Answers: The American Civil War Quiz
Spoiler warning: This is the answer page for the American Civil War Quiz, go here to take the quiz before reading the below. As with any complex historical event, I can only scratch the surface with a ten question quiz. This quiz is mostly about the major military events of the war, though I have touched upon a few other areas. A well as being a seminal event in US history, the American Civil War is still a controversial event. Historians will likely never agree on every aspect on how and why the war transpired, when applicable I have tried to talk about these diverging opinions.
As usual, there is no real scoring on these quizzes. If one could easily answer all the questions, congrats, you are a Civil War buff or very knowledgeable about history. If not, hopefully after reading the below commentary below you will at least have a passing understanding of this tragic and terrible event. More Americans died in the Civil War than in all of America’s other wars combined. A nasty business indeed.
The American Civil War Quiz
1. The civil war was fought because:
A: The North wanted to free the slaves and keep the Union intact.
B: The South was asserting state’s rights.
C: Economic rivalry between the North and South.
D: The south attacked Fort Sumter.
E: All of the Above.
The answer here is…all of the above. When I was a kid the economic aspect of it was the theory of the day, now historians think that slavery and the desire to end it played a much greater role than was earlier believed. Basically A, B, C, or D is a correct answer, most historians would agree it was certainly a combination of those factors. In another sense, both sides just blundered into a war no one really wanted. And if anyone had had a clue as to how terrible the war would turn out to be, maybe it wouldn’t have happened at all.
Another puzzle about the war is why did the average southern white fight so enthusiastically for a system that oppressed them terribly, poor southern whites were known as “clay eaters” because they were so poor they were driven to eat clay in hard times. The southern slave based economy was a terrible anachronism by the time of the Civil War, a hold over from the pre-industrial era that the rest of the world had left behind for generations. This was worth fighting and dying to preserve?
I suppose a case can also be made that this was an unusual war since neither ethnicity nor religion played a major role. This makes it a purely political and/or economic war, and those are harder to understand. That’s my personal opinion though. In any event, anyone that says they know how and why the American Civil War was fought is stating opinion, not fact.
2. The first major battle of the Civil War was:
A: The Battle of Gettysburg.
B: The Battle of Bull Run.
C: The Battle of Shiloh.
D: The Battle of Lexington.
The would be the First Battle of Bull Run. It was a curious battle. The Northerners were so confident of victory that thousands of picnickers followed the Union army out of Washington to watch them trounce the rebels. And in the morning they got their wish, Union guns on a hill in the middle of the battlefield dominated the fighting and the Confederates were hard pressed.
Unfortunately in the afternoon Confederate reinforcements arrived, and the tide of the battle turned, possibly aided by some confusion over Confederate units still wearing blue uniforms. Basically the entire Union army panicked and ran 20 miles back to Washington, trampling the picnickers en route, who of course also ran. It was apparently quite the scene.
The Confederate general was criticized for not pursuing the Union army and possibly even capturing Washington DC, but his army was almost as disorganized as the Union’s, and it would have been a highly risky move. Maybe he made the wrong decision, but it was a sensible decision.
Trivia: A farmer had a farm at the middle of the Bull Run battle site, after the battle he realized that living half way between Washington and Richmond was a bad idea. So he moved to rural Virginia. To a little farming town named Appomattox…where several years later Lee surrendered to Grant. In fact Grant commandeered his farmhouse and used it as his headquarters, Lee surrendered to Grant there. So this farmer could (and did) literally say that the Civil war started in his front yard and ended in his living room.
3. The first major bloody battle of the Civil War was:
A: The Battle of Shiloh.
B: The Battle of Gettysburg.
C: The siege of Fort Sumter.
D: The Battle of Chancellorsville.
This would be A, the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, the bloodiest battle in American history up to that point. Over three thousand were killed, over twenty thousand wounded. Only a few hundred had been killed at Bull Run, so this level of carnage in a single battle was a huge shock to the nation. In comparable modern terms it would be like a battle where nearly thirty thousand were killed and nearly two hundred thousand wounded in a few days of fighting. That would be very bad, nu?
Trivia: The inexperienced Confederate army of over fifty five thousand men managed to camp overnight just two miles from the Union army, and then sneak up on them and attack them in the morning, catching the Union army entirely by surprise. Oddly enough Grant had telegraphed his commander the night before, saying he was well prepared should the Confederates attack him. Apparently he overstated his case, virtually no patrols had been sent out to warn of approaching Confederates. Though the Union eventually “won” this bloody engagement it was a close call for Grant and shows that even the greatest have their bad days.
4. This bloody battle gave Lincoln cause to issue the Emancipation Proclamation:
A: The Battle of Vicksburg.
B: The Battle of Shiloh.
C: The Battle of Antietam.
D: The Battle of Gettysburg.
This would be C, the Battle of Antietam. This was Lee’s first attempt to invade the North, and was basically a bloody draw. Foiling a southern invasion was the closest the Union had had to a victory in a while, so Lincoln seized on Antietam as an opportunity to free the slaves.
5. This decisive battle cut the South in half and was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy:
A: New Orleans
This would be the siege of Vicksburg. Grant brilliantly outmanoeuvred the defenders and forced some seventy thousand Confederate troops to surrender. Vicksburg was the South’s last outpost on the Mississippi River, it’s loss effectively isolated the South as the Union had blockaded the South’s seaports.
6. This horrific miscalculation has been called the “high water mark of the Confederacy”:
A: Pickett’s charge.
B: The battle of Antietam.
C: Sherman’s march to the sea.
D: The sinking of the Lusitania.
This would be Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. After two days of fighting Lee thought that a concentrated attack on the Union centre would win the battle. He arranged the largest cannon bombardment of the war during the morning, over 300 Confederate cannons shelled the Union lines on Seminary Ridge. Unfortunately the smoke and dust from the shells that hit obscured the southerner’s view, and unbeknown to them most of their shells were passing harmlessly over the Union lines into the countryside beyond. The Union gunners ceased fire to save ammunition, and the Confederates thought this meant they had knocked out the Union cannons.
Over 12,000 Confederates soldiers then marched across open fields to attack the Union lines, and were cut down by murderous Union fire. Few made it to the Union lines, and those that did were quickly driven off. In less than an hour it was over, more than half the attacking force had been killed, wounded, or captured. Even worse, dozens of highly trained, experienced, and irreplaceable Confederate officers were killed. It not only cost the south the battle, in a very real sense it crippled the southern war effort and was a loss they would never recover from.
7. This event was the death knell for the south and a predecessor to the blitzkrieg:
A: The burning of Richmond.
B: Sherman’s march to the sea.
C: The siege of Vicksburg.
D: The Von Schlieffen Plan.
B, Sherman’s march to the sea. In 1864 Sherman led an Army of 55,000 men from Atlanta to Savannah, over three hundred miles. They practised the doctrine of “total war” and destroyed virtually everything of use to the South in their path. It was meant to destroy the South psychologically and well as materially, having an enemy army marching through your heartland is pretty much the end for any effective state. The South was never able to field more than thirteen thousand troops to oppose Sherman, it was pretty much the death stroke for the Confederacy…and heralded in the modern era of total war where the destruction of the enemy nation’s infrastructure plays a crucial role.
8: The war lasted as long as it did because Lincoln insisted that the south surrender unconditionally.
Sadly, this is one of the great misconceptions about the war. Starting with Roosevelt American presidents have used Lincoln as their inspiration and example for demanding that America’s enemies surrender unconditionally. It is however a lie, Lincoln most certainly did not demand unconditional surrender from the Confederates. In fact Lincoln corresponded the entire war with Jefferson Davis, trying to find common ground to end the war on. The South refused all offers though, and it is one of the great mysteries of history why they continued to fight long after it was hopeless. They could have gotten much more reasonable terms had they surrendered, instead by fighting to the bitter end they basically lost everything and the Union was simply able to dictate terms when the fighting was over.
9. The war ended when:
A: Lincoln was assassinated.
B: Fort Sumter surrendered.
C: Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
D: Nat Turner’s slave revolt overwhelmed the confederacy.
The war effectively ended with Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox. There was some small scale fighting in a few western locations by people who hadn’t gotten the news, but for all practical purposes the war ended at Appomattox, April 9th, 1865.
Trivia: Curiously enough, the decision to end the war was made by Lee and Johnston, the two greatest southern generals of the war. They had actually been ordered by the Confederate government to disband their armies and carry on guerrilla warfare, but in correspondence Lee and Johnston agreed that further armed resistance was futile, and that the Confederacy was a lost cause.
10: Bonus trivia question, what is the item pictured above and what is its significance?
The item pictured above is the CSA Hunley, one of the Confederate secret weapons with which the south tried to even the odds against them. It was a submarine, one of about a dozen the south built to try and break the Union naval blockade that was strangling the south’s economy. Unlike the other submarines, the Hunley actually sank a Union warship, it would be more than fifty years before another submarine had similar success. Unfortunately the Hunley sank before it could return to port, these early submarines were very dangerous and were for all practical purposes suicide weapons.
Trivia: No, the Confederates did not fire a multistage rocket toward Washington in the last days of the war. Primitive rockets were used during the war a few times, but never had much success.
(The above image predates 1923 and is public domain under US copyright law.)