Lessons in History-Dr. Scott Hippensteel

Lessons in History-Dr. Scott Hippensteel

Join us on Saturday, July 3, 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm, as Dr. Scott Hippensteel presents Sand, Science, and the Civil War:  Sedimentary Geology and Combat.

Admission to the Lessons in History Speaker Series is Free to the public. Guests can tour the Museum Galleries for an entrance fee of $16.00 for Adults, $15.00 for Seniors and AAA, and $14.00 for Students and Military.

About the Book: The influence of sedimentary geology on the strategy, combat, and tactics of the American Civil War is a subject that has been neglected by military historians. Sedimentary geology influenced everything from the nature of the landscape (flat vs. rolling terrain) to the effectiveness of the weapons (a single grain of sand can render a rifle musket as useless as a club). Sand, Science, and the Civil War: Sedimentary Geology and Combat investigates the role of sedimentary geology on the campaigns and battles of the Civil War on multiple scales, with a special emphasis on the fighting along the coastlines.

At the start of the Civil War the massive brick citadels guarding key coastal harbors and shipyards were thought to be invincible to artillery attack. The Union bombardment of Savannah’s key defensive fortification, Fort Pulaski, demonstrated the vulnerability of this type of fortress to the new rifled artillery available to the Union; the fort surrendered within a day. When the Union later tried to capture the temporary sand fortifications of Battery Wagner (protecting Charleston) and Fort Fisher (protecting Wilmington) they employed similar tactics but with disastrous results. The value of sand in defensive positions vastly minimized the Federal advantage in artillery, making these coastal strongpoints especially costly to capture. Through this geologically centered historic lens, Scott Hippensteel explores the way sediments and sedimentary rocks influenced the fighting in all theaters of war and how geologic resources were exploited by both sides during the five years of conflict.  

About the Author: Scott Hippensteel, a Professor of Earth Sciences, joined the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2000 after completing his MS and PhD in Geology at the University of Delaware.  For his first decade in North Carolina his research centered on using fossils to solve environmental problems.  The published results of this research included journal articles and book chapters concerning paleotempestology (the study of ancient storms), bioturbation (the mixing of sediments by critters), military geoarchaeology (of the barrier islands surrounding Charleston, SC) and Earth Science pedagogy.

In 2004 Hippensteel joined the research team in Charleston studying the most fascinating Civil War artifact he had ever seen:  The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley.  His research pertaining to the submarine involves using microfossils to interpret the sediment infilling history of the vessel and provide insights into the reasons for the exceptional preservation of the crew.

This interest in the relationship between geology and the American Civil War is reflected in Hippensteel’s current research agenda and publications, all of which focus on the synthesis of natural and military sciences.  In addition to several recent journal articles on the geology of Civil War battlefields and landscapes, he has written three books. The first, Rocks and Rifles: The Influence of Geology on the Combat and Tactics of the American Civil War, is intended for audiences interested in either American history or geology (or, hopefully, both) and was published by Springer-Nature in 2019. Myths of the Civil War: The Fact, Fiction, and Science behind the Civil War’s Most-Told Stories (2021), uses mathematics and physics to shatter many of the most cherished and oft-repeated stories from the American Civil War.  Hippensteel’s most recent book is Sand, Science, and the Civil War:  Sedimentary Geology and Combat, was published by the University of Georgia Press as a contribution to their well-regarded UnCivil War Series.  This book has gained significant attention, excellent reviews, and was named one of the top ten books of 2023 by Civil War Books and Authors.

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