America’s Walther lay out exposure limits and at “above

America’s Chemical Warfare Origins Re-examined

losses of life sustained in the American Civil War were staggering and the
suffering reverberated across the country. While the death rates piled up
citizens began to think outside the traditional war toolbox not only to kill men,
but their will to fight. When we think of the history and implementation of chemical
warfare we refer to World War one. Chemistry is the study of atoms and chemical
reactions. Chemical warfare is taking the toxic properties of certain chemicals
and weaponizing those properties to dissipate the opposition. What does a
chemical weapon do?  Chemical weapons
attack the biological function and inhibit them from proper function. An
example of an attack detailed in, Chemical
Warfare and Medical Response During World War I, by Gerard J. Fitzgerald
where German forces released “160 tons of chlorine gas drifted over the
opposing French trenches, engulfing all those downwind.”1 Due to chlorine gas begin denser
then air, it allows it to sit low to the ground. Wang and Walther lay out
exposure limits and at “above 1000 part per million (ppm) death results within
minutes.”2 In this case the chemical
weaponized effects the biology functions of the respiratory system. The example
stated was during world war one, which is always credited as being the go to
for chemical warfare. The American Civil War ended in 1865 and world war one
started in 1914, which is about forty-nine years apart. Evidence shows that the
Civil War was the precursor to how we view chemical warfare and the development
of a new military science.

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weapons are usually broken down into four categories consisting of blood
agents, nerve agents, blister agents, and choking agents. Nerve agents as the
name implies attacks the nervous system. This category of chemical weapons
consists of tabun (GA), sarin (GB), soman (GD), cyclosarin (GF), and
methylphosphonothioic acid (VX). VX is the most persistent of the bunch and
deadliest, but it is the least volatile. This means that inhalation hazard
isn’t a concern like it is with the G series nerve agents. Which I have
personally witnessed in a controlled setting. In the presence of G series nerve
agent detection equipment alarms sound instantly when a G series agent is
placed in the room, but on the other hand VX doesn’t not sound the alarm unless
detection equipment is placed right over the VX. Though VX is the most
dangerous of the agents if you do not come into direct contact with the
substance you are safe. Blister agents consist of sulfur mustard (HD), nitrogen
mustard (HN), lewisite (L), and phosgene (CX). A single drop of a blister agent
has the capabilities of altering a person’s genetic makeup. The exposure to
these agents as you might have guessed leaves blister formation on the skin and
if inhaled can cause blister to form inside the lungs, which is fatal. Choking
agents attack the tissue of the lungs and results in pulmonary edema. Choking
agents consist of phosgene (CG), diphosgene (DP), chlorine (Cl), and
chloropicrin (PS). These are the most common and well known, but that doesn’t
mean that they are the only chemical weapons. Some agents similar to these were
proposed and demonstrated during the Civil War era leading to weaponized from
of these ideas later in American history.

wasn’t developed until the early 1940’s, but one hundred years before, similar
concepts were being developed.  On April
10, 1841 Benjamin Franklin Greenough patented his new idea for a chemical
mixture for the use of lighting lamps.3  The chemical mixture had the capability to
burn longer and on any surface. This chemical mixture was weaponized twenty
years later and a demonstration of its deadly capabilities was presented in
Washington. The weapon included “a pipe three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter
to project a fluid thirty to fifty feet”4 at an object of wood. The
fire that was produced burned on any surface and caused suffocating fumes. The
chemical makeup of this compound was a “compositions of alcohol, spirits of
turpentine, and such other matters or fluids,”5 though its ingredients do
not exactly match that of napalm. The characteristics are somewhat similar. For
one they can both burn on any surface such as on top of water. The
demonstration was successful in showing the capabilities of the prehistoric
napalm and the asphyxiating fumes. The problem with delivering this incendiary
substance was the pump. With an effective maximum rage of fifty feet the
probability that a soldier projecting flames as the enemy getting close enough
to inflict damage is highly unlikely. If anything, it would make for an easier
target. One probable use would have been on an ironclad ship igniting enemies
threating a board and siege. Proponents of this stream of liquid fire were also
applied to artillery shells. Levi Short developed and supplied shells to
“General Benjamin F. Butler” that “were fired at enemy shores at the mouth of
the Mississippi River.”6 The shell successful in
exploding, igniting, and setting fire that continued to burn for five days. The
“bombardment of Fort Sumter” began August 17, 1863, and lasted for several
days. The Parrott rifle used had many different types of shell some of which
contained Shorts formulated shell. The Parrott rifle also known by “Swamp
Angel”7 had fired “thirty-six
rounds” Confederate General Beauregard stating after it “very fortunately
burst.”8 Ultimately the shells did
not inflict as much damage as anticipated. One problem that contributed to the
failure was the uneven weigh produced from liquid moving back and forth while
the projectile was in the air. News of this fire that could burn on any surface
including water was known in both the north and south. It had captured the fear
of foes from the south. One confederate soldier wrote a poem referring the Levi
Shorts as the “devil,”9 due to his fearsome

War II kicked off in 1939, but Americans did not enter the war until 1941
following an attack on Pearl Harbor carried out by the Empire of Japan. Just
months before America entered the war “the extermination army of Auschwitz,”
began their “first experiment with Zyklon B.” 10 Zyklon B is a colorless
poison with the real name of hydrogen cyanide. Hydrogen cyanide effects the
cell respiratory system by inhibiting normal cell functions which lead to
death. Prior to hydrogen cyanide being used in concentration camps by the Nazis
it was proposed for use in the American Civil War. Doctor Joseph Jones a
confederate surgeon proposed to General Beauregard in a letter for the use of
hydrogen cyanide.11 Dr. Jones was aware of
the effects on the body from experiments that he conducted in 1862. The
“experiments performed on alligators” displayed the effects of prussic acid
(hydrogen cyanide) to affect “the respiration which induce death, are due to
direct action of the poison upon the medulla oblongata.”12 Jones experimented with
the effect of the poison by different forms of administration such as
inhalation, digestion, absorption, and directly to the nervous systems of young
alligators. These prior experiments may have influenced Jones’ idea and
understanding of the effects of hydrogen cyanide. Besides just proposing the
use of this toxic substance he also described a way in which to safely and
correctly weaponize it. The proposed design of the artillery is mimicked by the
M687 artillery shell that was used to weaponize the nerve agent GB. The
proposed shell was to contain two separate chambers one containing cyanide of
potassium and the second hydrochloric acid. In the M687 shell one chamber
contains a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and isopropyl amine (referred to as OPA)
and the other chamber contains methyl phosphonyl difluoride. The mechanism of
the shells is the same. In flight, the barrier between the two chambers breaks
allowing the contents of each chamber to mix to from the deadly compounds.13 Jones idea was a head of
his time, but was never put into action because of it practicality and ethics.
General Beauregard, a Civil War general, gave the weapon consideration but under
the advisement of Dr. John Richardson Cheves the proposed weapons were never
put into practice. Cheves believed that the uses of poison on combatants was unethical,
but war is unethical. He also believed that the two chambers would not finish
mixing before the shell exploding resulting in a small amount of hydrogen
cyanide. Hydrogen cyanide is a deadly poison when inhaled at a large dose. The
problem with exploding the shells on an open battlefield is that it is open- hydrogen
cyanide when exposed in open aired environment will dissipate rapidly. If the
gaseous poison was placed into a confined space then it would be effective. This
method was proposed with the use of two glass bottles when sieging a ship. The
plan was to board the ship and through the bottle into the confined areas of
the ship allowing the chemical to mix the deadly cocktail and incapacitate the
occupants. The design as stated earlier was used in future development of nerve
agent mortar shells.

the military, a confidence chamber is performed annually. The purpose of this
confidence chamber is to instill confidence in your personal protective gear.
The personal protective gear in this case is your field protective mask and
mission oriented protective posture (MOPP) suit. In this chamber, 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile
(CS) capsules are opened and poured on a hot plate. The heat causes the CS
crystals to disperse throughout the chamber making every cubic inch an irritant
to the exposed mucous membranes. First experiencing the symptoms can be freighting
and can leave one believing that they are on the verge of death. This is far from
the truth though. A person may experience trouble breathing and seeing, but
that person will have cleared sinus pathways after the experience. This
chemical causes incapacitation due to the individual panicking. As you can
infer this is a great chemical weapon to use in a not lethal situation. Today
we refer to these chemical compounds as riot control agents (RCAs). RCAs such
as CS did not come about until 1928 roughly sixty years after the Civil War
ended. The mostly commonly known RCA is pepper spray (mace) and it was not not
developed until nearly one hundred years preceding the Civil War. These exact
chemical compounds may not have been constructed, but it was well known that
crushed pepper could be an irritant to the eyes and respiratory tract (mucous
membranes). Due to this knowledge of the irritation that peppers can induce led
some citizens to propose placing “dried cayenne pepper” in the “explosive
artillery projectiles.”14 Upon the explosion the
pepper would be disperse and blank the enemy and in turn create “noxious
fumes.”15 This would allow the
enemy to be incapacitated temporally while friendly forces rushed their
defense. The public proposed other ingenious methods of delivery the cayenne
pepper over enemy lines one being with the use of kite. “D. P. Pease suggested
that red pepper be mixed with whiskey or water, placed in a small portable
garden engines,” and pumped towards enemy lines behind “infantry assaults.”16 This delivery mechanism
is a large-scale, common day portable mace. There is no evidence to suggest
that cayenne pepper was used in any conflict in the Civil War. Many of the
military officials that read the proposals to use cayenne pepper thought that
it was comical. This may be due to notion that a food item cannot be
weaponized. They may have also been rejected because the delivery method is
somewhat improbable. The maximum effective range of weapons had drastically
increased and precision improved due to the development of the minié ball. Before
a pump holder could be close enough to effectively incapacity the enemy there
would be a high probability they would be shot. This proposed idea was far from
improbable as proven when technology could match the imagination of inventors.

exposed to high enough concentrations of chlorine such as “1,000 parts per
million PPM it is fatal.”17 This was seen in the
first successful chemical attack of record carried out by Germans near Ypres,
Belgium. Chlorine “is two and a half times denser than air,”18 meaning that it is heavier
than air causing it to conjugate closer to the surface. If fighting a battle
that is fixated on trench warfare this is an ideal chemical agent, because of
its ability to toxify low depressions of the battle field. Trench warfare was
prominent in World War I, but was also seen in battles such as Petersburg
during the Civil War. Due to facing battle fields with well-dug in
fortification the benefit of a weaponized form of chlorine can be seen.
Chlorine is an effective agent due to it being “highly corrosive” and when it
comes into contact with “lung fluid” forms “hydrochloric acid.”19 This results is pulmonary
edema (lungs filling with fluid), which is dry land drowning. A “New York
schoolteacher John W. Doughty” was persistent in his idea of implementing
chlorine into the battlefield by writing “at least four times to U.S. officials”
for “chlorine laden artillery shells for use against an entrenched enemy.”20 Doughty understood the
chemistry of chlorine and the negative health effects that chlorine could
inflect on a person. He was keen that any low depressed area would be subject
to the poisonous gas stating “no ri?e pit, no Entrenchment, no Forti?cation, no
can escape the gas. It appears that Doughty’s suggestions fell upon death ear
because the government never implemented the idea. The implementation of a new
weapon takes testing to ensure its feasibility. The government may have not
been willing to devote funds to test a new weapon that ultimately could end up
a dud. Chlorine has a “boiling point of – 29 degrees Fahrenheit” meaning that
chlorine would have to be added to shells under “about four time’s normal
atmospheric pressure.”22 Accomplishing this would
be a daunting feat, therefore Doughty proposed weapon was “ahead of its time.”23 The new construction of a
shell was not the only problem that weaponizing chlorine displayed. Another was
how to ensure that solders and manufacturers did not expose themselves to the
toxicity. Development of the gas mask did not come about until the Great War. Artillery
shells during the Civil War were primarily made of iron. As chlorine is an extremely
corrosive substance iron shells would deteriorate rapidly and release the
noxious fumes.

first use of anesthesia was during the Mexican-American war, beginning with
sulfuric either. Chloroform was soon followed either. Which was the anesthesia
of choice in the Civil War? Chloroform effects were discovered by James Young
Simpson while in search for “an anesthetic agent that was superior to ether by
inhaling numerous chemical compounds.”24  Through inhaling the chemicals he played his
own personal lab rat while observing which had beneficial effects. If a patient
had the correct amount of chloroform administered they would fall into a deep
sleep allowing painless surgery to take place. Chloroform was a great
anesthesia for the time, but it did have negative effects. If the chloroform
was administered for too long it could lead to death. During the Civil War
chloroform deaths accounted for “5.4 deaths for every thousand cases.”25 The known causes of
chloroform by the public led to it being proposed for use as a chemical weapon,
the delivery method proposed was by artillery shells. This method would be
ineffective because the shells would be opened on an open battle field. The
open battle field is far from the practice of placing a soaked chloroform cloth
over the mouth and nose. For chloroform to properly be administered it must be
held for roughly ten minutes. To counteract this, it was proposed to use
chloroform in confined spaces. A plan was devised by southern forces to execute
a siege on aboard the USS Monitor.
“The assault was planned for April 11, 1862,”26 which included boarding the
ship, breaking bottles of chloroform in the upper deck, and covering any areas
that the fumes would be able to escape. This plan never came to fruition. The
southerners had short supply of chloroform and it was better used for
administering in surgery on the battlefield. For northerners, it would have far
more feasible for using chloroform as a chemical weapon, but there is no recorded
use during the Civil War.

of these groundbreaking ideas where never implemented into warfare. These ideas
were ahead of their time, but technology couldn’t match the imagination of the
proposers. There were many additional suggested proponents of chemical warfare
that are not mentioned in this paper. Such as arsenic compounds, acids, snuff,
mustard seed (not mustard gas), sulfur, and phosgene, all of which have the
capability of disturbing noxious fumes, bodily harm, and even death. Phosgene
is a choking agent along with chlorine as it was proposed for weaponized use
during the Civil War it never made its way to the battlefield. However, years
later Germany forces used it during WWI “resulting in 1069 casualties and 120
Some of the weapons proposed were developed and built when technology could
match the wit of their developers. During World War I almost all the proponents
were used. Later a shell just as Dr. Jones suggested for the delivery of
hydrogen cyanide was developed for the deadlier compound of sarin. These
ingenious ideas laid the ground work for future scientists to build upon and
develop workable chemical weapons.










Fitzgerald, Gerard J.
“Chemical Warfare and Medical Response During World War I” American

            Journal Of Public Health
98, no. 4 (April 2008): 611-625. Academic
Search Complete,
            EBSCOhost (accessed November 29, 2017).

Jianpu, Wang, and Sten M.
Walther. “Chlorine gas inhalation: mechanisms of injury and

            Treatment.” International
Journal Of Disaster Medicine 2, no. 3 (August 2004): 75-81.

            Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 9, 2017

Benjamin F. 1841. Lamp. 2,039, and issued 1841.

Guy R. Villainous compounds: chemical weapons et
the American Civil War.

            Carbondale: Southern Illinois
University Press, 2015.

G. T. “Defense of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1862, 1863 and 1864.
II.” The

            North American Review 142, no. 355 (1886): 564-71.



            EUTHANASIA, 1933–1945.”
In Confronting the “Good Death”: Nazi Euthanasia on

            Trial, 1945-1953, 19-62. Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado,


Of Medical Science.” The British Medical Journal 1, no.
384 (1868): 452.


Hasegawa, Guy R.
“Proposals for Chemical Weapons during the American Civil War.” Military

173, no. 5 (May 2008): 499-506. Academic
Search Complete, EBSCOhost

Padley, A. P. “Gas: the
greatest terror of the Great War.” Anaesthesia
& Intensive Care 44, (July

            2, 2016): 24-30. Academic
Search Complete, EBSCOhost
(accessed November 29, 2017)

Connor, J T H.
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            ix. MEDLINE
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S. Chauhan, S. Chauhan,
R. D’Cruz, S. Faruqi, K.K. Singh, S. Varma, M. Singh, V. Karthik,

            Chemical warfare agents, In Environmental Toxicology and
Pharmacology, Volume 26,

            Issue 2, 2008, Pages 113-122, ISSN 1382-6689,





1 Fitzgerald, Gerard J., Chemical Warfare and Medical Response During
World War I, in American Journal Of
Public Health 98, No. 4 (April 2008), 611.

2Jianpu, Wang, and Sten M. Walther, Chlorine gas inhalation; mechanisms of
injury and treatment, in International
Journal of Disaster Medicine 2, No. 3 (August 2004), 76.

3 Greenough, Benjamin F. 1841. Lamp. 2,039, and issued

4 Hasegawa, Guy R., Villainous compounds:
chemical weapons et the American Civil War,
in Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2015, 11.

5 Greenough,
Benjamin F. 1841. Lamp. 2,039, and issued 1841.

6Hasegawa, Villainous compounds, 13.

7 Beauregard,
G. T., Defense of Charleston, South
Carolina, in 1862, 1863 and 1864. II, in The North American Review 142,
no. 355, (1886), 571.

8 Beauregard,
G. T., Defense of Charleston), 571.

9 Hasegawa,
Villainous compounds,16.

SOCIALIST EUTHANASIA, 1933–1945, in Confronting
the “Good Death”: Nazi Euthanasia on Trial, 1945-1953, in University Press of Colorado, (2005), 59.

11 Hasegawa,
Villainous compounds, 35

12 Progress Of Medical Science, in The British Medical Journal 1, No.
384 (1868), 452.

13 Hasegawa,
Villainous compounds, 13.

14 Hasegawa,
Guy R., Proposals for Chemical Weapons
during the American Civil War, in
Military Medicine 173, No. 5 (May 2008), 499.

15 Hasegawa, Proposals for Chemical, 173.

16 Hasegawa,
Villainous compounds, 56.

17 Padley, A. P. “Gas: the greatest
terror of the Great War.” Anaesthesia
& Intensive Care 44, (July 2, 2016): 24-30. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost
(accessed November 29, 2017)

18 Padley, A. P. “Gas: the greatest
terror of the Great War.” Anaesthesia
& Intensive Care 44, (July 2, 2016): 24-30. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost
(accessed November 29, 2017)

19 Padley, A. P. “Gas: the greatest
terror of the Great War.” Anaesthesia
& Intensive Care 44, (July 2, 2016): 24-30. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost
(accessed November 29, 2017)

20 Hasegawa, Proposals for Chemical, 501.

21 Hasegawa, Proposals for Chemical, 501.

22Hasegawa, Villainous compounds, 46.

23Hasegawa, Villainous compounds, 53.

24 Connor, J
T H., Chloroform and the Civil War,
in Military Medicine 169, No. 2 (Feb.
2004), vii.

25 Connor, J T H., Chloroform, viii.

26 Hasegawa,
Villainous compounds, 83.’

S. Chauhan, S. Chauhan, R. D’Cruz, S. Faruqi, K.K. Singh, S. Varma, M. Singh,
V. Karthik, Chemical warfare agents, In
Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology, Volume 26, Issue 2, (2008), 121.