How Much Do You Know About Civil War Combat?


By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: wikimedia

About This Quiz

Although romanticized in the movies, the American Civil War was a brutal war which cost the young nation more than 1 percent of her population. That's more American deaths than were incurred in World War II, which was overall a much larger and bloodier conflict (remember that in the Civil War, though, casualties on both sides were Americans). The war, which raged as far north as Pennsylvania and as far West as New Mexico, has been called the first "modern war," because of the new technologies that it developed and used. These included the telegraph and the camera, innovations in communication, and anesthesia, a novelty in medicine. But mostly, the Civil War brought advances in techniques of warfare.

Well, rather, it should be said that the Civil War was a blend of old and new combat techniques. It was the last war in which the United States would substantially use a cavalry, but also the first in which it would use repeating rifles and armored warships. A submarine was even involved: the Hunley, a hand-powered craft that sank the Union ship USS Housatonic. 

How well do you know the weapons, the battles, the leaders and the turning points of this bloody war? We've created a 35-question quiz to test your grasp of Civil War history. Good luck!

Which state was the site of the most conflict and combat in the Civil War?

Some very famous battles, like Shiloh and Antietam, took place in other states. But Virginia saw the most fighting overall, partly because RIchmond was for a time the capital of the Confederacy and therefore a prize for the Union.


Which of these was the site of the first Civil War battle?

The war started when Confederates attacked the sea fort in Charleston, South Carolina. Most residents of the city were sympathetic to Confederate aims, and watched the battle with pride from windows and galleries.


What was the primary weapon used in the Confederates' attack on Sumter?

The Confederates shelled the sea fort for more than a day before the U.S. Army defenders gave up. Only two federal soldiers were killed during the assault -- a light toll that would be far from typical.


Which of these was a military innovation of the Civil War?

Repeating rifles had a magazine to store multiple bullets, and a mechanism to feed them into the chamber for firing. This was a significant advance over single-shot breechloaders.


Which of these was a criticism of the repeating rifle?

The repeating weapon, which allowed shots to be fired in quick succession, was believed by some generals to encourage waste of ammunition. This is not a criticism that has survived into modern times.


Which of these was the number-one killer of Civil War soldiers?

Diseases like dysentery and typhoid fever killed enlisted men at a rate of more than 2-to-1. Neither were top brass immune. General Sherman and General Longstreet both lost children to disease during the war.


Approximately how many soldiers were killed in action in the Civil War (on both sides)?

The answer to the question "How many people died in the Civil War?" is a moving target. Counting soldiers' deaths from disease, or deaths during imprisonment, the number rises to about 500,000. Adding in civilian noncombatants, it's estimated at 620,000. But approximately 205,000 men died of wounds sustained on the battlefields.


The combination of a blade and a musket was known as a ________.

Bayonets were still in common use in the Civil War. They were a visible symbol of the transition in military technology from edged weapons to firearms.


Which year saw the last fatality of the war?

The Civil War ended with Lee's surrender on April 9, 1865. There wasn't much of a cease-fire beforehand: The Battle of Sayler's Creek raged in Virginia only three days beforehand, on April 6.


Which battle had the most casualties?

About 50,000 soldiers died in this three-day battle. It was the costliest in the war, and sticks in American memory because of that.


In which state did the battle of Gettysburg take place?

Gettysburg is one of the most famous (or maybe notorious) battles of the war. This is partly because it was a turning point for the Union, and partly because of Lincoln's stirring address.


Which of these medical technologies did NOT make significant advances the Civil War?

None of the above were actually invented in the Civil War years, but they were widely adopted and vastly improved during that time. Except for organ transplantation, which was still about a century away.


A Minie ball is a type of ______.

Minie balls (correctly spelled, the name has an accent over the "e") were state-of-the-art weapons technology, with grooves to match the rifling in the barrel, and thus make them fly straight over a greater distance. They were used extensively, which is why people still find them while hiking and camping in the Southeast.


Why was Ulysses S. Grant sometimes called "the Butcher"?

Grant's own army suffered about 150,000 casualties while inflicting about 195,000 on the Confederates. A strategy that allows high losses of troops and materiel as long as the other side loses more is known as "war of attrition," and Grant is criticized by historians for being comfortable with it.


What did Dr. Gurdon Buck do for injured Civil War soldiers?

Dr. Buck was a pioneer in plastic surgery. He also used the new technology of photography to document his procedures and their results.


The Civil War was the last time the United States substantially used cavalry. What marks a unit as a cavalry unit?

Thought "chivalry" and "cavalry" are related words, both from the French "chevalier," it's not honor that marks a cavalry unit, it's horses. Though the U.S. Army maintains the name "Cavalry" for some divisions, the invention of motor vehicles and then tanks made true cavalry units obsolete.


What was "conscription"?

"Conscription" is another word for a draft. Both sides had to conscript soldiers, as neither the federal army nor the seceded states' militias had enough soldiers to fight the war to come. However, drafting didn't account for the majority of new soldiers. Instead, volunteers, freed slaves and immigrants all played a large role in swelling the ranks of armies.


The one-day-long Battle of Antietam cost more than 22,000 casualties. How does that compare to losses in WWII's D-Day?

The losses in the worst one-day Civil War battles were nearly ten times those that America incurred on D-Day. Overall, WWII is still the deadliest conflict in human history. But American losses in the Civil War were higher because both sides, in every battle, were American.


What percentage of the US population died during the war?

The total deaths from all causes, of soldiers and civilians, cost the United States an astounding 2 percent of its population. Of course, America was a younger, smaller country then. Today, a 2 percent loss would equal 6.6 million human beings.


Which of these manufacturers did NOT make a weapon used in the conflict?

There were a variety of handguns and rifles used in the Civil War; Derringers and Enfields also played a role. Heckler & Koch, though, was founded in the 20th century, long after the war.


How many men fought at the epic battle of Shiloh?

Shiloh was a very costly battle for both sides, with about 23,000 casualties. That's close to, but not quite, the highest one-day toll of any battle in the war.


True or false: Did the Confederacy have a navy?

The Confederate States of America didn't have much in the way of warships early on, as the Union maintained control of most of the navy. The Confederacy had to trade with sympathetic foreign nations in order to have ships to take on the Union navy.


What were "ironclads"?

"Ironclad" ships replaced wooden warships in the 19th century and were key to the Civil War. They were obviously less vulnerable to catching fire when shelled than wooden ships.


Which battle saw Pickett's Charge?

Proving that he, too, understood the concept of "war of attrition," General Lee ordered a futile charge against the Union troops at Gettysburg. His subordinate, Gen. Longstreet, was so opposed to the idea that he later reported that he could not give a verbal command to start the charge, inclining his head instead to give the go-ahead.


Which side made considerable use of guerrilla tactics?

Often operating in the Western Theater of the war, groups like Quantrill's Raiders made sneak attacks, stole Union materiel, and attacked pro-Union civilians. They've been glamorized in film and fiction, partly because two of Quantrill's gang, Frank and Jesse James, went on to be notorious outlaws.


Which of these, like Quantrill, led a group of Confederate raiders?

Mosby was known as the "Gray Ghost" of the Confederacy, leading a group of partisan "Rangers." Mosby survived the war, and knew the young George S. Patton when the latter was growing up in a military family in California.


At which battle did Gen. Jackson earn his nickname "Stonewall"?

Jackson was in the forefront of the fighting, and seemed imperturbable in the face of the Union advances. Troops later said he was like a "stone wall" in the face of fighting.


How did Stonewall Jackson die?

Jackson was accidentally fired on by Confederate sentries at Chancellorsville. This indirectly caused his death: after hospitalization and an amputation, he developed pneumonia and died.


Which battle was known as the "Gettysburg of the West"?

The Battle of Glorieta Pass was fought in present-day New Mexico, a region generally not known for its Civil War history. An excavation of the Confederate mass grave there determined that most of the soldiers were younger than the age of 20. The Union grave or graves from this battle has not yet been located.


What was the minimum age for a soldier in either military?

Though the Union army had a rule, then as now, making the minimum age 18, there were several ways around this. Boys could serve in noncombat positions; for example, as drummers (though this didn't always save them from becoming casualties). Or they simply lied about their age, as boys would do (with decreasing success) in WWI and WWII.


What was Sherman's "March to the Sea" known for?

General Sherman led this "scorched earth" campaign from Atlanta to Savannah, looting farms, destroying railroads and factories, and generally disrupting Georgia's economy the whole way. This is one reason for lingering Southern resentment after the war -- it wasn't just the military defeat, but the destruction of the South's economy that really stung.


What was a "Sherman necktie"?

Part of Sherman's destruction of the Southern infrastructure was his troops pulling up train-track rails, heating them until they were pliable, and wrapping them around trees. This tactic certainly made a statement!


Which battle is the site of the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy"?

When the Confederates reached Cemetery Ridge on the Gettysburg field, that was the high point of Confederate aggression, or its best chance of subduing the North. When Confederate forces were repelled there, it turned the tide of the war.


Where would you have found a Dahlgren gun?

Dahlgren guns were part of a ship's artillery array. They were designed by a rear admiral, John Dahlgren, after the explosion of a poorly designed gun killed a sailor.


Who would have worn and used a Mameluke sword?

The Mameluke sword is a Marine weapon, with a scimitar-like design. The Marines first adopted it in the early 19th century. It's named for Mamluk, Egypt, where the design is thought to have originated.


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