New weapon types
Before Civil war, infantry soldiers generally carried muskets that held only one bullet at a time. The range of these muskets was approximately 250 meters. However, a soldier trying to aim and fire with some accuracy would have to stand much closer to his target, since the weapon’s “effective range” was only about 80 meters. Therefore, armies generally fought at relatively close range.
Rifles, on the other hand, had a much greater range than muskets (a rifle could fire a bullet up to 1,000 yards) and were more accurate. However, until the 1850s, it was almost impossible to use these weapons in combat because, because a rifle’s bullet was roughly the same diameter as its barrel, they took too long to load. (Soldiers sometimes had to hammer the bullet into the barrel with a mallet.)
In 1848, a French army officer named Claude Minié invented a conical lead bullet whose diameter was less than that of the rifle barrel. Soldiers could load these “Minié bullets” quickly, without the aid of sticks or mallets. Rifles equipped with Minié bullets were more accurate, and therefore more deadly, than muskets, which forced infantry to change the way they fought: even troops far from the line of fire had to protect themselves by building elaborate trenches and other fortifications.
Minié shotguns were easy and quick to load, but soldiers still had to pause and reload after each shot. It was ineffective and dangerous. By 1863, however, there was another option: so-called repeating rifles, or weapons capable of firing more than one bullet before needing to be reloaded. The most famous of these weapons, the Spencer rifle, could fire seven shots in 30 seconds.
Like many other Civil War technologies, these weapons were available to Northern troops but not to Southern ones: Southern factories had neither the equipment nor the know-how to produce them. “I think the Johnnys (Confederate soldiers) are shaken; they are afraid of our repeating rifles,” one Union soldier wrote. “They say we’re not fair, that we have guns that we load on Sunday and shoot the rest of the week.”
Balloons and submarines
Other advanced weapons took flight – for example, Union spies floated above Confederate encampments and battle lines in hydrogen-filled passenger balloons, sending reconnaissance information to their commanders by telegraph – and out to sea. “Armored” warships prowled the coast, maintaining the Union blockade of Confederate ports.
For their part, Confederate sailors attempted to sink these battleships using submarines. The first of these, the Confederate CSS Hunley, was a metal tube 40 feet long and 4 feet in diameter and contained a crew of 8 men. In 1864, the Hunley sank the Union blockade ship Housatonic off the coast of Charleston, but was itself wrecked in the process.
More important than these advanced weapons were larger-scale technological innovations such as the railway. Once again, the Union had the advantage. When the war began, there were 22,000 miles of railroad tracks in the North and only 9,000 in the South, and the North owned almost all of the railroad and locomotive factories in the country. Additionally, the Northern tracks tended to be “standard gauge”, which meant that any car could run on any track. The southern routes, in contrast, were not standardized, so people and goods often had to change cars during their journey – a costly and inefficient system.
Union officials used the railroads to move troops and supplies from one location to another. They also used thousands of troops to protect the tracks and trains from Confederate attacks.
Abraham Lincoln was the first president capable of communicating on the spot with his officers on the battlefield. THE White House The telegraph office allowed him to monitor battlefield reports, conduct real-time strategy meetings, and relay orders to his men. Here too, the Confederate army was at a disadvantage: it did not have the technological and industrial capacity to carry out a communications campaign of such scale.
In 1861, the Union Army created the U.S. Military Telegraph Corps, led by a young railroad worker named Andrew Carnegie. In the following year alone, the USMTC trained 1,200 operators, stretched 4,000 miles of telegraph wire, and sent more than a million messages to and from the battlefield.
Civil War photography
The Civil War was the first war to be documented through the lens of a camera. However, the photographic process of the time was far too elaborate for authentic images. Taking and developing photos using the so-called “wet plate” process was a meticulous, multi-step procedure that required more than one “cameraman” and numerous chemicals and equipment. As a result, Civil War images are not snapshots of action: they are portraits and landscapes. It was not until the 20th century that photographers were able to take unposed photos on the battlefield.
Technological innovation had a huge impact on how people fought the Civil War and how they remember it. Many of these inventions have since played an important role in military and civilian life.