7 Critical Civil War Battles

H/T History.com.

These battles were among the most pivotal in America’s bloodiest conflict.

When Southern rebels bombarded Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April 1861, it was the start of a war between the Union and the secessionist Confederate States of America that would stretch on for four bloody years.

The war took a brutal toll. According to statistics compiled by the National Park Service,110,100 men on the Union side lost their lives in combat and another 275,174 were wounded in action, while 94,000 Confederates were killed and another 194,026 were wounded. Still more soldiers died of disease, starvation and accidents, so that the total death toll may have been as high as 850,000, according to a 2011 analysis.

Today, when we think of the Civil War, the names of a few hallowed battlefields, such as Gettysburg and Shiloh, come to mind. But the conflict was far bigger and bloodier in scope. Union and Confederate forces met in more than 10,000 armed confrontations across the nation, ranging from small clashes to full-scale battles involving tens of thousands of soldiers, in locations from Vermont to Arizona.

“Evaluating the importance of a battle can be a tricky business,” explains Jim Campi, a spokesman for the American Battlefield Trust, an organization that works to preserve historic battles sites across the nation and highlight their importance. “Battles are best assessed by their overall impact on the larger conflict—did it extend the war, or bring it closer to its conclusion; did it achieve a strategic objective, eliminate an enemy force or enable a combatant to bring more force to bear at a decisive point?”

Here are seven battles that proved pivotal in the American Civil War.

1. First Bull Run

First Battle of Bull Run, U.S. Civil War

A Union supply train races down a road during the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, the first major battle of the Civil War.

Stock Montage/Getty Images

July 21, 1861: Union Gen. Irvin McDowell marched out of Washington, D.C. into Virginia, intent on seizing the Confederate capital of Richmond and putting an end to the war. But most of McDowell’s men were inexperienced, 90-day volunteers, who’d joined in expectation of a brief conflict and had little idea what was in store for them. They came up against a force commanded by Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard, which was defending a critical railroad junction at Manassas, Virginia. When McDowell’s forces attacked, the Confederates initially were driven back, but reinforcements soon arrived, including a brigade led by then-Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, who would earn the nickname “Stonewall” for his tenacity in holding ground.

In the war’s first major battle, Union forces were routed, with an estimated 2,896 killed, wounded, missing or captured. The victorious Confederates suffered 1,982 casualties of their own. As each side counted their dead, it became evident that the struggle ahead would be longer and more grisly than Americans had expected.

2. Fort Donelson

HISTORY: Battle of Fort Donelson

A scene from the Battle of Fort Donelson, 1862.

MPI/Getty Images

February 11-16, 1862: One of the first major Union victories was then-Brig. Gen Ulysses S. Grant’s capture of Fort Donelson, located along the Cumberland River in Tennessee. The Confederates initially repulsed an attack by union gunboats, and planned a bold counterattack against the Union troops to clear a path for escape. The Confederates seemed on the verge of success when they halted and retreated to their fortifications. That gave Grant time to figure out a weak point in the Confederate line—and attack it.

Confederate generals Gideon Pillow and John B. Floyd fled, leaving behind 13,000 soldiers, who waved a white flag above their fortifications. When the rebels asked for terms of surrender, Grant replied that no terms “except unconditional and immediate surrender” would be acceptable. This earned him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender.”

The victory, along with the capture of nearby Fort Henry, opened up the state of Tennessee to Union invasion, and helped turn Grant into a national hero.

3. Antietam

President Abraham Lincoln with General George B. McClellan at his headquarters at Antietam, October 3, 1862.

President Abraham Lincoln with General George B. McClellan at his headquarters at Antietam, October 3, 1862.

Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

September 17, 1862Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia invaded Maryland in an attempt to knock the Union back on its heels. President Abraham Lincoln sent Maj. Gen. George McClellan and his Army of the Potomac to stop him.

The two forces initially collided at dawn in a cornfield in Sharpsburg, Maryland, where their movements were obscured by the tall corn stalks as they fired upon one another. The battle eventually shifted to a stone bridge along Antietam Creek, where Union troops had to storm a Confederate position three times before finally capturing it. An estimated 22,717 men on both sides were killed, wounded, captured or went missing.

Though the battle ended in a stalemate, the Union had stymied Lee’s invasion. That gave Lincoln enough confidence to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which redefined the Civil War from a struggle to preserve the Union to one focused on ending slavery. Meanwhile, photographs by Alexander Gardner of bodies strewn on the battlefield, displayed in Matthew Brady’s gallery in New York, brought home to northerners the brutal cost of the war.

READ MORE: How Photographer Mathew Brady Highlighted Gruesome Realities of the Civil War

4. Chancellorsville

Battle of Chancellorsville, U.S. Civil War

The Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia, 1863.

MPI/Getty Images

May 1-6, 1863: Lee achieved one of his greatest triumphs at Chancellorsville, Virginia, where he divided his forces and sent Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson to force his way through a rough forest to outflank units led by Union Gen. Joseph Hooker. After several days of fighting, the Union troops were forced to retreat. By the end, Hooker had suffered more than 17,000 casualties to Lee’s nearly 13,000.

It was a decisive victory for Lee and the South—but it came at a high cost. Among Lee’s casualties was Jackson, one of the most capable Confederate officers. Jackson was wounded by friendly fire and died four days after the battle.

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About the Battle of Chancellorsville

5. Vicksburg

HISTORY: Siege of Vicksburg

Surrender at the Siege of Vicksburg, July 4, 1863.

Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

May 18-July 4, 1863: Confederate President Jefferson Davis saw Vicksburg, Mississippi, a fortress port and railroad hub along the Mississippi River, as “the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.” That made it imperative for the Union to take what was known as the Gibraltar of the Confederacy.

In mid-May, Grant sent his forces to attack the city several times, but they were unable to penetrate the Confederates’ defenses. That forced him to settle into a long siege, in which he bombarded Vicksburg with artillery and fire from Union gunboats, and forced Confederate defenders and the civilian population to endure hunger and illness. Many hid in man-made caves dug under the city.

In June, Grant tried one last assault, deploying miners to tunnel under the Confederate fortifications and plant explosives that carved out a 12-foot-deep crater. But the Union forces were unable to advance out of it and had to retreat. By July, Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton and his 29,000 men couldn’t hold out any longer, and had to surrender to Grant.

The victory gave the Union control of the critical supply line of the entire Mississippi River. And the Confederacy was split.

6. Gettysburg

Battle of Gettysburg

Fighting at the battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 3, 1863.

MPI/Getty Images

July 1-3, 1863: Lee again invaded the Union in the summer of 1863 in hopes that he could beat the Union on its own soil, threaten Washington, D.C., and force Lincoln to agree to a peace treaty.

With Virginia devastated by the war, he also desperately needed supplies for his soldiers. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was pursued by Union forces led by Maj. Gen. George Meade, who caught up with them in Pennsylvania and confronted the Confederates at Gettysburg, in what was one of the most fateful battles in history.

Initially, the Confederates drove Union troops from fields west and north of the town, but they failed on the second day to break the Union line. On July 3, Lee attacked the center of the Union forces at Cemetery Ridge, south of Gettysburg. After two hours of shelling, Confederate Gen. George Pickett led two brigades in an assault on the Union position. Pickett’s Charge, as it became known, turned into a disaster, with the Confederates suffering 60 percent casualties. Lee was forced to retreat and abandon his invasion.

The battle was a crushing defeat for the Confederacy, and losses were devastating on both sides. Union casualties numbered 23,000, while the Confederates lost some 28,000 men. The South’s hopes for foreign recognition of the Confederacy were erased. Demoralized, Lee offered his resignation to President Jefferson Davis, but was refused.

The Battle of Gettysburg took on even more significance in November 1863, when President Lincoln traveled to the site and delivered the Gettysburg Address. In the famously short but powerful speech, Lincoln honored the sacrifice of the soldiers who died there and redefined the war as a struggle for the nation.

7. Atlanta

Battle of Atlanta, U.S. Civil War

The fall of General James Birdseye McPherson at the Battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864.

Universal History Archive/Getty Images

July 22, 1864: Near the end of the war, a trio of Union armies, led by Gen. William T. Sherman converged upon Atlanta, where they were met outside the city by a desperate Confederate counterattack that failed.

The Battle of Atlanta was the bloodiest part of Sherman’s March through Georgia, costing the Union 3,700 casualties, while the Confederates lost 5,500 men. Sherman’s forces continued their advance and finally surrounded the city, besieging it for the entire month of August.

Finally, on September 1, Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, a veteran of Antietam and Gettysburg who had lost his leg at the Battle of Chickamauga, gave up and abandoned the city, allowing Sherman’s forces to enter.

The capture of Atlanta crippled the Confederate war effort. For Lincoln, who faced a difficult election in 1864 against one of his former generals, George B. McClellan, the victory provided a lift at the polls, helping him win and pursue the war to its conclusion.

Civil War Air Balloons, Existed And Had Their Own Corp

H/T War History OnLine.

How many people are aware of this historical fact?

An air balloon and gunfire is not something you’d usually want to mix together, but the Union Army certainly did so with respectable results during the American Civil War. They were operated by the Balloon Corps, which used them as primitive platforms for forward observers and reconnaissance. At the time, the Union Army did not fully capitalize on the potential tactical advantages offered by the balloons, but their use improved the construction and operation of balloons and paved the way for later, full-fledged aerial reconnaissance.


At the time of the American Civil War, a formal air corps was still nearly 50 years away, and even the concept of a pilot was not yet commonplace. The novel idea of using balloons on the battlefield was pushed by Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, a highly educated and respected scientist and inventor.

US President Abraham Lincoln also saw the balloons’ potential, giving the idea credibility.

This was not the first time balloons had been used for military purposes though, as the French had already utilized balloons during the French Revolutionary Wars 70 years before.

Thaddeus S. C. Lowe

Thaddeus Lowe Aeronaut
Thaddeus Lowe, Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps. (Photo Credit: Public Domain)

Before the Civil War began in 1861, Lowe had been busy making preparations for a transatlantic crossing by balloon. When war broke out, he offered his vast knowledge on lighter than aircraft to the government.

As the government had never dealt with such a technology, they decided all related activities should be combined together into a dedicated unit to be lead by someone with plenty of experience in the field.

Lowe’s knowledge and research were well respected among the scientific community, so he was the government’s first choice for “Chief Aeronaut”.

He was invited to Washington D.C. to perform a display in a balloon for President Lincoln. Lowe and his balloon rose to a height of 500 ft, where he then described his view in a telegraph to the President. After this impressive display, Lowe was selected to lead the Balloon Corps as Chief Aeronaut.

Balloon Corps

Intrepid Balloon
Intrepid being cross-inflated from Constitution in a spur-of-the-moment attempt to get the larger balloon in the air to overlook the imminent Battle of Seven Pines (Photo credit: Mathew Brady – War Department. Office of the Chief Signal Officer)

By the end of 1961, the Balloon Corps was up and running.

A balloon could provide an exceptional vantage point from which to observe enemy forces, but they saw little action, mostly floating above the Eastern Theater of the war. Their use was decided by the general in command, many of whom did not consider the balloons as particularly important.

The Balloon Corps operated a total of seven balloons of various sizes. The larger balloons, like the Intrepid and the Union, could contain 32,000 cubic feet of lifting gas, which was supplied by hydrogen generators. They could carry up to five people but needed a considerable amount of time to inflate and take flight.

The smallest types could only carry a single man but were much quicker to prepare.

While in the air, an observer in a balloon could see the entire battlefield, and report information to the ground below via telegraph messages. In 1861, Lowe manned a balloon near Washington D.C. to direct artillery fire on an enemy position. Using flags, he signaled adjustments to the artillery until their rounds were landing with great accuracy.

Things didn’t always go to plan, however, as Union General Fitz John Porter would find out in the most terrifying way.

Porter, who recognized the value of the balloons, joined Lowe to experience the novel reconnaissance platform. When balloons were operated, they were always tethered to the ground to prevent them from drifting away.

On this particular ride, Porter chose to use a single tethering rope to speed up the ascent, rather than the three or four suggested by Lowe. Because of this, the lone rope snapped and the balloon drifted silently over Confederate lines below.

A few shots were fired toward the balloon, but the men kept their cool and actually managed to draw up some sketches of enemy positions. Thankfully, the balloon eventually drifted back to Union lines.

The end of the Balloon Corps

View of balloon ascension. Prof. Thaddeus Lowe observing the Battle of Seven Pines or Fair Oaks from his balloon “Intrepid” on the north side of the Chickahominy. (Photo Credit: Public Domain)
View of balloon ascension. Prof. Thaddeus Lowe observing the Battle of Seven Pines or Fair Oaks from his balloon “Intrepid” on the north side of the Chickahominy. (Photo Credit: Public Domain)

In mid-1862, Lowe contracted malaria in the swampy conditions of the Civil War and was forced to rest while he recovered. Upon his return, he discovered all of his equipment and resources for operating balloons had been given back to the Army.

After a pay dispute and falling out of favor with the Union Army, Lowe resigned from the Balloon Corps in May 1863. Control of the Corps was given to the Allen brothers, but they were unable to lead the unit as effectively as Lowe.

Before the end of 1863, the Balloon Corps was no more.

Bankrupt and Dying from Cancer, Ulysses S. Grant Waged His Greatest Battle

H/T History.com.

Ulysses “Sam” Grant did while dying did what most healthy men could not he wrote his complete biography leaving his family financially well off.

Aided by Mark Twain, the former president and Civil War hero raced to complete a literary masterpiece that saved his wife from destitution.

Shortly before noon on May 6, 1884, Ulysses S. Grant entered the office of his Wall Street brokerage firm a wealthy man. Hours later, he exited a pauper.

Thanks to a pyramid scheme operated by his unscrupulous partner, Ferdinand Ward, Grant’s investment firm had instantly collapsed, wiping out his life savings. “When I went downtown this morning I thought I was worth a great deal of money, now I don’t know that I have a dollar,” the swindled Civil War hero lamented to a former West Point classmate. In fact, Grant had all of $80 to his name. His wife, Julia, had another $130. Kind-hearted strangers responded by mailing Grant checks. Desperate to pay his bills, the former U.S. president cashed them.

Still smarting from bankruptcy’s bitter sting, Grant that summer suffered from an excruciating sting in his throat as well. When he finally visited a doctor in October, Grant learned he had incurable throat and tongue cancer, likely a product of his longtime cigar-smoking habit. 

Grant had been no stranger to financial misfortune. Failing as a farmer and a rent collector prior to the Civil War, he lived in a log cabin that he dubbed “Hardscrabble” and sold firewood on the streets of St. Louis to make ends meet. However, now that he was confronting the terrifying prospect of leaving Julia a penniless widow, the grizzled general who fought to save the Union undertook one final mission to save his family from impoverishment.

Mark Twain paid Grant to publish his memoirs

Ulysses S. Grant and his family


Former Civil War General and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) sits (center, with top hat) for a family portrait with his wife, Julia Dent Grant, and their children and grandchildren at the family’s seaside cottage in Long Branch, New Jersey, circa 1883.

Oscar White/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Divested of his property and possessions, Grant still retained something of great value—his recollections of past glories. Lurking behind the taciturn façade was a convivial storyteller who entertained friends such as Mark Twain with yarns of war and politics. “While we think of Grant as silent and reserved, he was a captivating raconteur with a dry wit and a ready fund of stories,” says Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Grant.

For years Twain had suggested that Grant pen his memoirs. Now destitute, the former president finally agreed to cash in on his celebrity. In need of financial rescue himself after a series of failed investments, the debt-ridden Twain inked Grant to a contract with his newly launched publishing house and gave him a $1,000 check to cover living expenses.

Engaged in a furious race against time as the cancer attacked his body, Grant dug into his writing with military efficiency, churning out as many as 10,000 words in a single day. “Grant approached his memoirs with the same grit and determination as he tackled his Civil War battles,” says Chernow, who also serves as executive producer of HISTORY’s documentary series “Grant.” “As in those encounters, he was thorough and systematic, a real stickler for precision and the truth. In his home, he amassed tall stacks of orders and maps that helped him to recreate his most famous battles with minute fidelity. In war and in writing, Grant had the most amazing ability to marshal all his energy in the pursuit of a single goal.”

Grant astounded Twain with not just the quantity, but the quality of his prose. “Grant prided himself on his writing skills,” Chernow says. “His wartime orders were renowned for their economy and exactness, and he made a point of writing all his own speeches as president—something unthinkable today.”


With just weeks to live, Grant made one final push

Ulysses S. Grant


Ulysses S. Grant reading on a house porch, thought to be the last photograph taken before his death, 1885.

Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Grant penned his manuscript until his hand grew too feeble in the spring of 1885, forcing him to employ a stenographer. Even speaking, however, became laborious as his condition deteriorated. Following the advice of doctors who vouched for the salubrious power of pure mountain air, Grant decamped at the onset of summer from his Manhattan brownstone to an Adirondack resort north of Saratoga Springs. In a cottage on the slopes of Mount McGregor, Grant launched his final campaign to complete his tome.

With excruciating pain accompanying every swallow, Grant was unable to eat solid food. His body withered by the day. The voice that once commanded armies could barely muster a whisper. “He endured great pain with incredible stoicism,” says Ben Kemp, operations manager at the U.S. Grant Cottage State Historic Site. While Grant’s doctors gave him morphine only sparingly in order to keep his mind clear for writing, they swabbed his throat with cocaine to provide topical pain relief and used hypodermic needles to inject him with brandy during the worst of his coughing fits.

Through it all, Grant persisted in honing his manuscript—editing, adding new pages and poring over proofs of his first volume—as he sat on the cottage porch on even the steamiest of days swaddled in blankets, a wool hat and a scarf covering his neck tumor, which was now “as big as a man’s two fists put together” according to the New York Sun. When his voice finally abandoned him, Grant scribbled his thoughts in pencil on small slips of paper.

When Twain visited Grant at the cottage, he brought the good news that he had already pre-sold 100,000 copies of the autobiography. A relieved Grant knew he had succeeded in giving Julia and his children financial security. “Taking care of his family is all that mattered at that point,” Kemp says. “Grant knew at that moment this was going to be a success. Like in a battle, that was the moment he knew the tide had turned.”

With his mission accomplished, Grant finally laid down his pen on July 16 after crafting a herculean 366,000 words in less than a year. “There is nothing more I should do to it now, and therefore I am not likely to be more ready to go than at this moment,” he wrote. Seven days later, Grant’s pulse flickered and ultimately gave out.

Grant’s autobiography was a commercial and literary smash

Ulysses S. Grant memoir


The personal memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.

MPI/Getty Images

Employing an army of door-to-door salesmen, Twain sold more than 300,000 copies of the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. The two-volume boxed set even outsold Twain’s latest work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and resulted in Julia Grant receiving $450,000 in royalties (equivalent to $12 million today).

Grant’s memoir proved not just a commercial success, but a literary one as well. Although Grant omitted discussion of his presidency or sensitive personal matters such as his drinking, many scholars consider his autobiography the finest memoir ever penned by an American president and perhaps the foremost military memoir in the English language. “The emotion of the situation probably lent energy and eloquence to his work,” Chernow says. “In all likelihood, he had narrated many of these stories in the years since the war and they had acquired a certain smoothness and polish in the retelling.”

“There was no doubt among his family and friends that Grant had willed himself to stay alive to complete the book,” Chernow says. “He may have originally undertaken the memoirs to provide for his wife after his death, but it must also have soothed and consoled him at the end of his life to recount his glorious victories in the Civil War.”

5 Prisoners Of War Who Bravely Defied Their Captors

H/T War History OnLine.

 Amazing stories of escape from P.O.W. camps.

An unfortunate consequence of war is that those involved in the fighting will sometimes get captured by enemy forces. Known as prisoners of war (POWs), they’re often held captive until the conflict ends or something bad happens to them. However, there are many who would rather take their chances and attempt a daring escape.


Escape from Libby Prison

On February 9, 1864, 109 members of the Union Army staged an escape from Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Led by Colonel Thomas E. Rose and Major Andrew G. Hamilton, the group spent months digging a tunnel with only chisels and a wooden spittoon. They had to contend with the rats that had made a home in the prison’s basement and frequently risked being caught.

After 17 consecutive days of digging, they managed to break through the wall. They made their escape after lights out, following the tunnel to the vacant Kerr’s Warehouse on Canal Street. Libby was considered practically inescapable, so they were able to walk down the streets of Richmond without arousing suspicion.

Artist's rendering of Libby Prison and a portrait of Colonel Thomas E. Rose
Libby Prison and Colonel Thomas E. Rose. (Photo Credit: 1. Popular Graphic Arts / Wikimedia Commons 2. Civil War Glass Negatives / Wikimedia Commons)

By the time the guards noticed they were gone, approximately 12 hours had passed. Despite knowing the local terrain, only 59 soldiers managed to reach safety. Forty-eight were recaptured and subjected to poor treatment and inadequate rations, and another two drowned while crossing the James River.

E.H. Jones and C.W. Hill

Elias Henry Jones and Cedric Waters Hill were soldiers during WWI. Jones was a Welsh officer with the Indian Army and Hill an Australian officer with the Royal Flying Corps. The pair met while incarcerated at Yozgad POW camp in Turkey.

The pair wanted to escape their conditions, so they turned to society’s growing interest in the paranormal. Fashioning a Ouija board out of a polished iron sword and an upside-down jar, they managed to convince the camp’s commanders they were mediums. According to Hill and Jones, the camp’s resident ghost was named “Spook.”

Yozgad's British P.O.W.s in civilian clothes
Photo Credit: Anonymous / ScholarWorks@MSU (Digital Commons)

The con went on for over a year, between February 1917 and the summer of 1918. They eventually convinced the guards they were insane and had themselves transferred to a hospital for the mentally ill. While there, they continued to play up their symptoms until they were able to convince the doctors to repatriate them back home.

Jones and Hill were set free just a few months before the Armistice put an end to the war.

Charles Upham

Charles Upham was a member of New Zealand’s Officer Cadet Training Unit (O.C.T.U.) during WWII. He fought in numerous skirmishes against the Axis powers. During an assault against the Germans at Ruweisat Ridge in the Egyptian desert, he was injured twice: taking a bullet to the left arm and shrapnel to the leg.

Charles Upham eating with other members of the New Zealand Division
Charles Upham and the men of the New Zealand Division, 1942. (Photo Credit: Photo 12 / Getty Images)

His leg injury resulted in his capture. He was first transported to a hospital, where it was recommended his leg be amputated. However, not wanting to risk an agonizing death and with a desire to escape his captors, Upham declined.

He attempted numerous escapes during his time as a POW. While on a transport through Italy, he jumped off the truck and managed to make it 400 yards before being recaptured, despite having a broken ankle. Another incident, in 1943, involved him getting tied up in a barbed-wire fence in broad daylight. Despite having a guard point a gun at his head, he played it cool and lit a cigarette.

Military portrait of Charles Upham
Charles Upham, 1941. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty Images)

From this point on, he was considered “dangerous” and was forced into solitary confinement. He attempted to escape this predicament once by simply running out the front gates, but was eventually caught. Fed up with his antics, the Germans decided to transport him to Oflag IV-C in Saxony.

Upham waited out his sentence at Colditz, but did try one more escape. During transport in October 1944, he jumped out of a train window while the locomotive was at full speed. He landed on the track and fell unconscious, before waking up and hiding in a nearby orchard. Due to the lack of cover, the Germans eventually found him.

The Davao Escape

Following the battles of Bataan and Corregidor during WWII, thousands of Allied troops were taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army. Many were forced to endure the April 1942 Bataan Death March to Camp O’Donnell and transferred between camps. The poor conditions and the desire to continue fighting led to the Davao Escape. It would be the only large-scale Allied escape from the Japanese during the course of the war.

Portraits of Willam E. Dyess and Samuel Grashio
William E. Dyess and Samuel Grashio. (Photo Credit: 1. Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons 2. Schmidty99206 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Whilst stuck in a labor camp in Mindanao, 11 American servicemen — Melvyn H. McCoy, William Edwin Dyess, Luis Morgan, Stephen M. Mellnik, Samuel C. Grashio, Austin C. Shofner, Jack Hawkins, Leo A. Boelens, Paul Marshall, Michiel Dobervich, and Robert Spielman — and two Filipino men made their escape into the jungle.

They traveled through swamp and thick jungle and eventually came into contact with a band of guerrillas whom they joined for several months. They led raid parties with the directive of attacking Japanese soldiers.

Military portraits of Hawkins and Shofner
Jack Hawkins and Austin C. Shofner. (Photo Credit: 1. U.S. Government / Wikimedia Commons 2. Signal Corps / Wikimedia Commons)

In the fall of 1943, they were rescued by an American submarine and transported to Australia. Two of the American officers stayed behind to fight with the guerrillas and were later reunited with their countrymen.

Cho Chang-ho

Cho Chang-ho was a military officer serving with the Republic of Korea (R.O.K.) Army during the Korean War. After the Battle of Hanseok Mountain in May 1951, he was captured by the Chinese Army and became a POW in North Korea. By the end of the conflict in 1953, he was one of an estimated 60,000 South Korean soldiers to be captured.

Military action at night during the Korean War
155mm Howitzer fire during night action in the Korean War. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty Images)

Chang-ho spent the next 43 years of his life in North Korea, the first 13 as a prisoner of war. In October 1994, he successfully escaped the heavily guarded nation. After crossing the Yalu River border into China, he was helped by fellow Koreans and given passage to South Korea’s western coast aboard a Chinese boat used to smuggle goods.

Both the government and Chang-ho’s family were surprised at his return, as they thought him dead. After acclimatizing back to civilian life, he spent his time advocating for the repatriation rights of POWs. In 2006, he traveled to America, where he testified before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs.


What Really Happened at the Battle of the Little Bighorn?

H/T History.com.

There was a survivor of Custer’s Last Stand his horse Comanche.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn—also known as Custer’s Last Stand—was the most ferocious battle of the Sioux Wars. Colonel George Custer and his men never stood a fighting chance.

Under skies darkened by smoke, gunfire and flying arrows, 210 men of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Unit led by Lt. Colonel George Custer confronted thousands of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors on June 25, 1876, near the Little Big Horn River in present-day Montana. The engagement was one in a series of battles and negotiations between Plains Indians and U.S. forces over control of Western territory, collectively known as the Sioux Wars. 

In less than an hour, the Sioux and Cheyenne had won the Battle of the Little Bighorn, killing Custer and every one of his men. The battle has been ennobled as “Custer’s Last Stand”—but in truth, Custer and his men never stood a fighting chance.

Custer’s early life was less than auspicious.

George Armstrong Custer, born in Ohio in 1839, earned a certificate for teaching grammar school in 1856 but had much grander goals. The following year, he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he was a less-than-stellar cadet: Custer graduated dead last in his class of 1861.

When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, Custer joined the Union Army’s Cavalry and soon proved himself a competent, reliable soldier in battles such as the First Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Gettysburg. He was promoted several times and by the time the war ended, he was a Major General in charge of a Cavalry division.

UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1900: A portrait of George Armstrong Custer, 1839-1876, the "hero" of the Indian campaigns. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)


A portrait of George Armstrong Custer, 1839-1876. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

Throughout the war, Custer showed resilience time and again. He supposedly had 11 horses shot out from under him yet was only wounded once. His dogged pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia is often partially credited for helping to end the Civil War.

Custer was never afraid of getting his hands dirty. Unlike many other generals, he led his men from the front instead of from behind and was often the first to plunge into battle.

In February 1864, Custer married Elizabeth (Libbie) Bacon. In 1866, he was promoted to Lt. Colonel in charge of the 7th U.S. Cavalry Unit and went with Libbie to Kansas to fight in the Plains Indian Wars.

Three young Native American men, probably Sioux, wearing native accessories, 1899. (Photo by Heyn/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)


Three young Native American men, probably Sioux, 1899. (Photo by Heyn/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

The Plains Indians showed tremendous fortitude.

The Great Plains were the last Native American holdout in America. As settlers colonized the far west before the Civil War, few had put down roots in the Plains due to its dry weather and large Indigenous populations.

But after the Civil War, far-west land became scarcer and the U.S. government granted 10 percent of Plains land to settlers and railroads. A confrontation between the Plains Indians against the settlers and government forces was inevitable.

By the late 1860s, most Native Americans had been forced onto so-called Indian reservations or killed outright. Vowing to avoid the same fate, the Plains Indians settled in for a long and fierce holdout.

In the hopes of squashing the livelihood of the Native American people on the Plains, the government allowed the railroads to kill scores of buffalo herds to lay railroad tracks. They also urged hunters to kill as many buffalo as possible without oversight and encouraged trains to stop so passengers could massacre buffalo for sport.

The more the white colonizers needlessly slaughtered buffalo, the angrier Indigenous people grew. Some staged brutal attacks on settlers and railroad workers without regard to age or gender.

To the tribes, the railroad represented an end to their livelihood, since for millennia they’d relied on free-roaming buffalo to survive. By the time Custer arrived on the scene in 1866, the war between the army and the Plains Indians was in full force.

Portrait of General Winfield Scott Hancock (1824-1886), a Federal officer during the American Civil War, with members of his staff. Left to right are Generals Francis C. Barlow, David B. Birney, Winfield S. Hancock (seated), and John Gibbon. Each of these officers was wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)


Portrait of General Winfield Scott Hancock (1824-1886), a Federal officer during the American Civil War, with members of his staff. Left to right are Generals Francis C. Barlow, David B. Birney, Winfield S. Hancock (seated), and John Gibbon. Each of these officers was wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Custer went AWOL and was court-martialed by the U.S. Army.

Custer’s first assignment was helping Major General Winfield S. Hancock carry out a shock-and-awe campaign to overwhelm the tribal nations. At the end of the campaign, Custer deserted and joined his wife at Fort Riley. He was court-martialed in 1867 and suspended without rank and pay for one year.

The fact that Custer—a highly-decorated and well-respected commander—deserted perplexed many of his men and his superiors. It also demonstrated his inclination to make rash decisions, a trait that some say would have deadly consequences later.

Despite Custer’s now-tarnished reputation, the army still needed him to fight Native Americans. In September 1868, he returned to duty before his court-martial sentence was up and resumed command of the 7th Cavalry. On November 28, he led a campaign against a village of Cheyenne led by Chief Black Kettle, killing all Native American warriors present and earning himself a reputation as a ruthless fighter.

Over the next several years, Custer discovered that fighting Indigenous people was much different than fighting Confederate soldiers.

The Indigenous warriors were spread out. They rode fast ponies and knew the terrain better than Custer ever could. 

1887: Native American hunters pursue a herd of bison across the plains. Original Artwork: Painting by Charles Marion Russell. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)


1887: Native American hunters pursue a herd of bison across the plains. Original Artwork: Painting by Charles Marion Russell. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were battle-hardened warriors.

In 1873, Custer faced a group of attacking Lakota at the Northern Pacific Railroad Survey at Yellowstone. It was his first encounter with Lakota leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, but it wouldn’t be his last. Little did Custer know at the time the two Indigenous leaders would play a role in his death a few years later.

In 1868, the U.S. government had signed a treaty recognizing South Dakota’s Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation. However, after gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874, the government had a change of heart and decided to break the treaty and take over the land.

Custer was tasked with relocating all Native Americans in the area to reservations by January 31, 1876. Any person who didn’t comply would be considered hostile.

The Native Americans, however, didn’t take the deception lying down. Those that could, left their reservations and traveled to Montana to join forces with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at their fast-growing camp. Thousands strong, the group eventually settled on banks of the Little Bighorn River.

Background to the Battle of the Little Bighorn River

The U.S. Army dispatched three columns of soldiers, including Custer and his 7th Cavalry, to round up Indigenous people and return them to their reservations.

The plan was for Custer’s cavalry and Brigadier General Alfred Terry’s infantry to rendezvous with troops under the command of Colonel John Gibbon and Brigadier General George Crook. They’d then find the Native Americans, surround them and force their surrender.

Crook was delayed but Terry, Custer and Gibbon met-up in mid-June and after a scouting party found a trail headed toward Little Big Horn Valley, they decided Custer should move in, surround the Indians and await reinforcements.

Custer forged ahead but things didn’t go as planned. Around midday on June 25, his scouts located Sitting Bull’s camp. Instead of waiting for reinforcements, however, Custer planned a surprise attack for the next day. He moved it up when he thought the Native American forces had discovered his position.

Custer divided his more than 600 men into four groups. He ordered one small battalion to stay with the supply train and the other two, led by Captain Frederick Benteen and Major Marcus Reno, to attack from the south and prevent the Indians from escaping. Custer would lead the final group—210 men strong—and planned to attack from the north.

Reno’s group attacked first but swiftly embarked on a disorganized retreat after realizing they were completely outnumbered. By the time they’d regrouped, at least 30 troops were dead.

Benteen’s troops came to Reno’s aid and the combined battalions joined forces on what is now known as Reno Hill. They remained there despite Custer’s order: “Benteen. Come on, Big Village, Be quick, Bring packs. P.S. Bring packs.”

At the 10-year memorial of the Battle of Little Bighorn, unidentified Lakota Sioux dance in commemoration of their victory over teh United States 7th Cavalry Regiment (under General George Custer), Montana, 1886. The photograph was taken by S.T. Fansler, at the battlefield's dedication ceremony as a national monument. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)


At the 10-year memorial of the Battle of Little Bighorn, unidentified Lakota Sioux dance in commemoration of their victory over the United States 7th Cavalry Regiment (under General George Custer), Montana, 1886. The photograph was taken by S.T. Fansler, at the battlefield’s dedication ceremony as a national monument. (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Custer’s ‘Last Stand’ became a slaughter.

The exact events of Custer’s Last Stand are unclear. What is known is that neither Benteen or Reno helped Custer despite admitting later they’d heard heavy gunfire coming from Custer’s position. Custer and his men were left to face scores of Native American warriors alone. Some historians believe many of Custer’s men panicked, dismounted from their horses and were shot dead as they fled.

No one knows when Custer realized he was in trouble since no eyewitness from his troops lived to tell the tale. The Sioux and Cheyenne warriors led by Crazy Horse attacked with Winchester, Henry and Spencer repeating rifles as well as bows and arrows.

Most of Custer’s men were armed with Springfield single-shot carbine rifles and Colt .45 revolvers; they were easily outgunned. Custer’s line and command structure quickly collapsed, and soon it was every man for himself.

Custer died by two bullet wounds

In the end, Custer found himself on the defensive with nowhere to hide and nowhere to run and was killed along with every man in his battalion. His body was found near Custer Hill, also known as Last Stand Hill, alongside the bodies of 40 of his men, including his brother and nephew, and dozens of dead horses.

Custer had suffered two bullet wounds, one near his heart and one in the head. It’s unclear which wound killed him or if the head wound happened before or after he died. In the heat of battle, it’s unlikely the warrior who shot Custer knew he’d just killed a U.S. Army icon. Even so, once word spread that Custer was dead, many Native Americans claimed to be his executioner.

After the battle, Native American warriors stripped, scalped and dismembered their enemy’s corpses on the battlefield, possibly because they believed the souls of disfigured bodies were doomed to walk the earth forever.

The American reaction to Little Big Horn spelled doom for the Plains Indians.

The Battle of the Little Big Horn didn’t end with the massacre of Custer and his men. The Native Americans quickly regrouped and pursued Reno’s and Benteen’s battalions. The troops fought until General Terry’s reinforcements finally arrived.

Now it was the Native Americans who were outnumbered so they packed up camp and fled, bringing the largest defeat of the U.S. Army during the Plains Indian Wars to an end.

The Sioux and Cheyenne reveled in their victory for a time, but their celebration was short-lived, as was their freedom. When word of Custer’s death reached Americans celebrating their nation’s centennial on July 4, they demanded retribution.

The U.S. Army intensified their efforts to hunt down all resisting Native Americans and either wipe them out or force them back onto reservations. Within a year, most had been rounded up or killed.

In May 1877, Crazy Horse surrendered at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, where he was later bayoneted and killed after an altercation with an army officer. After fleeing to Canada, Sitting Bull eventually surrendered in 1881 and lived on Standing Rock Reservation until he was killed by Native American agent policemen during a conflict at his house in 1890.

25th June 1876: General Custer with his men from the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Bighorn being defeated by the combined forces of the Sioux-Cheyenne Indians. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


25th June 1876: General Custer with his men from the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Bighorn being defeated by the combined forces of the Sioux-Cheyenne Indians. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

‘Custer’s Last Stand’ was a manufactured legacy.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn—aka Custer’s Last Stand—is steeped in controversy. To this day, many people question his actions that fateful day. He’s often accused of arrogance for not following the original battle plan and leading his men to certain death. Yet it’s possible Custer believed reinforcements were on the way and wanted to strike before the Sioux and Cheyenne dispersed; it’s unlikely he expected such a well-armed attack.

It’s also argued that Reno and Benteen were simply cowards who ignored Custer’s orders when the fighting unexpectedly got tough, leaving Custer and his men to fight a losing battle. In their defense, though, they may have believed that following Custer’s orders was a suicide mission.

The dead at the Battle of the Little Big Horn were given a quick burial where they fell by the first soldiers who arrived at the scene. Custer was later disinterred and reburied at West Point. Other troops were also disinterred for private burials.

In 1881, a memorial was erected in honor of those who lost their lives. A trench was dug below the memorial to re-inter the remaining battlefield remains and a marker was erected where each soldier had fallen in battle.

While Custer never had the chance to defend his actions at the Battle of Little Big Horn, he needn’t have worried about his legacy because his widow Libbie had it safely in hand: She wanted her husband to go down in honor and boldly promoted him as a brave hero cut down in the prime of his life while defending his country.

It seems Libbie Custer’s efforts paid off. No matter how it’s interpreted over 140 years later, the Battle of Little Big Horn is still one of the most recognized events in U.S. history.

7 Misconceptions About the Civil War

H/T Mental Floss. 

The biggest arguments I get in to over the Civil War is about the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves and ended slavery.

I tell them it actually did nothing if you don’t believe me just read it.

I tell them Lincoln was basically saying “Slaves in the rebelling states are free  if we win.”      


7 Misconceptions About the Civil War

A painting of the Battle of Pea Ridge, which was fought from May 7 to 8, 1862
A painting of the Battle of Pea Ridge, which was fought from May 7 to 8, 1862
The great irony of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The American Civil War is a pivotal and ugly moment in American history, but it’s more misunderstood than you would think. We’re breaking down some myths about Lincoln, women soldiers, racist Northerners, and Southern Union sympathizers, adapted from an episode of Misconceptions on YouTube.


The story of the Civil War is all about division within one’s own country. But the schisms ran deeper than just North against South—there were also cracks within the Union itself, even after the Southern states seceded.

Up North, a group called the “Peace Democrats” opposed everything about Lincoln’s leadership and his war. In time, these dissidents would be nicknamed “Copperheads,” after the venomous snake. Some of them were Southern loyalists; others were Democrats who strictly adhered to a reading of the Constitution that privileged states’ rights above federal powers.

One of Lincoln’s most notable critics was Horatio Seymour, the governor of New York. Tensions between the two leaders came to an ugly head during the Civil War Draft Riots of 1863.

Many of New York’s working-class citizens were incensed over the Enrollment Act of 1863, which established a draft lottery and provided a means for wealthy draft-eligible men to avoid conscription by paying a hefty fee instead. What might have begun with principled indignation towards the legislation soon devolved into terroristic violence and destruction. The rioters targeted African-Americans and the businesses that catered to them, killing many and even setting fire to an orphanage.

Governor Seymour, for his part, was not only seen by the public to be potentially siding with the rioters, he even referred to them as “my friends” in a speech shortly afterward.

Elsewhere in the country, when former Ohio congressman Clement L. Vallandigham made an anti-war speech, he was seized by Union troops and tried by a military court. Vallandigham was all set to go to prison until Lincoln decided to commute his sentence and banish him to the Confederacy.


Jefferson Davis, the man who would eventually become the Confederacy’s first and only president, was originally a senator from Mississippi who opposed early calls for secession. But when Davis learned that his home state officially voted to leave the union in January 1861, he decided to stick by his state, rather than his country. He did so with a heavy heart, saying it was “the saddest day of my life.”

This was a time when many politicians and citizens thought of themselves in terms of state first, country second. In Davis’s eyes, there was no other choice, and he eventually headed to Montgomery, Alabama, where the heads of the recently seceded Southern states were planning to meet and form the Confederate States of America.

Even when Davis had his doubts about secession, his mind was entirely made up about the war’s defining ideological difference: In 1857, a newspaper reports him proclaiming that “African slavery, as it exists in the United States, was a moral, a social, and a political blessing.” Even if there were plenty of racists in the North and unionists in the South, the question of slavery largely defined the outlines of the war.

Robert E. Lee followed a similar ideological trajectory on the issue of secession. Though he was initially against it, his real loyalties were with his home state of Virginia. After Virginia’s state convention voted to secede by a count of 88 to 55 on April 17th, 1861, Lee resigned from the United States military, where he was a colonel, and went to work for the Confederate army.

While in command, Lee served under Davis, who apparently got over his whole secession-phobia in a big way. In a late 1862 speech to the legislature of Mississippi, he declared, “After what has happened during the last two years, my only wonder is, that we consented to live for so long a time in association with such miscreants …”


When President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it declared: “[All] persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

Old-timey jargon aside, Lincoln was basically saying “Slaves in the rebelling states are free … if we win.” It was what many people wanted to hear, but it still had some important limitations. First, it left out border states like Kentucky and Delaware. And none of it would really matter if the Union didn’t prevail.

Despite that, it was also a huge win for abolitionists. This was really an announcement that the Civil War was no longer a war just to preserve the Union; freeing the enslaved population was now an official objective for Lincoln and his army. It emboldened the abolitionists in the North and made opposing countries like France and the UK bristle at the thought of supporting the pro-slavery forces of the Confederacy.

Still, it would be another two years before slavery would actually come to an end in the United States. In June 1865, Union troops led by General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that all 250,000 enslaved people in the state were officially free. Today, Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19 to honor this occasion, though it’s worth noting that even after that date, slavery continued in some places within the United States. Neither Delaware nor Kentucky ended slavery during the Civil War, so some historians estimate there were still around 65,000 enslaved people in 1865.

In December 1865, the end of slavery was finally put into law when Congress passed the 13th Amendment, which stated “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”


Plenty of Civil War movies show screaming soldiers having their mangled limbs amputated with hacksaws in a medical tent while wide awake. But despite what Hollywood says, anesthesia is estimated to have been used in around 95 percent of all surgeries during the war, according to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Ether had made its way into medicine as a general anesthetic in 1846, with chloroform arriving the very next year. American military doctors started using ether during the Mexican-American War, and chloroform was employed during the Crimean War of the mid-1850s.

That being said, this new-fangled way of putting people under in order to operate was still somewhat controversial at the time, and the Civil War doctors who used it actually had very little—if any—hands-on experience with it. Of the two, chloroform was the preferred method of anesthesia, because it worked faster and was far less likely to explode.

There were times when anesthesia couldn’t be used, but according to The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, prepared under the direction of Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes, many of those cases might have been shot injuries, where there were concerns about negative side effects from the drugs. Even then, just 254 of the many thousands of Civil War operations were unanesthetized.


While it’s true that women weren’t legally permitted to serve in the military during the Civil War, stories have come to light over the years indicating that anywhere from 400 to 750 women actually managed to sneak through to the front lines and pick up arms to fight for their country, or for the Confederacy. That’s an impossibly small percentage of the 2.75 million soldiers that fought in the war, but the question remains: How did they do it?

Some likely found a way to pass as men during pre-combat physicals, while others might have snuck into camps once the fighting began. Once they were in, these women were just as involved as the men. There are accounts of women directly involved in spy missions, reconnaissance, and active combat.

One famous individual that may fit under this category is Jennie Hodgers, who fought for the Union under the name Albert Cashier. We have to qualify that last sentence because some historians argue that Cashier is more likely to be a trans man than a disguised woman, even if we didn’t have the vocabulary to identify him as such in his time. In any case, legend places Albert at dozens of battles during his three years at war, and at one point it’s said he escaped from a Confederate prison by overpowering a guard and fleeing. Albert survived the war and remained under this assumed identity the rest of his life.


On November 19, 1863, a crowd of 15,000 gathered to witness the dedication of a military cemetery on the battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers had died over a three-day span in July.

Coming in at around 270 words, President Lincoln powered through the Gettysburg Address in less than three minutes. And contrary to what you might have heard, no, Lincoln didn’t scribble the speech onto an envelope on the way to the battlefield. Lincoln’s secretary later commented that with all the noise, distractions, and rockings and joltings, it would have been impossible to write anything on the moving train, and the surviving drafts of the speech are written in Lincoln’s normal, steady handwriting. She did note that Lincoln finished up the speech that morning, but romanticizing it as history’s greatest rush job is definitely overstating it.

One thing that you might not know about the address is that Lincoln wasn’t pegged to be the main speaker on that day. That honor belonged to Edward Everett, a distinguished scholar and orator who took the stage before the president.

Everett’s speech would go on for around two hours, totaling upwards of 13,000 words. It was a speech he poured his heart and soul into, along with months of research. He obsessed over every account of the battle, from both the Northern and Southern perspectives, in order to get the words just right. Throughout the speech, he retold the story of the Battle of Gettysburg, interspersed with flowery ruminations on the idea of liberty and a plea for unity, saying, “these bonds of union are of perennial force and energy, while the causes of alienation are imaginary, factitious, and transient. The heart of the People, North and South, is for the Union.”

After Everett finished his speech, the president shook his hand and told him, “I am more than gratified, I am grateful to you.” Then the Thunder-Stealer-in-Chief rang out with “Four score and seven years ago …” and made Everett’s magnum opus a historical footnote in under 180 seconds.

Even Everett himself knew he was one-upped by Lincoln, writing soon after that, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”


Gettysburg is, perhaps, the classic vision of a Civil War battlefield: green, hilly fields ensconced in artillery smoke. In reality, though, the Civil War was far from land-locked. Naval warfare played a huge role in the conflict, with the Union victory at the Battle of Port Royal and the standstill at the Battle of Hampton Roads among the most pivotal maritime clashes. The Civil War also made a little naval history when the Confederacy’s Hunley became the first submarine to sink an opposing warship when it attacked the USS Housatonic in 1864.

One naval battle is noteworthy because it didn’t take place in the waters of America at all. In June 1864, the North and South came to blows in the waters off Cherbourg, France, in the English Channel. The battle began brewing when the Confederate ship, the CSS Alabama, was docked at Cherbourg Harbor hoping for some repairs. For years, this ship had been wreaking havoc on U.S. vessels, resulting in the plunder of more than 64 ships and causing millions of dollars in damages.

The USS Kearsarge, helmed by John A. Winslow, had been pursuing the Alabama for months, and once Winslow got word from the U.S. minister in Paris that the ship was docked and prone, he moved in for the kill. Upon hearing that the Kearsarge was ready for a battle, Alabama captain Raphael Semmes prepped his ship and met his Union foe nine miles off the coast of Cherbourg. The Alabama was the first to fire—but there was just one problem: The Kearsarge was draped in a thick anchor chain that protected it from enemy artillery.

Soon, the Alabama was taking on water, the white flag was up, and Semmes was all but defeated. Instead of capture, though, Semmes and some of his surviving men were saved by a nearby British ship. In all, around 20 Confederate troops died, compared to just one Union soldier



It’s a simple and yet heart-rending melody.
It is only 24 notes long.
It always puts a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.
It will also cause me to weep unashamed.
Most people have heard “Taps”, even if they don’t recall the name.
Most people, also, know no history of the famous song.
After the Seven Days Battle in July, 1862, General Dan Butterfield
and bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton reworked a bugle call known
as “Scott Tattoo” to create “Taps.”“Taps” was first used during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862 when a gunner from Battery “A” of
the  second artillery was buried.

As the battery was in a forward wooded area close to the Confederate lines, the traditional three shot volley was unsafe as it would have given the enemy a good idea of where the battery was located.

Captain Tidball ordered “Taps” to be used as a safe salute to a fallen comrade.

The Confederates also used “Taps.” Approximately ten months after it was written, “Taps” was also sounded over the grave of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.

Starting in 1891, Army Infantry Regulations required “Taps”to be sounded at all military funerals.

The Union Civil War Spy, Who Was Also A Stage Actress

H/T War History OnLine.

Pauline Cushman led an interesting live to say the least.

Pauline Cushman may have been considered a mediocre actress, but she’s seen as one of the most successful Union spies of the American Civil War. Using her acting skills, she was able to access Confederate intel and help advance the efforts of Union forces.

A struggling actress

Born Harriet Wood, Pauline wished to become an actress and moved to New York City to pursue her aspirations. Unfortunately, she was unable to find work and moved back to her hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, where she adopted her stage name and met the man who would become her first husband, theater musician Charles C. Dickinson.

Pauline Cushman
Photo Credit: Matthew Brady Studio / Wikimedia Commons CC0 1.0

Pauline and Charles moved to Cleveland, Ohio in order to be closer to his family. After Charles died of dysentery not long after the start of the Civil War in 1863, Pauline relocated to Louisville, Kentucky, and obtained a part in a play called The Seven Sisters.

At the time, Louisville was under Union control, with paroled Confederate officers walking its streets.

Pauline’s beginnings in espionage

Pauline’s entry into espionage began after being approached by two Confederate officers. They offered her up to $350 if she toasted to Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the play, instead of the scripted toast to President Abraham Lincoln. Concerned, she approached Colonel Orlando Hurley Moore about the proposition, and to her surprise, she was asked to accept the request and report back the following day.

Pauline Cushman toasting Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy
Pauline Cushman toasting Confederate President Jefferson Davis (Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons)

Pauline’s change to the script, which read, “Here’s to Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy; may the South always maintain her honor and her rights,” was met with outrage from Union supporters and elation from Confederate sympathizers. She was fired for her actions, and she later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where her work as a spy began.

A Union spy in disguise

Reports surrounding Pauline’s duties as a spy are mired in myth. She was asked to gather intel about Confederate General Braxton Bragg, and her exploits have been sensationalized over the years.

It’s said she once had a boardinghouse mistress arrested after she discussed her plan to poison the food and drink of Union soldiers lodging at the establishment. Another tale details the arrest of a Southern woman who was duped into believing Pauline was a Confederate and allowing her to accompany her on her travels. The result was the confiscation of the woman’s contraband medical supplies and documents.

Pauline Cushman in military uniform
Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons

There are rumors she dressed as a male soldier, but her usual ruse was to pretend she was the sister of a missing Confederate soldier. The ploy allowed her access to Confederate camps, where she was able to assess their plans and supplies, which she committed to memory.

The Tullahoma Campaign

The apex of Pauline’s spy career came toward the start of the Tullahoma Campaign in 1863. She was sent to Nashville by Colonel William Truesdail, under the command of Major General William Rosecrans, to gather intel that would aid Union forces in gaining control of Tennessee.

Under the guise of trying to locate her brother, Pauline gained access to the Confederate camps. When she came across a young soldier with fortification plans, she took the risk of stealing them and bringing them back to the Union camp. On the way back, she was captured. While she managed to escape, she was once again caught and put on trial for espionage. Her sentence was death by hanging.

General Major William Rosecrans
William Rosecrans (Photo Credit: Samuel Woodson Price / Wikimedia Commons)

Rumor has it that Pauline managed to evade this sentence by exaggerating the effects of typhoid fever, while others say she wasn’t sick at all and was simply acting the part. However she managed it, she was able to postpone her execution long enough for Union forces to rescue her during their invasion of the area. She’d seemingly been left behind during the Confederates’ retreat.

Pauline’s work as a Union spy is honored

Pauline was granted the rank of Brevet Major by General James A. Garfield and, by some reports, President Lincoln. She was given the name of “Miss Major Pauline Cushman” and presented by The Union Ladies of Nashville with her own military uniform, which she wore during her travels across the Union.

Pauline Cushman
Photo Credit: Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries / Library of Congress

Pauline Cushman became a household name and, in 1864, teamed up with American showman P.T. Barnum for her very own one-woman stage show, Spy of the Cumberland. She was billed as being “the greatest heroine of the age.” Her friend, Ferdinand Sarmiento, further grew her popularity by publishing an exaggerated biography, titled The Life of Pauline Cushman: The Celebrated Union Spy and Scout.

America begins rebuilding itself

As the country worked to restore itself, Pauline found her newfound fame dwindling. She moved to California to restart her acting career and met Jere Fryer. They moved to the Arizona Territory, but their time together was short-lived, as they split after the death of their daughter, Emma.

Pauline returned to California and fell into a life of poverty. Living in a boardinghouse in San Francisco, she made money by selling poetry and petitioning the government for access to Charles’ war pension. Her health began to suffer around this time, as she developed rheumatism and arthritis, and she fell into drug addiction while trying to manage her symptoms.

Pauline Cushman's gravestone at Presidio National Cemetery
Photo Credit: Aurinia / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

On December 2, 1893, Pauline died after overdosing on morphine. Her death was ruled accidental by a coroner’s inquest. Plans were made to bury her in a potter’s field, but veterans groups raised money for a proper funeral. She was buried in the Officer’s Circle at Presidio’s National Cemetery, her tombstone reading, “Pauline C. Fryer Union Spy.”

10 Things You May Not Know About Ulysses S. Grant

H/T History.com.

One of the most influential Americans of the 19th century, Grant led the Union Army to victory during the Civil War and later helped steer the nation through Reconstruction during two terms as president. Check out 10 little-known facts about America’s 18th commander in chief.

1. The “S” in Grant’s name didn’t stand for anything.

Although he was always known as “Ulysses” during his youth in Ohio, Grant’s given name was actually Hiram Ulysses Grant. His phantom middle initial is the result of an error from Ohio Congressman Thomas Hamer, who accidentally wrote the future general’s name as “Ulysses S. Grant” when he nominated him to attend West Point. Despite Grant’s best efforts to correct the record, the name stuck, and he eventually accepted it as his own. “Find some name beginning with “S” for me,” he joked in an 1844 letter to his future wife, Julia Dent. “You know I have an “S” in my name and don’t know what it stands for.”

2. He was notoriously unlucky in business.

After spending a decade in the army and serving with distinction in the Mexican-American War, Grant resigned his post in 1854 and spent the next seven years flopping as a farmer, real estate agent and rent collector. He once had to eke out a living by selling firewood on St. Louis street corners, and when the Civil War erupted, he was toiling away in obscurity at his family’s Galena, Illinois leather business. Grant would later try his hand at business a second time after he left the White House, with equally disastrous results. A financial firm he started with his son and a man named Ferdinand Ward went belly up after Ward fleeced its investors, and by 1884, Grant was bankrupt. It was only after the posthumous publication of his memoirs that his fortune was restored.

3. Grant won the first major Union victory of the Civil War.

Grant struggled to secure a field command at the outbreak of the Civil War, but was later placed in charge of a regiment of Illinois volunteers and quickly promoted to the rank of brigadier general. The first display of his trademark aggressive style came in February 1862, when he forced the capitulation of some 15,000 Confederates at Tennessee’s Fort Donelson. “No terms except complete and unconditional surrender can be accepted,” he famously warned the garrison’s commander. The victory marked the first time in the war that a full Confederate force was captured, and grateful Northerners inundated “Unconditional Surrender” Grant with cigars after it was reported that he smoked one during the attack. Before the war ended, Grant would accept the surrender of two more rebel armies at Vicksburg, Mississippi and Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

4. He struggled with alcohol throughout his life.

Grant’s taste for strong drink first became problematic in the early 1850s, when he was reportedly forced to resign from the army for being caught drunk on duty. He swore off alcohol for most of the next decade, only to fall off the wagon during the Civil War. Grant’s penchant for binge drinking was usually kept in check by his teetotaler adjutant, Colonel John Rawlins, but rumors that he was intoxicated during battles swirled around him for most of the war. For his part, Abraham Lincoln appeared unperturbed by the gossip. When a group of congressmen once alleged that Grant was a drunk, the President supposedly responded by asking what kind of whiskey the General preferred. “I urged them to ascertain and let me know,” Lincoln later said, “for if it made fighting generals like Grant, I should like to get some of it for distribution.”

5. Grant hated wearing army uniforms.

Grant received numerous demerits for his unkempt uniforms during his days at West Point, and his distaste for military dress continued even after he assumed supreme command of the Union Army during the Civil War. Unlike many of his epaulet-wearing contemporaries, he rarely carried a sword and often took to the field clad in a civilian hat, mud-caked boots and an ordinary private’s coat with his rank stitched onto it. One observer who saw Grant during the war described him as an “ordinary, scrubby-looking man, with a slightly seedy look, as if he was out of office on half-pay.”

6. He was supposed to be at the theater with Lincoln on the night of his assassination.

Grant was invited to join Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on the fateful evening of April 14, 1865, but was forced to decline after he and his wife made plans to visit their children in New Jersey. He was informed of the President’s assassination when his train stopped later that night. Grant later described Lincoln’s death as the “darkest day of my life,” and bitterly regretted not having been at his side. Despite being a potential target himself, he was convinced he would have somehow stopped John Wilkes Booth from pulling the trigger.


7. Grant prevented Robert E. Lee from being charged with treason after the Civil War.

When he accepted the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in April 1865, Grant offered generous terms that paroled Confederate soldiers and officers and allowed them to return to their homes. He even permitted the men to keep their horses and mules for use as farm animals. Grant believed leniency was critical to achieving a lasting peace, and he was furious when a federal grand jury later negated the terms of his agreement and charged Lee and several other Confederate generals with treason. During a subsequent meeting with President Andrew Johnson, he stated his intention to “resign the command of the army rather than execute any order to arrest Lee or any of his commanders so long as they obey the law.” Unwilling to lose Grant’s support, Johnson reluctantly dropped the case.

8. He had no political experience before becoming president.

His time in charge of the Union Army notwithstanding, Grant was a political novice when he was inaugurated as the 18th president in 1869. He’d never held any elected position, and had shown little interest in running for office before the Republican Party nominated him as its candidate. Critics would later blame his lack of experience for the economic turmoil and scandals that dogged his administration, a claim that Grant himself acknowledged. “It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of Chief Executive without any previous political training,” he wrote in his final message to Congress. “Under such circumstances, it is but reasonable to suppose that errors of judgment must have occurred.”

9. He was responsible for dismantling the KKK during Reconstruction.

After the newly formed Ku Klux Klan began murdering and terrorizing black Americans in the late-1860s, President Grant mobilized the Justice Department and secured thousands of indictments against their leaders. In 1871, he also oversaw passage of the so-called “Ku Klux Klan Act,” which armed him with the power to declare martial law and suspend habeas corpus in areas deemed to be in a state of insurrection. The law got its first test later that year, when Grant sent troops into South Carolina and ran thousands of Klansmen out of the state. Thanks to his administration’s efforts, the hooded extremists were effectively cowed into submission over the next few years. They wouldn’t resurface in force until the 1910s.

10. Mark Twain published his memoirs.

Grant first began compiling his memoirs in the mid-1880s, after he wrote a series of popular articles about his Civil War experiences. He was on the verge of signing a book deal with a magazine when novelist Mark Twain swooped in and offered a much more lucrative contract with his newly formed publishing firm Charles L. Webster & Company. Grant took Twain up on his offer, and later finished the book just a few days before succumbing to cancer in July 1885. The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant hit stores later the year, and was immediately hailed by Twain and others as a literary masterpiece. It was also a massive bestseller. After the book was published, Grant’s widow Julia received a whopping $450,000 in royalties.