Saturday, October 2, 2010

18th Nat'l Conference on Civil War Medicine - Summary #1 - Between a Rock and a Hard Place

So, when you are telling a story, the middle is as good a place to start as any, right?!

Well, today was the second day of the three days of the 18th National Conference on Civil War Medicine (sponsored by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine) held this year in Towson, Maryland...and it has been TERRIFIC!

Today's morning included three great presentations, starting with Dr. Robert C. Whisonant, Emeritus Professor of Geology, Radford University, gave a wonderful presentation
on "Military Geology of Antietam Battlefield, Maryland, USA - Geology, Terrain, and Casualties."

He started by giving a wonderful summary of the discipline of "Military Geology" - the study of terrain, geology and soils and how it affects military decision-making: how well can troops and vehicles travel across a landscape? Are there sources of water and construction material? Do the prevailing underground rock environments provide protection for critical military structures, personnel or weapons? FASCINATING!!

Dr. Whisonant then talked about a recent project - that received attention in the press just a few years back - in which he and a colleague (Dr. Judy Ehlen) studied the geology of Civil War battlefields to see if it had an impact on the number of casualties.

Given the conference location in Maryland, he specifically addressed the interesting geology of the Antietam battlefield: two geologic units underlie the area. One is "soft rock" (a term I learned today!) - that is, limestone that erodes so that you get a very even, level, open deep holes and high hills that give soldiers a place to hide. This geology comprised the famous Miller's Cornfield.

Nearby, on the eastern and southern portions of the battlefield bordering Antietam creek, a different formation lies beneath the terrain, made up of "hard rock" in the form of dolomite ...It makes for a very different kind of terrain known as "dissected topography" that provides good cover and concealment.

Dr. Whisonant's conclusion is that the different geological formations resulted in (statistically) significantly different casualty rates...the "soft rock" and open terrain resulted in many more casualties.

He is careful and cautious in going to far with his conclusions...there are undoubtedly other variables, including leadership, etc., but I learned a lot about the discipline of military geology today and it was GREAT!

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