Stewards of Civil War Railroads – Part III

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This post completes the series, Stewards of Civil War Railroads. Read Part I here and Part II here.

Group of the Construction Corps U.S. Military Railroads with working tools, etc., Chattanooga, Tennessee

Above: Group of the Construction Corps U.S. Mil. R. Rds., with working tools, etc., Chattanooga, Tennessee
Courtesy of Library of Congress: LC-USZ62-62364

Millett and Maslowski posit that President Abraham Lincoln did not have Jefferson Davis’ sensitivity about government interference with railroads. The evidence supports the point and also suggests that Davis’ hands-off approach expanded to other areas under his purview including signals and communications. Whether he was afflicted with chronic indecisiveness or was bowing to the perceived whims of a public unreceptive to “big government” is open for discussion but as in many things, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Regardless, it is clear that rational military considerations were not the sole concern in shaping the South’s military policies and programs. Had they been so, military needs would have received higher priority and the events of the war may have flowed differently.

Above: Lincoln and McClellan

The impact of the decision making processes in the Lincoln and Davis administrations and the respective Congresses as regards those issues impacting the military is indeed a fascinating one and worthy of continued analysis and review. Clearly the social, economic, and political nuances of the North versus the South had much to do with the directions taken within each section. But one is left to wonder whether the leadership qualities of Lincoln and Davis, including the ability to be decisive, allowed the North to more frequently follow a path guided by rational military reason.

The engine

Above: The engine “Firefly” on a trestle of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
 

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Stewards of Civil War Railroads – Part II Davis

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This post continues from Part I, here.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis (above) and the Confederate Congress, by contrast, were reluctant to wrestle control of the railroads away from civilian owners. This was consistent with a laissez faire pattern exhibited by Davis on a number of issues involving civilian commercial interests and may have been a response to the populace’s opposition to overbearing centralized government. The consequences were dire for Lee. In the winter of 1862, he found his Army of Northern Virginia completely reliant on its communications. [i]

Pocotaligo

Above: Pocotaligo, South Carolina - Railroad depot center of image surrounded by rough sketch of soldiers and covered wagons. Circa: 1865
Medium: 1 drawing on tan paper : pencil, black ink wash, and Chinese white ; 14.7 x 21.4 cm. (sheet).
Source: Library of Congress Ref: LC-USZ62-14306 (b&w film copy neg.)

With the mobility, indeed the survival, of the army dependent on the efficient use of the railroads, the railroad owners responded with an assertion of their individual rights. They failed to cooperate. Government shipments were accorded low priority. The railroads over which the animals’ feed had to be transported refused to use the space for bulk fodder. The breakdown of the railroad system led to a crisis in the supply of horses, mules, fodder, and subsistence. The Army of Northern Virginia was left hanging at the end of its lines of communications.[ii]

 Warrenton Depot

Above: Warrenton Depot, on the Orange & Alexandria RR, in August 1862. Supply point for Lee.

Davis’ refusal to give greater control to the military for operation of the railroads added to “the weight of this burden of waging war by improvisation within the confines of the Confederacy’s social and political ideals [and] helped break the back of Confederate offensive power.” [iii]

Edward Hagerman notes that problems continued into 1863 as “conflicts between the commissary agents of field commanders and those of the [Confederate] Subsistence Department hampered efficient gathering of available resources.” [iv] The largest obstacle was “the failure of the railroads to cooperate in the distribution of food surpluses from other states to the Army of Northern Virginia. Neither the army nor the government exercised any control over the railroads.” [v] It wasn’t until Lee’s army was faced with starvation that the Confederate Congress intervened. In April of 1863, it “hesitantly” granted Jefferson Davis the “authority to regulate the railroads.” [vi]

The laissez faire-minded Davis was as reluctant to accept the authority as the Confederate Congress was to bestow it. Here was the instrument to prevent a recurrence of the crisis of the past winter. It would enable through scheduling the interchange of rolling stock from one railroad to another. It also would enable the War Department, rather than the railroad owners, to decide on the priority of material to be transported. [vii]

Davis signed the bill into law but Congress ensured its ineffectiveness by failing to approve an “office of railroad superintendent” as proposed by the secretary of war and by sacking the temporary appointee. [viii] “Not until early 1865, far too late, did the Confederacy finally take control of the railroads.” [ix]

[i, ii, iii] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 121.

[iv, v] Ibid., 130.

[vi, vii, viii] Ibid., 131.

[ix] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, 165.

 

 

report

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

 

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