What Experts Say About US Military and Experimental Entrenching Tools: Civil War to WW1

Joseph Turner, author of The Last Bright Blades, writes:

The two copies I ordered arrived in a timely manner and in excellent condition. I am extremely pleased with this latest work in all respects. As a long time collector and ardent historian I have come to appreciate publications that offer in-depth information, clear photographs, smooth transition from text to supporting documents and some form of chronological arrangement that is easy to follow.
Your latest book is a true “meat and potatoes” effort that should delight any serious military historian. The mechanical aspects of the books are also of a high order, good typeface choice, glossy pages that allow for excellent clarity of photographs (which are a delight in and of themselves), fine binding and jacket design. I have read right through the book as a moderate speed reader and can now settle down to a leisurely and thorough read for the details and the adventure of discovery.
You folks are to be congratulated for such an excellent contribution to the field of collecting military equipment as well as an interesting insight into the workings of our military system in days long past. In fine an excellent work in all respects. I wish you nothing but success in the sales of this book and no doubt a possible sequel would be nice.

Keith E. Gibson, Director, Colonel, Virginia Military Institute Museum System writes:

The copy of US Military and Experimental Entrenching Tools: Civil War to WW1 arrived today. Thank you for your generosity.
I am most impressed with how you have managed to take a functional, utilitarian instrument like entrenching tools and create a work of scholarly art! The photography is outstanding. (I admire your creative color coding of the pictured pieces!) Just a casual scan of the book makes me want to know more. Thank you for this great addition to the material culture reference shelf.

Roderick Gainer, Curator of Arlington National Cemetery writes:

Donald Hartman, the author of The U.S. Krag Bayonets: History, Variations, Modifications (D & D Blade Research, 2009) has written another book, this one on an important but overlooked subject, the implements used by soldiers to create field works. The quest for a reliable, easily carried entrenching tool often proved to be Quixotic: there were dozens of different patterns tested, as well as patents granted. The development of these tools is an important story, and Hartman has written the standard reference for these often forgotten implements.
The use of field works, especially later in the conflict, emerged as a major tactical element on the Civil War battlefield. Using simple tools, often improvised, soldiers created impressive works very quickly. It many cases, these field works dominated the battlefield, and became a part of tactical doctrine. An age old question then rearose: should a designated digging implement be added to the soldier’s load? Since the ancient era, there existed specialized entrenching tools. However, these tended to be special issue items, handed out as needed under the watchful eyes of engineer officers. During the American Revolution, a dearth of proper entrenching tools led to problems in a number of important siege operations. The Civil War especially reinforced the need for a man-packed entrenching tool in the minds of many officers developing doctrine.
US Military and Experimental Entrenching Tools is a fascinating look at the development and issuance of these often forgotten items. The book is divided into four major chapters. The first is a needed albeit brief history of the “serious disconnect between the recognition of the value of entrenchments and the availability of portable, appropriate, and accessible tools with which the soldier could construct hasty entrenchments.” The second chapter is a review of the important Boards of Officers that recommended various elements for field trial. The third chapter, profusely illustrated, details single functioning tools. Chapter four addressed multi-function tools. A detailed, well rounded bibliography rounds out the book.
The items detailed within stagger the imagination in their differences and functionality. They include such legends as the Dahlgren Bowie-Knife Bayonet and the Rice Trowel series. These implements are well known in U.S. arms lore. The book also introduces a number of dubious designs such as Blake’s “Improvement in Combined Gun-Stocks and Spades” and “Hartman’s Improved Entrenching Tool.” The thought of using a rifle stock as a storage tube for a rusty and filthy entrenching tool, introducing moisture into the wood every time item is returned, boggles the mind. Likewise, the idea of using a soldier’s most important implement—his weapon—as a shovel handle must rank as one of the worst ideas in arms history. On a more positive note, it is interesting that in some cases the Army came up with the right idea the first time: the Benham Shovel of the Civil War era looks markedly similar to many later designs, proving you can indeed reinvent the wheel when it comes to simple functionality.
The book is especially valuable for the student of arms because of the excellence of its graphics. The images are high resolution, and special emphasis is placed on recording markings. The images background colors are also standardized by time period, an ingenious method for illustrating these fascinating items.
Hartman’s prose is engaging and crisp, and he does an admirable job illuminating an often murky and under looked aspect of American military material culture. The book is very well written and its all- important illustrations are first rate. Hartman has consulted various repositories, both in and outside of the Army’s vast collections, to find the finest and most unique specimens. As he did in his first book, Hartman also includes a photo of the arms scholars and archivists who helped him with the project. US Military and Experimental Entrenching Tools is a must have and badly needed reference book for this often understudied subject, and one that will be the standard for decades to come.

Roderick Gainer is the Curator of Arlington National Cemetery. He has worked in U.S. Army historical collections for over twenty years. Prior to his work at Arlington, he worked with the Army’s core collection of typographical items at Fort Belvoir.