The Great American Stupidity Quiz (and the baffling start to the Civil War)

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By Adam Winer, author of How Dumb Are You?

HDAY.pngNational Lampoon just published a fun little book I wrote called How Dumb Are You? The Great American Stupidity Quiz. It's full of questions every mildly-educated American SHOULD be able to answer—but often can't. Questions like, "What's the capital of Canada?" and "Here's a dime. Who's the dude pictured on it?" Before publication, we ran the series past a test audience and found out, for example, that only 46% of Americans recognized FDR on the dime. Those stats are included in the book, so you can test, on a question-by-question basis, exactly what percentage of the American population you are officially smarter than. Each answer also comes with a rip-roaring Fun Fact.
This week I'll be revisiting questions from the book, and then exploring the answers for your delight. Sound good? Then let's get stupid"¦

Today's question: What was the first state to secede from the Union?

Answer: South Carolina. (If you got this wrong, you are dumber than 45% of America!)

The Scoop: Not only was South Carolina the first state to secede, but the first shots of the Civil War were also fired at Charleston Harbor's Fort Sumter. It was a battle full of interesting quirks. On April 11, 1861, Confederate forces ringed the South Carolina fort, which was low on supplies. When the fort's defenders refused to surrender, Confederates opened fire. And there you had it: Civil War!

But that barely scrapes the surface. The Union soldiers in the fort were so low on ammunition, they waited three hours before bothering to return fire. Over the course of the battle, Confederate troops fired some 4,000 rounds at their enemy. Amazingly, no one was killed. (Sounds kind of like an episode of The A-Team.) The Northern forces weathered 33 straight hours of bombardment, finally surrendering after a cannonball set their fort ablaze.

What makes the story even stranger is that when the troops finally surrendered, it wasn't even to the right person!

Picture 42.pngBefore the Confederate representatives reached the fort, a former Texas senator, who was working on a nearby island, rowed over and—without any authorization—demanded the Union's surrender. Which he oddly received.
When the real Confederate forces showed up, and everything got straightened out, they gave the Union soldiers a bit of a pass. Because of the valor of the fort's troops, they allowed the men to raise the U.S. flag one final time and give a 100-gun salute.
Unfortunately, an accidental explosion caused by that salute ended up killing a Union gunners. That soldier was the only casualty of the battle. He was the first casualty of the Civil War... and he was killed by friendly fire.

Want to read more from Adam? Pick up a copy of How Dumb Are You? at your local bookstore or at Amazon. Or for more information, visit stupidityquiz.com.

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December 15, 2008 - 6:04am
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