Timeline of 19th Century Warfare & Technology

1700-1850
Flintlock smoothbore musket and bayonet in common use; weapon inaccurate, did not aim; linear warfare, emphasized drill and discipline

1773
An American, David Bushnell, designed and built the first successful submarine, the Turtle, a diving-bell-like craft powered by hand-cranked propellers

1776
James Watt develops a commercially viable steam engine

1784
General Henry Shrapnel develops an explosive shell containing sub-projectiles arranged to be scattered at high velocity upon detonation

Napoleonic Wars
Dominant weapons were the flintlock musket with a bayonet and the smoothbore, muzzle-loading cannon
Napoleon uses cannon to inflict more than 50% of the opposing side's casualties
Line and column formation
Napoleon experiments with hot air balloons
Major changes were sociopolitical and organizational rather than technological
Lasting influence on military thought throughout the century

1807
Robert Fulton's paddle-wheeled steamer, the Clermont, travels up the Hudson

War of 1812
U.S. built steam powered ironclad, the Demologos, but it was completed too late for use in the war

1814
Joshua Shaw invented a percussion cap using the mercury fulminate developed by Alexander Forsyth.  This would eventually become the method of igniting the propelling charge of small arms and artillery.  The percussion cap reduced the rate of misfire to fewer than one in two hundred rounds and was not affected by wind and damp.

1824
Henri Paixhans developed a horizontal-firing naval shell gun which, in a test, was able to break up an old naval hulk

1825
Completion of the first true railway, the Stockton and Darlington

1829
Electric telegraph

1830s
Watershed period of the development of inventions that would alter war:
        - telegraph (allowed control over great distances)
        - railroads (mobilization and supply)
        - naval warfare (steam engine, perfection of weapons especially cannon, construction of iron and steel)

1840s
Perfection of screw propeller to replace paddle wheel

1840
Prussia's King Frederick William equips his army with the newly invented Dreyse breech-loading rifle or needle gun.  Its range was only about half that of the Minie rifle but it could fire seven shots per minute compared to the Minie rifle's two and it could be loaded from a prone position.  Production was slow, however, and by 1847 the inventor had not been able to speed production beyond ten thousand per year.

1842
First screw-propelled warship, the USS Princeton, designed by John Ericsson

1843
Samuel Colt developed a mine with an electrical triggering mechanism capable of sinking a ship

1844
The explosion of Captain Robert F. Stockton's new 12-inch wrought-iron smoothbore The Peacemaker during a demonstration, killing several prominent U.S. government members

1846
First successful rifled cannon made by Cavelli in Italy

1846
Prussia first to take military advantage of the railway, using it to move an army corps with horses and guns to Cracow

1846-1848 Mexican-American War
Fought with smoothbore muskets and linear tactics
Many of the commanding officers of the American Civil War tried to apply their Mexican War experience to the Civil War, and were very slow to adapt their tactics and practices to deal with the advances in military technology made between the two wars

1847
Alfred Krupp built the first steel gun

1848
French Captain Caude Minie perfected the Minie ball, a cylindro-conoidal bullet which would expand and seal the bore when fired.  The new bullet design made the loading of rifled muskets as quick as smoothbores.

1850-1860
Widespread introduction of the conoidal bullet and the rifled musket "which was to have the greatest immediate and measurable revolutionary impact on war of any new weapon or technological development or war before or since" (Dupuy, The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare, 191).  The expansible feature of the conoidal bullet made it easy to load yet capable of fitting tightly into the grooves of a rifled barrel.  Range and accuracy were also increased by the aerodynamics of the bullet.

1856
The Bessemer process improves the quality of steel production and reduces its cost

1853-1856 Crimean War
The military begins to take advantage of new technology:
Minie ball and rifled muskets increase range
Telegraph allowed governments in Paris and London to communicate with commanders in the field; reporters able to get their stories to their papers in days rather than weeks
French and English use steamships to transport troops
French used military rail line to supply troops
French use ironclads to batter Fort Kinburn
The Battle of Sinope (1853): The vulnerability of wooden warships to new weapons is proven when a squadron of Turkish ships is destroyed by a squadron of Russian ships with Paixhan guns.  All but one of the Turkish ships were sunk and 4000 men were killed.

1856
Prussians form field telegraph units

1858
U.S. adopts the conoidal bullet, fired from a muzzle-loading rifled musket -- the longer range reverses the lethal capability between infantry weapons and artillery

1859 The Franco-Austrian War
The French use railroads to transport 128,000 troops to Italy
Both sides equipped with rifles
Jean Henri Dunant, a Swiss observer of the casualties after the Battle of Solferino, wrote a book bringing the horror to European audiences and helped to found the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention in 1864.

1860-1865  American Civil War
Railway and telegraph used to mobilize on a continental scale, dwarfing past conflicts
Last war fought largely with muzzle loaders
Rifled small arms the dominant weapon, giving the advantage to the defense and inflicting 90% of casualties
Frontal assault gradually replaced by dispersion and entrenchment
Cavalry used as mounted infantry and for reconnaissance and raiding
War fought largely by amateurs
First engagement between armored steamships (Monitor vs. Merrimack)
Early submarine developed by Confederates (CSS Hunley sinks USS Housatonic in 1864)
Confederates use mines to protect harbors, resulting in the sinking of 28 Union ships

1862
Dr. Richard Gatling developed the Gatling gun, an early machine gun operated by a hand crank

1866
Breech-loading rifles become standard issue

1866 & 1870-1871 Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars
Prussia demonstrates the power of new technology in their efficient and precise mobilization against Austria and France by railroad, relying on telegraph to coordinate -- after 1870 every general staff hastened to add a railway department
Technological advances, including Krupp's breech-loading crucible steel artillery, make artillery the dominant weapon again
Use of skirmish lines
Percentage of casualties low
Studied by European armies as an example of modern warfare

Late 1860s
Machine-produced metal cartridge cases for small arms were developed making machine guns more feasible

1870s
Tremendous investment in money, science, industrial capacity, personnel, and skill devoted to naval development
First technological arms race, a matter of national pride
Each generation of ships after 1870 added speed, bigger guns, and better armor

1871
British Devastation, the first sail-less ship

1876
Telephone patented by Alexander Graham Bell

1885
Smokeless powder invented
Powder was more powerful and controllable, creating higher muzzle velocities and greater range
Smokeless powder did not reveal a shooter's position or obscure the field with clouds of smoke

1888
British army adopts the Maxim machine gun
Used the force of the recoil to extract the empty case, cock the firing pin, and load another round
The Maxim needed only one barrel, was cooled by a water jacket, and fired 600 rounds per minute

1890s
Magazine fed bolt-action rifles in use by major nations
Could be more deadly at longer ranges with equal training
Volume of fire high enough that line formation unnecessary

1898  Spanish-American War

1899-1902 Boer War
Used field fortifications
Cavalry used as mounted infantry and for reconnaissance and raiding
War fought largely by amateurs
First war where both sides armed with smokeless repeating rifles
Heavy artillery regained importance
Increasing importance of camouflage, all troops dressed in khaki and conspicuous marks of rank were abolished

World War I
Bolt action rifle, water-cooled machine gun, and new artillery result in trench warfare
Airplanes, mechanization, and communications technology not yet able to help redress the balance between offense and defense
 


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Last update:  May 12, 2000