Hey there y'all. Over this past week I've been pretty curious about how much field glasses were used by leaders in the field. I have found a great deal about the use of them by the Signal Corps, yet precious little on if Generals and other officers used them.
If officers did use them, were they for reconnaissance? Were they effective on the field of battle? Did they "turn the tide" in any given battle? Are there any websites that lend more insight to this rarely discussed element of the war?
Any information you can lend would be readily appreciated.
Good question, HC. Remembering that telescopes and field glasses were nowhere near what they are now, any degree of magnification was better than none.
Imagine if you can see a bunch of men running around way over there. You look again through field glasses and you can make out a regimental flag. As small a discovery as that can let you know whose division is out there. That's useful input.
Did the use of them turn a tide? I've read nothing at all anywhere about the use of field glasses. I don't even know if they were government issue and who got them. In fact, I don't even know if they were common. And, here, I will relinquish the podium in favor of someone who actually knows something.
That's the tricky bit. It seems like having a pair of field glasses or telescopes would have been invaluable on the field of battle, (even amidst the smoke, fog, weather, what have you). This extra tool certainly would have made a difference.
I can find very few references to any use of either scopes, or glasses, other than in concert with the Signal Corps.
At the Museum of the Confederacy I have seen field glasses. Field glasses are also mentioned in Eric Jacobson's book on Spring Hill and Franklin . Cleburne is on Winstead Hill looking through his field glasses.
I believe I have seen them in other Civil War museums too. I would tend to believe the commanding officers had them.
In the Navy Farragut had field glasses or a spyglass when he climbed into the rigging to conduct the battles .
So they were used. I am thinking that commanding officers had them. Didn't Buford have them when he was in the Cupola at Gettysburg or is that just in the movie?
No they were not the latest Bushnells or what ever . But as Ole said they gave you some information you might not have without them.
CW era optics were a far cry from the modern Bushnells in your closet and in comparison far more expensive.
Not by any means did every officer carry a set of binocs, not by any means as they were quite expensive. IIRC the best optics of the day were coming out of France and they were were very good, about a 4 x being the strongest.
Now some of the telescopes of the day were superb by any standard but those were very long,unweildy and relatively heavy. And thus largely only available to the Signal Corps or Navy.
CW Binocs were for the most part 2 x magnification w/ some being 4 power. Suprisingly most originals I have studied were about on par in size and magnification w/ a set of opera glasses. A wealthy officer was likely to own a pair, and treat it as a prized possesion but other than that...
IIRC Polk, I think, gave a gift of binocs to every grad from West Point one year and I've seen a pair of those; they have a small engraving along the side and are about on par w/ a set of opera glasses: 1-2x maybe. IMO those are probably representative of what the typical officer might have carried.