October 3, 1863
October 3, 1863
A look at the operation of the Underground Railroad.
The strength of the Underground Railroad — a network of people who helped enslaved people escape to the North — came from those who risked their own safety. Among the ones most tied to the journey to freedom were Harriet Tubman, one of the most famous “conductors,” and William Still, often called the “Father of the Underground Railroad.”
Born into slavery in Maryland with the name Araminta Harriet Ross, Tubman herself escaped to freedom, thanks to the Underground Railroad. While enslaved, she suffered regular physical violence and torture throughout her childhood. One of the most severe was when a two-pound weight was thrown at her head, causing her to endure seizures and narcoleptic episodes throughout her life.
She married a free man, John Tubman, in 1844, but not much is known about their relationship except that she took his last name. Five years later, she found herself sick, and when her owner died, she decided it was time to escape to Philadelphia. She started the journey with her brothers but ultimately made the 90-mile trip on her own in 1849.
“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person,” she said of making it into the free state of Pennsylvania, where she took on her mother’s name of Harriet. “There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”
But experiencing freedom wasn’t enough for Tubman — she couldn’t bear the thought of her family being enslaved, so she crossed back in 1850 to lead her niece’s family to Philadelphia. In 1851, she went back to bring her husband across the line, only to find that he was married to another woman and had no desire to move North. Instead, she led a group of escaped bonds people. Those were just two of the trips she made between 1850 and 1860 (estimates range from 13 to 19 total trips), reportedly guiding more than 300 enslaved people to freedom. Among those she saved were her parents and siblings.
The dangers were heightened when the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, stating that escaped enslaved people caught in the North could be returned to slavery. But Tubman simply worked around that and steered her Underground Railroad to Canada, where slavery was prohibited (there’s evidence one of her stops on an 1851 trip was at the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass). Her work as a “conductor” (those who guided the enslaved along the Underground Railroad) earned her the nickname “Moses,” which happened to be the actual name of her younger brother.
“I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say,” she proudly said. “I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”
Meanwhile, William Still was born into freedom in Burlington County, New Jersey, a free state. His father, Levin Steel, purchased his freedom while his mother, Sidney, had escaped slavery. He was still a young boy when he first helped a man he knew was being hunted by enslaved catchers.
After moving to Philadelphia in 1844, he started working for the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery as a janitor and clerk. Around this time, he started helping fugitive enslaved people by housing them in the years before the Civil War. His Underground Railroad “station” became a popular stop where he helped shepherd those enslaved to Canada. In the 14 years that he worked the route, it’s estimated that he guided 800 enslaved people to freedom — keeping detailed records along the way.
Although he destroyed many of the notes, fearing it would expose the runaway enslaved people, his children encouraged him to turn them into a book, which he published in 1872 as The Underground Railroad — one of the most accurate records of the historical period
And her visits definitely made an impression, since he included her in a passage in his book, following a letter from Thomas Garrett about her bringing incoming visitors.
“Harriet Tubman had been their ‘Moses,’ but not in the sense that Andrew Johnson was the ‘Moses of the colored people,’” Still wrote in his book. “She had faithfully gone down into Egypt, and had delivered these six bondmen by her own heroism. Harriet was a woman of no pretensions, indeed, a more ordinary specimen of humanity could hardly be found among the most unfortunate-looking farm hands of the South. Yet, in point of courage, shrewdness and disinterested exertions to rescue her fellow-men, by making personal visits to Maryland among the enslaved, she was without her equal.”
He went on to praise her success as “wonderful,” noting her multiple journeys into the danger zone. “Great fears were entertained for her safety, but she seemed wholly devoid of personal fear,” he continued. “The idea of being captured by enslaved-hunters or enslaved-holders, seemed never to enter her mind. She was apparently proof against all adversaries.”
The 2019 film Harriet, in which Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet Tubman and Leslie Odom Jr. plays William Still, will dive into the life and spirit of Tubman — and the part that Still played, as they both guided so many on the road to freedom.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
There was a survivor of Custer’s Last Stand his horse Comanche.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
‘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.
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.”
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
An estimated 2,021 of those Medals of Honor have gone to Irish American recipients.
19 men have so far been awarded the medal twice, and of these, five were born in Ireland.
On July 31, 2017, during a concise but poignant White House ceremony, President Donald Trump hosted the first Medal of Honor presentation of his administration. It was in this event that the most recent Irish American to receive America’s most prestigious military decoration emerged.
“I know I speak for everyone here when I say we are in awe of your actions and your bravery,” the President said, referring to the recipient, who stood stoically just a few feet from him
James C. McCloughan, aged 73 and a retired high school teacher, received the Medal of Honor for “acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty” as an Army medic 48 years earlier near Tam Ky and Nui Yon Hill during the Vietnam War.
During the 48 hour period of close combat, then-23 year old McCloughan repeatedly jumped into the rain of gunfire to save his comrades, getting injured on numerous occasions, and ignoring direct orders to stop going into the Kill Zone.
With his recognition and award, McCloughan did not become simply the latest Irish American to receive the Medal. His award also drew attention to one of the fascinating facts about the Medal of Honor: a disproportionate number of its recipients have Irish roots.
The most distinguished military honor of the United States of America, created during the Civil War and first awarded in 1863, the Medal of Honor has been awarded 3,525 times to date. Indeed, this is a rather minute percentage of the millions of people that have served the US in combat, and it illustrates how sparingly the Medal of Honor gets awarded.
Out of this pint-sized percentage, an estimated 2,021 of those Medals of Honor have gone to Irish American recipients.
That’s a staggering 57 percent.
Although the award is only meant for personnel of the US Armed Forces, US citizenship is not always a prerequisite to serving in the US military. As a result, thirty-three countries are represented in over 500 foreign-born recipients of the Medal of Honor. This may not come so much as a surprise, but out of these foreign-born recipients, 257 are Irish-born, representing about half of the people in this category.
Even better, 19 men have so far won the medal twice, and of these, five were born in Ireland: Henry Hogan, John Laverty, John Cooper, John King, and Patrick Mullen. Also among these 19 double medal recipients are three Irish Americans: Daniel Daly, John McCloy, and John Joseph Kelly.
The first Irish American to receive the Medal of Honor was Private Michael Madden for his heroism during the Civil War. He swam with a wounded comrade, while under heavy enemy fire, to successfully take the injured soldier across to a branch of the Potomac to the safety of the Union lines.
Undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable Irish recipients of the Medal of Honor is Michael Dougherty of Falcarragh in County Donegal, Ireland, who fought in the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry of the Union Army during the Civil War.
He received the Medal of Honor for leading a charge against a hidden Confederate detachment at Jefferson, Virginia, foiling what would have led to the flanking of the Union forces, and preventing a potential loss of about 2,500 lives.
Dougherty was captured along with 126 others from his unit. He spent 23 months in prison, ultimately arriving at the dreaded Andersonville POW camp in Georgia. Dougherty was the sole survivor from his unit, but he was reduced to a mere skeleton, “more dead than alive.”
He managed to get aboard the steamship Sultana which had over 2,000 people aboard, six times its acceptable capacity. As the ship dragged on across the Mississippi, its boilers exploded and the ship was ripped apart, with its passengers getting flung into the river. Only 900 managed to survive the incident, and among these was Dougherty, who somehow managed to swim to a small island before help came.
Amazed by his impeccable story of bravery and survival, John J. Concannon referred to him as “Super Survivor” Michael Dougherty in his article for the website The Wild Geese.
Whether it is inherently Irish traits or just coincidence that explains why the Medal of Honor list is dominated by Irish blood, this fact has become something in which the Irish can’t help but revel. In a bid to explain why the Irish have dominated the Medal of Honor list, James McCloughan made reference to Irish history and culture.
“If you go back to the culture of the Irish you know we’ve been fighting each other and fighting the Scottish and so on and so forth for years and years and years,” he said.
According to him, his own family has a military history that dates all the way back to the Picts, who lived in Scotland in the early medieval period.
“You learn to stick up for your rights and the rights of others,” said the Vietnam War veteran. “When you go into the service, maybe you are thinking about serving your country but I’m going to tell you what once you get there you [are] just worried about surviving and then helping as many of your brothers survive as possible.”
This addiction to morphine would be what drove Pemberton to invent Coca-Cola.
While not too many people nowadays may know who John Stith Pemberton was, almost everyone in the world knows the name of his most famous creation: Coca-Cola.
The creator of the world’s most popular soft drink was actually a veteran of the American Civil War, and the soft drink he invented after the war came about as a direct result of his participation in the conflict.
Pemberton was born in Knoxville, Georgia, in 1831. By the age of 19, he had earned a medical degree and had become quite a talented chemist. After he got married in 1853, he moved to Columbus, Georgia, where he opened a drug store and had a son.
This period of domestic bliss was to be short-lived, however, for Pemberton was to become involved in the gargantuan conflict that was the American Civil War.
Pemberton enlisted in the Confederate Army and was made a first lieutenant of the 3rd Georgia Cavalry Battalion. He later rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. During the last major battle of the war, the Battle of Columbus in April 1865, Pemberton received a bad saber wound to the chest in the struggle for control of 14th Bridge.
Like hundreds of thousands of other American soldiers — both Union and Confederate — who survived the war with their lives intact but their bodies maimed by terrible wounds, Pemberton became addicted to one of the most widely-prescribed painkillers of the time: morphine.
This addiction to morphine would be what drove Pemberton to invent Coca-Cola, but it also came perilously close to destroying the fledgling soft drink company before it even got off the ground.
Pemberton was a talented chemist, and after realizing that his addiction to morphine was becoming debilitating, he decided to work on something that would cure him and the thousands of other Americans who were caught in the grip of this terrible addiction.
He moved to Atlanta, and after much experimentation, he formulated a drink he believed would be able to cure morphine addiction.
The drink Pemberton had invented, which he dubbed “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca” was advertised as a cure-all of sorts. Pemberton claimed that it could be used to treat anything from morphine addiction to depression or alcoholism, impotence, and other conditions.
This early form of Coca-Cola was, in fact, an alcoholic beverage and was loosely based on Vin Mariani, an Italian-French medicinal wine. One of the key ingredients of Pemberton’s concoction was the coca leaf, from which cocaine is derived.
While Vin Mariani also contained coca leaves, Pemberton’s drink had a few other key ingredients that the French-Italian product didn’t. There were kola nuts, which added caffeine, and damiana, a South American leaf which was used as an aphrodisiac.
Since Pemberton’s drink contained alcohol, cocaine, and caffeine, it certainly would have given the user something of a buzz.
When Atlanta instituted prohibition laws in 1866, Pemberton had to change the formula of his drink so that it no longer contained alcohol.
He replaced the alcohol with sugar syrup and added citric acid to temper the excessive sweetness. With these alterations, the Coca-Cola we know today was almost complete, but it still lacked one key ingredient: soda water.
Pemberton’s new syrup had been distributed to various pharmacies throughout Atlanta and was sold as a syrup, which was then mixed with plain water to create the drink. A clerk at one of these pharmacies decided to use soda water instead of regular water, and with that development, modern Coca-Cola was born.
The name Coca-Cola was invented by a bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, and was based on two of the drink’s active ingredients. “Coca-Cola,” of course, has a great ring to it, and the name quickly stuck.
Unfortunately for Pemberton, while his drink had begun to achieve a measure of commercial success, it had not performed the primary function for which he had invented it – namely, it had failed to cure him of his morphine addiction. After all these years, he was still addicted to the potent drug.
Running into financial difficulties, Pemberton began to sell shares in his Coca-Cola company, sometimes in a rather chaotic and haphazard manner — no doubt due to the morphine and cocaine he was using. This resulted in a number of different companies in the late 1880s all using the name Coca-Cola and all claiming to be selling the genuine product.
The drink’s eventual nationwide success can largely be attributed to one of the shareholders, Asa Candler, a pharmacist who eventually ended up owning the company. Pemberton, sadly, contracted stomach cancer in 1888.
While Pemberton believed that his drink could become a national hit and wanted his son at least to keep some shares in the company, he was desperately ill and needed money.
His son Charles – who at this stage had developed an opium addiction – also wanted money, so father and son sold two-thirds of their shares in the company to Candler. Pemberton then passed away from his illness in late 1888.
Sadly, Pemberton’s only child Charles would pass shortly after his father. In 1894, he was discovered in a coma, with a stick of opium next to his body. He died a few days later.
By this time, Candler had managed to achieve complete ownership of the Coca-Cola company, and it was largely due to his genius with marketing and his sharp business acumen that Coca-Cola went on to become a national – and then international – success.
John Stith Pemberton will likely be remembered first and foremost as the inventor of the most popular soft drink in the world. But it is important to remember that had he not fought in the American Civil War, the drink would likely never have been invented at all.
So, in no insignificant sense, we can say that the American Civil War was at least partly responsible for the invention of Coca-Cola.