Trenches in American Warfare

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TRENCHES IN AMERICAN WARFARE. Field trenches seldom played a role in the American colonial wars, but they became more prominent in the American Revolution: opposing forces began to use hasty field entrenchments at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and General George Washington used trenches continually and freely throughout the war as a means of keeping his army in the field; he constantly warned, however, against allowing trenches to become a trap.

Trenches were little used in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, and, at the beginning of the Civil War, soldiers on both sides resented work on trencheseven though they quickly realized their error. The Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, was a trench battle, and thereafter both sides acquired great skill and ingenuity in digging.

The ultimate development in trenches was at Petersburg, Virginia, in 18641865, with trenches dug there that foreshadowed those of World War I in France. The two sides created parallel lines of trenches that required a minimum force to hold yet kept a maximum force free for maneuver. When the line became so long that General Robert E. Lee's weakened army could not hold it, he had to abandon Richmond and tried in vain to escape to the Carolinas. Similar events in France after the Battle of the Marne in 1914often called the Race to the Seaproduced a different result because shorter distances and larger forces meant that maneuvering flanks reached the English Channel before trench-holding elements lost control.

The foxhole, a more temporary shelter, largely replaced the trench in World War II and the Korean War. In the Vietnam War the bunker afforded some protection against artillery.


Bull, Stephen. Trench Warfare: Battle Tactics. London: Brassey's, 2002.

Coffman, Edward M. The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Johnson, J. H. Stalemate! Great Trench Warfare Battles. London: Cassell Academic, 1999.

Tuchman, Barbara W. The Guns of August. New York: Macmillan, 1962.

Oliver Lyman Spaulding / c. w.

See also Chancellorsville, Battle of ; Fortifications ; Petersburg, Seige of .