Technological Advancement on the Civil War the Term Paper

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Technological Advancement on the Civil War

The Civil War in the United States coincides with the Industrial Revolution in this country. Because of the many advances made possible by the use of the machine, this war marks a turning point in armed conflict. Several areas of warfare were thus enhanced and improved as a result. Specifically, artillery, transport and communication technology enjoyed much development during the nineteenth century.


At the beginning of the Civil War there was a substantial discrepancy between the North and the South in terms of the amount of arms possessed by each. The North was more oriented towards the Industrial Revolution and machinery, while the South relied on more primitive ways of conducting their affairs. The South thus experienced a substantial shortage not only of arms, but also of weapon producing facilities. Tennessee for example had no cannon foundries, but improvised by using machine shops for the purpose. Other Southern states also made use of advanced techniques to produce arms.

Gun powder is a prominent product of the Industrial Revolution. Most American powder mills were however in the North. In fact, ammunition had not been a top priority of the South for the best part of fifty years. However, as with other weapon manufacturing facilities, the South, faced with necessity, corrected the situation by creating mills and arsenals. Places where these were found include Augusta, Georgia, Nashville and Manchester. The mill in Augusta, beginning its production in September, 1862, produced two and a three-quarter million pounds of gun powder during the war.

Weapons only began to enjoy substantial innovation during the 1840's. Previously, weapons had improved in terms of being refined rather than innovated. Major innovations were columbiad cannons, firing hallow shells, as well as rifled muskets. Rifled artillery saw the light during the 1950's. For cannons, an improved casting method was pioneered by Major Rodman.

A more complicated and developed system of artillery called for a more complicated classing system. During the Civil War, the new improved artillery could be classed by weight and caliber, as well as its mobility and form of carriage. Field artillery was then the arms moving with the army, while mountain artillery was exceptionally light, to be carried over mountains. Heavy artillery on the other hand are siege guns and mortars.

Guns developed for the Civil War were issued as smoothbore or rifled. Solid shot, shell, spherical, grapeshot and canister were fired. Shell and canister were fired by Howitzers, and smoothbore mortars used shell and spherical case. The Civil War did not feature many breechloaders, as more efficient guns were developed at the time. Rifled guns and smoothbores were mostly used. Rifled guns featured a longer range and greater accuracy, while the smoothbore was able to inflict more close-range damage. The smoothbore used both solid shot and canister. The former was used against massed troops, and shell was used for troops under cover. Canister was the most devastating of the artillery choices of the time. Tin cylinders were filled with iron shot or musket balls and these exploded when fired. Shrapnel, equally damaging, was used for greater distances than canister, which was used at 350 feet or less.

Field fortifications have developed as a response to weapons development. These have then come about in a consistent fashion in the United States since the seventeenth century. However, since new and stronger weapons were developed, the 150-year-old field fortification ideas were no longer efficient. Thus thicker parapets were designed to ward of attacks.

The major developments in weaponry during the Civil War thus include the more innovative use of gun powder, as well as the development of rifle artillery. Weaponry development closely correlates with transportation. The facilitation of weapon transportation by means of steam boat and steam train for example had a great impact on warfare strategy during the Civil War. These had a major influence on strategy during the Civil War.


One of the earliest industrial uses of steam was the steam-powered vessel. These could be used in oceans, lakes and rivers. Tennessee benefited greatly from these vessels, and found its economy revolutionized by the power of the steam boat and river transportation. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Tennessee's river transportation was interconnected with its railroads, further boosting the economy.

In terms of the Civil War, Tennessee was strategically located between the warring parties; North and South. The major rivers giving access to the interior of the state then played an important role in terms of weapon and soldier transportation. Parallel to the development of the steam boat, was the steam train. This mode of transport made it possible to carry even heavier and more artillery as well as people and supplies over great distances. Tennessee's railroad network was developed during the 1850's.

In terms of railroad networks also, the North was technologically better equipped than the South. Most southern railway lines were small affairs, and fairly primitive with less equipment and lighter rail. Partly responsible for this, as for the artillery situation, was the South's political philosophy of discomfort with organized government involvement. Unfortunately for the South however, the U.S. Military Railroads, under Federal control, were more effective than the system in the South. As the war continued, Federal control extended further south, and eventually many southern lines were taken over by the U.S. Military Railroad system. This enabled the transport of new equipment and supplies to Federal military units.

Communication and Reconnaissance

An interesting feature of the Civil War was that balloons were used by both sides for the purposes of reconnaissance. The first balloons were however used by the Union army. The first person to build a balloon for this purpose was John Wise, a professional aeronaut. The project was however unsuccessful as the balloon's tethers were not strong enough to hold it, and the balloon was shot down.

The use of balloons however was not completely abandoned. The idea to use balloons for reconnaissance purposes came to Thaddeus Lowe during a balloon flight in April 1861. With the help of Murat Halstead it was suggested to the Government that a balloon corps be established, with Lowe at the command. The union armies would then have a way of stealthily gathering information about their enemies.

Upon demonstrating the idea to the President, Lowe further included technology in terms of telegraphs being sent from the balloons to the commanders below. The balloon would be tethered, and fly 500 feet above ground. The Balloon Corps was then established. It was established as a civilian organization, functioning under the Bureau of Topographical Engineers.

September 24, 1861 saw a historical event, as Lowe ascended to a previously unattained 1,000 feet. This was to telegraph intelligence from Arlington, Virginia to Falls Church, Virginia, where the Union army was located. Using such intelligence, the Union side could accurately aim at the Confederates without once seeing them. Thus it is clear that while balloon technology has not survived, it did pioneer a breakthrough technology in warfare at the time. More balloons were built, and eventually enough cable was provided for the balloons to rise to 5,000 feet.

Further advancing the technology, John LaMountain was the first to embark on a reconnaissance mission by balloon without tethers. He was however limited in supplies and equipment, as the Union army had already chosen Lowe as their reconnaissance expert. All attempts on LaMountain's part to obtain the cooperation either of the army or of Lowe met with hostility. He was dismissed from further military service in 1862. Lowe on the other hand continued to provide tactical information to the Union troops. Specifically his services were used during the battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia. Here he provided hourly information.

In response to balloon technology, the Confederates were of course obliged to take strategic action. Strategies for avoiding detection include blackening the camp after dark so it could not be seen from the air, and creating decoys in terms of dummy camps and gun emplacement. Such actions were not very efficient, as they were time and energy consuming. Despite its initial effectiveness, however, the balloon corps was disbanded during 1863 due to management difficulties.

The technological talents of both Lowe and LaMounain however were used in other areas of development as well. The introduction of aircraft carriers in 1861 is one such case. The first of these was a rebuilt coal barge with the superstructure of a flight deck. This technology was combined with the reconnaissance balloons. Balloons were also on occasion launched by boat. These advances drew the attention of international forces. On one occasion, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin from the Prussian army was sent to investigate the warfare methods developed in the United States.

It is interesting to note that, like every other part of warfare technology, the Confederate army also managed only a small version of the Union balloon corps. The first balloon for this army was overseen and deployed by Captain John Randolph Bryan in 1862. Because the Confederate army…[continue]

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