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How Did Technology Affect the Civil War? Essay Example

Pages: 7

Words: 2058

Essay

The America Civil War became the first modern war due to the application of technology. Technological advancement had a significant impact on the American Civil War. The period prior to and during the Civil War wascharacterized by the development of military, transport and communications technology (Dumenil 34-44). The militarytechnology included ironclad ships, submarines, military tactics referred to as Total War and the rifled musket. There were also innovations in transportation such as the railroad and the hot air balloon which played pivotal roles in the war’s resolution. While technological advances in innovations like transportation and advancements in communications, like the telegraph, evolved out of the American Civil War, they would later serve as key contributions to the industrial era.Research reveals that technological developments spurred on both the side of the north and the south, but ultimately technology played a major hand in the victory of the North. This issue can largely be attributed to the wide gap in resources that existed between the North and the South prior to and during the war. The following will assess the impact technology played in the American Civil War and how the technological innovations spurred on by the war significantly advanced industry in America following the war’s resolution.

In Shane Mountjoy’s book “Technology and the Civil War,” the author cites Plato’s famous saying that necessity is the mother of invention, further pointing out that the conditions of war can often create urgent necessities that spur innovation. The author claims this is precisely what occurred with the American Civil War, noting that, “during the four years of war, Americans on both sides simultaneously reached backward to draw on past ways of doing things and forward to the future to gain an edge in the conflict. Unionists and Confederates alike drew from the ancient and the modern in their pursuit of victory. In many ways, the war was as much a clash of the traditional versus the newfangled as it was a collision of two ideologies” (Mountjoy, 114). The author takes the position that there is no place this collision in ideologies and conflict between the past and the future to spur innovation can be better seen than with the use of technology during the war. The primary example Mountjoy uses can be in the fact that both armies continued to rely on the traditional use of mounted cavalry while still incorporating the newly innovated resources of the telegraph and the railroad. This represented the combination of ancient warfare tactics with technological advances that had not existed in the previous generation. There were also a wide range of strategic advantages and disadvantages on both sides that influenced how new technology was utilized.

While the South had many advantages at its disposal, such as the ability to fight on its home turf, as well as a culture of joining the military with many ex-U.S. military soldiers joining up on the southern side, the south lacked the industrial advantages of the North such as factories and industries capable of producing material for war. Another key technological advantage that the Union had over the south was the capacity and efficiency of their ships. The Union navy was better supplied and as the Union was associated with the United States government, which provided it with diplomatic access to higher grade weaponry and other technologically advanced resources through foreign trade. The south was not without ships of their own as they had ample supply of boats used for the trade of domestic products as well as those utilized in their slave trade. The period prior to and during the Civil War was characterized by the development of military, transport and communications technology (Dumenil 34-44). The military technology included ironclad ships, submarines, military tactics referred to as Total War and the rifled musket. Transport technology during the civil war was the railroad system while communications technology was mainly the telegraph and photography. Some of the inventions that came out of the American Civil War include the Minnie Ball, submarines, breastworks, mines, ironclads, Fredericksburg, frontal attack, Chancellorsville, interior lines, balloons, telegraph, railroads, Port Royal, First Manassas, Chattanooga, rifled muskets, and steamships. These innovations reshaped America following the war, and during the war they influenced strategic operations in respect to how battles were fought and won.

The rifled musket is one of the more noted weapons used during the Civil War By the time of the Civil War, the rifled musket and the Minie ball resulted in a significant change in military tactics. The smoothbore musket utilized a range of 100 to 200 yards. The smoothbore musket was a primary weapon used in the Mexican War, the American Civil War, and the Crimean War and it was readapted to be effective from 400 to 600 yards. The rifled musket is considered to be a significant development that had a positive impact during the Civil War. The rifle had an advanced design and used cone shape bullets instead of the ball-like bullets. The cone shape bullet is more streamlined and highly aerodynamic. As a result, it can penetrate obstacles easily. Unlike the revolutionary muskets whose bullets could only afford a range of 100 yards, the aerodynamic cone shape bullets of the rifle musket had range of 500 yards. The vast range of the bullet is due to its aerodynamic nature. In addition to the rifle, the Gatlin gun was also developed during the civil war. Gatling gun is the predecessor of the machine gun. It is a rapid-fire gun containing eight separate barrels (Smith, 1861-1865). In addition to the rifled musket, there were other technological advancements that impacted the nature of warfare during the American Civil War. Some primary examples can be seen with the telegraph and the hot air balloon.

The telegraph enabled communication in both aspects of strategic and operational matters during the war. Operators could connect trunk lines to reach into the civilian telegraph network, and extend communications from rear area to the battlefield. The telegraph permitted the War Departments in Washington and Richmond and the administration to communicate directly with commanders in the field. This became a significant advantage the Union had over the Confederates. The innovation of the hot air balloon in many ways represents the first example of an American Air Force. Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe became the head of the US Balloon Corps, on June 18, 1861. He sent the very first telegraph message to President Lincoln from the air, which he did during a demonstration flight. Lowe was eventually able to get seven balloons into service, which were sometimes flown off of an old coal barge as an “aircraft carrier,” and developed field generators that provided hydrogen for them to run. Hot air balloons were utilized less as a form of transportation and more as a form of military strategic positioning for the Union to gain information on their southern opposition.

The development of the ironclad ships was a great milestone in military technology during the civil war. Theironclad ships were very powerful since they could not be destroyed easily. Shots from cannon balls were not enough to destroy them. The ships were fitted with steel plates on their sides. The ironclad ships were the first steel ships to be usedin the ocean during the civil war. The steel hull of the ships made it impossible for them to sustain a critical damageduring a war. Submarines were first successfully used during the civil war. Land mines and naval mines such as theTorpedoes was a dominant civil war technology (Howard 633). In addition to contributing to a resolution of the American Civil War, technology played a substantial role in progressing society once the war had ended. It’s a natural occurrence for technological advancements to increase exponentially during times of war. Many sources affirm this concept.

In addition to the weaponry, the developments of the transport and communication channels are also vital civil wartechnology that had a great impact on the war. Railroads were critical in sustaining the war by moving troops and suppliesfrom one place to another. The Union had a powerful railroad system than the confederate (Watson 467). Telegraph andpictures were useful communication tools during the civil war. The telegraphs were used by the commanders and leadersfor instant communication. Observation balloons were also helpful in watching battles and monitoring the movement of the enemy troop (Erickson 869). The development of photography made it possible for events of the civil war to be captured in pictures. The pictures brought out the reality of war in a manner that has never been seen before and assisted with advancements in war technology to come in the future through enabling strategists and war epistemologists to assess, what at the time was considered, the state of modern warfare. Despite all of the technology that occurred during the Civil War, historians argue that there is no one invention that had a greater impact on the Civil War period than the cotton gin.

Mountjoy identifies the cotton gin as the pivotal invention that actually caused the Civil War, noting that in the early 1700’s popular consensus concerning slavery was that it was a costly form of doing business that would eventually die out by the 1800’s. Most believed this to be the case prior to the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, which invigorated the cotton market. The author notes that, “the invention of the cotton gin—a machine that separated the seeds and hulls from the soft fibers of cotton—by Eli Whitney allowed slavery to become profitable again…but now plantation owners saw the opportunity to raise and sell a cash crop, and northern businessmen saw the opportunity to make money by processing the cotton into fabric and clothing” (Mountoy, 15). Perhaps without the innovation of the cotton gin in 1793, slavery would have died out as a viable capital resource and the south would have had no economic incentive to form the Confederacy. The author makes this argument noting that over the course of seven decades leading up to the Civil War, the ideologies of the two regions, North and South, had grown dramatically different due to technological development. The South relied heavily on slavery, and tied in their socioeconomic status into the amount of slaves a particular had or didn’t have; while the North grew more industrialized and relied primarily on the factories and mass production of industrial products. In addition to this difference, a large number of European immigrants traveled from other countries to make lives for themselves in the North working in factories. This resulted in an ideology more focused on equality in the North, which was significantly different from the views of the South which relied on a belief of status, social structure and racial inequality for the moral and ethical justification of slavery.

In sum, in addition to contributing to a resolution of the American Civil War, technology played a substantial role in progressing society once the war had ended. It’s a natural occurrence for technological advancements to increase exponentially during times of war. Many sources affirm this concept. Ultimately, many of the innovations that would spawn out of the urgency of the American Civil War, would be used later on to advance technology and supplement innovations in the industrial era. Technology also played a pivotal role in creating a perceived need for Civil War, one that might not have been identified had innovations like the cotton gin never emerged.

Works Cited

Dumenil, G., and D. Levy. “The Historical Dynamics of Technology and Distribution: The U.S. Economy Since the Civil War.” Review of Radical Political Economics (1992): 34-44. Print.

Erickson, Joe. “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: The Untold Story of How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War (review).” Technology and Culture: 861-62. Print.

Howard, Robert A. “Interchangeable Parts Reexamined: The Private Sector of the American Arms Industry on the Eve of the Civil War.” Technology and Culture: 633. Print.

Mountjoy, Shane. Technology and the Civil War. New York: Chelsea House, 2009. Print.

Nevins, Allan. “A Major Result Of the Civil War.” Civil War History: 237-50. Print.

Smith, Merritt Roe. “Civil War Time: Temporality and Identity in America, 1861-1865 (review).” Technology and Culture: 424-26. Print.

Watson, Samuel. “The Railroad and the State: War, Politics, and Technology in Nineteenth-Century America, and: Nations, Markets, and War: Modern History and the American Civil War, and: The Business of Civil War: Military Mobilization and the State, 1861–.” Journal of the Early Republic: 467-77. Print.

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