Acoustic Shadow during the Civil War

Acoustic Shadow (sometimes called Silent Battle) is a weird thing. It is a phenomenon where noise cannot be heard near the source of the noise, but the same noise can be heard far away from its source. Through a unique combination of factors such as wind, weather, temperature, land topography, forest or other vegetation, and elevation, the sounds of battle are not heard at a distance where they would normally be clearly heard.

The distance at which the sound is heard can be great, even hundreds of kilometers, but up close (sometimes just miles away) the sounds are not heard. Battles where the Acoustic Shadow phenomenon occurred in the Civil War were Gettysburg, Seven Pines, Iuka, Fort Donelson, Five Forks, Perryville, and Chancellorsville.

Acoustic Shadow could have a profound effect on a fight. During the Civil War, it was common for armies to be spread over great distances, and timely communication between the fractured parts of an army was critical to success on the battlefield. Army commanders must make decisions based on current knowledge of the situation in front of them. The sound of a battle would be a form of communication signaling a Civil War commander and his staff where a battle is taking place and what troops (including enemy) might be involved. If Acoustic Shadow hides combat operations from a commander’s hearing, communication has been lost and serious consequences may follow as the commander does not respond to the battlefield situation as required.

Examples of acoustic shadows during Civil War battles:

  • Battle of Gaines’s Mill – More than 91,000 men were engaged in battle on June 27, 1862 at Gaines’s Mill, Virginia. Confederate commanders and troops were less than two miles from the battlefield and could clearly see the smoke and flashes from the guns and artillery. but for two hours no sound of battle was heard. Oddly enough, the sounds of battle from the Battle of Gaines’s Mill in Staunton, Virginia, over a hundred miles away could easily be heard.
  • Five Forks – Fives Forks was fought from March 30 to April 1, 1865 and was part of the Appomattox campaign. Confederate Generals George Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee were enjoying a shad bake with other generals north of Hatcher’s Run as the Battle of Five Forks began a short distance away. Due to Acoustic Shadow, Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee were unaware a fight was underway. Pickett eventually responded but was late to the fight. Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee have been criticized by Civil War historians (see Lee’s Lieutenants, III, 665-670) for failing to respond in Five Forks to “the terrible immediacy of the crisis” (ibid., 665).
  • The Battle of Gettysburg – The battle sounds of Gettysburg, which took place on July 1, 2, and 3, 1863, could be heard over a hundred miles away in Pittsburgh, but not just ten miles from the battlefield.

Thanks to Jonathan R. Allen | #Acoustic #Shadow #Civil #War

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