Scholarly Communications Project

"Where Youth and Laughter Go:" Trench Warfare from Petersburg to the Western Front.


Richard H. Hephner

Master's Thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Virginia Tech in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

Master of Arts




James I. Robertson Jr. , Chair
Hayward Farrar
Steven Soper

April 17, 1997
Blacksburg, Virginia


The study of soldiers' experience is important to understanding the effect that wars have on society. In the latter part of the 19th century the experience of warfare changed due to advances in weapons technology. The defensive tactic of trench warfare gained new importance. The most prolific use of trench warfare occured on the Western Front in the First World War, but it was during the siege of Petersburg in the American Civil War that extensive trenches were first used with technologically advanced weapons. By comparing the siege of Petersburg with the Western Front, it is clear that similar conditions elicited similar emotional reactions from soldiers. The most common reactions were fraternization and war neurosis. Fraternization was more prevelant during the siege of Petersburg than at other times during the war. Fraternization was also common on the Western Front. The reasons for this vary, but are all linked to the nature of trench warfare. War neurosis was also caused by the conditions of the trenches. It was a bigger problem at Petersburg and on the Western Front than it was for soldiers in other conflicts. Trench warfare created these emotional reactions.

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