The Civil War was America’s first modern war partly due to the introduction of many new types of technology. Many of these new war machines were first seen in combat during the Peninsula Campaign. The first battle between the ironclads, USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, in Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, forever changed naval warfare. No longer would wooden ships rule the waves — ironclads became the key to naval superiority.
Union General George B. McClellan brought with him to the Peninsula Professor T. S. C. Lowe, Chief Aeronaut of the Army of the Potomac. Lowe’s two gas balloons, the “Intrepid” and the “Constitution,” were launched almost daily to observe Confederate defenses during the Warwick-Yorktown Siege of April and May 1862. The Southerners responded with their own crude hot air balloon. The Confederates also introduced the first anti-aircraft guns as Major E. P. Alexander elevated his artillery to send shot and shell against Union aerial observers. When the Confederates retreated from their defenses, they left behind Brigadier General Gabriel Rains’s land mines. These innovative anti-personnel weapon slowed the Union advance, but also caused indignation in both the North and South.
McClellan’s army on the Peninsula was one of the most well-equipped in history. A vast armada of steamships, sloops, and ironclads supported his huge army with tons of daily supplies and provided his troops access throughout Tidewater. Even though there was only one railroad on the Peninsula (Richmond & York River R.R.), McClellan brought with his army five locomotives and 80 railroad cars to facilitate supply distribution. His 103 siege guns were among the most advanced and powerful weapons in the world. More heavy artillery was aimed on Yorktown than had ever been massed in a single spot to that time in world history. Several of his units were also equipped with the novel Ager gun. The so-called “coffee mill” gun became the first rapid-fire gun to see combat in America when several were deployed at Lee’s Mill.
The Civil War witnessed the introduction of new weapons and other industrial technology that would change warfare forever and make this conflict the bloodiest in our nation’s history.