The First Modern War

The Civil War demonstrated for the first time how industrial technology had transformed the nature of warfare. It was the first major war in which the railroad transported troops and supplies; railroad junctions, like Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Petersburg became major military objectives. It demonstrated the superiority of ironclad ships to those made of wood, thus revolutionizing naval warfare. The telegraph made instantaneous communication between generals possible. The war introduced armored trains, hand grenades, surveillance balloons, and even primitive submarines.

Civil war armamentsPerhaps most important, a revolution in arms manufacturing produced a more modern rifle, easier to load and deadly at 600 yards or more because of its grooved (or "rifled") barrel. This weapon replaced the traditional musket, accurate only at a short distance, and changed the nature of combat. Heavy fortifications and elaborate trenches became more important, giving those on the defensive - usually the Southern armies - an immense advantage over attacking troops. The rifle reduced the effectiveness of cavalry charges and made hand-to-hand combat rare and bayonet wounds almost unheard of.

The war of rifle and trench produced the appalling casualty statistics of Civil War battles. At Gettysburg alone there were 50,000 dead, wounded, and missing. The death toll in the Civil War nearly equals the number of Americans who died in all the nation's other wars from the Revolution to Vietnam.

Camp Scene   Union Dead on the Battlefield at Gettyburg

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