Taxonomy term

civil war

Geology shaped outcomes of Civil War battles

About 10 years ago, Scott Hippensteel decided to trace the footsteps of an ancestor who fought in the Civil War at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Md. His relative, William H. Tritt, fought with the Union in the 130th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which, on Sept. 17, 1862, attacked Confederate soldiers entrenched in the infamous Sunken Road, a wagon-worn dirt road atop an embankment that farmers used to bypass the town. As Hippensteel walked the rolling topography himself, he quickly realized the tactical advantage the landscape afforded: The Union men became visible to their enemies only in the last 150 meters or so of their approach. Because of the single-shot rifle technology of the time, each Confederate soldier would have only had time to fire a few shots at their attackers, facilitating a more vigorous assault by the Union. The Union forces suffered heavy losses in driving the Confederates from the Sunken Road, but their ultimate success pierced the middle of the Confederate line at Antietam and led to the roadway being renamed “Bloody Lane.”

01 Jul 2016

Geologic Column: Geography as destiny: How glaciation led to the Civil War

It intrigues me how geography — a product of dynamic processes shaping Earth’s surface — influences our lives, culture and even plays a hand in the affairs of nations. Take, for example, the last glacial maximum, which shaped parts of North America roughly 20,000 years ago, and in doing so contributed to factors that eventually led to the American Civil War.

07 Nov 2014

Lay of the Land: Terrain's Toll on the U.S. Civil War

In the waning days of summer 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee lined his Confederate troops along a grassy ridge on the western side of Antietam Creek in the outskirts of Sharpsburg, Md.

Across the stream, Union troops prepared for an attack.

Then, on Sept. 17, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Battle of Antietam began. The armies blasted each other with gunfire from dawn until nearly dusk. That day proved to be the single bloodiest day of the American Civil War, with more than 23,000 men lying dead or wounded in the valley’s fields by nightfall.

02 Oct 2008