#3. It was the Bloodiest War In American History
Here's a fun experiment: Google the phrase "bloodiest American war." We did, and the phrase "Civil War" popped up on the page no less than 16 times. That's three time more than "Revolutionary War," "World War I" and "World War II" ... combined.
And about 2000 more times than the Whiskey Rebellion, although the details get a bit fuzzy about that.
Why it's Bullshit:
More Americans actually died in the battles of World War II than during the Civil War. Now, this is not to suggest that the Civil War was not bloody; it was. But "only" 207,000 American lives were lost on the battlefield (as opposed to the nearly 300,000 who died in combat during WWII) while 414,000 of the Civil War casualties died simply because the mid-19th century was a terrible time for five million men to go camping for six months.
Had they been counted, fashion victims would have made up 40 percent of confederate losses.
Medicine in the 19th century was so medieval it might as well have walked around in a tunic and leggings while strumming a lute. Add in all of the soldiers who died of disease or infections during the war and you get a horrific 625,000 lives lost. So for every one soldier who died in battle, two more died of sickness.
You have to remember that back then, learning to be a doctor was like learning to be a plumber -- most American physicians learned their trade by attending a couple of lectures and then apprenticing with an older doctor. And at a time when even the best doctors in the world had a shaky understanding of the spread of disease, it was no wonder that barely trained field medics struggled with everything from cholera to smallpox to the runs.
"All right men, for maximum realism, I'll battle on heroically while you shit yourself and die."
Speaking of the runs, dysentery and diarrhea alone affected 78 percent of the troops annually. Germ theory, sanitized instruments, the whole concept of not drinking toilet water were all innovations that would come along too late to help the victims of the Civil War.
"In honor of my forefathers, I will lick this delicious food off the floor. For freedom."
#2. If the South Had Done ___________, They Would Have Won
Not to be confused with the popular myth regarding Hank Williams, Jr.'s life prospects had the South actually won ...
... this myth goes something like this: With generals like Robert E. Lee, Southern pride and all those fields of cotton on their side, the Confederates should have won the war, had it not been for a few minor blunders.
Why it's Bullshit:
The South never, ever had a chance of winning the Civil War. Never.
It all came down to a numbers game, starting with population. The North had a population of 22 million against the South's 9.1 million which included the slaves.
The North rejected repeated offers to "settle this like men via cotton pick off."
The Union possessed a navy the South couldn't touch, industry and armaments the South couldn't match, currency backed up in California gold, and women not encumbered by hoop skirts so wide you could hide 30 children under them.
"Oh darn it, I've lost Kevin again."
Now, this is not meant to suggest that there weren't some close calls for the Union throughout the war -- there were. But the U.S. government had already been through several wars the past fourscore years while the Confederate government was never able to get their shit together. While the Union had transformed Washington, D.C., into the most fortified city on the planet, the Rebels were still fighting over what flag to use.
"Well, the red says 'we're fighting for our freedom,' but the stars say 'we're doing it flamboyantly.' Tough choice."
When the threat of foreign intervention cropped up, Lincoln threw ambassadors like John Quincy Adams' son at the Europeans while the Confederates had nothing to offer but peach cobbler and the overuse of "y'all." In short, the South never stood a chance against the Union politically, militarily or diplomatically.
But what about the brilliant strategy? Didn't they have Robert E Lee and all those guys? Well ...
#1. The American Civil War Was Defined by Brilliant Generals and Strategy
How many Dodge Chargers have you seen running around sporting Union flags and blasting The Battle Hymn of the Republic? And of those zero, how many were christened The General George McClellan? You know a commander had to be spectacular to get his name slapped on the getaway car of moonshine running Southern outlaws.
Why it's Bullshit:
General Lee aside, both the North and the South had their share of dumbass generals, and the case has been made that the Confederates had the larger share, which is not too surprising when you consider that they lost.
The biggest problem was that the military elites from both the North and South were educated in old school battle techniques, but were firing off state of the art weaponry. Which meant they were still lining up and squaring off against each other in battle, but instead of shooting Revolutionary War muskets, they were shooting longer ranged rifles and the very first machine guns. Which made as much sense as taking grenades to a water gun fight -- one where no one shows up with water balloons. And why early Civil War battles like Shiloh killed more soldiers than every war in American history up to that point put together ... in just two days.
"I can't help thinking we're not using these guns very efficiently."
But better guns coupled with opposing soldiers so close they could foxtrot together wasn't the only problem for the generals. Both the North and South executed some bafflingly stupid strategies that cost the lives of thousands of men. Like when Robert E. Lee ordered Major General George Pickett to lead over 12,000 soldiers across an open field and into the
loving arms firing rifles of Union soldiers, getting half of his men killed on the spot. Or when Union commander George B. McClellan became one of the few commanders in U.S. history to desert his troops not once or twice, but three times on the battlefield.
When clouds cover the sky, and America is in dire need of a hero, they say his statue comes to life and runs away.
Seriously, with friends like that, who needs anything other than a last will and testament?
When not writing about history for Cracked, Jacopo writes about history for Wordplague, a collective of artists and Cracked writers. Their book is available for Kindle here. All proceeds go to the charity, Kiva.org
For more misconceptions that need to be corrected, check out 6 Things From History Everyone Pictures Incorrectly and 6 Ridiculous History Myths (You Probably Think Are True).
And stop by Linkstorm to learn a delicious recipe for peach cobbler.
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