Academic journal article Military Review

Civil War: Acoustic Shadows

Academic journal article Military Review

Civil War: Acoustic Shadows

Article excerpt

Charles D. Ross, White Mane Books, Shippensburg, PA, 2001, 174 pages, $24.95.

In Civil War: Acoustic Shadows, Charles D. Ross explains how the scientific occurrence called "acoustic shadow" affected the critical decisions of commanders during seven Civil War battles. Several Civil War reports mention acoustic shadow, which Mark Boatner, in The Civil War Dictionary (David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1980), defines as "a phenomenon that results in sound being inaudible to persons a short distance from the source while the same sound may be heard over a hundred miles away...." As Ross demonstrates through terrain and weather analysis and the use of official reports, such a phenomenon did occur several times during the Civil War.

In an era when battlefield telegraphy was impractical, sound was the primary means by which commanders grasped what was happening on the battlefield. Were that sound masked or absorbed by hills, vegetation, wind, or atmosphere, what an individual standing in a particular location hears could be severely affected. On the battlefield such effects could be disastrous.

While Ross presents a clear picture of the effects of acoustic shadow on the battles he analyzes, his explanation of why the phenomenon occurs is not as clear as be intends. His attempt to simplify the explanation of the complexity of sound is commendable, but his explanations of such principles as rarefaction (movement of molecules) and the effect of temperature on refraction remain rather difficult to follow.

Peripherally, Ross mentions that several commanders did not actively seek information when something appeared amiss nor did they alert their senior commanders when they engaged in battle. …

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