Thursday, August 06, 2009

The UN-Civil War

During my deployment, I was fortunate to carry 32 books with me-- though not physically with me, really. I had a Kindle, the device from Amazon which holds up to 1500 books, digitally. I kept it free from dust and out of the heat and direct sun as much as possible, and it served me faithfully (I highly recommend getting one, if you can).

Two of the books I was reading were the Personal Memoirs of Gen. P. H. Sheridan and the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.

In both of these works I gained an appreciation for the brilliance of these two shining stars of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Below are two excerpts which exploded from the page (no pun intended, considering the subject). They have to do with certain devices of war we usually consider modern and even contemporary, these being land mines and IEDs.

Little did we know, it seems that the Confederates invented them both (not very Southern-gentlemanly)!

(Note: text in italics, emphasis mine...)

From Grant, about Sherman's March to the Sea:
"No further resistance worthy of note was met with, until within a few miles of Savannah. This place was found to be intrenched and garrisoned. Sherman proceeded at once on his arrival to invest the place, and found that the enemy had placed torpedoes in the ground, which were to explode when stepped on by man or beast. One of these exploded under an officer's horse, blowing the animal to pieces and tearing one of the legs of the officer so badly that it had to be amputated. Sherman at once ordered his prisoners to the front, moving them in a compact body in advance, to either explode the torpedoes or dig them up. No further explosion took place."

From Sheridan, after the defeat of J.E.B. Stuart at Yellow Tavern:

"The enemy, anticipating that I would march by this route, had planted torpedoes along it, and many of these exploded as the column passed over them, killing several horses and wounding a few men, but beyond this we met with no molestation. The torpedoes were loaded shells planted on each side of the road, and so connected by wires attached to friction-tubes in the shells, that when a horse’s hoof struck a wire the shell was exploded by the jerk on the improvised lanyard. After the loss of several horses and the wounding of some of the men by these torpedoes, I gave directions to have them removed, if practicable, so about twenty-five of the prisoners were brought up and made to get down on their knees, feel for the wires in the darkness, follow them up and unearth the shells. The prisoners reported the owner of one of the neighboring houses to be the principal person who had engaged in planting these shells, and I therefore directed that some of them be carried and placed in the cellar of his house, arranged to explode if the enemy’s column came that way, while he and his family were brought off as prisoners and held till after daylight."
I make no commentary on these texts, except to say that 1) there is nothing new under the sun, 2) Americans, especially Confederates, are very creative people, and 3) these two men dealt with their problem in a very old-school sort of way, needless to say (I wonder what would happen today if these men were alive and handling things this way in Iraq or Afghanistan... talk amongst yourselves...)


Pete said...

I'm a big Civil War buff and I've heard these stories before. "Torpedoes" were considered such an outrage that using prisoners was considered fair play. We could never do it now though!

Kristopher Battles said...

I can't comment very strongly on this subject, but I will say that we certainly behave differently than our enemies today!