Monday, June 29, 2020

Booknotes: America’s Buried History

New Arrival:
America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War by Kenneth R. Rutherford (Savas Beatie, 2020).

From the description: "Modern landmines were used for the first time in history on a widespread basis during the Civil War when the Confederacy, in desperate need of an innovative technology to overcome significant deficits in materiel and manpower, employed them. The first American to die from a victim-activated landmine was on the Virginia Peninsula in early 1862 during the siege of Yorktown. Their use set off explosive debates inside the Confederate government and within the ranks of the army over the ethics of using “weapons that wait.” As Confederate fortunes dimmed, leveraging low-cost weapons like landmines became acceptable and even desirable."

For a long time the standard work on the Confederate use of torpedoes (as land and sea mines were called back then) was Milton Perry's 1965 book Infernal Machines. Since then the topic has been broached on a number of occasions in the literature, mostly as parts of larger studies (a recent example being Mark Ragan's excellent Confederate Saboteurs: Building the Hunley and Other Secret Weapons of the Civil War) or in reference-style works such as the Herbert Schiller-edited volume Confederate Torpedoes. The goal of Kenneth Rutherford's America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War is to provide readers with a multi-faceted overview of the subject.

Most Civil War students are at least aware of Confederate general Gabriel Rains's pioneering work in developing torpedo weaponry in North America (and Savas Beatie, the publisher of this book, also released in 2017 a short history of the topic titled Gabriel Rains and the Confederate Torpedo Bureau). As Rutherford recounts in his book, explosive devices developed by Rains and others "saw extensive use in Virginia, at Port Hudson in Louisiana, in Georgia, the Trans-Mississippi Theater, during the closing weeks of the war in the Carolinas, and in harbors and rivers in multiple states. Debates over the ethics of using mine warfare did not end in 1865, and are still being waged to this day."

In the book, Rutherford, "who is known worldwide for his work in the landmine discipline, and who himself lost his legs to a mine in Africa," aims to "demonstrate how and why the mines were built, how and where they were deployed, the effects of their use, and the reactions of those who suffered from their deadly blasts."


  1. Thanks Drew. This is a really interesting book that forces readers to look at many major campaigns quite differently. The operations against Fort Wagner were especially interesting. I was hoping for a full Drew review, but this helps spread the word.

  2. Hi Drew--hmm. I better get on the warehouse/marketing folks. You should have had it weeks ago.


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