Secondly, 1862 saw the creation of the United States Military Railroad. The USMR did not actually take over direct operation of the industry, as was the case a half-century later during World War I, but acted as its own enterprise and utilized private railroads when needed to offer the best tactical advantage for the military. The North fully understood the importance of railroads and the mobility they offered. As Mr. Hankey notes in his article virtually all of the major conflicts fought during the course of the war were at or near important rail junctions. The USMR was under the direction of General Daniel C. McCallum (former general manager of the Erie Railway) and General Herman Haupt (former chief engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad).
These expert railroaders were very effective at putting together a skilled workforce of managers, which oversaw daily operations, as well as regular workers that built and maintained infrastructure. They also proved adept at other endeavors, such as keeping field officers out of everyday affairs allowing for smoother and more efficient operations. While several Southern railroads received significant damage during the war Northern lines were not completely immune either, notably the Baltimore & Ohio. With its main line and many branches situated right along Union and Confederacy lines in the states of Maryland and Virginia (and West Virginia after 1863) the B&O was constantly under attack. At first, the B&O was somewhat of a Southern sympathizer. However, almost immediately after hostilities broke out Confederate militia forces under the command of Colonel Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson laid siege to the company. Over a year they were able to inflict nearly $35 million (current dollars) in damages.
The B&O needed 10 months to repair the destruction and the pride of Baltimore and Maryland became a vivacious and active supporter of the North's efforts. In an attempt to curb the damage the railroad built the first-ever armored rail car which looked a lot like the South's famous Merrimack ironclad warship, accept on wheels! The B&O also played the first major role in the war when, on June 2, 1861 it transported troops from Grafton, Virginia (later West Virginia) to a location about six miles east of the city to capture the town of Phillipi. The speed of the movement caught the Confederates off-guard and further proved the effectiveness of railroads. The South also boasted a handful of battlefield victories thanks to the railroad such as the Battle of Bull Run (also known as the Battle of First Manassas in the South) when General Joe Johnston used the Manassas Gap Railroad to move his troops into position, eventually securing a Confederate victory.
There was also the Battle of Chickamauga when, in early September of 1863, General James Longstreet quickly moved his force of 12,000 men from Virginia to Georgia, bolstering Confederate lines and eventually leading to victory. Here it seems that the South's chief problems lay largely on its belief in unilateral states' rights. As a result there was no central oversight or management of its rail network and by the time it realized this fallacy all hopes for victory had, to a greater extent, been lost. There was also the issue of normal operations whereby the Confederate government believed civilian movements should take precedent to the military. Perhaps the most famous railroading event of the war was the Great Locomotive Chase.
It all began in April of 1862 when disguised Union soldiers stole the General, a Western & Atlantic 4-4-0 American Type, in an attempt to destroy Confederate supply lines. The "Andrews Raid," as it was also known, started at Marietta, Georgia and lasted nearly 91 miles until the train crew was able to catch the locomotive near Ringgold. During the chase the crew used a hand-powered track car as well as the locomotives Yonah, Shorter and Texas before they were finally able to catch the raiders. The 22 Union soldiers attempted to flee after abandoning the General but were soon caught. Interestingly, for their bravery the raiders were awarded the Medal Of Honor by Congress, some posthumously. During the final years of the war Southern railroads were a mess, particularly the Louisville & Nashville which saw the most destruction of any railroad (the L&N, however, was able to rebound relatively quickly).
Civil War Railroad Statistics
Below is an interesting set of statistics concerning Union and Confederate railroad operations during the war.
|419||Number of USMR locomotives.|
|6,330||Total USMR rolling stock.|
|2,105||Mileage operated by the USMR.|
|$10,000||Average cost in the north for a new 4-4-0.|
|6, 0||There were six railroads serving Richmond but not one interchanged with the other.|
|60 Pounds||Average rail weight (per yard) during the Civil War. Today, rail is roughly twice as heavy.|
|220,000: 26,000||The amount of rail produced annually by the North (220,000) and South (26,000) at the start of the war.|
|0||The amount of rail and number of locomotives produced in the South after the war began.|
|4,000: 400||Rail mileage laid annually in the North (4,000) and South (400) during the conflict.|
|$15: $500||Average cost of new cast-iron wheels in the South in 1861 ($15) compared to 1865 ($500).|
Railroads in the Civil War continued to impress at the speed in which people and goods were moved. While the conflict was very hard on the country, expansion and growth continued westward afterwards and railroads were there leading the way. Between 1850 and 1871 the federal government offered more than 170 million acres of western land to railroads in exchange for them opening new routes between California and the Midwest, which would facilitate this growth. And, of course, there was the aforementioned Transcontinental Railroad, which began construction during this time. The CP began building eastward from San Francisco while the UP built westward from Omaha, Nebraska. Crossing mostly open plains and gently rolling hills the UP was able to cover nearly 1,000 miles between Nebraska and Utah before joining the CP in a formal ceremony at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869 thus opening the country's first Transcontinental Railroad. Of course, the CP had a much more difficult journey attempting to build a rail line through two mountain ranges, the Sierras and Rockies.
The Northern Pacific Railway, financed by banker Jay Cooke, also began construction during the decade in 1864, working on a northerly route between Lake Superior at Duluth, Minnesota and Seattle, Washington on the Puget Sound. Building through the very rugged and remote regions of western Montana, northern Idaho and Washington State it took the NP nearly twenty years before opening the line in 1883 (hampered, partially, by the financial Panic of 1873). Finally, two major technological advances came about in the late 1860s, through the early 1870s, although widespread use of the equipment would not occur until 1893 when federal regulations required the devices to be used on all locomotives and cars. First, George Westinghouse's automatic air brake was born in 1869 and Eli Janney's patented his automatic coupler in 1873.
These two devices were so revolutionary that they remain in use today as the most practical and efficient way to stop a train and uncouple cars and locomotives. During the 1860s, despite the war railroads were still able to nearly double their network of mileage and in the 1870s the industry further expanded its reach west. The decade also saw a substantial increase in overall mileage, nearly doubling on its 53,000 network by 1880 with several new routes opened between Chicago and the Northeast such as the B&O and New York Central. Even through track gauges were still prolific and a standard gauge had not yet been decided the decade also saw more cooperation between railroads, particularly in their willingness to exchange freight.
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Railroads In The Civil War