sumter is located in the middle of the port of Charleston, South Carolina.

The Confederate States fired the first round of fire at Union troops. The Confederates took the fort before the Union troops could call for reinforcements.

6. After Lincoln Asked for Troops Four More States Seceded

Civil War Facts

After Fort Sumter was captured, Lincoln asked for each state in the United States to provide troops to take the fort back from the Confederates. After Lincoln made his request, four more states joined the Confederacy.

The four final states to join the Confederacy were Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The capital of the Confederacy was moved to Richmond in recognition of Virginia joining the Confederacy.

7. 2 New States Were Created During the Civil War

Civil War Facts

When we think of the United States, we often forget that we did not have all 50 states until the 1900s. Two new states emerged from the war.

The war led to the creation of the new state of West Virginia. West Virginia was the northwestern portion of Virginia. Virginia joined the Confederacy, but people living in the northwestern part of the state agreed with the Union. On June 20, 1863, the state of West Virginia was born.

Nevada, which was a territory at the time, also joined the Union and became a state during the war on October 31, 1864.

8. The Civil War Introduced Income Tax for the First Time in the US

Civil War Facts

Benjamin Franklin said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. The Revenue Act of 1861 introduced income tax in the United States of America. It was first used to help finance the war against the Confederacy.

9. The Confederacy Authorized 100,000 Troops Before The War Started

Civil War Facts

The Civil War was one of the first wars to be fought on such a large scale. In some ways, it might be considered the first modern or industrial war.

Lincoln understood the scope of the war. He took control of the armed forces and declared himself commander-in-chief. This was the first time a President of the United States had done this.

Among Lincoln’s first acts as commander-in-chief was to create a blockade on the ports of the Confederate states.

key figures in the civil war

Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteer troops for three months after the attack on Fort Sumter. Jefferson Davis and the Confederates had previously authorized 100,000 troops for their forces.

The Civil War would have high casualties because there were a lot of soldiers put into battle.

10. In 1863 There Was a Riot in New York City over the Union Draft

Civil War Facts

The Confederacy was the first to pass a draft law. In 1862 they started a draft that required men aged 18 to 35 to fight on behalf of the Confederate states.

The Union also had a draft. New immigrants to the United States were often drafted into the Union forces, sometimes without their knowledge. In 1863 there was a riot in New York City by Irish immigrants.

These immigrants had been signed up as citizens to secure votes in Congress. Only later did they find out that this made them eligible for the draft.

11. 100,000 Out of 150,000 Men Drafted by the Union Were Substitutes

Civil War Facts

Replacements were often used when someone was drafted into the Union. Just like replacement teachers, replacement soldiers were called substitutes. Out of the more than 150,000 men who were drafted, over 100,000 were substitutes.

Freed slaves were often used as substitutes and were enlisted as soldiers by some states to ensure they met their quota for the draft.

12. The Union Plan in the Civil War Was the Anaconda Plan

interesting facts about the civil war

The Union, comprised of the remaining states and territories in the United States that did not join the Confederacy, established a plan to block the Confederacy from getting outside resources. They called their plan the Anaconda Plan.

Union troops set up patrols to the west of the Confederate states in addition to the blockade established by Lincoln with the Navy to the east. By surrounding the Confederate States, and squeezing their resources, the Union’s plan was to choke them into submission, in a similar manner to that of the Anaconda snake crushing its prey.

When it was implemented, the plan left the Confederacy nowhere to go but north.

13. Over 20,000 Soldiers Were Killed or Wounded in 1 Day at Antietam

Civil War Facts

Between 1861 and 1862, no side in the Civil War was clearly winning the war. By 1862, the Confederates had driven north to Maryland where they fought the Battle of Antietam but had to retreat.

The British considered getting involved in the war but decided not to after this bloody battle took place. Over 20,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in just one day, with heavy casualties on both sides.

The world had never seen a war on this scale before.

14. Over 600,000 Soldiers Died in the Civil War

Civil War Facts

Perhaps the British were right not to get involved directly in the Civil War. Over the course of the war, 237 battles that were big enough to be named were fought.

Civil War facts are filled with names like Fredericksburg, Antietam, and Gettysburg — the places where so many soldiers lost their lives. There were also many smaller conflicts that took place.

It’s easy to confuse some facts about Civil War because in certain locations there were two battles fought over the course of the war. Some examples of these battles include the first and second battles of Bull Run and the first and second battles of Lexington.

confederate flag

The Civil War had so many battles and was so deadly that over 600,000 soldiers died during the course of the war.

It was only after the Vietnam War that the number of American soldiers who died in foreign wars became greater than the number who died in the Civil War.

15. The Emancipation Proclamation Declared Southern Slaves Free Too

Civil War Facts

The end of slavery in the United States is one of the most important Civil War facts and a big reason that the war was fought. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

This document proclaimed the end of slavery in the United States. As an affront to the Confederacy, the document also proclaimed all slaves in the Confederate States to be free as well.

16. The Confederate Navy Was Completely Destroyed by 1863

Civil War Facts

While most Civil War facts center on the battles that took place on land, there was significant marine combat during the war. Most of this combat took place during blockades and sieges on the Atlantic coast, but there were also some conflicts on rivers.

Lacking a substantial railway system, the Confederacy tried in vain to secure control of rivers to transport troops and resources. However, this was a lost cause for the Confederacy.

confederate flag outside wooden building

By 1863 the Confederate Navy, which attempted to wage war on the rivers of the United States, was completely destroyed. The tide was beginning to turn in favor of the Union.

17. Over 50,000 POW’s Died in the Civil War

Civil War Facts

Initially, there was a series of exchanges for prisoners. Soldiers who were captured agreed not to fight and would stay in camps until they were exchanged for soldiers from the opposite side.

By 1863, these sorts of conventions began to fall apart. The Confederate States refused to exchange Black prisoners after the Emancipation Proclamation.

From then on, the prison camps in the war became almost as deadly as the war itself. One of the deadliest Civil War facts is that more than 50,000 people died while in prison during the Civil War.

18. The Confederates Made it to Vermont and no further

In 1863, by sheer determination and under the leadership of General Robert E. Lee, Confederate forces had built momentum and traveled further north into Pennsylvania. However, they were cut off from significant reinforcements or supplies.

The Battle of Gettysburg was another bloody conflict in the Civil War that took place from July 1 to July 3, 1863. Civil War historians consider the Battle of Gettysburg to be the high-water mark of the Confederacy.

In 1864 a small group of Confederate soldiers launched a surprise attack on St Albans, Vermont. It is commonly believed that this is the northernmost point reached by the Confederate army.

canon from civil war

Civil War facts about the Battle of Gettysburg are fascinating for military historians who study strategy. Without reinforcements, and due to some critical strategic blunders, the Confederates lost the Battle of Gettysburg.

After the loss of Gettysburg, the Confederate forces would not travel any further north. From this time onwards, they suffered considerable losses as their resources dwindled.

Some historians think that the Civil War may have ended shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg had the Union troops pursued the Confederates more vehemently at the time.

This shows there were strategic blunders on both sides and asks a question about the Civil War we’ll never know the answer to: could the Civil War have been ended earlier?

19. Railroads May Have Won the Civil War for the Union

Civil War Facts

After succeeding in the Western campaigns of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant was given command of all the Union armies in 1864. The long-term effects of the blockade and the considerable effort of the Union to mobilize forces and resources were choking the Confederate states.

The Union was winning and the Anaconda Plan was working, but a high cost of life was being paid. Part of what made the Civil War so bloody was the emergence of new technology at the time.

civil war stamps

The use of railroads by the Union was one of the keys to their victory.

General Grant was an expert at logistics and knew that he had the upper hand when it came to resources. He mobilized troops and resources as fast as he could to overrun the Confederates.

Finally, in April 1965, General Lee surrendered to General Grant after Grant had cut off any means of escape.

It was at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, that the surrender took place and the Civil War ended. This is one of the most established Civil War facts, although some minor skirmishes took place until the last of the Confederate forces surrendered in July.

20. The Civil War Was the First War to Be Heavily Photographed

Civil War Facts

Like railroads, photography was just emerging as a useful technology at the time of the Civil War. Both sides used photography for propaganda during the war. Newspapers were also becoming more popular during the 1800s.

War photography in many ways began with the Civil War. The cameras at the time, although large by today’s standards, were becoming more portable and less expensive. This allowed more people to risk-taking photos in a war zone.

The lower cost of photography also meant that photographs were used for the first time during the Civil War as a way for soldiers to remember their families back home, and for their families to remember them while they were away.

We also see some of the most awful aspects of war in Civil War photography. These haunting photographs of Union and Confederate soldiers stay in our memory and keep us interested in Civil War facts.

civil war soldier

The saddest of all facts is that more than half a million soldiers lost their lives fighting in the war. The pictures of bloody battlefields are reminders of how deadly wars are when they are waged on a large scale.

The population of the United States was large enough, and both sides had enough resources and men, to make the Civil War a prolonged conflict.

It was the Union’s ability to block the Confederacy from receiving aid and their ability to mobilize troops and resources that won the conflict.

While some interesting Civil War facts can be debated, one thing is for certain — we never want to witness another civil war.

You might enjoy reading my article on Interesting Facts about Alexander Hamilton.

canon used in civil war
canon used in civil war


Thursday 28th of July 2022

Thank you. A well written article.

One thing - You speak about the photos and the impact but some pics of the battle scenes would have been a good reference.

However, didn't detract from my appreciation of your efforts.

Amanda O'Brien

Friday 29th of July 2022

Thanks for commenting John. It is actually quite difficult to hunt down battle photos from that time that are freely available to publish. If you know of any do let me know!

Odell Patterson

Saturday 25th of December 2021

Pennsylvania was not the farthest north the confederacy went. In October 1864, Confederate soldiers raided a town in Vermont.

Amanda O'Brien

Sunday 2nd of January 2022

Thanks Odell - we checked and you are correct and we have updated the article. We recently purchased this website and are busy reviewing all of the articles for accuracy - thanks so much for helping! amanda

Kerry Hays

Sunday 19th of September 2021

The Emancipation Proclamation did not free all those enslaved in the United States. It only freed those that were enslaved in states that were in rebellion. Full emancipation would not come until the passage of the 13th Amendment ratified after the war in December of 1865. Case in point; Grant’s wife Julia spent a great deal of time during the war following her husband from city to city accompanied by an enslaved individual named Jules. When the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Jules remained a slave because Julia Grant’s father (who “owned” Jules) lived in Missouri-a state which was not in rebellion. Nevertheless, Jules would self-emancipate late in 1863.

Amanda O'Brien

Monday 20th of September 2021

Thanks so much Kerry - we'll take onboard that feedback when we do our next update of the post.


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