The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America William G. Thomas III, Yale University Press, 296 pages, 54 illustrations and maps, notes, index, bibliography, $30.00
Beginning with Frederick Douglass's escape from slavery in 1838 on the railroad, and ending with the driving of the golden spike to link the transcontinental railroad in 1869, this book charts a critical period of American expansion and national formation, one largely dominated by the dynamic growth of railroads and telegraphs. William G. Thomas brings new evidence to bear on railroads, the Confederate South, slavery, and the Civil War era, based on groundbreaking research in digitized sources never available before. The Iron Way revises our ideas about the emergence of modern America and the role of the railroads in shaping the sectional conflict.
Both the North and the South invested in railroads to serve their larger purposes, Thomas contends. Though railroads are often cited as a major factor in the Union's victory, he shows that they were also essential to the formation of "the South" as a unified region. He discusses the many—and sometimes unexpected—effects of railroad expansion and proposes that America's great railroads became an important symbolic touchstone for the nation's vision of itself.
William G. Thomas is professor of history and the John and Catherine Angle Chair in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He taught history at the University of Virginia, and, as director of the Virginia Center for Digital History, created digital projects on slavery, the Civil War, segregation, and civil rights. He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Railroads and the Making of Modern America website.