Civil War IEDs

I came across this in the memoirs of William T. Sherman. He was describing a scene on his famous (or infamous, if you’re from the South) march to the sea in November and December 1864.

“On the 8th, as I rode along, I found the column turned out of the main road, marching through the fields. Close by, in the corner of a fence, was a group of men standing around a handsome young officer, whose foot had been blown to pieces by a torpedo planted in the road. He was waiting for a surgeon to amputate his leg, and he told me that he was riding along with the rest of his brigade-staff of the Seventeenth Corps, when a torpedo trodden on by his horse had exploded, killing the horse and literally blowing off all the flesh from one of his legs. I saw the terrible wound, and made full inquiry into the facts. There had been no resistance at that point, nothing to give warning of danger, and the rebels had planted eight-inch shells in the road, with friction-matches to explode them by being trodden on. This was not war, but murder, and it made me very angry.”

I was struck by how this scene has repeated itself over and over in the past decade, with a HMMWV or MRAP in place of the horse. When faced with a superior enemy force, an insurgency is of course forced to adopt irregular tactics.

Sherman continued with his solution to the problem, and the route-clearance procedures he implemented:

“I immediately ordered a lot of rebel prisoners to be brought from the provost-guard armed with picks and spades, and made them march in close order along the road, so as to explode their own torpedoes, or to discover and dig them up. They begged hard, but I reiterated the order, and could hardly help laughing at their stepping so gingerly along the road, where it was supposed sunken torpedoes might explode, but they found no other torpedoes till near Fort McAllister.”

I’m really beginning to like Sherman.



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