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Civil War Trust

Surprising Coincidences from the Civil War | Civilwar.org

Obviously, coincidences and strange occurrences abound in any prolonged war, and the United States Civil War is no exception. Of course, with enough creativity and close examination, coincidences seem to appear everywhere. But looking at strange things that happened during the war and the way amazing facts and odd decisions and mistakes by its main players affected the outcome of Civil War battles helps to add a dimension of fun to the study of this incredible historical epoch in the history of the US.

One of the most significant surprising facts of the Civil War is that more deaths resulted from disease than shots fired. Dysentery caused by unclean water from poor sanitary conditions resulted in a total of roughly 90,000 deaths, out of a total of 612,000 illness-related casualties. More than tactical skill, the ability to stay healthy—in this instance the ability to establish latrines away from water sources—was crucial. All told, disease accounted for between one-third and one-half of the deaths during the war.

Another surprising fact from the Civil War is the amount of luck Southern General Robert E. Lee seemed to have as far as the poor decision-making of his opposing generals. He was able to snatch victories despite being outnumbered or escape when his forces should have been finished on countless occasions. This is clearly a tribute to his skill as a general, but in many instances also had a lot to do with tremendous blunders made by Union Generals. For example, at the close of the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was in ruins, and his retreat was impeded by weather that turned roads into bogs and swelled the Potomac River so that it was impassable. The situation was perfect for a crushing blow. Yet Union General George Meade was hesitant to follow Lee, who slipped away. Many historians feel that had Meade pushed his advantage, the war could have ended in 1863, two years early. This is but one of several instances in which Lee escaped seemingly by pure luck, a string of coincidences that certainly changed the course of the Civil War.

The list of coincidences goes on, each one offering interesting insights into the facts of the Civil War and the perspectives of historians who write about these coincidences.

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