Last week marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War. In the end, the battle halted an invasion of the north by General Robert E. Lee's Confederate army, and together with a Union victory at Vicksburg the day after, swung the momentum of the war firmly in the Union's direction. The duration and outcome of the Civil War, and so too the Battle of Gettysburg, was influenced at least in part by the then-contemporary weaponry. That fact inspired a thought experiment: What if we fought the Civil War today, with modern technology? What if we kept the power balance the same, in addition to the sides' respective resources, objectives, and generals, but introduced things like radios and Raven drones?
To answer these questions, we consulted four experts:
- Peter Carmichael (no relation) is both a professor of history and director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.
- Mike Forbes is an Army officer with a background in armored reconnaissance, which in civilian-speak means he has used tanks to scout for enemies.
- Captain Brett Friedman is a field artillery officer with the United States Marine Corps, and makes his living figuring out how best to employ explosives in the service of the United States.
- Crispin Burke is a helicopter pilot with the Army.
1. How would modern technologies have changed the course and length of the Civil War?
2. In what ways would modern communications systems have altered the unfolding battle and its outcome?
3. What challenges would tanks and modern artillery face on a battlefield like Gettysburg, and what challenges would they create?
4. What is one piece of modern military technology that would ensure victory in a battle like Gettysburg if only your side possessed it?
Reminds me of that Saturday Night Live skit: "What If Spartacus Had A Piper Cub?" So, what if Lee had one at Gettysburg? Not much, unless he had a pilot, aviation fuel, an airstrip and so on. What if's are fun but about as pointless an exercise as could be imagined.
I think that the war would've never happened at all because both sides would realize that they would incur monumental damages to each other. This would have all been decided politically.
- OR -
Outside countries would ally with either side and the war would escalate to "world war." If that were to occur, all bets are off and anything could happen.
To SimpleMind. Kerosene (commonly used as aviation fuel) had already been developed at the time. Also you don't really need an airstrip for small planes, just a nice flat field (plenty of them around).
On the pilot. well thats the only limiter, but well I'm pretty sure someone could figure it out, I mean we already had steamships and the ironclads at the time.
Heh heh, that minigun picture is awesome.
If both side has most if not the same technology, as an veteran I would say a "bloody mess" the whole "it would be a shorter war" hold no water in our very real 2 last wars. What we would see is massive civilian casualties which in those days was not an issue. Forget burning down Washington DC try NY and Boston also. There would not be a USA but more like two distinct countries with their own believes and government.
Lets hope we never have to see that again here, because the death toll will be in an unprecedented level, not including we would be weak enough to be invaded buy other forces.
Actually, they did have air power in the Civil War. The Union Balloon Corps allowed the Union Army to see the entire battlefield. And since they communicated by telegraph with the ground, the generals and even Lincoln in Washington could follow battles in real time. For the first time, artillery could hit things it couldn't see. But the Union disbanded the Balloon Corps just before Gettysburg. To see why, check out my book, Above the Fray, a Novel of the Union Balloon Corps.
"Forget Predator drones—with little more than a hand-held Raven UAV (current cost $20,000), Lee could have peered as far as Little Round Top, and might have actually turned the tide of the battle [and the war]."
Actually, he just needed to climb to a hot air balloon and use a pair of binoculars or spyglass. All of that available at his time.
The title is juvenile. You just can't throw one piece of hardware in and forget the tactics (here discussed to some extent), geopolitics, beliefs, and many other factors that came along with said technology. Some of the consultants for this piece say that much.
The lack of imagination of the experts is amazing. SimpleMind has it right. Its about like asking "What if a toad had wings?"
I think Haywall gave them too much credit. Yes, the war would have happened. Instead of backing away because of how much destrcution it would bring, they would have arrogantly plunged ahead, each with their overconfidence that they had the technical advantage, and that it would be over in just a few weeks (the common assumption of the arrogants of the time).
Lets be clear about one thing. The extra tech would not have made it more deadly. but less. As proof, that battle wasn't just the most deadly of that war, but for us of any war since. The death count from that one battle was about the same as the whole Vietnam war.
The problem wasn't lack of technology, but lack of intelligence. I mean the real kind, between the ears. Just before that we defeated The global superpower, not by lining up in ranks and exchaning volleys like stupid Europeans, but by taking cover and engaging them intelligently.
But then we sat back and took it easy, and hired military experts from Europe to train us.
So do you really think that the renouned Gen. Lee would have used more sense if he faced modern tech? Lets see, he ordered ranks of men to WALK, Upright, across miles of open fields, directly into canon firing grape shot. And not once, but basically until he ran out of enough to do it again. Gen. Longstreet saw how criminally stupid it was and refused to give the order for the last charge, which was slaughtered.
Technoligy doesn't make up for abysmal stupidity. The tech they had was every bit as good was what their grandfathers defeatfed the Brutish with.
First of all: What if Lincon, before his Inugruation had said "I want to talk to Jefferson Davis face to face. Maybe togather we can prevent this madness." could they have stoped the war?
What if the Northren States had offered to tax themselves to buy and free the slaves? Could that have prevented the Civil War?
Both the Union and the Confederacy had baloon opperations.
What would the effect of a one wagon, two barrel hydrogen generator, and a one man, parachute harness-no basket, captive observation baloon have been? Would it have prolonged the life of the Union Baloon Corps?
Finally, what would have been the effect of mounting a Gatteling Gun on a buck board with a three man crew, a driver, a loader and a gunner- a Hell Buggy? Just the rumor of such a thing might send the enemy "Advancing to the Rear". (I will asume that the crew all had lever action rifles and revolvers that used the same cartriges as the Gatteling Gun.)
As I person who grew up in the north I never knew about all the reenactments until I moved south but I found it kind of cool as I a medieval member of SCA but I find it odd as civil war stuff is only in the south
Losing the war was necessary for our survival into the present day. Enemies would have picked us off had we not stayed together and strong or worse, North America would have become a backwater like South America, reducing human progress to a European-dominated crawl. Dixie victorious would have invented a time machine to go back and fix us losing the war. Better a blow to our pride in the past than annihilation in the future.
Rather than a single technological innovation... why don't we imagine them having a single powerful idea like equal rights for all men and women.
Don't you think that would have been move beneficial than a weapon or a vaccine?
Lincoln winning a few of the Southern States may have made a difference.
Id agree with Fox that 'a single powerful idea like equal rights' would have made a big difference but many in the Southern States actually felt that the abolition of slavery was a violation of their Constitution Rights (you figure). So you might argue that the people were so far removed from the idea of 'equality' that it was pointless to persuade them otherwise.
Perhaps we can speculate how the earlier development of better farming machinery/techniques would have altered the course of US history, without which we would almost certainly had more wars, not less.
I often wonder why it was that with the abolition of slavery in the UK in 1833 still left the country with children as young as 6 working in coalmines. That was white children by the way. It was another 50 years of impassioned debate before child labor was abolished. (My own grandfather started work in a coalmine age 11 in 1895)
Its easy to be generous when you have the resource. Better and more efficient machinery removed the need for cheap labor because it was cheaper still.
So maybe we could ask the same question and replace 'drone' with 'tractor'?
@Fox & PhilJones
I don't think a powerful idea or even economic incentive would have been able to change the view of southern slave holders. The problem is how deeply dehumanized the south considered the slaves - they weren't "men & women", they were "things". Abolitionists of the time tried & failed to get the South to free slaves and for the slaves to rise up and free themselves - neither effort succeeded.
Even if modern farming equipment existed, southerners simply would have forced the slaves to use said equipment and do any other work they didn't want to do. And even while Lincoln proposed the emancipation proclamation & amendment to the constitution, he felt the freed slaves were still not equal to white men.
The deeply embedded racial & economic systems of the antebellum south in the end could only have been changed through the bloody war that ensued