Sand, Science, and the Civil War

Sedimentary Geology and Combat

Title Details

Pages: 360

Illustrations: 68 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 03/15/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6353-0

List Price: $44.95


Pub Date: 03/15/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6352-3

List Price: $114.95

Sand, Science, and the Civil War

Sedimentary Geology and Combat

How sedimentary geology affected the campaigns and battles of the Civil War

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The influence of sedimentary geology on the strategy, combat, and tactics of the American Civil War is a subject that has been neglected by military historians. Sedimentary geology influenced everything from the nature of the landscape (flat vs. rolling terrain) to the effectiveness of the weapons (a single grain of sand can render a rifle musket as useless as a club). Sand, Science, and the Civil War investigates the role of sedimentary geology on the campaigns and battles of the Civil War on multiple scales, with a special emphasis on the fighting along the coastlines.

At the start of the Civil War the massive brick citadels guarding key coastal harbors and shipyards were thought to be invincible to artillery attack. The Union bombardment of Savannah’s key defensive fortification, Fort Pulaski, demonstrated the vulnerability of this type of fortress to the new rifled artillery available to the Union; Fort Pulaski surrendered within a day. When the Union later tried to capture the temporary sand fortifications of Battery Wagner (protecting Charleston) and Fort Fisher (protecting Wilmington) they employed similar tactics but with disastrous results. The value of sand in defensive positions vastly minimized the Federal advantage in artillery, making these coastal strongpoints especially costly to capture. Through this geologically centered historic lens, Scott Hippensteel explores the way sediments and sedimentary rocks influenced the fighting in all theaters of war and how geologic resources were exploited by both sides during the five years of conflict.

Hippensteel illuminates the role of sand in the coastal battles, how specific rock formations influence important battles such as Gettysburg and Fredericksburg, and the way loess shaped the Mississippi River campaigns. He also examines the role of particular individuals such as Quincy Gillmore, who struggled to understand the interplay of sand, fortifications, and artillery during the war. An important addition to Civil War literature.

—John Majewski, author of A House Dividing: Economic Development in Pennsylvania and Virginia before the Civil War

Sand, Science, and the Civil War is a wholly original work. . . . As a Civil War historian I was often fascinated with his insights and conclusions. It’s the best thing I’ve read on coastal fortifications, and fascinating points crop up throughout.

—Kenneth W. Noe, author of The Howling Storm: Weather, Climate, and the American Civil War


One of the Ten Most Highly Anticipated Titles, Civil War Books and Authors

About the Author/Editor

SCOTT HIPPENSTEEL is associate professor of earth sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is the author of Rocks and Rifles: The Influence of Geology on Combat and Tactics during the American Civil War. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.