#2. Geology Killed a Butt-Ton of Civil War Soldiers
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It's been almost 150 years, but historians and laymen alike still haven't given up their study boner for the American Civil War. Whether it's uniforms, weapons, tactics, bathroom habits, or the songs that took the soldiers' minds off the living hell they were trapped in, no aspect of the conflict has been left unturned, including the actual stones that were there on the battlefield. According to two geologists, the rocks that were under the soldiers' feet during the Civil War played a huge role in who lived and who died.
Why Location Mattered
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You don't have to be a graduate of West Point to know that fighting on a completely flat open plain is a boneheaded idea. Battles eventually turn into a deadly game of hide and seek, which is why you never see armies fighting in bowling alleys or on the bellies of Hollywood starlets. The terrain is too flat.
I see only one good hiding spot, and it's probably taken.
Geologists Bob Whisonant and Judy Ehlen figured out that if you plotted out the locations of the Civil War's 25 deadliest battles, you would find that a quarter of them were fought on limestone. If that doesn't sound like a lot, consider this: During the Battle of Antietam, 23,000 men were injured or died. Part of the battle was fought on limestone, and part was fought on dolomite. And the battles that were fought on limestone saw five times more casualties than the battles fought over dolomite, which isn't to be confused with Dolemite, a pimp who knows kung fu. Contrary to what you've heard, Dolemite had nothing to do with the Battle of Antietam.
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So, to recap: one battleground, two different kinds of bedrock. The soldiers fighting on limestone were five times more likely to kick the bucket as the ones fighting on dolomite. Was the whole war between the states part of limestone's plan to kill humans? Was England posing as limestone to get us back after the whole Revolutionary War thing? No, both of those suggestions are stupid. Limestone is soft and erodes easily, creating a flatter terrain over millions of years. Dolomite is tougher and harder to wear away, so its terrain ends up with more hills and hiding spots.
If you want to think of Antietam as two faces, the limestone section would have been a smoothed-out, filled-in Cher face, and the dolomite section would be Dumbledore. If you were a tiny person trying to hide from a cannonball, which face would you pick?
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Limestone, or ...
#1. The Mongolian Invasion was STEPPEtacular
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Sometime around 1206, the guy who would later be known as Genghis Khan began the process of swallowing the entire Earth into his cavernous mouth. At the height of the Mongolian empire, Genghis' descendants controlled land from the Korean peninsula to Central Europe. For comparison, here's a little doodle of the Roman Empire at its height.
And here's a picture of the Mongolian Empire at its height:
You obviously don't get to control this amount of land by just planting your flag and asking nicely, despite what the British Empire told you. Think of that entire Mongolian empire as an ocean of blood. On the high end, historians think the Mongol invasions slaughtered around 40 million people around the world, or about 17 percent of the planet's population at the time. While Rome pretty much absorbed the guys they conquered and Great Britain was a fussy little bossy britches, the Mongols were all about leaving the worst possible impression -- usually through murder.
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Can someone from layout please do a Photoshop of 40 million of these? Thanks!
Once you get how devastating the Mongol invasions were, you start to make some assumptions about how they were able to take over so much of the world. Maybe they had a disciplined, military-minded culture, like Sparta. Or maybe the Mongols were in a territorial race with other global powers, like Great Britain. Actually, neither of the above is the right answer. The truth is that the Mongols were the most effective warriors in the history of the world specifically because of where they were from.
Why Location Mattered
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The Mongols, in case you didn't pay attention during that one 10-minute lecture high school history gave you on the subject, came from the steppes of Asia. Picture a sea of grass 5,000 miles long and 600 miles wide, with desert to the south and dense Russian forests to the north. The winter can hit negative 50 F, and summer gets to 104 F, with nothing but blizzards, sandstorms, and heartache in between.
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Believe it or not, this child is only 7 years old.
The only thing the steppe had to offer the Mongols was the toughest climate on earth, little short-legged horses, and the grass itself, and sometimes not even that. Which was why the Mongols became experts at surviving off of nothing. When Genghis Khan got it into his head that he was going to take over the world, he was already starting out with an army of Rambos.
Unlike other armies, the Mongols didn't need a cross-country supply chain to keep their soldiers fed. All they needed were their horses. Because the Mongols kept mostly mares, they could survive on horse milk if the hunting was bad. And each soldier traveled with three or four horses each, so they could switch off when the animals got tired, which made them the fastest army in the world. Siege machines were built on the spot so nothing would slow them down. While just about every other army in the history of ever has avoided major movements in the winter, the Mongols thrived in cold weather, thanks to the fact that they called a frozen tundra home. Even their assault techniques were shaped by the steppe: They tracked their victims like they'd track prey, stealthily creeping around your town until it was too late -- you just got Mongolized.
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So what were the Mongols looking for in their invasions? The short answer is that the Mongols wanted stuff. The steppe, for all its barren beauty, gave nothing for trade. Have you ever built a house out of felt?? It sucks! You have to "borrow" timber from neighboring tribes just to get the frame for your fabric house. Mongolians couldn't grow crops or mine ore or keep silkworms alive long enough get some sweet fabric out of their butts. So they had a mess of nothing to work with, thanks to their steppe-land. That all changed when Genghis started collecting tributes from conquered enemies, which was why Marco Polo didn't write about a yurt village when he visited Genghis' grandson Kublai Khan. He wrote about a marble palace surrounded by beautiful parks and fountains and art. In other words, the Mongols went from full-time campers to mini-Liberaces in two generations. But they couldn't have done it if the steppe hadn't been such a harsh mistress in the first place.
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Also on Cracked: Turns out these aren't the only disastrous location-specific scenarios. For instance, living in China can give you semen loss syndrome. And living in brutal, colder climates can make you a flesh-eating psycho monster. With Earth being the danger zone it is, it's probably best to go live in space where you only have to worry about black holes. (Just kidding! everything in space will kill you!)