The Civil War Connections Blog

Shields For Soldiers!

Hello, everyone! My name is Brian Whitenton, and I would like to tell YOU cool stuff about the Civil War! I’ll be writing on the good ol’ blog this summer, and adding in little tidbits about myself for those who may be interested. For example, today’s tidbit is: I’m a 24 year old History graduate student at ODU, who got his undergrad from JMU in 2010, also in History. Go Dukes!

As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War continues to unfold, historic battles and events each get to have their day in the sun as the calendar marches on through, at present, the anniversary of the year 1862. The Battle of Hampton Roads may have already enjoyed its 150th anniversary, but that doesn’t mean it is no longer relevant to the events of the Greater Civil War! For example, did you know that the iron armor on the USS Monitor inspired one man to invent a mobile bulletproof wall?!


They're scratching our paint job!


When Mr. S.M. Sherman of Plover, Wisconsin woke up one morning, he may have thought long and hard about the stalwart protection that the USS Monitor’s iron plating provided against the CSS Virginia’s guns (and vise versa), because by the end of that day he had conceived of a wonderful, glorious idea: what if the average soldier had his very own iron plating, just like the USS Monitor? He went about designing a mobile defensive breastwork (full picture and article on it available Here!) that can be most easily described as a wheelbarrow with a large metal plate on the front of it. To Sherman’s mind, the soldier could just wheel the breastwork into position, line it up with all of his comrades’ breastworks (because every soldier should have one!) and shoot at the Confederates with impunity, since bullets would just bounce off the metal plating as harmlessly as the CSS Virginia’s shells bounced off the USS Monitor’s turret! What a magnificent idea! There’s no way it CAN’T work!

If we had bulletproof barricades, our officer wouldn't be putting us to shame right now.


Sadly for Mr. Sherman, he was wrong on that last note, because his invention was not adopted by the Army. Although his idea was presented with its very own picture in the 8th Issue of the Scientific American (link HERE), and although that idea seemed just as awesome to the Railway Times as it did to Mr. Sherman, (link HERE ), it was not formally adopted by the Army or used to any significant degree. Union soldiers did not get any ironclad-armor-bearing wheelbarrows to shield them from harm, and had to make do with the protection that a few centimeters of woolen clothing could give (none whatsoever). On the bright side, at least Mr. Sherman and some of his fellow Americans recognized the potential that iron plating had for protecting people on land as well as on the water, even if the Army did not want his design. The Navy, on the other hand, was hard at work in a different field: trying to find cannons powerful enough to punch right through ironclad armor! Come back soon and we can talk all about it!