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On General Grenville M. Dodge

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Peter A. Hansen

Grenville_Dodge

One of my readers is researching General Grenville M. Dodge and asked for information. I, of course, turned promptly to my buddy Peter A. Hansen who knows more about rail history than anyone I know. Pete writes for most of the major rail history magazines, consults with museums and rail companies, speaks regularly on rail history, and is currently editor of Railroad History, the scholarly journal of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society. Pete has also been an on-camera source for CBS News and NBC News. More about Pete here.

Fun Fact: It’s an indisputable fact that Railroad History is the oldest (and still the most scholarly) rail history journal, but it is also believed to be the oldest industrial heritage journal of any kind in the U.S.

The information below is all Pete’s.

“You’ve seen Dodge many times, though you may not have known it. He appears at the center of what’s arguably the most famous photograph in American history (below). Two men on the ground are shaking hands; Dodge is the one on the right.

Golden Spike Ceremony

Golden Spike ceremony; 16-G-99-1-1, Still Picture Records; Photographs and other Graphic Materials; Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture; Record Group 16; National Archives.

Thomas C. Durant

Thomas C. Durant

Dodge was born in Danvers, Mass. in 1831, and educated at New Hampshire’s Durham Academy and Vermont’s Norwich University.  Upon receiving his engineering degree, he did what many ambitious young engineers did in the 1850s:  He went to work for a railroad.  He started with the Illinois Central, and later went to the Chicago & Rock Island and the Mississippi & Missouri.  It was during his service to the latter two roads that he met Thomas C. Durant, who would later become the driving force behind the Union Pacific, the eastern half of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.

Abraham Lincoln

Dodge’s relationship with Lincoln stemmed from a chance 1859 encounter on the front porch of the Pacific House hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Lincoln was in town to inspect some real estate that had been offered as collateral for a loan requested by a friend, and he was also due to make a speech there.  (He wasn’t yet an officially-declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, but he was at least considering it.)  Dodge had just returned from a surveying expedition in Nebraska’s Platte Valley, seeking a route for an eventual Pacific railroad.  Lincoln, a frontiersman by birth, was intensely interested in the subject of internal improvements, and particularly in a line to California.  During their two-hour meeting, Lincoln did most of the listening, and Dodge, the talking.  “By his kindly ways,” Dodge would recall, “[he] soon drew from me all I knew of the country west, and the results of my reconnoisances. [sic]  As the saying is, he completely ‘shelled my woods,’ getting all the secrets that were later to go to my employers.”

A few years later, when President Lincoln needed impartial advice on the Pacific Railroad, the greatest non-military undertaking of his administration (or indeed, in all of American history, up to that point), he turned to Dodge.  Apart from his unquestioned abilities, it may have been Dodge’s relationship with Lincoln that made him a favorite of Sherman and Grant.

Dodge began the war inauspiciously enough, as colonel of the Fourth Iowa infantry regiment.  He was to make his mark at Pea Ridge in early 1862, where he sustained multiple minor wounds and had three horses shot from under him.  He was promoted to brigadier general in April of that year, and was commanded to rebuild the Mobile & Ohio Railroad between Corinth, Miss., and Columbus, Ky.  Despite continual harassment by Nathan Bedford Forrest, he got the job done by October.

His performance did not go unnoticed.  Grant’s chief of staff, John Rawlins, sent for him that month, and he was given a divisional command with the Army of Tennessee.  He became something of a spymaster during the Vicksburg campaign, where he also covered Grant’s left during the final stages.

Brig. General Grenville M. Dodge circa 1863

It’s also worth noting that Lincoln sent for Dodge during the Vicksburg siege, seeking his advice on several matters related to the Pacific Railroad Act.  In particular, the Act had authorized the president to name the eastern terminus of the line, and Lincoln wanted to hear more about Council Bluffs.  Also, certain provisions of the 1862 Act had scared private investors away from the project:  Lincoln sought Dodge’s advice on how to redress them, but ultimately rejected Dodge’s advice on the finance question.  Dodge thought the government should simply build the railroad itself;  Lincoln favored a revised Pacific Railroad Act in which government bonds would take second position to private issues – a reversal from the original Act.  Lincoln’s view prevailed in Congress, and a second Pacific Railroad Act was passed in 1864.  Lincoln did follow Dodge’s advice about Council Bluffs, however, and to this day, the city is Milepost 0 on the Union Pacific’s line west from the Missouri River.

Grenville Dodge

Dodge went on leave after Vicksburg, and Durant lobbied him vigorously to resign his commission and return to railroading.  Durant saw an opportunity in the young engineer for unparalleled Washington influence, and offered him the generous salary of $5,000.  Nonetheless, Dodge remained in uniform for the rest of the war, though he would never again attain the distinction of the early campaigns.  He served under Sherman during the siege of Atlanta, where a bullet fractured his skull, after which he was effectively out of the war.

Incidentally, Dodge’s papers can be found at the Iowa State Department of History and Archives in Des Moines.  Do take his writings with a grain of salt:  Dodge was not above embellishing his record.  His home in Council Bluffs is now a museum, and it’s well worth a visit.  While you’re in town, you might also check out the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, which tells the story of the first transcontinental railroad, and of Dodge’s role in it.
Two additional footnotes:

  • One of the perks of being a railroad construction engineer, especially in virgin territory, was the ability to name places.  Thus, the highest point on the first transcontinental line was at Sherman, Wyo., 8013 feet above sea level.  Some 120 miles west, another Wyoming town bears the name of Rawlins.
  • Some of Dodge’s history with Lincoln is recounted in my February 2009 Trains magazine feature, ‘The Rail Splitter and the Railroads.’”

Many thanks to Pete for the information above!

For more on Grenville Dodge, I recommend:

Railroad Generalship: Foundations of Civil War Strategy

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I ran across an excellent monograph yesterday by Dr. Christopher R. Gabel titled “Railroad Generalship: Foundations of Civil War Strategy.” It is available in its entirety on the Command and General Staff College’s Combined Arms Research Library here. It includes maps and illustrations.

The following is the foreward by Jerry D. Morelock , Colonel, Field Artillery and Director of the Combat Studies Institute.

“According to an old saying, “amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics.” any serious student of the military profession will know that logistics constantly shape military affairs and sometimes even dictate strategy and tactics. This excellent monograph by Dr. Christopher Gable shows that the appearance of the steam-powered railroad had enormous implications for military logistics, and thus for strategy, in the American Civil War. Not surprisingly, the side that proved superior in “railroad generalship,” or the utilization of the railroads for military purposes, was also the side that won the war.”

Gabel provides some astonishing statistics which illustrate why railroads challenged traditional strategic direction during the Civil War. He contends that the net effect of “the advent of the steam-powered railroad” was a boost in logistical output by at least a factor of ten. The impact on strategy in the Civil War was staggering. “Most notably, the railroad increased enormously the geographical scale of military operations.” Armies got larger. Sherman’s offensive campaign used 100,000 men and 35,000 animals. His supply line consisted of a single-track railroad extending 473 miles from Atlanta to his main supply base at Louisville. Sherman estimated that this rail line did the work of 36,800 wagons and 220,800 mules!”

Civil War Wagons

Civil War Wagons

For those of you really into military strategy, Gabel provides a simple yet effective illustration of  “interior lines” and “exterior lines” and why railroads sometimes helped and other times hindered Civil War strategists who tried to use Jomini/Napoleonic concentration on “interior lines” strategy.

Regular followers of Wig Wags will know that I’ve posted on this fascinating topic before. See the page, Civil War Railroads here.

Highly recommend.

Christopher R. Gabel, “Railroad Generalship: Foundations of Civil War Strategy.” http://www-cgsc.army.mil/carl/resources/csi/gabel4/gabel4.asp#org, Accessed: May 24, 2009.

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Nightly News video : Railroads woven into presidential history

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NBC Nightly News ran this piece tonight. My buddy Peter Hansen (above)  is interviewed toward the end. His clip was filmed here in Kansas City behind the headquarters of Kansas City Southern Railway next to what is known as the Harry Truman Car. That would make his second national news program in a week or so. Not bad! See his contributions in my popular series titled Civil War Railroads here.

If the video below doesn’t play, click here or on Pete’s image above.

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more about “Nightly News video : Railroads woven …“, posted with vodpod

"The Rail Splitter and the Railroads"

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trainsfeb2009RUN don’t walk to your nearest bookstore or library to read the cover story of the February issue of Trains Magazine, “The Rail Splitter and the Railroads,” by Peter A. Hansen. This terrific article, written by one of the country’s preeminent rail historians, is receiving numerous accolades. Highly recommend for those interested in 19th century America and the Civil War era.

For those of you who are regular Wig Wags Blog readers, you’ll recall that Pete contributed to my  Civil War Railroads series here. If you’re a CBS Sunday Morning fan, and caught the show yesterday, you may have seen Pete interviewed by Rita Braver as a part of the story titled AMERICANA: Trains as Art. Pete took Sunday Morning to Kansas City’s “triple crossing,” as well as to the renovated, grand old Union Station.

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Railroad Historian Inteview – Peter A. Hansen – 12/4

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My buddy Peter Hansen, who contributed to my series of posts on Civil War railroads here, will be interviewed on the radio program Up to Date Thursday, December 4th from 11 AM – Noon Central Time about the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art special exhibit of Art in the Age of Steam: Europe, America and the Railway, 1830-1960. (I’m hoping we can finagle a personal tour with Pete as guide.) Of note in Pete’s bio below, (which I’ll admit I snagged from KCUR’s website in hopes that they’d appreciate the publicity), is a heads up about a story he’s written for Trains on Lincoln and the railroads. It’s well worth the read when it comes out next year.

Image: Pierre Fix-Masseau, French (1905 - 1994). Exactitude. 1932. Color Lithograph, 39 1/2 x 24 1/2 inches (99.7 x 61.6 cm.) Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Modernism Collection. Gift of Norwest Bank Minnesota.

11:00 am – Noon, Thursday, December 4, 2008

More than any industry, railroads have made Kansas City a regional metropolis. The story of railroading in this area is a richly human one, populated by important and visionary figures like Octave Chanute, Fred Harvey, and Arthur Stilwell.The industry continues to thrive today, thanks largely to its inherent fuel efficiency, making railroads a green option for the 21st century.  But how – and where – did the train industry begin in Kansas City? Today Steve Kraske talks with Peter Hansen, editor of Railroad History, the academic journal of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society.  They’ll discuss how railroads impacted Kansas City – how trains permanently changed the land, and the way that people and goods traveled over it. We’ll also talk with Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art executive director Marc WilsonArt in the Age of Steam: Europe, America and the Railway, 1830-1960 about the museum’s special exhibit of .  The exhibit, on display through January 18th, features more than 100 paintings, prints, drawings and photographs drawn from 64 museums and private collections.

Art in the Age of Steam is the most wide-ranging exhibition ever assembled of American and European works of art responding to the drama of the railroad, from the earliest days when steam trains churned across the landscape through the romance of the Victorian era to the end of the steam era in the 1960s.

Peter A. Hansen is the editor of Railroad History, the academic journal of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, and his work also appears frequently in Trains and Classic Trains magazines.  His next Trains cover story will appear in the February 2009 issue.  Titled The Rail Splitter and the Railroads, it was done at the behest of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission in honor of the 16th president’s 200th birthday. Pete was a contributor to the Encyclopedia of North American Railroads, published by encycthe Indiana University Press. He is currently research assistant to Bill Withuhn, the transportation curator at the Smithsonian Institution, on an engineering study of American steam locomotive technology.

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For more information about the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s exhibit Art in the Age of Steam click here.