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Old January 3rd, 2012, 04:42 PM   #1

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Land mines during the Civil War


During Union Major General Sherman's 1864 'March to the Sea', a Federal officer's leg was mutilated when he stepped on a Confederate land mine. Angrily proclaiming that this was 'not war, but murder', Sherman called for a batch of Southern POW's who were forced at gunpoint to walk ahead of the Union lines, to be the first to step on any other mines. Both the Union forces and the Confederate prisoners completed this march unscathed, but the incident seems to reveal much about the use of land mines, and how they were perceived.

Apparently, in an age when a myth of 'gentlemanly' warfare was dying, but not yet dead, the use of land mines and other hidden weapons was considered cowardly. I cannot imagine that perception of land mines would have differed much from the North or the South, so I'm sure there are plenty of Confederate generals who would have displayed similar outrage had one of their under-officers been crippled by such a weapon (indeed, the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg would suggest that the South's fighting men also loathed mines and bombs).

So was the South simply employing land mines towards the close of the War because their situation allowed less and less room for 'gentlemanly' conduct in its prosecution? Or were such weapons used throughout the War by both sides? If so, what do we know about Civil War land mines, how commonplace they were, and how many men were killed or became amputees on their account?
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Old January 3rd, 2012, 05:23 PM   #2

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I've heard the story of Sherman and the land mines too, but that's also the only instance I've heard of their use in the war. But the Confederacy also used them at sea quite regularly, where they were called "torpedoes". Usually they were suspended just below the surface in a harbor or a river (as in Mobile Bay when Farragut said "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead"). A torpedo was also attached to a spar on the submarine Hunley and used to ram a Union ship.

I think the Confederates may have been more willing to try alternatives like mines, torpedoes and submarines to make up for their disadvantages in manpower and resources.
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Old January 3rd, 2012, 06:10 PM   #3

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I'm sure Confederate Brigadier-General Gabriel J. Rains thought little of hurting the
feelings of advancing Union forces. Just as General Sherman brought the hard hand
of war upon the Confederate civilians, so General Rains must have felt war dictated
what had to be done for the best chance of winning. The Civil War saw many military
advances tested upon the other side. It looks like only 2,000 or less land mines were
ever produced and used. To quote Sherman, "war is hell"
Here's a nice link with a brief history of landmines, US and other nations.
The History of Landmines
http://maic.jmu.edu/JOURNAL/6.1/note...ns/robbins.htm

Last edited by tjadams; January 3rd, 2012 at 06:16 PM.
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Old January 4th, 2012, 02:31 AM   #4

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Quote:
Originally Posted by tjadams View Post
I'm sure Confederate Brigadier-General Gabriel J. Rains thought little of hurting the
feelings of advancing Union forces. Just as General Sherman brought the hard hand
of war upon the Confederate civilians, so General Rains must have felt war dictated
what had to be done for the best chance of winning. The Civil War saw many military
advances tested upon the other side. It looks like only 2,000 or less land mines were
ever produced and used. To quote Sherman, "war is hell"
Ultimately that's what it comes down to. If you're going to fight a war, you better be "in it to win it". Every war brings its technological advances, and most technological advances bring cries of "foul" from purists and the other side. But war is foul business to begin with. Eventually the "foul" weapons become accepted and widely used, only to be superseded by the next generation of foul weapons. Fortunately it appears that we may finally have reached the limit of foulness with WMD, but time will tell...
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