Civil War Troops Used ... Chemical Weapons?
Both sides developed weapons, but rarely used them
By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff
Posted Mar 31, 2014 6:16 PM CDT
Updated Apr 5, 2014 8:00 AM CDT
A depiction of the Battle of Chickamauga, 1863.   (Wikimedia Commons)

(Newser) – The US Civil War foreshadowed World War I in important ways—like trench warfare, new technologies, and violence against civilians—but few of us know about its forays into chemical warfare, the New York Times reports. For one thing, leaders on both sides saw the importance of disease before scientists fully knew how germs worked. Union leaders blockaded Southern ports, cutting off medical supplies and widening the spread of malaria. Meanwhile, Southerners planned to send clothing from yellow-fever patients to Union units, or ship dead patients to Union-occupied New Orleans. Neither plan went into action, but other innovations arose:

  • A Southern sympathizer in Kentucky planned to lace clothing with smallpox and sell it to Union men in Washington; one Union lieutenant may have gotten sick that way.
  • Confederate troops retreating from Vicksburg drove animals into ponds and shot them, apparently to contaminate drinking water.
  • Union troops employed various kinds of Greek fire—incendiary mixes that gave off noxious fumes and sometimes floated on water. Long-range shells with incendiary compounds were used to limited effect.
  • Confederates had various chemical-weapon plans, such as raiding the Monitor ironclad with chloroform, or firing a shell with chemical agents, but neither were used.
For more on the Civil War, Business & Heritage Clarksville reports on a new documentary series, Civil War: The Untold Story, which looks at the Western theater and little-known roles played by African Americans.

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Showing 3 of 19 comments
rickydarlin
Apr 5, 2014 9:01 AM CDT
we kept putting paper bags of 'duty' outside their tents and lighting it
No-Left-Turn
Apr 5, 2014 8:39 AM CDT
"Civil War Troops Used ... Chemical Weapons?" With a headline like this, Newser, you should sell used cars. Throughout the article, the word "planned" appeared multiple times. Hardly the same as "used."
Ezekiel 25:17
Apr 2, 2014 7:43 PM CDT
I always loved the show, "Connections" as it gave a rather interesting look into inventions that started from rather mundane devices and in the end, you have the space shuttle. Wars were one popular topic with the show. Computers came along because they needed a good way to quickly calculate the trajectory of a shell fired from a ship based on ship movement, wind, and temperature. People had previously sat in desks making complicated tables that did the same thing. But it was much better taking a computer aboard the ship to do them on the fly. The civil war saw innovations in communications where balloons were equipped with more code devices. It was ingenious for the North as the balloons went high enough that small arms or canon balls could not reach it. They could survey the field and adjust troop movements. It defined battlefield communications that later were used in WWI. Mine technology went a long way because each side dug tunnels under the camps of the enemy. They often came close to connecting and each side practiced sabotage. There were stories of a time when they both decided to leave the tunnels because they had become so close to each other. But the North did score a huge victory in blowing up a whole mountain of Southern soldiers. I have heard of some efforts of the North to create chloroform weapons. But the delivery system never worked out. It wasn't until WWI came along that airplanes did deliver chloroform bombs to enemy positions.