Greatest Technological Innovations During the Civil War

What were some of the greatest technological innovations that were created during the Civil War? Throughout my time in Dr. Wiginton’s, “Literature of the Civil class”, I had struggled with choosing a valid research topic. From the first day, I began thinking of different ideas that I would like to extend my background on. Although I changed my topic on a regular basis, I had to come to a decision with the course wrapping up in a couple days. In short, I decided to write out several of my different topics and began to narrow down a topic that meant something to me.

Specifically, I wanted to research a topic that I knew nothing about and that would be beneficial for me to further my research on. I started thinking about the business side of the country and where the country was going during the civil war. What industries were being born, what new products and strategies were being used: all were questions rushing through my head.

My topic was an easy decision for me at this point. My research was sparked by my interest in innovation and the idea of creating solutions to better the American people.

There is no better way to learn about the Civil War other than researching key technological advancements that occurred over 150 years ago. In America, it has been shown that without emerging technology advancements, our country becomes frozen. New ideas and products create value that is unmeasurable which expand job markets, new industries, and better the American quality of life.

I was eager to learn about what products were born during this time and was curious to find out if we still use these products and protocols created such a long time ago. With that being said, from my research I will share my findings on some key innovations from the Civil War including naval advancements, medical, and tactical strategies.

One innovation from the Civil War was the Ironclad Warship. Although it was not created during this time, the Ironclad was first used by Confederate army during warfare. According to, “During the American Civil War, the CSS Virginia, a captured and rebuilt Union steam frigate formerly known as the Merrimac, engages the USS Monitor in the first battle between iron-fortified naval vessels in history”( A new way to build ships was born at this time, and this method is still being used to this day. Centuries prior to the Civil War, naval battles had not changed much at all. Many ships were made out of wood and unsteady material. The poorly armored ships led to the innovation of the Ironclad, making the ships more suitable for naval battles. During the Civil War, naval architects began plating the ships with iron and steel. Roger A. Bailey of American Battlefield Trust writes, “This casing made shells bounce off the ship, allowing ironclads to survive repeated direct hits” (Bailey). Ships being able withstand several hits of fire impacted the battle dramatically, giving naval teams more protection and durability during the fights. Bailey mentions that the fighting army ironclads first met in March of 1862, during the Battle of Hampton Roads.

This went on to be the first naval battle between the newly equipped ships. With the ships being stronger and more durable than ever, wooden ships did not stand a chance against the ironclads. More importantly, the ships had provided protection to the soldiers on board. Being on board a wooden ship, soldiers had to worry about the ship sinking into the waters. Being aboard an iron clad, allowed soldiers the peace of mind of protection and safety. Iron clads were significantly heavier with the plates of armor, giving soldiers a steady platform to place fire. Bailey goes on to write, “Naval warfare changed forever,” and that it did. In present day, all ships are made out of the strongest steel and iron. Innovation did not stop there for the Naval armies. With iron clads being able to take on endless rounds of ammunition, both navies approached a new strategy. Battle ships began using rams, not an invention of the Civil War, but quite the innovated idea from naval leaders. Bailey discusses in his article how the ram was a powerful weapon used on a mediterranean warships. The ram gave the option for captains to try and sink iron clads by ramming into the body of the ship which led to a solution for sinking the unstoppable ships. The two fighting armies did not stop there to get an upper hand against each other.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History credits the Confederate Navy for “One of the most celebrated tactical innovations of the war” ( That innovation was the first submarine, created by 3 confederate members. One of the most celebrated innovations during the time for a reason, seeing that Navies across the world use the submarine as a tactical strategy. However, today, submarines are used for various reasons including research, discovery, and more. Submarines allow us to piece together history, make new historical accounts, and give us the advantage of exploring the deep ocean waters. While many groundbreaking changes were happening over the water, innovators of the civil war era were working on medical technology and procedures that we still practice to this day. Gratefully, we have medicine that only the soldiers dreamed about during the Civil War. The developed medical procedures ensured that a wounded soldier would be alive to see the next day. Many of today’s medical practices were born during the timeframe of the Civil War. During the Civil War, the Union Army acquired many doctors and nurses, although, they lacked remedies. Ina Dixon, a writer for American Battlefield Trust, shares the staggering statistic “of the approximately 620,000 soldiers who died in the war, two-thirds of these deaths were not the result of enemy fire, but of a force stronger than any army of men: disease” (Dixon). Although we lost many men to diseases that are very much curable to this day, the Civil War could be credited with changing modern medicine.

One practice that was revolutionized during the Civil War, was the use of anesthesia. Bob Shepard of The University of Alabama Birmingham claims, “Anesthesia was in its infancy when the American Civil War began in 1861” (Shepard, UAB). Anesthesia was the kickstart for studying neurology for America. Since then, astronomical improvements were made to modern medicine. Today’s experts credit the doctors of Civil War for developing the treatment. Emily Sohn of discusses in her article, “How the Civil War Changed Modern Medicine,” modern methods of medicine that originated in the civil war. Sohn goes on to explain that the concepts of using ambulances were originated during the Civil War. This was an innovation that forever changed the medical flow in America. In an article from Civil War, author Jim Surkamp sites George Wunderlich who states “Executive Director of The National Museum of Civil War Medicine says Jonathan Letterman help to design the modern-day 911 emergency system” (Surkamp 2011). Letterman, an American surgeon from Pennsylvania, came up with the idea along with various medical offices throughout the battle field. His idea to retrieve injured soldiers on the battle field and transport them to a medical office is still a method that is used today. Ambulance systems were born, credited to Letterman and what he had ordered his men to do during the war. To this day, we use the same method Letterman had created centuries ago.

This was a technological innovation that is still continuing to improve in America. Without these key technological enhancements, who knows where America would be in medical advancements. The Civil War had leaders who were true innovators; taking what they had at the time and paving stepping stones for America’s future. Earlier in the 1800’s, America had just made ground breaking movements with rail roads, photography, and the telegraph. Although none of which were created during the Civil War era, these key creations played a huge role in the Union Army success. Not all innovations have to originate from creating a new product, but could also come from taking what you have and using it for your advantage. That is exactly what the north did at the time by using rail roads to transfer troops and materials. Furthermore, the Smithsonian American Art Museum credits the railroads for winning the entire war, explaining the reliability that trains provided along with the vast amounts of cargo that were able to be shipped.

The article goes on to mention that the train was a faster mode of transportation compared to boats. SAAM argues that the use of railroads were a vital tactic used during the war in saying, “The Union Army’s capitalization and strategic use of the railroad played a direct role in helping the North win the war” (Smithsonian American Art Museum). Yet, with the South having access to rail roads, the North used it in contribution to their winning of the war. Before the Civil War, America had broken through with the telegraph, allowing two-way communication from long distances away. Giving Lincoln and his army an advantage being able to relay battle commands and orders from miles. Not true innovations during the Civil War time period, however these newly born idea’s show to have played key roles in the battle with the South. The Civil War was a blood bath between American citizens fighting for what they thought believed in. The war stretched from April 12th, 1861 – April 9th, 1865 resulting in millions of men from both armies wounded or deceased. Through this awful time, America had started making advancements in different technological fields. What would have happened if the South never plated their ships with strong steel, and iron? Wooden ships would have been around for decades on, risking the lives of the men and women on board. The Civil War had br

For the naval industry, iron clad ships were not the only advancement that was made. With the strength of Iron clad ships, navy generals needed a new tactic for taking down the now unstoppable ships. A piece of history came back, and ships were soon equipped with rams, a creation from centuries ago that the Union Naval force knew would be a game changer in water wars. New ideas and improvements were made in the medical field which sparked groundbreaking changes. This was key to the war as many men were lost to diseases and battle. Civil war procedures that were created by Surgeon, Jonathan Letterman, are still being practiced today. The impact of Letterman’s leadership shaped American medicine practices and protocols. Not only did Civil War surgeons shape the practices we take in saving injured people today, the Civil War created the well-known medication anesthesia.

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