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 Posted: Mon May 6th, 2013 05:27 pm
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Hellcat
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Recently got to thinking about acoustic shadows and their effects on the war and had to hunt this old thread down. Since it originally was posted I've picked up a copy of Webb Garrison's Civil War Stories:Strange Tales, Oddities, Events & Coincidences which is a collection of his Civil War Curiosities and More Civil War Curiosities (published in the book as Civil War Stories and More Civil War Stories; and given how many times I've purchased his books online thinking I was getting a new book for my collection and then discovered I'd purchased a book I'd already had under a differen title I would not be shocked that they had been seperately published under both the Stories and Curiosities titles). In the Civil War Stories section of the book there is a chapter that pertains to this thread. "Silent Battles" Defy Explination.

The chapter isn't merely all about the "silence" of battle caused by acoustic shadows, it also talks about the distances at which battles could be heard. In the beginning of the chapter it discusses how during First Bull Run (First Manassas) Mary Todd Lincoln was hearing strange noises and went to the roof of the White House to try and figure out where they came from. She decided they were coming from somether to the west and hours later she learned of the battle. So she was hearing a battle that was, according to Garrison, about 40 miles away (a map check puts today's distance at just over 36 miles with today's highways and interstates) It also relates how folks in Pittsburg could hear Alexander's artillery barrage prior to Pickett's charge (folks who read over the link Javal posted will see that it says Meade couldn't hear the battle twelve miles away at Taneytown on July 1st but folks at Pittsburg heard it clearly though the two sources put the distance at different distances, the book ten miles closer than the link; ironically todays highways and interstates put the distance at over 174 miles).

Then there's the recordings of eyewitnesses Garrison includes. An S.H. Prescott wrote of the Battle of Port Royal:

The transport my regiment was on lay near enoug inshore to give us a fine view of the whole battle; but only in some temporary lull of the wind could we hear the faintest sound of firing.

The whole atmosphere seemed to move in a body, giving sound no chace to travel against it.

A portion of the siege batteries were no more than two miles from the camp [we later established], but at times the firing from them and the enemy's replies could only be heard very faintly.


Then there's the report of Confederate Brigadier General R.E. Colston who observed the Battle of Hampton Roads (Battle of the Monitor and the Virginia) from only a few hundred yards away:

The cannonade was visibly raging with redoubled intensity; but, to our amazement, not a sound was heard by us from the commencement of the battle.

A strong March wind was blowing direct from us toward Newport News. We could see every flash of the guns and the clouds of white smoke, but not a single report was audible.


the head of the Confederate Bureau of War, Robert G.H. Kean was an eyewitness to the Battle of Gaines' Mill (Battle of Chickahominy). Reporting on what he saw Kean would say:

Looking for nearly two hours at a battle in which at least 50,000 men were actually engaged, and doubtless at least 100 pieces of field artillery, not a single sound of the battle was audible.

Now Kean went on to descrbie the terrain as swamp with hills on both sides. This caused him to report on what he though of as the reason for the silent battle was caused by:

conditions capable of providing several belts of air, varying in the amount of Watery vapor and probably in temperature.

Brigadier General Evander M. Law intervied several eyewitnesses to Gaines' Mill who said that you could tell where the opposing forces were by the lines of smoke but you couldn't hear the artillery or musket fire. And Joe Johnston claimed that there was an "unfavorable" condition of the air" that made him think he was hearing an artillery duel alone from his position at Nine Mile Road.

Edit: Meant to add earlier that reading Prescott, Colston, and Kean's accounts reminds me of watching war movies. You know how it seems in many war movies, especially modern ones, they like to play the music at what's supposed to be a dramatic point in a battle so you see the action on screen but you don't hear the artillery or gunshots? And then right at the height of that drama they cut out the music, or tone it down, so you can hear the gunshots, artillery bursts, and all the screaming. Or so you hear the main characters say something meant to seem important. I can just picture that in these accounts. The diference being these accounts were for real and not some director and conductor/scorer going through in post production and saying "let's make this more dramatic."

Last edited on Mon May 6th, 2013 09:21 pm by Hellcat

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