Thursday, March 2, 2023

Booknotes: Civil War Torpedoes and the Global Development of Landmine Warfare

New Arrival:
Civil War Torpedoes and the Global Development of Landmine Warfare by Earl J. Hess (Rowman & Littlefield, 2023).

From the description: Earl Hess's Civil War Torpedoes and the Global Development of Landmine Warfare "recounts the use of landmines in the American Civil War from their predecessors before 1861through their legacy in the post-Cold War era. A handful of Confederates pioneered the use of torpedoes, as landmines were commonly called in the 1860s, burying them in front of fortifications, along roads, and as booby traps. Federal troops quickly learned how to deal with them, often using Confederate prisoners to dig them up." Though the devices were used in earlier conflicts, notably during the Crimean War, "(t)he first doctrine of landmine use in global history appeared during the Civil War."

Both being recent studies closely focused on landmines (their submarine variants only lightly touched upon), Hess's study is most similar to Kenneth Rutherford's America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War (2020). Hess's introduction offers a useful literature survey and assessment, his own work claiming improvements over Rutherford in the areas of research and source handling along with global contextualization of landmine development. Four major themes associated with landmines are explored in this book: "(t)hree of them are morality, tactics, and technology, and placing Civil War landmines within the context of global history is the fourth purpose of this study" (pg. xv).

More from the description: "Hess discusses not only the technical and tactical aspects of the Civil War torpedo, but the morality and doctrine that surrounded this weapon in ways that illuminate how modern landmines have shaped international conflicts to our own time. Through intensive research in archival institutions, published primary sources, and technical literature, Hess has created the definitive account of Civil War era landmine warfare within its global context." I am about four chapters in right now and like it a lot so far.

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