Just as it has changed nearly every other aspect of life, the technology that has been developed during U.S. history has changed the way wars are fought.
EXAMPLEOne of the earliest weapons used in American wars, the musket, could be used only at very close range.
Just a few decades later, these kinds of close-encounter tactics were already out of date. The invention of repeating rifles and handguns allowed soldiers to fight from greater physical distances (American Battlefield Trust, n.d.). World War I brought gas weapons, tanks, and improved artillery; in World War II, the United States began the nuclear age by developing atomic weapons—and by using those weapons against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a tactic that brought the war to an end.
Technology developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries allowed battles to be fought not only on water and land, but underwater and in the air. From the early “ironclad” ships of the Civil War to today’s aircraft carriers, fighter jets, and nuclear submarines, the nation’s armed forces have a history of inventing and adapting to new technology.
Agility: Skill Tip
As military technology changes, so does the experience of warfare. Think about a Revolutionary War soldier running through a field under cannon fire, a World War II pilot flying on a bombing mission, a military convoy driver navigating through Afghanistan—they all fought with different weapons and faced different weapons from the enemy. And yet they shared some experiences, such as working with comrades or missing home, that remain constant over time.
Historians often read letters written by soldiers to investigate what different wars were like for those who fought in them (and for those who stayed at home). Let’s take a look at one of these primary sources. The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Lewis Warlick to his future wife, Cornelia McGimsey, during the Civil War (Warlick, 1864):
Primary Source Excerpt
Author: Lewis Warlick
We are lying in reserve say a mile from the Yanks (our advance being close up) rather gone into camps, but when the mortar and picket firing gets warm we lie low. The mine explosion of Grants was a terrible affair. It was set for us but caught more blue birds than gray. I will write in a few days again—will quit and try and eat some breakfast.
Technological innovation doesn’t affect warfare only through weaponry. It also helps defend individuals and even entire countries from violence and security threats. In the next lesson, we’ll look at how the military has used changing technology to defend soldiers and territory against enemy attack.
Source: Strategic Education, Inc. 2020. Learn from the Past, Prepare for the Future.
Letter from Lewis Warlick to Cornelia McGimsey, near Petersburg, August 8, 1864. (2014, September 18). Civilian Wartime. www.civilianwartime.wordpress.com/category/cornelia-mcgimsey
Small Arms of the Civil War. (n.d.) American Battlefield Trust. www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/small-arms-civil-war