Behind the Lines
February 2009

In This Issue

 

Grazing Fire

Ringing in the New Year with a BANG!

The explosive properties of nitroglycerine were discovered in 1847 by Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero (1812-1866). But, aside from being a deadly poison, the liquid form of the substance was considered too volatile to be used in any military application.

All that changed in 1866, when the Swedish engineer, Alfred Nobel, discovered a way to make it much safer, by mixing it with absorbent diatomaceous earth, resulting in a much more stable substance known as dynamite. De Nobel’s invention was both more powerful and more versatile than old-fashioned black powder. De Nobel also understood that he was releasing into the world a substance that would be a great blessing in many areas of human endeavor – the Panama Canal, for instance, could have been built without the use of dynamite, but completing it would have been vastly more expensive and taken a much longer time without the benefits of dynamite, which was used to do the rough preliminary excavations. But the same invention which proved to be such a boon to engineers and miners, also attracted the attention of ordnance technicians and made it possible for certain well-known “Merchants of Death” (Sir Basil Zaharov comes vividly to mind), to amass staggering fortunes by selling new and more lethal weapons to the highest bidders.

Spurred on by the surge of late-Victorian technology, which in turn was given great impetus by that great laboratory-of-death, the American Civil War, the new global arms business was, literally, booming. The efficacy and relative safety of dynamite suggested the De Nobel’s invention might have numerous other military applications in addition to facilitating the digging of large ditches. By the start of the 1880s, vigorous experiments were being conducted, on both land and sea, to find out what else this new dynamite stuff might be good for.

One thing it apparently was not much good for was as a propellant for artillery shells – although various admixtures soon proved themselves to be much deadlier than black powder as fillings for warheads.

But several clever inventors invested considerable ingenuity in designing artillery pieces tailored to the new explosive. The only one that was actually used – very briefly – in combat was known as the Sims-Dudley Dynamite Gun, which was actually invented by a man named Medford. It did not actually use dynamite as a propellant – the stuff was still as dangerous in that role to the side firing it as it was to those being fired upon – but it did fire a dynamite-based projectile, by using essentially the same technology as a giant BB gun: compressed air.

Little is known about Mr. Medford – except for his name, he simply vanished from history. It had something to do with the fact that Medford neglected to take out patents on his new gun design. His place was apparently taken by another shadowy character, one G. H. Reynolds, who did take out patents on a dynamite-based cannon, and formed, with investment money contributed by an industrialist named Dudley, a corporation calling itself the Pneumatic Dynamite Gun Company. Although, aside from sheer novelty, it’s hard to discern what advantages this curious weapon offered the military, that in itself was enough to attract the more “progressive” ordnance experts, and the new weapon showed enough promise to warrant at least one battery being installed as part of the harbor defenses for New York. Seizing on the novelty of the design, naval architects even drew up plans for a new class of “dynamite cruisers” although none was ever built, much less launched.

The Dynamite Gun’s baptism of fire came in the Spanish-American War, during the battle for Santiago. It was a brief ritual. One naval version of the piece, mounted on the bow of a gunboat, fired a grand total of three rounds at Spanish defenses, and a version mounted on a field carriage fired twenty rounds during the American attack on the city. Neither weapon made a dramatic contribution to the Yankee victory, however – the field-gun jammed at least once during this engagement, and un-jamming it (with a live dynamite charge lodged in the barrel) required considerable tense effort on the part of its crew, who universally concluded that the weapon was a dog. In his after-action report, the commander of the land battery pronounced the field piece “deficient in material and construction” and the Pneumatic Dynamite Gun Company soon faded into oblivion – another of those many interesting failed weapons that litter the course of military history.

Enjoy the newsletter,
The Newsletter Team

Comments? Questions? We'd love to hear from you through our general feedback contact form.



Back to Top

This Week's Historical Short: A Gallery of Rogues and Heroes - John V. Jordan

The Historical Short section is designed to provide a brief snapshot of an interesting historical event or trivia that is a little off the beaten path of regular historical discourse.

A Gallery Of Rogues And Heroes With Biographical Sketches And Thumbnail Accounts Of The Deeds And Misdeeds

John V. Jordan

During the years immediately preceding Secession, each state, territory, or big-city region was free to chose the uniform and style of accoutrements that distinguished its own local militia units, even as the rank-and-file soldiers were free to elect their commanding officers (a seemingly anarchistic system that resulted in a surprising number of top-quality men being chosen; general "popularity was a factor, of course, but as the prospect of real fratricidal war became more and more likely, the easy-going, glad-handing candidate might not always be chosen over a stricter disciplinarian who seemed to know a thing or two about military real leadership.

God only knows what historical or operatic examples inspired the uniforms of Col. John H. Jordan, of New Bern, North Carolina, and his detachment. Jordan may simply have been one of those truly fashion-blind males who liked the floppy gold tassels of a naval officer’s epaulets and the dashing touch of a red sash. Or it might have been that neither his wife nor his troops wanted to tell him that the costume made him look not only exceedingly well-fed but also more than a bit foppish. When his New Bern unit was mobilized, however, and was chosen to be the nucleus of a whole new regiment (The 31st North Carolina Infantry), Jordan put his gold shoulder-curtains into a storage chest and began to dress and comport himself in a more sober and businesslike manner. Portly may have chosen an outfit that made him look not only portly but a bit foppish. Like the majority of elected officers who came from civilian life, Jordan learned the rudiments of soldiering on-the-job and was often seen studying drill and strategy manuals by the light of an oil lamp, alone in his tent. On the battlefield, he quickly proved himself to be a steadfast and capable infantry commander, although in later years he admitted that the horrible sights and ghastly screams of his first few engagements had almost been too much for him, and for a while he thought seriously of resigning his commission.

His regiment first saw combat in the Battle for Roanoke Island, where it learned the full frustration of enduring a powerful naval bombardment without having a single weapon with which to reply. When the fighting got down to infantry-vs,-infantry, however, Jordan’s boys comported themselves with enough skill and courage to give the attacking Yankees more than a few rough moments – he would never forget the sight of one Union Zouave who kept watching in rapt fascination as seemingly spent cannon balls bounded down dusty swamp embankment as slow-,moving and apparently harmless as a child’s India-rubber ball, until – unable to resist the temptation any longer, the tall young Zouave lazily leaned over and tried to arrest the cannon ball’s progress. Despite the fact that the young Zouave was an enemy, Jordan instinctively shouted (unheard above the crack and thunder of battle) “Leave it alone, you God-damned young fool!” And then watched helplessly as the bouncing projectile neatly severed both of the Zouave’s hands at the lower end of his forearms.

Like virtually all the Rebel troops who survived the initial assault on Roanoke, Jordan and his men surrendered as soon as they realized they had been outflanked. Released on parole six months later, the 31st N.C. reorganized and absorbed a lot of new recruits to fill out its ranks, then marched sound to join General Thomas Clingman’s brigade along the outer ring of defenses protecting Charleston. The constant artillery dueling was bad enough, but far worse was the savage day-long battle for control of Battery Wagner (July 19, 1863. Transferred north again, to help counter a new Union offensive in Northern Virginia, where the regiment, and Col. Jordan were singled out for praise by Robert E. Lee for a gallant and costly charge they had made during the battle of Drewry’s Bluff (May, 1864), but Jordan was so seriously wounded in that engagement that he was forced to resign his commission. Just as well for, during the dreadful meat-grinder at Pettersburg, his former regiment was at one point reduced to just sixty effectives, less than the strength of a pre-war company. Reinforced with too-young and too-old conscripts, it nevertheless continued to fight stoutly and gave a good account of itself during the Battle of Bentonville, after which the survivors tendered their surrender – as did all the units in Joe Johnston’s tattered remnant of an army -- under the generous, more-than-honorable terms proffered by Sherman, and were paroled en mass on May 1, 1865, at a makeshift camp between Greensboro and High Point. Mr. Jordan apparently returned to New Bern – a most pleasant little town that had been spared the ravages of fighting due to the friendly relations its inhabitants enjoyed with the local Yankee garrison – and there Mr. Jordan lived out his days in peace and modest prosperity.



Back to Top

Historical Perspective

The Historical Perspective section is intended to give readers the "history behind the game." This month, Will Trotter gives us the fourth part of a series about the evolution of military technology before during and after the American Civil War.

Crucible of Blood - The American Civil War And the Evolution of Modern Military Technology

Part 4 - Zouave Fever

William R. Trotter

Armies are no more immune to the allure of fads than any other segment of the body-politic. In some instances, especially during times of obvious transition, when the old verities are being toppled and no new ones have appeared to take their place, it may be that the career soldier is even more eager to jump on a passing bandwagon than most civilians. Armies are, after all, bureaucracies – they have to be – and there is nothing a bureaucrat, in or out of uniform, loves more than the sonorous roll of today’s trendiest buzz-words upon his tongue. This is especially true of the transitional ideas, and because the terminology chosen to embody them at least SOUNDS “progressive”. Ideally, of course, from the career-soldiers’ point of view, they are not. It is paradoxical but often true: it does not hurt a professional soldier’s career to APPEAR progressive, or to mouth the trendiest argot of the season – this denotes a certain keenness of mind and a desirable intellectual curiosity – provided he can do this in such a way as to give no umbrage to his more reactionary superiors. It’s OK to pose as a figurehead on the bow of Progress, provided you don’t actually rock the boat very hard by doing so.

And most professional military establishments traditionally and wisely have left room for the occasional colorful eccentricity, providing the eccentric in question amuses his comrades rather than gives serious offense to their deeper sensibilities. Another reason, perhaps, why certain fads and professional notions pass in and out of fashion just as rapidly in the ranks of the armed forces as they do in the serried cubicles of corporate life.

During the mid-nineteenth century, no fad swept through the ranks of the American military faster or with more colorful public results than the Army’s infatuation with the style, flair, and mystique of France’s elite North African regiments, the Zuoaves. Of signal importance to this study is the fact that even after the swashbuckling, colorful costumes and macho posturing of the Zouaves faded under the strain conventional campaigning, some of the tactical practices adopted from them became widely disseminated throughout the ranks of both the Union and the Confederacy. Since our subject is not only weapons but tactical innovations, it’s worth a brief – and I promise you a colorful – detour to examine this rather neglected aspect of Civil War history.

Click here to continue part 4 of Crucible of Blood - The American Civil War And the Evolution of Modern Military Technology.

Enjoying the article so far? Why not check out these great titles that focus on the same period?

Back to Top

Game Spotlight: Crown of Glory: Emperor's Edition

Crown of Glory: Emperor's Edition is the highly anticipated sequel to Western Civilization's acclaimed Crown of Glory. Slated to release shortly, below is a quicker teaser both in features and images of what gamers can expect to see!


"Some gamers become concerned that sequels are overpriced patches. No such fear is necessary here."
- Jim Cobb, Crown of Glory 2: Emperor's Edition Preview, Wargamer.com

Feature List for Crown of Glory

  • Europe and North Africa, 1792 – 1820
  • More than 200 provinces, 8 Major Nations, 90 Minor Powers
  • Monthly Strategic Turns, 20 Minute Tactical Turns
  • Military, Diplomatic, Economic and Social Decisions
  • Quick Resolution of Battles or Detailed Resolution of Battles
  • Detailed Combat supports Historical Leaders, Unit Morale, Diverse Unit Types, Command and Control, Weather, Smoke, Reinforcements, and more!
  • Economics include Resource Types, Economic Parameters, Banks and Loans, Food and Population Growth, Reinforcement Pool, Trade Routes, Merchant and Colonial Income
  • Naval and Land Combat, including Sieges, Interceptions, Fleet Combat, Port Attacks and Blockades
  • National Morale
  • Computer Opponent for Major and Minor Nations
  • Diplomacy includes Treaties, Secret Treaties, Declarations of War, Cease Fires, Limited Surrender, Total War, and Historical Great Diplomats with special abilities
  • Weather, Logistics, Fog of War, Special Events
  • Hot-seat and PBEM
  • Standard Campaign from 1805 – 1815 as well as a variety of starting scenarios to expand or contract the timeline and allow more options over technology and upgrades

Improvements from Crown of Glory: Emperor's Edition

  • New strategic map graphics and a network of roads connecting provinces
  • 70 new movement areas on the strategic map
  • 6 new minor powers
  • 100 new historical events such as "Reign of Terror," "Janissary Revolt," and "Assassination of Paul I"
  • Map zoom on strategic and detailed combat levels
  • Nations gain Experience and Naval Experience and use these to purchase national upgrades, advanced units, and special training for units
  • Improved orders of battle in all scenarios with historical names for hundreds of divisions and ships
  • New scenarios for 1803 and 1812
  • New scenarios that allow Portugal, Bavaria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Poland to be player-controlled
  • Changes to strategic A.I. to create more historical decisions for certain nations
  • New "Path of Napoleon" victory condition in which player must try to accomplish all of Napoleon's goals
  • New "Simple Economy" mode for players who want to concentrate on military / diplomacy
  • New rules for inflation and mobilization limits to better model wartime effects on the economy and to limit army sizes to historical levels
  • New rules for march attrition
  • New interface screens for strategic overview, unit and province lists
  • Ability to fight detailed battles at division or brigade level
  • Improvements to Detailed Battle:
    • Cavalry units can deploy cavalry screens in detailed battle
    • Units can set a reaction radius in detailed battle that allows units to fire at enemy units, to move to intercept them, or to change rotation to face moving enemy units
    • New system for handling threat zones and formation changes
    • New "Pursuit Phase" at end of combat
    • Completely new A.I. for detailed battle
    • Can now give long-range movement orders to units and to entire military groups
  • Detailed naval battles at the ship level
    • Wind speed and direction affects movement and combat
    • Ships have five different sail states
    • Damage to hull, guns, carronades, rigging, crew, leaders
    • Fire round shot, chain shot, or canister shot
    • 20 different critical hit types to ships, such as "fire" and "rudder shot away"
    • Grappling and boarding
  • New system of in-game help
  • New music and sound effects




Back to Top

Latest News

In this section we provide a rundown of the latest updates from Matrix Games, just in case you missed a press release or two.

  1. Four New Awards for the Matrix Trophy Case! - Congratulations to 2by3 and AGEOD for taking home awards in the Best Strategy Game category at Gamer's Hall!
  2. Kharkov: Disaster on the Donets is Updated - SSG announces future development plans.
  3. New Update Now Available for Empires in Arms - More fixes and improvements to the acclaimed Napoleonics hit.
  4. World War One – La Grande Guerre is Updated - The official 1.05f update comes with a howitzer-sized shot of fixes and improvements.
  5. Matrix Games 2008 Year in Review! - Matrix Games is proud to release its annual Year in Review video that offers a collage of images collected by Matrix staffers over this past year. It's been a fantastic year for Matrix and we are no doubt looking forward to what 2009 will bring.
  6. First Major Update for Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge - A crucial bug fix and plenty of balance tweaks come careening across the African countryside and onto hard drives!
  7. World War II - Road to Victory Updated - The 1.30 update brings a razor sharp AI and more realism to test players’ combat prowess!
  8. Commander – Napoleon at War Is Updated - An update with some balance changes and an enhanced AI is formed up and good to go.
  9. Official World War One 1.0.4g Update Now Available - The official 1.0.4 update now available after a series of beta updates.
  10. Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge Now Available From Matrix Games! - The hotly awaited tactical turn-based game is now available for purchase from Matrix!
The latest additions to the Matrix product lineup.

Back to Top

A Parting Shot

2008 was historic for so many reasons and as we look back on the past year, we're thankful for our success and the continued support of our customers. Although the global economy is facing challenging times, we wish you all well as you navigate the bumps and potholes in the road ahead. We've got plenty in store (both literally and figuratively) to entertain you for 2009, so please visit frequently and we'll be sure that we don't disappoint!

And as always, anyone who would like to drop us a line and give us some feedback, complaints, death threats, etc., please don't hesitate to do so through our general feedback contact form.


Thanks for reading and happy holidays!
The Newsletter Team


Back to Top