The idea of chemical warfare did not originate in World War I. Killing troops with poison gas was proposed 50 years earlier during the American Civil War. Another fearsome weapon that would slaughter men in droves in the 20th Century – the machine gun – was conceived and designed during the Civil War.
The Union had to take the offensive to defeat the Confederacy and face the forbidding prospect of attacking entrenched enemies. One estimate was that the attackers would lose three men for every defender they killed. Many suggestions were made to help Federals alter those odds in their favor. Some ideas were absurd, but offered a grim preview of future wars in which no weapon, however terrible, would be ruled out.