Book Review: The Civil War Military Machine

The Civil War Military Machine:  Weapons And Tactics Of The Union And Confederate Armed Forces, by Ian Drury & Tony Gibbons

This book was an easy one to appreciate, and is likely one that would be appreciated by any others as well.  Rather than talking about specific battles (except for naval battles), this particular book focuses on the equipment that was used by the Union and Confederacy, the quirks of those equipment, and the limitations of the equipment when it comes to such matters as range and type of ammunition and the way that the equipment was used by commanders on both sides.  Admittedly, this is a subject of personal interest, but it is not such an obscure matter that I think this book would have limited appeal.  There are a great many people who like reading books that look at equipment and how that equipment shapes the effectiveness of tactics, and this book certainly does that well.  As a result, the book gives the reader some firm understanding of the importance of artillery in limiting the importance of many forts and also the way that ironclads shaped naval warfare, among other benefits, and it certainly gives the reader some food for thought about the role of weapons on the course of the Civil War.

This book is about 200 very large pages divided into various sections that are focused first on equipment and then on naval warfare.  The book begins with an introduction and ten discusses the South in the Civil War as well as the savage wars of peace that dealt with the relocation and subjugation of indigenous tribes.  After that there is a discussion of land battle in the Civil War followed by sections on the various pistols, muskets and rifles, carbines, machine guns, field artillery, and railroads used in the war.  A discussion of the war in the air then leads to a look at river crossing and wagon trains.  After this there is a considerable amount of attention spent to various battles:  Fort Sumter, the Charleston defenses, the siege of Petersburg, Fort Fisher, Fort Henry, the surrender of Fort Donelson, the defenses of Nashville and Mobile, running the forts at New Orleans, the bombardment of Fort Pulaski, the defenses of Washington DC, and then a look at siege artillery and seacoast and naval ordinance.  The book then concludes with a look at the US Navy at the outbreak of war, naval warfare during the Civil War, the warships of the Union and Confederate armies, and mine warfare before an index.

Given that the Civil War, like many conflicts, has tended to focus attention on generals and on questions of the use of uncreative and lethal frontal assaults against armies with rifles of far longer range and far deadlier accuracy, this book does a good job in pointing out just how far those Civil War weapons could effectively fire.  And honestly, some of the numbers are frightening.  At Fort Pulaski, for example, artillery was able to fire from over a mile away and force the fort to surrender, showing that the age of masonry fortresses of that kind was over in the face of high-powered artillery.  The use of mines and submarines and torpedoes showed how smaller nations would try to counter the effect of being attacked by larger navies.  The range of the larger artillery and the firepower of early machine guns pointed the way towards the massive use of ordinance that would become routine in later wars.  Knowing the weapon systems that the various armies of the Civil War had to deal with, including the reliability (or not) and requirements of repair that they had helps us to better understand and judge the behavior of leaders who had to cope with this equipment.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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