The Civil War Connections Blog

150 Years of Science!

Hey there readers, and welcome back to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: I can be awakened from sleep by the slightest noise, but I’m often completely oblivious to loud background noise when I’m awake and concentrating on a task.

If only my nighttime brain were the dog instead of the cat…


In my last post, I described the end of the Battle of Seven Pines, and outlined the resulting strategic situation in eastern and central Virginia. That’s all well and good, but we (the author and the readers) are educated people from 2012. What did educated people think about the situation 150 years ago?

An interesting source one could explore is the Scientific American, a print journal that ran not only during the Civil War, but also up to the present day. The readers of the Scientific American would likely have been better informed than many of their fellow countrymen, not only because of their literacy but because of their choice in literature. During the Civil War the Scientific American was a journal that highlighted the newest technological achievements, mechanical inventions and military/political affairs. The people who wanted to read about these topics likely did so in order to further their own knowledge, not to be entertained.

Some people make no distinction, though.


The Scientific American issue that came out on June 7, 1862 had an interesting article concerning the state of affairs in Virginia (which you can read HERE!) It occupied a prominent position towards the front of the issue, and ran a longer length than articles usually do. In the text, the author covers three separate topics: General Jackson’s Valley Campaign, General McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign to Richmond, and the political state of Hampton Roads. Of these topics, the Valley campaign is by far the biggest, with Hampton Roads coming in second. The affairs near Richmond occupy a much smaller section than the other two.

On one hand, the difference in article coverage is easily explained: more events are transpiring in the Valley and in Hampton Roads than near Richmond. On the other hand, however, the variance in article coverage symbolizes a very real difference: a difference in perceived importance. In the Valley, Jackson had defeated the small Union force under General Banks, who was the only army in between Jackson’s men and Washington DC. This notion – that the way to the Union capitol was open – was, in the eyes of the Scientific American, of far greater immediacy than the siege of Richmond or the condition of Hampton Roads. It seemed to many that Jackson’s superior forces could just walk right in and capture the city, and the author spent a great deal of time detailing the extensive defensive measures that President Lincoln had undertaken to prevent this from happening. The people were scared, and their eyes looked to their own defense first.

Fort Ward, near Washington DC. There would NOT have been that many trees so close to the fort during the Civil War.


Interestingly, there was also a commonly held belief at this point that a large increase in recruitment was preferable to a small one – while McClellan’s requests for reinforcements were not mentioned, it was felt that over 200,000 men should be enlisted in order to reinforce troops in the Carolinas, New Orleans, the entire western theatre, and the Shenandoah. It seemed perfectly clear to the Scientific American, even if it wasn’t to McClellan, that the Peninsula Campaign was not the only front in the war.

NO! I do NOT care about the rest of the country! Send ME the reinforcements!! – General McClellan


Well, I hope you enjoyed this look at how educated Americans saw the war 150 years ago today. Tomorrow is the anniversary of one of Jackson’s battles, but I will be unable to cover it then. Instead, I will cover it next Monday or Tuesday, and in the meantime, please come on down to Norfolk so you can enjoy the FREE OpSail event!! The Mariners’ Museum will have representatives there, and you can also see reenactors from the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, WWII and Vietnam! And that isn’t even the best part – you can also go aboard and tour TONS of cool military ships from all over the world, as well as historic sail-powered ships! So come on down, and enjoy this once in a lifetime opportunity! 😀