Is there a way to "freeze" weapons, transportation, and communications technology at an American Civil War era level for at least 200 years?

Basically, in the year 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War, a massive meteor shower leads to dozens of large asteroids and comets impacting into and around the continents of Eurasia and Africa. This leads to the death of 98% percent of the inhabitants of these land masses, and the survivors are widely scattered, and nearly all die within 2 to 5 years.

The only continents that are spared are North and South America, Antarctica, and Australia. However, due to the water in the comets, sea levels worldwide rise 750 meters, inundating much of the land. 5 years after the meteor shower, 75% of the inhabitants of the untouched continents are dead, from famine, rising sea levels, disease, war, etc. Within 40 years, the last vestiges of control by the United States, Britain, Mexico, or any South American country have all but disappeared, and the ballence of power has shifted to several widely scattered city-states, each holding dominion over the surrounding land.

So basically I was wondering if it is reasonable to freeze the level of technology at civil war era until at least 200 years after the asteroid strikes. To sum up, we have the Americas, and Australia as the only remaining habitable continents, 75% of the original population is dead, and city-states have emerged as the dominant powers.

Any feedback on my post is welcome.

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    $\begingroup$ There is no way to bring sufficient water from outer space to raise the sea levels 750 meters and not boil off the oceans. Every kilogram of water coming from outer space brings at least 32 MJ (7,600 kcal) of kinetic energy, likely about 50% more. This energy is sufficient to boil 12 kg of water. Since the average depth of the ocean is only 3.6 km, bringing enough water to raise the sea level 0.75 km brings at least enough kinetic energy to boil the oceans twice over. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Less people - less wars. Less wars - less need for improvement. More problems with nature - more time needed to put into surviving. Also you killed most of the people who invented something. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ yeah big problem with that sea level rise, 750 meters is going to take on the order of 10^6 km^3 of water (for comparison the volume of the ocean is 1.3 x 10^9. You're talking about something the size of a moon crashing into the Earth. $\endgroup$
    – Josh King
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP but wouldn't all of that moisture still be in the environment? Even if you managed to boil all of the ocean, wouldn't that result in years of heavy rains that would cause the crazy flooding OP is looking for? $\endgroup$
    – scohe001
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ @scohe001: Yes, of course, the water would eventually condense, come down as rain, as refill the oceans. There would be no humans (or any other apes, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians or fish) alive, though, so the level of technology becomes undefined. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 16:12

3 Answers 3


You can't halt technological progress, but you can alter it to some extent and slow it down.

For example with your freeze of weapons I assume you want people to keep using line formations, slow firing weapons creating lots of smoke.

Alright, firstly muzzleloaders are going to be obsolete, because they were obsolete long before the civil war broke out. Why were they used? Because they were the easiest to produce, were on hand, breach loading tech admittably had some funks still to be worked out, the higher ups were worried soldiers would waste ammo if they could reload too quickly (ammo was expensive)... Still given the time passed in your world that stuff should be fixed.

Same with bullets, people had the idea of modern ammunition even if I do believe it was still mostly paper cartridges such as those used in the Chassepot and Dreyse gun. Still give it a bit more time and cased amunition will still be a thing.

How to keep some of that stuff around? Simply don't have people invent smokeless powders. Black powder forced a lot of limitations upon guns and tactics. It's less powerful, creates a lot of smoke and fouls the barrel.

Under these conditions firearm tech is essentially frozen. Gatling guns are the only rapid firing weapons that would be viable, semi-automatics are possible, but good luck seeing through the smoke after three shots. There's a theory this is one of the reasons people still used line formations in the civil war, since it was the only way to ensure hitting the enemy after the smoke screen gets created.

Edit: Oleg makes a good point about the effects of bullets and rifling. Even without smokeless powder, due to more rapid reloading and higher accuracy obtained through better ammunition and rifling, the line formation will still fall out of favour after a while.

You can sort of tell that the era of line formation was definitely over with the Chassepot already. However I would say it depends on who you're fighting. Colonial troops often used formations against the African tribes. I think it's highly likely that in your post-apocalyptic world there will be some groups that will be underdeveloped in terms of firearms and against whom these sort of tactics would still work. The thing that made line formations absolutely idiotic were machine pistols and machine guns, neither of which are possible with blackpowder (and even if they were imagine the smoke screen that would cause.)

That said the rest of my post should still hold up well.

With that horse cavalry also remains viable. The death of horse cavalry were machine guns and machine pistols both which won't be handy to utilize. That should keep the general military tactics and formations around.

The same could be done for brown powders and smokeless powders in the navy.

As for transportation, simplest thing I can think off is making oil hard to get. Coal engines are less efficient than combustion engines in boats and cars and airplanes and such. Cars were honestly pretty shitty in our world for a very long time and too expensive to get here in Europe until like the 60's. Lots of stuff happened between the 60's and the civil war. One or more things have probably been derailed due to 75% of the population being death. Though some armored cars will probably still find their way to the battlefield.

As for communication...simplest thing I can think off is simply making very difficult. So long as wireless communication isn't invented landlines are very easy to sabotage and if there's a lot of wild wasteland between city states a lot of things could sabotage telephone poles and such.

Beware that some stuff will alter histoy pretty drastic. For example I can see the air balloon maybe getting more popular in your world than it did in ours, since airplane development would be hindered. (There was a working steamplane though.)

You won't be able to keep it completely Civil war level technology, but you can get civil war-ish technology.

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    $\begingroup$ Two issues: 1) it's pretty much impossible to have a somewhat decent plane on a coal engine. 2) Changes to military formations where caused by changes in military tech. So, an enemy, having the "merciful Mauser" bullets, and the military, keeping the US Civil war military formations, basically means an immediate defeat of said military in the first battle. In the next one the generals might have caught on. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I changed my post a bit to nuance a few things. The plane would of course have major limitations, hence why I think airships might see a big take off in this post-apocalyptic world. As for the line formations I nuanced my statement a bit. 'Modern' army vs modern army would indeed be a slaughter, but if a 'modern' city state were to fight against technologically inferior foes the line formation might still hold up. They did fairly well in for example the Zulu wars, the Indian wars,... $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 20:21

You can assume that as long as people survive, innovation never stops, no matter what the conditions are. It's the kind of inventions that changes with life conditions of people.

Examples of our own past include:

  • Seasonal food scarcity resulted in many different methods of food preservation
  • Religious and cultural ideas resulted in different art styles like Classical antiquity or Gothic
  • Countless conflicts lead to the invention and improvement of ever better weapons
  • The need to decode encrypted messages during WWII resulted in the invention of computer technology To be precise, it resulted in one of two independant inventions of computer technology by Alan Turing and Konrad Zuse respectively

So what would people invent after such an apocalyptic event?

  • If many of them are dying from famines, they would invent new ways to process plants or animals that were considered "inedible" before.
  • If established materials are no longer available, people would find substitutes. Most often you need to adapt a technology if you want to use different materials for it. Those adaptations would sooner or later lead to innovation.
  • If modern technologies (like firearms) cannot be produced anymore, people would combine older ideas (like a crossbow) with the knowledge of modern technology and create something new.

Those innovations might be slower than in our globalized world, but they would not stop.


Not possible without vigorous handwaving, or relaxing the "freezing" requirement.

Even without touching the cause of the calamity (heavy ice bombardment), freezing technology in industrial era is impossible. Technology is like a steam engine that picked up speed and there is no way of stopping it without crashing. In mid XIX century we had mines and factories, railroads and steamboats, and many of the items were already mass produced.

If the manufacturing base that supports mid XIX century technology is still operational, progress would inevitable go further. Even without major inventions, the nature of mass production implies continuous incremental improvement of tools and products.

If the manufacturing base that supports mid XIX century technology becomes non-functional, then society would fall below the industrial level. They may still have working firearms and locomotives, but repairing them would become an increasingly difficult task. This "little dark age" may last 200 years (as you want), and towards the end of it the factories would be rebuilt and the world will resume its technological advance.


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