The American civil war occurred between 1861 and 1865. It has also been called the war against Northern Aggression and the Second American Revolution. This war took place in ten thousand places, from New Mexico, Valverde, Tennessee, Tullahoma, Fernandina on the Florida coast, to St. Albans and Vermont. More than three million American citizens took part in the war. Over six hundred thousand men, who formed two percent of the total population, died during the war.
When studying this war, many viewpoints and issues arise. Different scholars address the societal rifts, political agendas, psychological differences and economic trends, all which played significant roles during the civil war. These different issues resulted to a military conflict of massive proportion. Different scholars label this war as the first modern war. However, some scholars argue, that the American civil war was the last civil war, the last Napoleonic war or even a traditional war.
The scholars who support the American civil war, as the first modern war, point to the use of rifled musket, and other technological advancements in a widespread manner for the first time. The rifled muskets were a large change in the technology of weapons used. This caused a massive change in the use of military units and tactical deployments, as witnessed in the modern day. The war shifted from being a combat action using swords, to the use of military units that sought cover to avoid ambush using the long range weapons.
Those who refer to the civil war as Napoleonic argue that the rifled muskets existed since the revolutionary war. They only acknowledge the mass production of weapons as the only modern event. Napoleonic soldiers understood the concepts and benefits of rifling well. The rifled muskets, used primarily in the 1861 Springfield, in the civil war are seen as having similarities with the Napoleonic British Enfield. They also argue that most of the civil war soldiers had little or no training in the use of rifles and combat occurred within a range of one hundred yards. The short range combats overrode the benefits of the long range projectiles and rifles. The trench style warfare, witnessed in the Petersburg, was utilised by snipers. However, it is still not viewed as an innovation since soldiers had, in previous wars, used trenches for force projection and protection. Therefore, the Vicksburg and Petersburg are viewed as merely sophisticated siege war fares, rather than modern war fares.
Other scholars term the American civil war as a transition from the traditional war to the modern war, rather than being a modern war. This is because most of the weapons used during this war were in their initial testing stages. The submarines, for example, made three unsuccessful attacks on the enemy ships. The war set a stage for use of submarines, but they were not successfully usedin the scale of modern wars. Wire entanglements and the Gatling gun were also used later in the war. What is more, the swords used by traditional fighters were obligatory for the soldiers during the civil war. Though they never used them, the swords indicated that the soldiers were in a transitional phase, between traditional and modern wars.
The American civil war can be classified as the first modern war because of the technological advancements employed during the war, and the strategies employed by Ulysses S. Grant, the Northern general, and his subordinates. These two reasons transformed the civil war into a modern war. Some of the weapons used during the American civil war were similar to those utilised during the First World War, fought fifty one years after the civil war. The technological advancements utilised influenced the war in a different way, but the most felt effects were due to advancements in artillery, hand to hand weaponry, transportation, and sea warfare. The civil war was also the first war which had battalions made up of more than one hundred thousand soldiers. Traditional battalions had few soldiers because of the difficulties in logistics. The Union gathered and supplied arms to its battalions, which at times contained more than one hundred thousand soldiers.
The rifle and the rifling technology used in the civil war are indicators of a modern war technologies. Rapid fire weapons such as the Gatling gun were used. The Gatling gun had a rotating bundle of gun barrels which fired in turns. The Union troops also used the Springfield rifles. These rifles had the ability to hit a target of four inches from a distance of two hundred yards, when used by a decent shooter. These repeating rifles, like the Spencer, had the ability of shooting seven shots in a period of fifteen second without the need of reloading. The most popular pistols used during this war included the Remington model, the Starr Army and the lightweight colt.
Other modern explosive weapons, besides the rifle, were also used during the American civil war. The use of Land mines and grenades started during the American civil war. The main tactic of the Union offence was to blockade the southern ports. In response, the southern states formed fleets of exceptionally fast ships so as to run the blockades. The blockade runners were powered by steam in addition to the traditional sailing methods. After the southern states formulated the fast ships, the Union’s army responded by developing naval mines. The naval mines were a new invention that had never existed before in battle. The mines were used to blow up the ships that run the blockades. The naval mines produced significant results, since they were able to sink more than forty ships belonging to the Union’s army.
The success of the naval mines resulted into the development of land mines, torpedoes and other explosives. A torpedo, in the civil war, referred to any device that had an explosive charge which had the ability to destroy the opponent’s property. The C.S.S Virginia used torpedoes to engage the wooden ships of the southern states army. These torpedoes rendered most of the wooden navies all over the world obsolete. The emergence of torpedoes, during the American civil war, paved way for the modernization of the naval war fares.
Most of the weapons utilised in traditional wars were edged weapons. The traditional wars utilised weapons such as the spears, machetes, the bow and arrows. In the civil war, these edged weapons were not frequently used. Most of the soldiers used bayonets in place of knives and blades. The bayonets were fixed on riffles, and they could be use at a longer distance than knifes and swords. The edged weapons, in the American Civil war, were used mainly for symbolism. The army officers and soldiers carried them to signify rank and authority. Captured soldiers and army officers were required to hand over their swords to the enemy officers as a sign of surrender.
Submarines were successfully used during the civil war. The C.C.S Hunley submarine had a length of 12 meters, a crew of two officers and six sailors, and it used steam for power. The submarine had a torpedo. It was successfully used to attack and sink an enemy vessel after three unsuccessful attempts. Although the Hunley sank during this attack, it became the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel. Steam and ironclad ships were also extensively used during the civil war. Previous Napoleonic wars did not have battles in the sea. They fought on land.
The civil way made a significant shift from the use of traditional weapons to the modern weapons. When armies used traditional weapons, they met in a battlefield and fought when they were hundreds of yards apart. The enemy was always visible to the defending army. However, the introduction of the modern rifles and long range explosives changed the philosophies of the battle grounds. The defence tactics, previously used in the traditional wars, became obsolete, and non-functional. The civil war changed the approaches used by armies during the war to the modern day tactics.
Shovels and hatchets were used to dig trenches, and make solid defences that protected the soldiers from long range ammunition. The old clash line, used to feel out the enemy line, changed into the assault line. This is because the rifles prevented the enemy from getting close to the skirmish line. The civil war utilised entrenchments which were similar to the trenches utilised in the First World War. Therefore, the civil war made a shift from the customary battle lines to the use of trenches for defence.
Traditionally, frontal assaults were particularly common. War was fought within a close distance. The soldiers used the edged weapons and, consequently, most casualties resulted from edged weapons. During the civil war, the frontal assaults utilised by the Lincoln army were all unsuccessful. Therefore, all the armies refrained from using the frontal assaults. They shifted to the use of entrenchments. Armies also fought with a shield of a solid obstacle, and they never engaged in frontal assaults. The introduction of the rifle brought an end to the glorious military charges. Soldiers stop using the impetuous rushes towards their enemies in fear of being victims of rifle’s menace.
The battle of Cold Harbor changed the courses of wars from the use of manuever to the use of entrenchment. Richmond, a medical and manufacturing centre, was also a political centre of the southern confederacy. It was also the primary supply depot for the units that operated on the confederacy’s north eastern frontier. It had become a target for the army commanded by Grant. After several unsuccessful direct attacks, the army commanders, Lee and Grant, shifted to the use of trenches to overcome their enemies. The use of strategies in war deviated from the direct approaches witnessed in Napoleonic wars.
After massive wars between Lee’s army and Grant’s army, many casualties were recorded. This forced the two army commanders to negotiate for a ceasing of fire. Though the negotiations took four days to reach completion, they represented modern war fares. Negotiations were used to end the battle, rather than surrender, which was common in Napoleonic war fares, to the contrary.
The railroads replaced the horse pulled wagons in shipping and transporting large numbers of soldiers and supplies. They were crucial because of their speed and the ability to transport large quantities of supplies at once. The mobility provided by the railroads allowed quick and large relocation of supplies and soldiers. This influenced military plans to the point where campaigns were directed against centres of rail transportation such as Atlanta, Manassas Junction and Chattanooga.
During this war, transcontinental telecommunications played a critical role. Telegraph lines were all over most states in the eastern parts of the United States. The telegraph was used to relay battle information between army generals. The telegraph affected the outcome of the battle because of the way it transmitted information rapidly. Telegraph lines were introduced in all the places that the army visited. The army also utilised semaphore messaging during the war. They built many signal towers to allow efficient transmission of semaphore messages. At one point, the armies used hot air balloons to send telegraph messages.
The easy flow of information through telegraphs and semaphores allowed journalists to communicate easily with the army generals. The journalists then printed the progress of the war in newspapers. The army soldiers read the newspapers twice a week. Many organizations which were interested in the war used the media as a means of gaining public support. The army generals were concerned with the way information was released by the media, and this prompted some Generals e.g. General Ulysses S. Grant to forge healthy relationships with the media. Photojournalism also had its inception in the American civil war. Photographs had been taken in the previous wars. However, the American civil war received massive documentation in the form of photographs. More than one million photographs were taken and documented during this war.
The American civil war heralded the introduction of the modern day aerial warfare. It utilized the hot air balloons and the hydrogen filled balloons for aerial reconnaissance. Hot air balloons were used to collect valuable information from other armies. This technique paved way for the modern day means of aerial surveillance in the form of satellites.
The American civil war made a significant switch from the traditional philosophies of war to the modern day war philosophies. Attitudes of bravery and chivalry changed significantly. War was no longer based on frontal assaults, but on long range attacks. The civil war killed the traditionally popular charges with the inclusion of explosives and rifles. The brave soldiers, who could run after enemies and chase them with the sword, were replaced with the tactical planners and rifle experts. The use of heroic medicine was also not experienced in the civil war. Reasoning evolved, and soldiers did not expose themselves to enemies hoping to be protected by miracle drugs, sterilizations and other scientific innovations. Women also fought and took part in combat activities.
The civil war also caused a shift in the way army generals made battle plans. Information was highly valued. The media were also involved in the fight and photography documented the war, including women taking part in combat. The civil war ended the direct form of war and introduced the use of strategy in the war. It also introduced annihilation as the strategy preferred by the army. The army, commanded by Lee, was annihilated by the Union forces, as it sought to break the will of the Unions army by defeating it in its soil. It recorded massive losses that it could not replace, and ended up losing the battle. Therefore, the American civil war can be rightfully termed as the first modern war. It is a war that introduced the modern day war tactics and philosophies.