Civil War Rails: How Railroads Changed The American Civil War, John P. Hankey, Trains: The Magazine of Railroading, pp.24-35, 16 illus, map, charts, March 2011.
Hankey labels the American Civil War as the first industrialized war and the first war in which railroads and telegraphs were central to the outcome of the war. With the Souths defensive strategy, the Confederacy based is survival on innovative tactics supported by active and timely logistics. To win against the Union, the Confederacy had to not lose in the short run and secure a peace before the long run began. Hankey states that the success was not contingent to the fact that the South had less than half of the railroad mileage which the Federals had. Neither was the fact that Southern railroads were not networked was required for a successful drive for independence.
The Confederacy, Hankey states, did not grasp and hence ignored the strategic and tactical usefulness of railroads. The Rebels did not strengthen its industrial base, nor train its mechanics, nor integrate railroads into the planning of essential services. This failure of planing was generated by the same ideological and political convictions that were based upon states rights and a feudal labor system. The Southern way of life that led to secession seemed to preclude the national leaders from "forging the kind of railroad network that would enable the Confederacy to prevail." [p. 24]
By contrast the Federals' sharp awareness of the central planning needed to harness the iron horse for the preservation of the Union is revealed in two decisions made in 1862. The authorization of a transcontinental railroad and creation of a framework for the Military Railroad department. The secession of the deep South in early 1861 freed the Federal Congress on July 1 1862 to designate the route of the transcontinental railroad between Council Bluffs, Iowa and Sacramento, California. Congressional acts in the same year authorized federal invention and partial control of individual railroads and telegraph property. With the Union at stake, the mixing private enterprise with profits, and Federal needs army personal was the key to its preservation. It also helped that two the general manager of the Erie Railroad and the chief engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad were commissioned as army generals.
Daniel C. McCallum, the general manager, and Herman Haupt, the engineer, integrated the railroads, the telegraph and army logistics is such a fashion that the U.S. field officers did not have to meddle with railroad workers. These two men created a military organization that brought together railroad professionals, army professionals, railroad laborers and army non-commissioned soldiers and achieved what appeared at the time be to miracles.
Hankey cites the first Confederate misstep was Jackson's April and May 1861 demolition and theft of the Baltimore and Ohio property. The company was a private enterprise and both Marylanders and Virginians employed in the Baltimore, Maryland to Wheeling, Virginia [no West Virginia until 1863] railroad lost their incomes. Jackson damaged the B&O to the tune of $35 million [2010 dollars] with additional damages to the local economies of secession friendly Maryland counties and loyal Virginian counties. Certainly it may have begun the slide out of the Confederacy of the counties of Virginia's northern panhandle.
Confederate successes were forthcoming. Moving Johnson's troops to Manassas in July 1861, Bragg's 32,000 from Mississippi to Tennessee in the summer of 1862, Longstreet's corps from Richmond to Georgia in September 1863 are notable successes. Yet the Federals matched these efforts in and exceeded them in the delivery of supplies to the battlefronts. Hankey cites the movement of railroad cars packed in the north, shipped to Washington, D.C., moved across the Long Bridge and to the Alexandria docks, then onto Potomac River barges, sailed to Aquia Creek, Fredericksburg or City Point and unloaded within a few miles of the Federal army.
Hankey discusses how the U.S. Military Railroad department grew with their mission and and how Confederate leaders failed to complete their mission. He covers the essential railroad numbers of the conflict such as the six railroads serving Richmond. Notable Southern zeros include the number or railroads that interchanged with each other in Richmond, the effective annual production of rail in the South after the war began, and the number of new locomotives completed in the South during the war. In another chart, Hankey lists Civil War railroad turning points. In a marvelous color map, Hankey shows the 317 railroads in the U.S in 1861, their routes, and their gauges. Though there are no citations in the essay and there are some generalization that may be contested, Hankey sets forth a fine overview of the terms and conditions of how railroads influenced the strategy and tactics, the limits and possibilities, and the outcome of the American Civil War.
Diorama Image Source: Diorama modeled on Civil War era photographs. Diorama located in Alexandria Virginia Historical Society. Diorama model maker is Bernard Kaminski.