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Bailey Rice
American Civilization
Stephen Tilson

31 July, 2014

Innovations of the first modern war

There're several reason why the American Civil War is known as the first modern war.
Many different inventions and innovations were created during this time that greatly benefited
the military, and drastically changed the ways wars were fought ever since. While there were
several major inventions created during this time, there are three key innovations that contributed
to the Civil War earning the moniker of "the first modern war", and also lead to being a major
advantage for the northern military. The use of trains, invention of the telegraph, and repeating
rifles all played a major role in how the war was fought, and in turn changed the way all
American wars were fought from that point forward.
Prior to the American Civil War, railroads were a new and relatively untried invention.
However, during the war railroads came of age. They became both strategic resources, as well
as military targets, precisely because they were strategic resources. While there were over 200
railroads already constructed at the start of the war, a vast majority of them were located in the
northern states who were loyal to the national government. The north controlled approximately
three times more accessible railroad compared to the south. This essentially translated into the
north being able to transport more troops and material to more places much faster then it's
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enemy. This became a huge advantage to the north, eventually ending up being to much of a
disadvantage for the confederate army to overcome.
The telegraph also played a huge technological role in shaping the Civil War. Originally
created by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1837, the invention took off so much that by 1861 the United
States had over seventy-six thousand miles of lines laid to transport business information,
communication between transportation entities, and allowing the entire country to have up-to-
date news. Telegraphs also played a major role in assisting President Lincoln in defeating the
confederate army in the Civil War. While an interesting and growing technology, prior to the
Civil War the telegraphs potential was still widely under-appreciated and it certainly had never
been tested in a time of war. Abraham Lincoln was the first president who was able to
communicate on the spot with his officers on the battlefield. The White House telegraph office
enabled him to monitor battlefield reports, lead real-time strategy meetings and deliver orders to
his men. Here, as well, the Confederate army was at a disadvantage. They lacked the
technological and industrial ability to conduct such a large-scale communication campaign.
The invention of the rifle also helped shape the Civil War in a major way. Prior to the
rifle, the standard military weapon was the smoothbore musket. The riffle, along with its newly
created mini ball ammunition, allowed for a much faster reload then its predecessor. Five times
the amount of shooting distance was also a major upgrade that came with the invention of the
rifle. These changes eventually led to battles lasting much longer with many more casualties .
In conclusion, there are several reasons the Civil War was known as the first modern war.
There are three inventions in particular that not only helped coin the term, but also played a
major role in determining the outcome of the war. While the invention of the rifle changed the
way wars were fought, the use of the railroad system and the telegraph proved to be a major
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advantage for the north and eventually helped lead to complete victory over the confederate
army. If these ground breaking inventions were not accessible to the north during the time of
war, there would be a great possibility our country would not be what it is today.

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A.D. Harvey, "Was the American Civil War the First Modern War?" , Wiley Blackwell,

S. Reynolds, "The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern
America", Kent State University Press, 2013

S. Watson, "The Railroad and the State: War, Politics, and Technology in Nineteenth-
Century America, and: Nations, Markets, and War: Modern History and the American Civil War,
and: The Business of Civil War: Military Mobilization and the State, 18611865", Journal of the
Early Republic, 2010