What technological advances were used during the United States Civil War?
There were many technological innovations that were devised and used during the Civil War by both sides, and they are important aspects when researching the reasons that the Union Army defeated the Confederate Army. An article in Scientific American ("How Technology Shaped the Civil War") reports that first of all, the way the war was reported in the media was a major technological advance for the nation. In the 1830s and 1840s newspapers became "…tools of mass communication in the 1830s" because the rotary press was invented, and steam power was invented which made producing newspapers far quicker, cheaper to buy, and more efficient (Marten, 2012). Why would newspapers impact a war? Disseminating updated information to both sides of the war was in itself a big advance. Knowledge of strategies and weaponry was important to both sides.
"Hundreds of newspaper reporters traveled with armies from Virginia to Mississippi," which meant that families back home could find out about casualties, could be up-to-date on where the battles were fought, and what kinds of injuries were being sustained by the troops. Because of communication advances, the many men that were maimed by "improved arsenals of both armies" made an impression on certain entrepreneurs and they were motivated to innovate "new and improved prosthetic limbs" (Marten, p. 2). Granted, that is not a technological advance directly impacting the battlegrounds, but it is credited as an advance in technology that came about due to the war.
Also, the telegraph became an important tool for gathering and spreading news in America, and the "gradual knitting together of the nation by railroads…further hastened communication" (Marten, p. 1). The war also saw the use of "…armored ships…submerged warships and reconnaissance balloons" (Marten, p. 1).
Key strategic military advances that impacted the Civil War
In the History website the author delves specifically into weapons used in the Civil War. Prior to the Civil War soldiers had muskets that could only hold a single bullet at a time with an effective range of about 80 yards. But newer, more advanced riles had been invented that used bullets that traveled farther and were "more accurate"; moreover, the rifles with "Minie" bullets (named after the French army officer who invented them) were "quick and easy to load" albeit the soldier still had to load one bullet at a time (History, p. 2).
Better still than the Minie technology was the "repeater" rifle, known as the Spencer carbine, which could "…fire seven shots in 30 seconds" (History, p. 2). This was an enormously important advancement in warfare, but unfortunately for the Confederate Army, this carbine was only available to the Union Army troops because "…southern factories had neither the equipment nor the know-how to produce them" (History, p. 2).
Another weapon that was an innovation during the Civil War was the hydrogen-filled passenger balloons; a spy for the Union army could view the field a long way away and send reconnaissance information back to the commanders (History, p. 2). How did reconnaissance data get sent miles away to a general in the Union army? The telegraph was in full operation at that time and information was relayed that way.
Sea-going vessels -- known as "ironclad" warships -- moved freely up and down the east coast and effectively blocked many confederate ports. Indeed, these were an innovation uniquely linked to the Civil War, and instead of the old war at sea (with wooden ships and sails), these were vessels that had guns on board and were nearly impervious to musket fire (History, p. 2).
Steam-powered ocean-going vessels helped bring about what authors Millett and Masiowski call "the most important aspect of the sea war -- the blockade" (Millett, et al., 2012). The development of steam vessels was a major technological breakthrough during the Civil War; and in 1862, the U.S. Congress added the "Bureau of Steam Engineering" to the naval bureaus (Millett). New power plants were developed to design better steam-powered ships, and the fact that the Union navy was able to use those ships to blockade Confederate naval facilities at "Norfolk, Pensacola, and New Orleans," gave it a huge advantage, Millett explains.
That said, the South did utilize "…an array of technological innovations" to protect their harbors, and in face they developed "…fifty-foot-long, cigar-shaped boats called 'Davids' to carry mines and torpedoes, Millett continues. The torpedoes either damaged or completely sank up to forty-three Union warships -- and the Confederacy also built "…the world's first successful submarine, CSS Hunley (Millett).
The North had the advantage in almost every technological aspect of the war
Railroads, as mentioned earlier in this paper, played a major role in the Civil War, and once again the technological advantage went to the Union army. The History site claims that of all the wartime technological innovations, none was more important than the advancement made by rail. The North had the clear advantage in this technology; for example, at the outset of the war the North had an estimated 22,000 miles of useable railroad track, but the South had only 9,000 miles of track (History, p. 2). And the North had "…almost all of the nation's track and locomotive factories" -- a huge advantage for the Union army.
Also, the North had tracks that were a standard gauge so that any train car could safely travel on any set of tracks; this would seem to be an obvious thing to do, especially in time of crisis and conflict. But, the South did not have standard gauge railroad tracks, the History site explains. Hence, "…people and goods frequently had to switch cars" as they encountered tracks with a different gauge, which was not only expensive, but wholly inefficient (History, p. 2). Given that they knew their standard gauge tracks might be the target of Confederate sabotage, the Union army assigned "…thousands of soldiers" to protect their tracks (History, p. 2).
It is also important to remember the strategic importance of the telegraph during the Civil War. The President of the United States (Abraham Lincoln) was able to actually communicate directly with his military leaders in the field, which was a revelation and a revolution in wartime communication (History, p. 2). There was a telegraph office in the White House, so Lincoln was able to keep up with many aspects of the battles that were taking place, and he knew what was needed and where to send supplies and additional men. The Confederate army "…lacked the technological and industrial ability to conduct a large-scale communication campaign," but the Union army was not short on technologies in that regard.
A.D. Harvey takes issue with the available literature vis-a-vis innovations and inventions used in the American Civil War; in fact he challenges the accuracy of some scholars' accounts. To wit, Harvey writes in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Historical Association that the French and British navies had invented ironclad warships prior to the American Civil War, however the first "…decisive action involving ironclads was not until July, 1866" (Harvey, 2012, p. 273). Harvey is being picky in his historical accounts of wartime innovations, because although the "decisive" action he talks about was between Austrian and Italian navies -- the battle in March 1862 between the North's USS Monitor and the South's CSS Virginia was, Harvey insists, not "decisive" (273).
An article in the Public Broadcasting Service lists technological advances that have previously been referenced in this paper, but add to the information already provided. For example, the article mentions that the telegraph (invented just a few years before the war broke out, in 1844) was of course vitally important and that some 15,000 miles of telegraph cable was laid "…purely for military purposes." The downside of the telegraph technologies is that the media was able to get updated news of the battles, and this led to "…an entirely new headache for the government: how to handle the media" (PBS).
The PBS article also notes that it wasn't just the North that used hot air balloons for aerial reconnaissance; in fact, both sides had this technology. The "maiden voyage of the first official Union balloon occurred in late August, 1861" (PBS). When a balloon operator spotted Confederate movements, he could then telegraph the information to commanders on the ground; hence, Union guns could be "repositioned and fired accurately at troops more than three miles away," and this was reportedly a first in military history (PBS).
As to the North advantage in the railroad technology (mentioned earlier), indeed the North had factories producing track and locomotives but the South had turned its only factory for producing locomotives "…into an armaments factory," so that in part explains the huge advantage the North had in this particular technology. It seemed more important at that time for the South to have guns and bullets than a means to transporting soldiers and equipment.
Another technological advance that the North utilized that has…