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Stewards of Civil War Railroads – Part I Lincoln

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The decisions made by leaders of the North and South regarding the dispensations of their respective railroads, could arguably be some of the most impactful of the war. Armies on both sides considered railroads critical. But Lincoln and Davis approached the control and stewardship of these vital resources differently. The resulting policies did not equally reflect rational military consideration.

United States Military Railroad 4-4-0 locomotive W.H. Whiton (built by William Mason in 1862) in January 1865 with Abraham Lincoln's presidential car, which later was used as his funeral car.

Above: United States Military Railroad 4-4-0 locomotive W.H. Whiton (built by William Mason in 1862) in January 1865 with Abraham Lincoln’s presidential car, which later was used as his funeral car.
Source: WikicommonsAbraham Lincoln

The need for oversight of the rails came early in the war. Edward Hagerman highlights Federal Quartermaster General Meigs’ complaints in the opening months of the war over the problems of coordination that arose “from civilian control of the railroads.” [i]  In January of 1862, Congress gave Lincoln the authority he needed “to take control whenever public safety warranted it.” [ii]  Lincoln moved decisively, appointing within thirty days Daniel C. McCallum (below) as director of the United States Military Railroads (USMRR).

Daniel C. McCallum (1815 – 1878)’
Photo Source: Wikicommons, Public Domain

Daniel Craig McCallum

In May of 1862, Abraham Lincoln “took formal possession of all railroads.” General McCallum recruited Herman Haupt (below), a “brilliant railroad engineer,” to assume duties as Military Director and Superintendent of the United States Military Railroad. Haupt was given the rank of Colonel and Lincoln gave him broad, albeit frequently challenged, powers.

Henry Haupt (1817 – 1905)
Military Director and Superintendent of the united States Military Railroad

Henry Haupt

In the next post, the action of the South.

You may also be interested in two of my previous posts on Civil War Railroads:

  • Were the North and South Evenly Matched on the Rails?
  • Railroad Generalship (Profiles Herman Haupt)
  • [i] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 63.
    [ii] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 165.

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    Railroad Generalship

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    Following up on yesterday’s post  “Were the North and South Evenly Matched….on the Rails,” which is essentially about railroad management during the American Civil War, I wanted to add some additional information and links that will allow further exploration if you are so inclined.

    Arguably one of the greatest advantages the North had was in one Herman Haupt (1817 – 1905), a “brilliant railroad engineer” recruited in May of 1862 by General D. C. McCallum to assume duties as Military Director and Superintendent of the USMRR (United States Military Railroad). Haupt was given the rank of Colonel and Lincoln gave him broad, albeit frequently challenged, powers.[i]

    Henry Haupt

    Photo Above: A.J. Russell, photographer. Gen’l H. Haupt, ca. 1862 or 1863. LOT 9209, no. 21 LC-DIG-ppmsca-10341
    Photo Below: Haupt’s torpedo for quickly wrecking wooden bridges CALL NUMBER: LOT 9209, no. 57 [P&P]

    More than any other, Haupt should receive credit for shaping and building the USMRR. He developed general guidelines for using the railroads to provide supplies for the Army of the Potomac. During the fall of 1862, Haupt experimented with methods of destroying and repairing railroads and rail briHaupt's torpedo for quickly wrecking wooden bridgesdges. He developed a torpedo that could destroy a standard Howe Truss bridge, a U-shaped device that could quickly and easily destroy rails by twisting them, and new and faster ways to lay and repair track. Haupt and his engineers also experimented with new ways of bridge construction. As a result, preassembled bridge trestles were mass-produced and then transported in boxcars to areas where bridges needed repair or replacement. The rebuilding of bridges and track after Confederate raids was a never-ending process. Haupt also developed ambulance cars with surgeons and special equipment that increased the chances of survival for the wounded.[ii]

    This quote is from the report summary of the archaeological dig of the Alexandria, Virginia United States Military Railroad Station, a fascinating look at one of the busiest sites of the war.

    By the war’s end, there were 10,000 men in the United States Military Railroad service. Many were ex-slaves.


    Photo Below: Military railroad operations in northern Virginia: men using levers for loosening rails. REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-90111

    men using levers for loosening rails

    Dr. Christopher R. Gabel (OSU and Command and General Staff College) has written an interesting piece titled “Railroad Generalship: Foundation of Civil War Strategy” available here.

    A bibliographical listing of works dealing with railroads during the Civil War (and other American conflicts) is available here.

    © 2007 L. Rene Tyree

    [i, ii] THE BONTZ SITE (44AX103) THE UNITED STATES MILITARY RAILROAD STATION (44AX105) Report Summary by Shirley Scalley, accessed online 1/20/2008 at http://oha.alexandriava.gov/archaeology/pdfs/bontz8.pdf