Trial by Fire: Science, Technology and the Civil War

Charles D. Ross

  • Trial by Fire: Science, Technology and the Civil War

At 4:40 A.M. on July 30, 1864, an enormous explosion devastated a large section of the Confederate lines outside of Petersburg, Virginia. The explosion was due to a bomb planted at the end of a 510-foot mine tunnel, dug under the Confederate lines by Pennsylvania coal miners from a Union regiment. Before the shaft was dug, most experts were skeptical that an unventilated shaft of such a length would be useful. How did the Pennsylvanians do it?

Answers to this question and more are contained in this fascinating book, exploring an often-overlooked aspect of the Civil War. The war occurred at a time when society was being transformed by the Industrial Revolution, a time when scientific knowledge became widespread and the concepts of invention and technology were being born on a massive scale. How did this democratization of scientific knowledge and the birth of new technologies affect the war?

Part one of the book examines the ingenious use of scientific knowledge by three creative colonels when each found himself in a crisis situation which only science could solve. Union Colonel Henry Pleasants devised the method of digging the tunnel mentioned above. Colonel Joseph Bailey designed and supervised construction of a series of makeshift dams on the Red River which saved an entire Union fleet. Beginning without supplies or resources, Confederate Colonel George Washington Rains created the best gunpowder factory in the world.

Part two is a broader look at the roles played in the war by three young technologies. Both sides used submarines, aircraft, and the telegraph with varying degrees of effectiveness. The book examines the reasons behind the success of the telegraph and the reasons for the relatively poor performance of the craft in the skies and under the seas. Trial by Fire explains in simple scientific terms some of the most exciting but least understood exploits of the Civil War.

Author Charles D. Ross
Pages 228
Images 53
Maps 1
Bibliography Yes
Index Yes
  • $24.95

Tags: 9781572491854, Charles D. Ross