The Civil War Connections Blog

Mine crafting!

Hey everybody, welcome back to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: over the weekend, I awoke in the night to the terrifying sensation of an evil spider crawling up my neck!! After freaking out, smashing it off my neck, and turning on the lights, I searched every nook and cranny of my room for its compatriots. I found only one: a big brown demon-spider hiding RIGHT NEXT TO THE HEAD OF MY BED!!! I squished that one too, but spend around two hours trying to summon the courage to return to sleep.

Not on THAT night, you didn't!


Well, speaking of nightmarish horrors, is everyone familiar with J. Robert Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb? Oppenheimer was a man of science who famously used his skills not for the advancement of the public good, but for the advancement of war. Thankfully, there were no atomic weapons during the American Civil War: however there were plenty of scientists who, like Oppenheimer, applied themselves towards making better weapons. One of these scientists who turned to war was Matthew F. Maury. Before the war Maury had worked primarily on cartography, meteorology and oceanography, and his detailed navigational maps of the sailing route between the Atlantic and Pacific were magnificent. In those days, the Panama Canal did not yet exist, so detailed navigational charts were essential for commercial voyages that had to circumvent South America. Small wonder he was Director of the U. S. Naval Observatory.

"I'm the reason it was safer and faster to travel to California by water than by land!" - Maury.


When the war broke out, Maury tearfully resigned from his position and joined the Confederacy, where he was placed in charge of coastal and river defenses. Maury immediately went to work combining telegraph technology with nautical mines. The problem with using lots of mines in waterway areas was that mines were set off by contact with a ship’s hull. As it turns out, mines don’t care who owns the boat that hits it. Maury envisioned a series of electrical mines that could be controlled by stations on land – the mines would detonate when Union ships hit them, but could be turned off when Confederate ships needed to pass through!

Watertight and hard to spot, mines like these could be used to great effect against invading Union ships.


Although the Confederates lacked the resources to employ these electrical mines in any great number, they were used to great effect in areas like the James River, Mississippi River and Charleston harbor. As the war progressed, Maury made political enemies in Richmond and was transferred to England, where he continued his work until the war ended. He would briefly go to Mexico after the war, then return to England until he was welcome to go home to Virginia in 1868. As for his wartime legacy, underwater mines destroyed three times as many Union ships as gunfire did during the Civil War.

Sorry, defensive gun, I win.


Well, that about wraps her up. Tune in next time for another Civil War post, and get your house sprayed regularly for spiders!

Oh, and here are three fun articles about Maury, mines and the Civil War! (One, two, and three!)