America’s Buried History

Landmines in the Civil War

Kenneth R. Rutherford

Despite the thousands of books published on the American Civil War, one aspect that has never received the in-depth attention it deserves is the use of landmines and their effect on the war and beyond.
Date Published :
April 2020
Publisher :
Savas Beatie
Illustration :
17 images, 14 maps
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781611214536
Pages : 216
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
Also available digitally:
Buy From Amazon Amazon
Buy From Apple Apple
Buy From Barnes and Noble Barnes & Noble
Buy From Google Google
Buy From Kobo Kobo

Casemate will earn a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking a link here


Despite all that has been published on the American Civil War, one aspect that has never received the in-depth attention it deserves is the widespread use of landmines across the Confederacy. These “infernal devices” dealt death and injury in nearly every Confederate state and influenced the course of the war. Kenneth R. Rutherford rectifies this oversight with America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War, the first book devoted to a comprehensive analysis and history of the fascinating and important topic.

Modern landmines were used for the first time in history on a widespread basis during the Civil War when the Confederacy, in desperate need of an innovative technology to overcome significant deficits in materiel and manpower, employed them. The first American to die from a victim-activated landmine was on the Virginia Peninsula in early 1862 during the siege of Yorktown. Their use set off explosive debates inside the Confederate government and within the ranks of the army over the ethics of using “weapons that wait.” As Confederate fortunes dimmed, leveraging low-cost weapons like landmines became acceptable and even desirable.

The controversial weapon was the brainchild of Confederate General Gabriel J. Rains (who had experimented with explosive booby traps in Florida two decades earlier during the Seminole Wars, and other Confederates soldiers developed a sundry of landmine varieties, including command-controlled and victim-activated. The devices saw extensive use in Virginia, at Port Hudson in Louisiana, in Georgia, the Trans-Mississippi Theater, during the closing weeks of the war in the Carolinas, and in harbors and rivers in multiple states. Debates over the ethics of using mine warfare did not end in 1865, and are still being waged to this day.

Dr. Rutherford, who is known worldwide for his work in the landmine discipline, and who himself lost his legs to a mine in Africa, relies on a host of primary and secondary research to demonstrate how and why the mines were built, how and where they were deployed, the effects of their use, and the reactions of those who suffered from their deadly blasts. America’s Buried History is an important contribution to the literature on one of the most fundamental, contentious, and significant modern conventional weapons. According to some estimates, by the early 1990s landmines were responsible for more than 26,000 deaths each year worldwide.

Landmines, argues Dr. Rutherford, transitioned from “tools of cowards” and “offenses against democracy and civilized warfare” to an accepted form of warfare until the early 1990s. The genesis of this acceptance began during the American Civil War.

About The Author

Kenneth R. Rutherford is known for his decades of work in the landmine discipline. He is cofounder of the Landmine Survivors Network and a prominent leader in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. A professor of political science at James Madison University, he directed the university’s Center for International Stabilization and Recovery for ten years, which for more than 21 years has been recognized as a global leader in international efforts to combat the effects of landmines and explosive remnants of war. He holds a Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown University, and B.A. and MBA degrees from the University of Colorado, where he lettered in football as a walk-on noseguard and inducted into its Hall for Distinguished alumni.


“Masterfully researched and eloquently written, Rutherford’s volume is destined to become a classic study of one of the most horrific weapons ever utilized during the Civil War—landmines. From technological discussions, to employment in combat, and examination of the physical and emotional toll land mines took on soldiers victimized by them, this book provides the most comprehensive analysis ever produced on the topic. Rutherford’s splendid study is critical reading for those seeking a deeper understanding of the manner in which technology impacted our nation’s most tumultuous moment and the men who fought in it.”

- Jonathan A. Noyalas, Director, Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute

“Ken Rutherford…a professor, champion of human rights, and landmine survivor . . . explores an important subject for the first time. This book is a MUST for military history buffs! A thrilling and chilling read. I highly recommend it.”

- His Royal Highness Prince Mired Raad Al-Hussein, UN Special Envoy for Landmine Prohibition Treaty

America’s Buried History is a compelling and exhaustive exploration of a deadly weapon—the anti-personal landmine—introduced for the first time on a broad scale in the American Civil War. Landmines would eventually cost the lives and limbs of hundreds of thousands of people around the world, which ultimately resulted in the prohibition by most countries. This book is an absorbing eye-opening history that combines insightful political decisions, military history, technical details, and biographies.”

- Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1997) and Chair, Nobel Women’s Initiative

“By combining his love of learning, fascination with history, dedication to helping innocent victims of war, and near-death in Somalia from a landmine explosion that ultimately claimed both legs, Ken Rutherford has written a riveting account of the use of these indiscriminate weapons during our own Civil War. Like today, landmines were an inexpensive weapon used to terrorize the enemy and inflicted terrible injuries and death. Usually triggered by the victim, they can remain active long after a war ends, and today’s casualties are often civilians, like Ken. America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War reminds us of the immeasurable sacrifice of those who fought a century and a half ago, and of how, despite all the technological advances, much of what made war hell back then remains true today.”

- U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy

"This lucidly written short study covers the Confederacy's use of mines both on land and at sea. This book is effective in the way it integrates the use of mines with the broader military history of the war. Rutherford describes many battles simply and clearly in a way that added to my broader understanding as well as to my understanding about mines."

- Midwest Book Review

"The author makes a substantial contribution to understanding this interesting and relevant topic, including facts related to his personal life and what has occurred in the more than 150 years since the Civil War throughout the world. Rutherford has provided fresh insights that help us understand the motivation, strategies, tensions, controversies, and triumphs that characterized the work and lives of the people found in his interesting work."

- The NYMAS Review

 "Well researched, full of case studies from all theaters, and written in a manner that can attract a wide audience, America's Buried History is the new standard overview history of the Confederate use of landmines on the Civil War battlefield. It is highly recommended reading for all."

- Civil War Books and Authors

"A novel new study of an important topic rarely discussed in depth while at the same time reframing interpretation of some very familiar Civil War campaigns and strategic thinking."

- The Historian's Manifesto

"America’s Buried History explains clearly to even a novice war buff how the American Civil War developed mined weapons. Rutherford’s excellent book explores a rarely-examined aspect of the Civil War, bringing the reader out from the past and into modern times and today’s debates."

- Meg Groeling, Emerging Civil War

“This is a first-rate history that will enlighten many people, both serious students of the Civil War and buffs. This reviewer read America’s Buried History straight through, cover to cover without pause, an experience likely to be shared by many others. Highly recommended.”

- StrategyPage

"In my experience with landmines, underwater mines, and demining, when it comes to technical information, there are two types of people. The majority are those content to know enough about this topic to stay safe, but who depend heavily on technical support when confronted by an unknown mine or situation. Then there are those rare types, the people who love the intricate details of history, development, design variations, inventors, and tactics; those who can name the most obscure bits of landmine, sea mine, or demining trivia, and happily debate incessantly over details. America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War, is a book for all types of people... You cannot do better than this book and the tremendous amount of citations provided.”

- The Artilleryman Magazine

More from this publisher