The study of trench warfare 1864-1865 is the final frontier of Civil War military history. Nearly every battle and every skirmish from 1861 to 1863 has been minutely examined; historians desperate for new topics to work on have prepared biographies of most of the generals and are now working on the colonels. A few intrepid historians have tackled the events of the final year and a half of the war, including both campaign studies--the authoritative works of Gordon Rhea come immediately to mind--and battle monographs. A few, most notably Earl Hess with his trilogy, have delved into the topic of fortifications on the battlefield.
Yet success has been mixed, and mostly disappointing. Historians trained in primarily textual sources and used to mentally maneuvering troops like playing pieces on the battlefield have generally been unable to master the complexities and nuances of trench warfare. The technical barriers alone are significant. One cannot learn about the rapid evolution of fortification technology by reading a military manual. Indeed, the most important technology that made trench warfare possible, the "rifle pit" (in its various forms), was not even taught at West Point and did not appear in the standard textbook/manual used by both sides, Dennis Hart Mahan's ubiquitous Field Fortification. Similarly, the traditional tools of the historian do not reveal the full use of fortifications and the sheer amount of digging that was done. Reports and personal accounts are incomplete and often garbled; the maps of the battlefield, even those prepared by professional surveyors under peacetime conditions, make mistakes and sometimes leave much out. The post-war surveys of the siege of Petersburg, the most comprehensive cartographic record available, contain significant inaccuracies and depict a fraction of the military construction performed there.
"Throwing up earthworks to prevent a night attack," drawing by A R. Waud. [DRWG/US - Waud, no. 211 (A size)]