Periscopes

One of the biggest innovations of the Civil War was a change in how war was waged. When the war began, everyone prepared to fight using the same methods that had been used in the past, from the Napoleonic wars and American Revolution to the War of 1812. Weapons in past wars had been so inaccurate and slow to reload that most of the fight- KNOW YOUR SLANG

ing was very close. Armies marched toward each other in picket—a guard or guard duty formation, then each set up two lines of fighters, the first line kneeling to shoot and the second line standing and shooting over the front line.

But what soldiers discovered during the Civil War was that while the tactics remained the same, the weapons had changed. Weapons like the Gatling gun, which fired 250 rounds a minute from six barrels, repeating rifles, breech-loading cannons, and other weapons were not only more accurate, they shot farther and were much easier and faster to reload. These weapons were so different from what had been used in the past that, in the four years from the start of the Civil War at Fort Sumter to Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, the entire theory for how to fight a war changed.

Soldiers in the trenches, Petersburg, Virgina. 1865.

Robert Lee Appomattox Court House

The first Federal wagons moving into Petersburg.

At the beginning of the war, soldiers would mass together and charge the enemy, ready for close, hand-to-hand fighting. But unlike earlier wars, when, as Ulysses S. Grant said, "A man might fire at you all day without you finding it out," soldiers found that charging toward an enemy whose guns could reload quickly and shoot hundreds of rounds a minute with great accuracy from half a mile away meant that men were being killed and injured in shocking numbers.

So, by the later battles of the war, rather than quick, close, and decisive victories, the Union and Confederate armies were stuck in what is known as siege warfare: battles that lasted for long stretches—sometimes months at a time—where armies dug and stayed in trenches, didn't engage in active fighting very often, and waited out their enemy. The Siege of Petersburg, Virginia, for example, took 10 months. Lots of soldiers, especially

Southern soldiers defending the city, dug and then lived in trenches.

This style of fighting called for new ways of keeping track of the enemy. Soldiers needed a way to see what their enemies were doing while they sat in their trenches, without having to pop up and potentially get their heads shot off. The best tool for this was the periscope.

Union soldiers at Appomattox Court House.

The first Federal wagons moving into Petersburg.

the siege of Petersburg

The mostfamous Civil War battle where siege-style method of warfare was used was in the city of Petersburg, Virginia.

First Periscope Thomas Doughty

Union soldiers at Appomattox Court House.

Civil War Petersburg Trenches
Part of the trench system outside Petersburg, Virginia.

Thomas Doughty, a naval officer for the Union, is given credit for inventing the periscope for his gunship, the USS Osage. Gunners on the ship couldn't see the high banks of Louisiana's Red River out of the peepholes of the ship, and they couldn't risk going on deck, so Doughty used his periscope to see above the turret and direct his guns.

The periscope quickly became a useful tool for soldiers in the trenches as well as on gunships, helping them to see what was going on outside the trenches without being harmed in the process.

know your slang bombproof-—an underground shelter; also an officer or soldier who never went to the front hornets—bullets civil war facts & trivia

H During the Siege of Petersburg, soldiers dug trenches about3 feet deep and 6 to 8 feet wide. In front of these trenches were small rifle pits, which were large enough for two riflemen. Trenches were sometimes big enough to hold wagons.

H During long battles or sieges, soldiers would sleep in small shelters built of earth and sandbags, or in caves dug in the trenches. These shelters were usually very small and uncomfortable, but were bulletproof and protected soldiers overnight.

H The trench lines dug during the Seige of Petersburg ran for 53 miles. By the end of the siege, there were 61,000 Union casualties and38,000 Confederate casualties.

let's get started make your own periscope

+3 0

Responses

  • irmina
    What were civil war periscopes?
    6 years ago
  • dallas
    What happened at the appomattox court house?
    5 years ago

Post a comment