Cookies Policy

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

I accept this policy

Find out more here

Union and Confederate Views on Guncotton

No metrics data to plot.
The attempt to load metrics for this article has failed.
The attempt to plot a graph for these metrics has failed.
The full text of this article is not currently available.

Brill’s MyBook program is exclusively available on BrillOnline Books and Journals. Students and scholars affiliated with an institution that has purchased a Brill E-Book on the BrillOnline platform automatically have access to the MyBook option for the title(s) acquired by the Library. Brill MyBook is a print-on-demand paperback copy which is sold at a favorably uniform low price.

Access this article

+ Tax (if applicable)
Add to Favorites
You must be logged in to use this functionality

image of Vulcan

This essay investigates why guncotton was not commonly used by both sides of the American Civil War, despite it being a more powerful explosive than the standard explosive (gunpowder/black powder). The question hitherto has not been fully answered; it is proposed that both sides did realize its superiority yet chose different modes of action. The Union army tested the material in America, but chose the British course of action, to wait until the material, with its known instability, was improved. The Confederate navy was willing to take the risk and looked in mid-1864 for large amounts in Europe for use in certain types of sea and river mines (“torpedoes”). Large quantities did arrive, but were too late to be used. The types of torpedoes to be employed with guncotton are not known but it is estimated that the material was intended for those types where gunpowder limited their effectiveness.

Affiliations: 1: Associate Researcher at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel-Aviv University/Independent Scholar,;


Full text loading...


Data & Media loading...

1. aigo [Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office, Richmond, va]. 1864. Special Orders No. 133, 8 June. In War Dept. et al. 1880–1901, ser. 1, vol. 36, part 2, 882–83.
2. Anonymous. 1863. “ "Improved Projectiles, Maxims on Union Culture, and More".” Scientific American , n.s. 8 no. Vol 14(4 April): 20910.
3. Anonymous. 1863. “ "The British Association, Newcastle-on-Tyne 1863—Austrian Gun Cotton".” Journal of the Society of Arts , 25 Sept., 71518.
4. Anonymous. 1864. “ "Baron von Lenk’s Gun Cotton Patented in This Country".” Scientific American , n.s. 11 no. Vol 2(9 July): 18.
5. Anonymous. 1867. “ "Southern Troops Use Gun Cotton".” Scientific American Vol 16no. 8: 203, as cited in Norman 1988.
6. Anonymous. 1869. “ "Gun-Cotton vs. Gunpowder",” The Queenslander , Vol 24April: 3.
7. Barnes John S. 1868. Submarine Warfare: Offensive and Defensive . New York: G.P. Putnam & Sons.
8. Bell Jack . 2003. Civil War Heavy Explosive Ordnance: A Guide to Large Artillery Projectiles, Torpedoes, and Mines . Denton: University of North Texas Press.
9. Bulloch Cmdr ,. James D. 1864. "Letter to Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory", In nwro 1894–1922, ser. 2, vol. 2, 69798.
10. Confederate Congress, Joint Special Committee. 1862–1863. “ "Investigation of Navy Department",” 4 Sept. 1862–24 March 1863. In nwro 1894–1922, 431809.
11. Cooper, Adjustant and Inspector General S. 1864. Letter to Maj. Gen. D.H. Maury, 10 May. In War Dept. et al. 1880–1901, ser. 1, vol. 36, part 2, 988.
12. Crowley R.O. 1898. “ "The Confederate Torpedo Service".” Century Magazine Vol 56(June): 290301.
13. Curtis William S. , 2006. “ "Unorthodox British Technology at the Confederate Gunpowder Works, Augusta Georgia, 1862–1865".” In Gunpowder, Explosives and the State: A Technological History , ed. Buchanan Brenda J. , 23947. Aldershot and Burlington, vt: Ashgate.
14. Davidson Hunter . 1876. “ "Electrical Torpedoes as a System of Defence".” Southern Historical Society Papers Vol 2no.1 (July): 16.
15. Dyer, Brig. Gen. Alexander Brydie. 1864. Letter to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, 22 Sept. 1864. In War Dept. et al. 1880–1901, ser. 3, vol. 4, 799–804.
16. Holley I.B. Jr. 1953/1983. Ideas and Weapons: Exploitation of the Aerial Weapon by the United States during World War i: A Study in the Relationship of Technological Advance, Military Doctrine, and the Development of Weapons . Washington dc: Office of Air Force History. Reprint of 1953 edition.
17. Hutchinson C.S. ed. 1866. Papers on Subjects Connected with the Duties of the Corps of Royal Engineers, Contributed by Officers of The Royal Engineers , n.s. 15.
18. Kochan Michael P. ,, and Wideman John C. . 2012. Civil War Torpedoes: The History of Improvised Explosive Devices in the War Between the States . 2nd ed. Paoli, pa: Keystone Press.
19. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy Stephen. 1864a. Letter to Cmdr. James D. Bulloch, 16 April. In nwro 1894–1922, ser. 2, vol. 2, 627–28.
20. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy Stephen. 1864b. Letter to Cmdr. Matthew Fontaine Maury, 18 June. In Maury Correspondence, 1864, indexed pages 3576–78.
21. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy Stephen. 1864c. Letter to Cmdr. James D. Bulloch, 20 June. In nwro 1894–1922, ser. 2, vol. 2, 673–76.
22. Maury Cmdr ,. Fontaine Matthew . 1862. "Letter to Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory", 19 June. nwro 1894–1922, ser. 1, vol. 7, 54446.
23. Maury Matthew Fontaine . "Correspondence". Library of Congress, Washington, dc.
24. Norman Sandra Lee . 1988. “ "Guncotton to Smokeless Powder: The Development of Nitrocellulose as a Military Explosive, 1845–1929".” Ph.D. diss., Brown University, Providence, ri.
25. Norman Sandra Lee . 2013. "Private correspondence". Sept, 16.
26. nwro [Naval War Records Office]. 1894–1922. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of Rebellion . 2 series, 30 vols. Washington: Government Printing Office.
27. Rains Gabriel J. , 1874/2011. “ "Torpedo Book".” 1874 ms. Edited by Schiller Herbert M. . In Schiller 2011, 1392.
28. Rains George Washington . 1882. History of the Confederate Powder Works . Address Delivered by Invitation before the Confederate Survivors’ Association, at its Fourth Annual Meeting, on Memorial Day, April 26th, 1882. Augusta, ga: Chronicle & Constitutionalist Print.
29. Schiller Herbert. M. , ed. 2011. Confederate Torpedoes; Two Illustrated 19th Century Works, with New Appendices and Photographs . Jefferson, nc: McFarland.
30. Stotherd Maj.R.H. 1872. Notes on Torpedoes, Offensive and Defensive . Washington, dc: Government Printing Office.
31. Dept War ., et al. 1880–1901. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies . 128 vols. Washington, dc: Government Printing Office.
32. Wideman John C. 2013a. "Private communication", 28 Sept.
33. Wideman John C. 2013b. "Private communication", 3 Oct.
34. Williams Frances Leigh . 1963. Mathew Fontaine Maury: Scientist at Sea , New Brunswick, nj: Rutgers University Press.
35. Wintjes Jorit ,. 2015. ‘“ "Five of These Will Conquer Any Ironclad’: The Spar Torpedo Boat in the American Civil War".” In Astride Two Ages: Technology and the American Civil War , ed. Hacker Barton C. . Washington, dc: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, in press.
36. Wolters Timothy , S. 2008. “ "Electric Torpedoes in the Confederacy: Reconciling Conflicting Histories".” Journal of Military History , Vol 72no. 3(July): 75583. [Crossref]

Article metrics loading...



Can't access your account?
  • Tools

  • Add to Favorites
  • Printable version
  • Email this page
  • Subscribe to ToC alert
  • Get permissions
  • Recommend to your library

    You must fill out fields marked with: *

    Librarian details
    Your details
    Why are you recommending this title?
    Select reason:
    Vulcan — Recommend this title to your library
  • Export citations
  • Key

  • Full access
  • Open Access
  • Partial/No accessInformation