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THE MILITARY-TELEGRAPH SERVICE Edit

The exigencies and experiences of the Civil War demonstrated, among other theorems, the vast utility and indispensable importance of the electric telegraph both as an administrative agent and as a tactical factor in military operations. In addition to the utilization of existing commercial systems, there were built and operated more than fifteen thousand miles of lines for military purposes only.

Serving under the anomalous status of quartermaster\\'s employees, often under conditions of personal danger, and with no definite official standing, the operators of the military telegraph service performed work of most vital import to the army in particular and to the country in general.

For instance, during the war there occurred in the line of duty more than three hundred casualties among the operators -from disease, death in battle, wounds, or capture. Scores of these unfortunate victims left families dependent upon charity, as the United States neither extended aid to their destitute families nor admitted needy survivors to a pensionable status.

The telegraph service had neither definite personnel nor corps organization. It was simply a civilian bureau attached to the Quartermaster\\'s Department, in which a few of its favoured members received commissions. The men who performed the dangerous work in the field were mere employees-mostly underpaid, and often treated with scant consideration. Not only were its commissioned officers free from other authority than that of the Secretary of War, but operators, engaged in active campaigning thousands of miles from Washington, were independent of the generals under whom they were serving. Operators suffered from the natural impatience of military commanders, who resented the abnormal relations which inevitably led to distrust and contention.

On the one hand, the operators were ordered to report to, and obey only, the corporation representatives who dominated the War Department, while on the other their lot was cast with military associates, who frequently regarded them with a certain contempt or hostility. Thus, the life of the field-operator was hard, indeed, and it is to the lasting credit of the men, as a class, that their intelligence and patriotism were equal to the situation and won final confidence. One phase of life in the telegraph-room of the War Department--it is surprising that the White House had no telegraph office during the war -- was Lincoln's daily visit, and the long hours spent by him in the cipher-room, whose quiet seclusion made it a favorite retreat both for rest and also for important work requiring undisturbed thought and undivided attention.

There Lincoln turned over with methodical exactness and anxious expectation the office-file of recent messages. There be awaited patiently the translation of ciphers which forecasted promising plans for coming campaigns, told tales of unexpected defeat, recited the story of victorious battles, conveyed impossible demands, or suggested inexpedient policies. Masking anxiety by quaint phrases, impassively accepting criticism, harmonizing conflicting conditions, he patiently pondered over situations-both political and military-swayed in his solutions only by considerations of public good. For in this room were held conferences of vital national interest, with cabinet officers, generals, congressmen, and others. But his greatest task done here was that which required many days, during which was written the original draft of the memorable proclamation of emancipation.

Especially important was the technical work of Bates, Chandler, and Tinker enciphering and deciphering important messages to and from the great contending armies, which was done by code. Stager devised the first cipher, which was so improved by the cipher-operators that it remained untranslatable by the Confederates to the end of the war. An example of the method in general use, given by Plum in his " History of the Military Telegraph," is Lincoln\\\'s dispatch to ex-Secretary Cameron when with Meade south of Gettysburg.

Brilliant and conspicuous service was rendered by the cipher-operators of the War Department in translating Confederate cipher messages which fell into Union hands. A notable incident in the field was the translation of General Joseph E. Johnston\\\'s cipher message to Pemberton, captured by Grant before Vicksburg and forwarded to Washington. More important were the two cipher dispatches from the Secretary of War at Richmond, in December, 1863, which led to a cabinet meeting and culminated in the arrest of Confederate conspirators in New York city, and to the capture of contraband shipments of arms and ammunition. Other intercepted and translated ciphers revealed plans of Confederate agents for raiding Northern towns near the border. Most important of all were the cipher messages disclosing the plot for the wholesale incendiarism of leading hotels in New York, which barely failed of success on November 25, 1864.

The necessity of efficient field-telegraphs at once impressed military commanders. In. the West, Fremont immediately acted, and in August, 1861, ordered the formation of a telegraph battalion of three companies along lines in accord with modern military practice. Major Myer had already made similar suggestions in Washington, without success. While the commercial companies placed their personnel and material freely at the Government\\\'s disposal, they viewed with marked disfavor any military organization, and their recommendations were potent with Secretary of War Cameron. Fremont was ordered to disband his battalion, and a purely civil bureau was substituted, though legal authority and funds were equally lacking. Efforts to transfer quartermaster\\\'s funds and property to this bureau were successfully resisted, owing to the manifest illegality of such action.

Repeated efforts by petitions and recommendations for giving a military status were made by the men in the field later in the war. The Secretary of War disapproved, saying that such a course would place them under the orders of superior officers, which he was most anxious to avoid.

One of the great feats of the war was the transfer, under the supervision of Thomas A. Scott, of two Federal army corps from Virginia to Tennessee, consequent on the Chickamauga disaster to the Union arms. By this phenomenal transfer, which would have been impossible without the military telegraph, twenty-three thousand soldiers, with provisions and baggage, were transported a distance of 1,233 miles in eleven and a half days, from Bristoe Station, Virginia, to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The troops had completed half their journey before the news of the proposed movement reached Richmond.

While most valuable elsewhere, the military telegraph was absolutely essential to successful operations in the valleys of the Cumberland and of the Tennessee, where very long lines of communication obtained, with consequent great distances between its separate armies. Apart from train-dispatching, which was absolutely essential to transporting army supplies for hundreds of thousands of men over a single-track railway of several hundred of miles in length, an enormous number of messages for the control and cooperation of separate armies and detached commands were sent over the wires. Skill and patience were necessary for efficient telegraph work, especially when lines were frequently destroyed by Confederate incursions or through hostile inhabitants of the country.

Other than telegraphic espionage, the most dangerous service was the repair of lines, which often was done under fire and more frequently in a guerilla-infested country. Many men were captured or shot from ambush while thus engaged. Two of Clowry\\\'s men in Arkansas were not only murdered, but were frightfully mutilated. In Tennessee, conditions were sometimes so bad that no lineman would venture out save under heavy escort. Three repair men were killed on the Fort Donelson line alone. W. R. Plum, in his " Military Telegraph," says that " about one in twelve of the operators engaged in the service were killed, wounded, captured, or died in the service from exposure."

Telegraphic duties at military headquarters yielded little in brilliancy and interest compared to those of desperate daring associated with tapping the opponent\\\'s wires. At times, offices were seized so quickly as to prevent telegraphic warnings. General Mitchel captured two large Confederate railway trains by sending false messages from the Huntsville, Alabama, office, and General Seymour similarly seized a train near Jacksonville, Florida.

While scouting, Operator William Forster obtained valuable dispatches by tapping the line along the Charleston-Savannah railway for two days. Discovered, he was pursued by bloodhounds into a swamp, where he was captured up to his armpits in mire. Later, the telegrapher died in prison.

Wiretapping was also practiced by the Confederates, who usually worked in, a sympathetic community. Despite their daring skill the net results were often small, owing to the Union system of enciphering all important messages. Their most audacious and persistent telegraphic scout was Ellsworth, Morgan\\\'s operator, whose skill, courage, and resourcefulness contributed largely to the success of his daring commander. Ellsworth was an expert in obtaining dispatches, and especially in disseminating misleading information by bogus messages.

The most prolonged and successful wiretapping was that by C. A. Gaston, Lee\\\'s confidential operator. Gaston entered the Union lines near City Point, while Richmond and Petersburg were besieged, with several men to keep watch for him, and for six weeks he remained undisturbed in the woods, reading all messages which passed over Grant\\\'s wire. Though unable to read the ciphers, he gained much from the dispatches in plain text. One message reported that 2,586 beeves were to be landed at Coggins\\\' Point on a certain day. This information enabled Wade Hampton to make a timely raid and capture the entire herd.

The cipher-operators with the various armies were men of rare skill, unswerving integrity, and unfailing loyalty. Caldwell, as chief operator, accompanied the Army of the Potomac on every march and in every siege, contributing also to the efficiency of the field-telegraphs.

The Balloons with the Army of the Potomac Edit

"A personal reminiscence by Professor T. S. C. Lowe, who introduced and made balloon observations on the Peninsula for the Union Army"

It was through the midnight observations with one of my war-balloons that I was enabled to discover that the fortifications at Yorktown were being evacuated, and at my request General Heintzelman made a trip with me that he might confirm the truth of my discovery. The entire great fortress was ablaze with bonfires, and the greatest activity prevailed, which was not visible except from the balloon. At first the general was puzzled on seeing more wagons entering the forts than were going out, but when I called his attention to the fact that the ingoing wagons were light and moved rapidly (the wheels being visible as they passed each campfire), while the outgoing wagons were heavily loaded and moved slowly, there was no longer any doubt as to the object of the Confederates. General Heintzelman then accompanied me to General McClellan\\\'s headquarters for a consultation, while 1, with orderlies, aroused other quietly sleeping corps commanders in time to put our whole army in motion in the very early hours of the morning, so that we were enabled to overtake the Confederate army at Williamsburg, an easy day\\\'s march beyond Yorktown on the road to Richmond.

I could see readily that I could be of no service at Williamsburg, both armies being hidden in a great forest. Therefore, General McClellan at the close of the battle sent orders to me to proceed with my outfit, including all the balloons, gas-generators, the balloon-inflating boat, gunboat, and tug up the Pamunkey River, until I reached White House and the bridge crossing the historic river, and join the army which would be there as soon as myself.

This I did, starting early the next morning, passing by the great cotton-bale fortifications on the York River, and soon into the little winding but easily navigated stream of the Pamunkey. Every now and then I would let the balloon go up to view the surrounding country, and over the bridge beyond the Pamunkey River valley, I saw the rear of the retreating Confederates, which showed me that our army had not gotten along as fast as it was expected, and I could occasionally see a few scouts on horseback on the hills beyond. I saw my helpless condition without my gunboat, the Coeur de Lion, which had served me for the past year so well on the Potomac, Chesapeake, and York, and which I had sent to Commodore Wilkes to aid him in the bombardment of Fort Darling, on the James River, thinking I would have no further use for it. Therefore, all I had was the balloon-boat and the steam-tug and one hundred and fifty men with muskets, a large number of wagons and gas-generators for three independent balloon outfits. My balloon-boat was almost a facsimile of our first little Monitor and about its size, and with the flag which I kept at the stern it had the appearance of an armed craft, which I think is all that saved me and my command, for the Monitor was what the Confederates dreaded at that time more than anything else.

After General Stoneman had left me at White House. I soon had a gas-generating apparatus beside a little pool of water, and from it extracted hydrogen enough in an hour to take both the general and myself to an altitude that enabled us to look into the windows of the city of Richmond and view its surroundings, and we saw what was left of the troops that bad left Yorktown encamped about the city.

Without the time and knowledge gained by the midnight observations referred to at the beginning of this chapter, there would have been no battle of Williamsburg, and McClellan would have lost the opportunity of gaining a victory, the importance of which has never been properly appreciated. The Confederates would have gotten away with all their stores and ammunition without injury. It was also my night observations that gave the primary knowledge which saved the Federal army at the battle of Fair Oaks.

To carry my telegraph apparatus, wires, and cables to this higher elevation, the lifting force of the Constitution proved to be too weak. It was then that I was put to my wits\\\' end as to how I could best save an hour\\\'s time, which was the most important and precious hour of all my experience in the army. As I saw the two armies coming nearer and nearer together, there was no time to be lost. It flashed through my mind that if I could only get the gas that was in the smaller balloon, Constitution, into the Intrepid, which was then half filled, I would save an hour\\\'s time, and to us that hour\\\'s time would be worth a million dollars a minute. But how was I to rig up the proper connection between the balloons? To do this within the space of time necessary puzzled me until I glanced down and saw a 10-inch camp kettle, which instantly gave me the key to the situation. I ordered the bottom cut out of the kettle, the Intrepid disconnected with the gas-generating apparatus, and the Constitution brought down the hill. In the course of five or six minutes connection was made between both balloons and the gas in the Constitution was transferred into the Intrepid.

I immediately took a high-altitude observation as rapidly as possible, wrote my most important dispatch to the commanding general on my way down, and I dictated it to my expert telegraph operator. Then with the telegraph cable and instruments, I ascended to the height desired and remained there almost constantly during the battle, keeping the wires hot with information.

It was at that time that the first and only Confederate balloon was used during the war.

The History of Civil War Medicine Edit

When the war began, the United States Army medical staff consisted of only the surgeon general, thirty surgeons, and eighty-three assistant surgeons. Of these, twenty-four resigned to "go South," and three other assistant surgeons were promptly dropped for "disloyalty." Thus the medical corps began its war service with only eighty seven men. When the war ended in 1865, more than eleven thousand doctors had served or were serving, many of these as acting assistant surgeons, uncommissioned and working under contract, often on a part-time basis. They could wear uniforms if they wished and were usually restricted to general hospitals away from the fighting front.

In that era of "heroic dosing" Dr. Moore foresaw shortages in drugs, surgical instruments, and hospital supplies. He established laboratories for drug manufacture and took prompt steps to purchase needed supplies from Europe. In the course of time, capture of Union warehouses and hospitals played an increasing role in the Confederate supply. As an additional precaution he procured and distributed widely a book on native herbs and other plants that grew wild in the South and were believed to possess curative qualities. As a result, despite frequent shortages of some drugs, the Confederate record was a good one.

Although the Southerners had some local and state relief organizations, they enjoyed nothing similar to the Sanitary Commission in scope or efficiency; yet in the effects of camp disease and unsanitary conditions, the Confederacy and the Union shared common experiences indeed. The two armies had similar experiences as their forces were being trained, usually in an instruction camp as a gathering place for the troops of each state. Medical officers did not know how to requisition drugs and medical supplies. Commissaries did not know how to requisition rations. It has been said that "the Americans are a warlike but unmilitary people," and the first months of the Civil War proved the adage. Too many men, when entering the army after a lifetime of being cared for by mothers and wives, had a tendency to "go native" to ignore washing themselves or their clothing and, worst of all, to ignore all regulations about camp sanitation, Each company was supposed to have a sink, a trench eight feet deep and two feet wide, onto which six inches of earth were to be put each evening. Some regiments, at first, dug no sinks. In other cases the men, disgusted by the sights and odors around the sinks, went off into open spaces around the edge of the camp. The infestation of flies that followed was inevitable, as were the diseases and bacteria they spread to the men and their rations.

Soon long lines of soldiers began coming to sick call with complaints of loose bowels accompanied by various kinds and varying degrees of internal discomfort. The medical officer would make a slapdash diagnosis of diarrhea or dysentery an prescribe an astringent. He usually ascribed this sickness to the eating of bad or badly cooked food. Union Army surgeons were to come to use the term "diarrhea-dysentery," lumping all the cases together as one disease. In fact, in many cases it was only a symptom of tuberculosis or malaria, though amoebic and bacillary dysentery, introduced into the South by slaves brought from Africa, was certainly present as well. It caused enormous sickness and many deaths. The Union Army alone blamed the disease for 50,000 deaths, a sum larger than that ascribed to "killed in action." It was even more lethal in the Confederate Army.

The diets of both armies did not help and were deplorably high in calories and low in vitamins. Fruits and fresh vegetables were notable by their absence, and especially so when the army was in the field. The food part of the ration was fresh or preserved beef, salt pork, navy beans, coffee, and hardtack, large, thick crackers, usually stale and often inhabited by weevils. When troops were not fighting, many created funds to buy fruits and vegetables in the open market. More often they foraged in the countryside, with fresh food a valuable part of the booty. In late 1864, when Major General W. T. Sherman made foraging his official policy on his march from Atlanta to Savannah, his army was never healthier. As the war went on, Confederate soldiers were increasingly asked to subsist on field corn and peas. And the preparation of the food was as bad as the food itself, hasty, undercooked, and almost always fried.

No wonder, then, that at sick call, shortly after reveille, many men who claimed to be sick were marched by the first sergeant to the regimental hospital, usually a wall tent. There the assistant surgeon examined them, then assigned some to cots in the hospital tent, instructed others to be sick in quarters, and restored a few to light duty or to full duty. The less sick and slightly wounded would be expected to nurse, clean, and feed the patients and to see to the disposal of bedpans and urinals.

In the event of an engagement, the assistant surgeon and one or more detailed men, laden with lint, bandages, opium pills and morphine, whiskey and brandy, would establish an "advance" or dressing station just beyond musket fire from the battle. Stretcher-bearers went forward to find the wounded and, if the latter could not walk, to carry them to the dressing station. The assistant surgeon gave the wounded man a stout drink of liquor, expecting it to counteract shock, and then perhaps gave him an opium pill or dust or rubbed morphine into the wound. Later in the war the advantages of a syringe to inject morphine became apparent. The assistant surgeon examined the wound, with special attention to staunching or diminishing bleeding. After removing foreign bodies, he packed the wound with lint, bandaged it, and applied a splint if it seemed advisable. The walking wounded then started for the field hospital, officially the regiment hospital tent, although in 1862 and onward there was an increasing tendency to take over a farmhouse, school, or church if such was available. The recumbent went by ambulances, if there were any, for the ride to the field hospital, usually anywhere from three to five miles from enemy artillery and sometimes much farther.

There, lying on clumps of hay or bare ground, the wounded awaited their turn on the operating table. There was usually little shouting, groaning, or clamor because the wounded were quieted by shock and the combination of liquor and opiate. It was an eerie scene, with a mounting pile of amputated limbs, perhaps five feet high, the surgeon and the assistant surgeon-after a few months both Union and Confederate authorities decided that two assistant surgeons were necessary in a regiment -cutting, sawing, making repairs, and tying ligatures on arteries. The scene was especially awesome at night, with the surgeons working by candlelight on an assignment that might sometimes go on for three or four days with hardly a respite. And there was always the smell of gore.

The surgeons tried to ignore both the slightly wounded and the mortally wounded in the interest of saving as many lives as possible. This meant special attention to arm and leg wounds. Union statistics showed that 71 percent of all gunshot wounds were in the extremities, probably because of fighting from cover behind trees and breastworks. Wounds of the head, neck, chest, and abdomen were most likely to be mortal, so the amputation cases went first on the operating table. The bullet or piece of shell had to be removed, often with the operator using his fingers for a probe. Between the extensive damage done by the Minnie bullets used to inflict wounds, and the haste and frequent ignorance in treating them, amputation was all too often the "treatment" prescribed.

Everything about the operation was septic. The surgeon operated in a blood- and often pus-stained coat. He might hold his lancet in his mouth. If he dropped an instrument or sponge, he picked it up, rinsed it in cold water, and continued work. When loose pieces of bone and tissue had been removed, the wound would be packed with moist lint or raw cotton, unsterilized, and bandaged with wet, unsterilized bandages. The bandages were to be kept wet, the patient was to be kept as quiet as possible, and he was to be given small but frequent doses of whiskey and possibly quinine. This was a supportive regime.

The urgency of operating during the primary period--the first twenty-four hours was to avoid the irritative period--when infection showed itself. The surgeon seldom had to wait more than three or four days for "laudable pus" to appear. This was believed to be the lining of the wound, being expelled so that clean tissue could replace it and the wound could heal. In the rare cases when no pus appeared, it was called "healing by first intention" and was a complete mystery. Actually the pus was the sign that Staphylococcus aureus had invaded and was destroying tissue.

As to technique, the amputating surgeons had a choice of the "flap" operation or the "circular," both quite old. The former was quicker but enlarged the wound; the latter, when properly done, opened up a small area to infection. By the end of the war a small majority preferred the flap. The frequency of amputations was much questioned at the time. Yet, considering the condition of the patients, the difficulties of transportation, and the septic condition of the hospitals, amputations probably saved lives rather than limbs.

Surgical fevers disheartened the doctors. Four or five days after a wound operation, the patient would be recovering well, producing copious pus. Then suddenly the pus stopped, the wound dried, and the patient ran a terrific fever. Despite drugs, the patient would very likely be dead in three or four days. The diagnosis was blood poisoning. Erysipelas also affected both armies. With a case mortality of 40 percent, it received serious attention. It was recognized by a characteristic rash, and it was thought by some to be airborne, with the result that both Unionists and Confederates took steps to isolate erysipelas patients in separated tents or wards. The surgeons were in the dark as to how to treat this affliction, but it was noted that if iodine was painted on the edges of a wound, its further extension was stopped.

Civil War surgeons had not only iodine but carbolic acid as well, and a long list of "disinfectants" such as bichloride of mercury, sodium hypochlorite, and other agents. The trouble was that the wound was allowed to become a raging inferno before disinfectants were tried. However, one of the good features of Civil War surgery was that anesthetics were almost always used in operations or the dressing of painful wounds. It was practically universal in the Union, and despite mythology, anesthetics were very seldom unavailable in the Confederacy. The almost universal favorite was chloroform, probably because ether\\'s explosive quality made it dangerous at a field hospital operating table, where there was always the possibility of enemy gunfire.

With the coming of the big battles of 1862, both armies more or less simultaneously evolved larger and better field hospitals. First, regimental hospitals clustered together as brigade hospitals with some differentiation of duty for the various medical officers and with the chief surgeon of the brigade in charge. Soon brigade hospitals clustered into division hospitals, and by 1864 in most field armies there were corps hospitals. There the best surgeons would operate; one surgeon would be in charge of records, another of drugs, another of supplies, and yet another would direct and treat the sick and lightly wounded who were the nurses.

In time for Antietam, the Army of the Potomac, under its medical director Jonathan Letterman, developed the Letterman Ambulance Plan. In this system the ambulances of a division moved together, under a mounted line sergeant, with two stretcher-bearers and one driver per ambulance, to collect the wounded from the field, bring them to the dressing stations, and then take them to the field hospital. It was a vast improvement over the earlier "system".

The Confederates made considerable use of railroads in evacuating men from field hospitals to general hospitals. They had no special hospital cars and felt fortunate when they could use passenger rather than freight cars. They became adept at maintaining dressing and supply stations where wounds could be tended and the patients fed. The Union Army, too, increasingly used railroads for evacuating men north. After the Battle of Chattanooga, a real hospital train was regularly used to move the sick and wounded from Chattanooga to Louisville. Some of the cars were equipped with two tiers of bunks, suspended on hard-rubber tugs. At the ends of such cars would be a room for supplies and food preparation. The locomotive assigned to this train was painted scarlet, and at night a string of three red lanterns burned on the front. Confederate cavalrymen never bothered this train.

Eager to educate his department in the best ideas of the time, General Hammond wrote a full length textbook on military hygiene. He brought about the writing of Joseph J. Woodward\\'s admirable The Hospital Steward\\'s Manual. He gave every encouragement to the many medical societies that had sprung up in the army, ordering that interesting scientific specimens should be forwarded to Washington for inclusion in an Army Medical Museum. He began the collection of what has become the world\\'s largest medical library.

Both armies experimented with "special" hospitals, with admission limited to patients with the same disorders. The Confederates established several venereal hospitals and some ophthalmic hospitals. The Unionists began a venereal hospital at Nashville and the famed neurological hospital, Turner\\'s Lane, at Philadelphia, where W. W. Keen is believed by some to have founded neurology in America.

It was not long before outraged surgeons virtually went to war with Miss Dix\\'s nurses, frustrating them, insulting them, trying to drive them from the hospitals. These were strong-minded middle-class American women, accustomed to ruling within the home and to receiving the respectful attention of their husbands and male acquaintances. For the most part they had no nursing training. The surgeons complained that they often substituted their own nostrums for the drugs prescribed and that they sometimes were loud and interfering when attempting to prevent amputations.

Hospital food improved perceptively when women matrons took over the supervision of kitchens. These women came from various sources, many supplied by the United States Christian Commission, a large organization that donated delicacies to hospitals but considered the saving of souls, by passing out religious tracts, its principal mission.

Richmond was indeed the hospital center of the Confederacy, with twenty hospitals in 1864 after many of the makeshift type had been closed and replaced by pavilion structures. The queen of them was Chimborazo, which had beds for 8,000 men and was often called the largest hospital on the continent. It was organized into four divisions, each with thirty pavilions. There were also five soup houses, five ice houses, "Russian" baths, a 10,000-loaf per day bakery, and a 400-keg brewery. On an adjacent farm the hospital grew food and grazed three hundred cows and several hundred goats. Almost as amazing was Jackson Hospital, which could care for 6,000 patients in similar ways. Elsewhere than Richmond, general hospitals were neither so large nor so grand, but there were many of which the Confederates were proud. By late 1864 there was a total of 154 hospitals, most located close to the southern Atlantic coast. They began to close down, often because of enemy action, early in 1865.

The many men and women, North and South, who served in the hospital and sanitary services during the war were justly proud of their achievements. The morbidity and mortality rates of both armies showed marked improvement over those of other nineteenth-century wars, particularly America's last conflict, the war with Mexico. In that war 90 percent of the deaths were from nonbattle causes. In contrast, in the Civil War some 600,000 soldiers died, but in the Union Army 30.5 percent of them died in or from battle, and in the Confederate Army the percentage ran to 36.4. Clearly, the physicians and sanitarians had held down the disease mortalities to levels that their generation considered more than reasonable. Better, they made some few halting strides in treatment and medication, and considerable leaps in the organization of dealing with masses of wounded and ailing soldiers. It was a ghastly business for doctors and patients alike; yet without the medicos in blue and gray, much of the young manhood of America at mid century might not have survived for the work of rebuilding.

War on HorsebackEdit

In a war with so much horror, on the field and in the hospitals, there was a desperate need for romance, for glamour. The cavalry was the glamour arm-handsome young men in flowing motion on graceful steeds, embellished with colorful costumes of capes, jackets, plumed hats, knee boots, and fancy spurs. At least it was that way in the beginning. Also in the early weeks of the Civil War, the cavalry on both sides was compact, slow-moving, heavily accoutred, usually operating with the infantry. Experience brought striking changes, first in the Confederate cavalry, considerably later in the Union. After a few battles in conjunction with the infantry, the horse soldiers began cutting loose from their bases to destroy enemy communications and supplies. They burned bridges and stores, ripped out telegraph lines, and raided far behind the lines in attempts to keep the enemy so busy that he could apply only a part of his potential when battle was joined.


One reason given for the early superiority of Confederate cavalry was that in the South the lack of good highways had forced Southerners to travel by horseback from boyhood, while in the North a generation had been riding in wheeled vehicles. Although there may have been some truth in this, rural young men in the North were also horsemen by necessity, but unlike many of the Southern beaux sabreurs, they had to bear the tedious burden of caring for their animals after plowing behind them all day. Young Northerners who knew horses seemed to have little desire to assume the responsibility of taking them to war, and instead joined the infantry. In the South also, long before the war, young men organized themselves into mounted militia companies, often with romantic names. Although these may have been more social than military, the men learned how to drill, ride daringly, and charge with the saber.


Southern cavalry horses were also superior to Northern horses, largely because of the Southern penchant for racing. In the North, muscular and slow-moving draft horses were the preferred breeds.


At the war\\'s beginning there were only six regiments of United States cavalry, dragoons and mounted riflemen, and a considerable number of their officers resigned to serve with the Confederacy. In the opinion of the United States Army\\'s commanding general, Winfield Scott, improvements in weapons had outmoded cavalry. He was inclined, therefore, to limit the number of cavalry regiments for prosecution of the war, and when Lincoln made his first call for volunteers, only one additional regiment of cavalry was authorized.

One might suppose that McClellan, who wrote the Army's cavalry regulations and developed a saddle that was standard equipment for half a century, would have handled his horsed soldiers with dash and imagination. Instead, he attached them to infantry divisions, scattering them throughout the Army where they were too often misused by assignment to escort and messenger service. Not until the summer of 1863, when a vast cavalry depot was established at Giesboro Point, did the Union Army have the horse power to challenge the Confederacy's mounted units. Located within the District of Columbia across the eastern branch of the Potomac (Anacostia River), Giesboro was the energy source for the great Union cavalry operations of the last two years of war.

Until that time, however, Confederate cavalry was dominant-a dashing, disruptive, and disconcerting force that kept many a Union commander off balance during the early months of war. Then came springtime of 1863, midpoint of the Civil War, the year of fullest flowering for the soldiers on horseback, the year of maturation for Union cavalry. By this time both sides had found through experience what weapons and accoutrements best suited them, the methods of fighting that were most successful. The Southerners learned to travel light and live off the country; indeed, the Confederate Congress authorized ranger units that were encouraged to roam independently, raiding Union bases and supply trains for loot to sustain themselves.

Although most cavalrymen favoured sabres at the beginning of the war, their use declined in favour of the carbine and the pistol. Records show that fewer than a thousand sabre wounds were treated in Federal hospitals during four years of combat. Cavalry commanders also quickly learned to use their horses for swift mobility rather than for direct attacks, bringing their men close to the enemy and dismounting them for combat, with one man in each set of four acting as horse holder. By 1863 several models of breech-loading carbines were available in quantity for Federal cavalrymen, although opinions differed as to the qualities of the different models. With the new Blakeslee cartridge box known as the Quickloader, a trooper could fire a dozen aimed shots a minute.


Ironclad warshipEdit

The first battle between ironclads: CSS Virginia/Merrimac (left) vs. USS Monitor, in 1862 at the Battle of Hampton Roads An ironclad was a steam-propelled warship in the later part of the 19th century, protected by iron or steel armor plates. The ironclad was developed as a result of the vulnerability of wooden warships to explosive or incendiary shells. The first ironclad battleship, La Gloire, was launched by the French Navy in November 1859; the British Royal Navy had been considering armored warships since 1856 and prepared a draft design for an armored corvette in 1857; however in early 1859 the Royal Navy started building two iron-hulled armored frigates, and by 1861 had reached the conclusion to move to an all-armored battle fleet. After the first clashes of ironclads (both with wooden ships and with one another) took place during the American Civil War, it became clear that the ironclad had replaced the unarmored ship of the line as the most powerful warship afloat. This type of ship would come to be very successful in the American Civil War. Ironclads were designed for several roles, including as high seas battleships, coastal defense ships, and long-range cruisers. The rapid evolution of warship design in the late 19th century transformed the ironclad from a wooden-hulled vessel which carried sails to supplement its steam engines into the steel-built, turreted battleships and cruisers familiar in the 20th century. This change was pushed forward by the development of heavier naval guns (the ironclads of the 1880s carried some of the heaviest guns ever mounted at sea), more sophisticated steam engines, and advances in metallurgy which made steel shipbuilding possible. The rapid pace of change in the ironclad period meant that many ships were obsolete as soon as they were complete, and that naval tactics were in a state of flux. Many ironclads were built to make use of the ram or the torpedo, which a number of naval designers considered the crucial weapons of naval combat. There is no clear end to the ironclad period, but towards the end of the 1890s the term ironclad dropped out of use. New ships were increasingly constructed to a standard pattern and designated battleships or armored cruisers.


First battles between ironclads: the U.S. Civil War Edit

Officers of the original USS Monitor, photographed during the American Civil War. The first use of ironclads in action came in the U.S. Civil War. The U.S. Navy at the time the war broke out had no ironclads, its most powerful ships being six steam-powered unarmoured frigates. Since the bulk of the Navy remained loyal to the Union, the Confederacy sought to gain advantage in the naval conflict by acquiring modern armored ships. The Confederate Congress voted $2 million in May 1861 to buy ironclads from overseas, and in July and August started work on construction and converting wooden ships.

On 12 October 1861, the CSS Manassas became the first ironclad to enter battle, when she fought Union warships on the Mississippi. She was converted from a commercial vessel in New Orleans for river and coastal fighting. In February 1862, the larger CSS Virginia (Merrimack) joined the Confederate Navy, having been built at Norfolk. By this time the Union had completed seven ironclad gunboats of the City class, and was about to complete the USS Monitor, an innovative design proposed by the Swedish inventor John Ericsson. The Union was also building a large armored frigate, the USS New Ironsides, and the smaller USS Galena.

The first battle between ironclads happened on 9 March 1862, as the armored raft Monitor was deployed to protect the Union's wooden fleet from the ironclad battery Virginia and other Confederate warships. In this engagement, named the Battle of Hampton Roads, the two ironclads repeatedly tried to ram one another while shells bounced off their armor. The battle attracted attention worldwide, making it clear that the wooden warship was now out of date, with the ironclads destroying them easily.


The Civil War saw more ironclads built by both sides, and they played an increasing role in the naval war alongside the unarmored warships, commerce raiders and blockade runners. The Union built a large fleet of fifty monitors modelled on their namesake. The Confederacy built ships designed as smaller versions of the Virginia, many of which saw action, but their attempts to buy ironclads overseas were frustrated as European nations confiscated ships being built for the Confederacy — especially in Russia, the only country to openly support the Union through the war. Only CSS Stonewall was completed, and she arrived in American waters just in time for the end of the war. Through the remainder of the war, ironclads saw action in the Union's attacks on Southern ports. Seven Union monitors, including USS Montauk, as well as two other ironclads, the ironclad frigate New Ironsides and a light-draft Keokuk, participated in the failed attack on Charleston; one was sunk. Two small ironclads, CSS Palmetto State and CSS Chicora participated in the defence of the harbor. For the later attack at Mobile Bay, the Union assembled four monitors as well as 11 wooden ships, facing the CSS Tennessee, the Confederacy's most powerful ironclad and the gunboats CSS Morgan, CSS Gaines, CSS Selma.

The battles of the American Civil War were very influential on the designs and tactics of the ironclad fleets that followed. In particular, it taught a generation of naval officers the misleading lesson that ramming was the best way to sink enemy ironclads.

Torpedos Edit

The ironclad age saw the development of explosive torpedoes as naval weapons, which helped complicate the design and tactics of ironclad fleets. The first torpedoes were static mines, used with dubious efficiency in the American Civil War. That conflict also saw the development of the spar torpedo, an explosive charge pushed against the hull of a warship by a small boat. For the first time, a large warship faced a serious threat from a smaller one—and given the relative inefficiency of shellfire against ironclads, the threat from the spar torpedo was taken seriously. The U.S. Navy converted four of its monitors to become turretless armored spar-torpedo vessels while under construction in 1864–5, but these vessels never saw action. Another proposal, the towed or 'Harvey' torpedo, involved an explosive on a line or outrigger; either to deter a ship from ramming or to make a torpedo attack by a boat less suicidal. A more practical and influential weapon was the self-propelled or 'Whitehead' torpedo. Invented in 1868 and deployed in the 1870s, the Whitehead torpedo formed part of the armament of ironclads of the 1880s like HMS Inflexible and the Italian Duilio and Dandolo.

End of the ironclad Edit

There is no clearly-defined end to the ironclad, besides the transition from wood hulls to all metal. Ironclads continued to be used in World War I. Towards the end of the 19th century, the descriptions 'battleship' and 'armored cruiser' came to replace the term 'ironclad'. The proliferation of ironclad battleship designs came to an end in the 1890s as navies reached a consensus on the design of battleships, producing the type known as the pre-Dreadnought. These ships are sometimes covered in treatments of the ironclad warship. The next evolution of battleship design, the dreadnought, is never referred to as an 'ironclad'.

Advantages of the Ironclad Edit

- Mechanically driven.


- no masts or sails to worry about getting shot off


- armored against conventional cannonball fire


- Their guns could be rotated 360 degrees instead of having to turn the whole boat.


- Rode so low in the water, the guns of the other ships couldn't be aimed low enough to hit them with any effectiveness.

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