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This webpage reproduces an article in the
American Historical Review
Vol. 22 No. 4 (Jul. 1917), pp794‑810

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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p794 The Confederate Government and the Railroads, April, 18611

The history of the Southern Confederacy affords an excellent illustration of the handicaps which, in this modern industrial world, beset any purely agricultural people in waging war. Success in war now depends so much upon the effective organization and application of the industrial resources of the nation to the support of the army that the mobilization of mines, farms, factories, foundries, banks, and means of transportation must accompany the mobilization of men. And, just as a trained army cannot be created without trained officers, the resources of a nation cannot be organized for effective military use if there is no body of trained industrial officers to conduct the industrial mobilization. When a people in a primitive stage of industrial development and therefore without trained industrial leaders engages a powerful adversary who is abundantly supplied with them, the tragic ending of that encounter is easily foretold. It was into such a conflict that the South rushed so light-heartedly in 1861.

Much has been said and written of the inferiority of the South in the supply of men and guns, when in fact a more fundamental weakness was its backward industrial condition. Moreover, industrial inexperience strengthened the confirmed particularism of the Southern people and their deep-rooted suspicion of every proposition which involved the extension of the activities and powers of the general government into the field reserved by custom for private enterprise. It would not be difficult to show that these were potent causes of the administrative paralysis which prostrated the Confederacy as much as did the battering of the Federal armies. Of this general statement the history of the Southern railroads from 1861 to 1865 offers one of the best illustrations.

The American Civil War was the first great military conflict in which railways were a highly important factor. So vast and in many parts so thinly populated was the area over which operations must be conducted and from which supplies must be drawn that without railways it would have been impossible for either side to maintain large armies at the front unless within reach of water p795transportation.2 Even in the North where the railroads were better developed and the total mileage was twice that of the South, and where the Ohio, the upper Mississippi, the Potomac, and the sea furnished effective supplement to the roads — even there the problem of transporting men and supplies to the military frontier was a troublesome one. In the South, where the roads were in most cases short local lines, inadequately financed by local capital, cheaply constructed, poorly equipped, and supplemented but very little by water navigation, they were wholly unprepared for the task suddenly forced upon them by the war.

From the utter absence of any recorded discussion of the subject it is clear that the at the outbreak of war no man of prominence in the Confederacy foresaw that the railroads were to play a part of great importance or that there was any urgent need of strengthening them. Upon the railroad companies themselves the first effects of the war were unfortunate. The business depression which came with hostilities, the establishment of the blockade, and the discouraging by the Confederate government of the exportation of cotton had greatly and suddenly reduced seaward traffic and revenues. Not knowing what was ahead of them the companies reduced expenses. Salaries were cut and trains and employees were laid off.3 Many of these employees were skilled men who were permanently lost to the roads, for some went into the army while others, of Northern birth and sympathies, made their way out of the Confederacy. Although the roads were now cut off from the Northern foundries from which they had always obtained their rails and rolling-stock, no general effort seems to have been made to get supplies elsewhere — a negligence which was probably due to the belief that the war would not last long.

Traffic soon revived but in a new direction. While the lines leading only to the sea-coast vainly awaited the raising of the blockade and the revival of business in the fall, those leading to the Virginia and Tennessee frontiers, where troops and stores were being concentrated, were enjoying a government patronage which greatly exceeded their former business. But the situation had its difficulties. The railroad business was still in the competitive stage in 1861 and the immense patronage of the government was worth fighting for; but as no single line could control rates all the way through from the lower South to Virginia and therefore none had p796much to gain by cutting its own rates, while it might be seriously affected by the combined rates of other roads, it is not surprising that the railroad men early came to the conclusion that some effort should be made to establish uniform charges for government transportation. This was desired also by the quartermaster-general, whose duty of providing all military transportation would be greatly lightened by such an arrangement. In the first flush of warlike enthusiasm some of the roads had offered their services free for military purposes,4 while others had charged their full local rate. Manifestly, this could not continue. Therefore the representatives of thirty-three roads met in convention at Montgomery on April 26, 1861, and agreed to a uniform rate of two cents a mile for men and half the regular local rate for munitions, provisions, and material, and also agreed to accept Confederate bonds at par in payment of government transportation.5 Since the local rates varied greatly, this arrangement did not give complete satisfaction, and the railway presidents held another convention at Chattanooga on October 4, 1861, at which a schedule was drawn up and presented to Quartermaster-General A. C. Myers. This schedule divided the freights into four classes with a uniform rate of so much per one hundred miles for each class. After some consideration Myers accepted it and urged it upon the roads not represented at Chattanooga.6 Although this rate schedule remained in force for some time, various roads on one pretext or another demanded a higher rate, which was in some cases granted, with the result that new uniform rates became necessary.7 As the currency depreciated, higher and higher rates were authorized in special cases to the end of the war.8 The government never attempted to fix or interfere with rates for private business, probably assuming that such action was beyond its constitutional powers.

When in May and June of 1861 the government began to collect an army in Virginia one serious weakness of the transportation system was distinctly revealed. At such points as Chattanooga, Knoxville, Bristol, Lynchburg, Savannah, Augusta, Charlotte, Raleigh, Wilmington, and Petersburg — and there were many others p797— the roads terminating in those towns did not connect with each other and freight must be unloaded at one depot, hauled across town, and reloaded on cars at the other. Passengers frequently had to wait over until the next day. Since this arrangement made business for hotels and transfer companies, the town looked upon it with favor as a valuable asset and strongly opposed every attempt to provide connections for through traffic.9 Even where the tracks connected, the freight had to be unloaded and reloaded on other cars, since no company was willing to entrust its cars to another line. Frequently troops and stores so unloaded would be compelled to wait for days and even weeks before they could move on to the next terminus. Consequently, at these points of congestion troops, ordnance, quartermasters, and commissary stores began to accumulate, and confusion, further delay, and sometimes heavy losses resulted.10 Steps were taken to bridge these gaps, but without much effect. The case of Petersburg, Virginia, may be taken as an example. So great was the delay, expense, and inconvenience of transshipment between the several roads terminating at that important point that Gen. Robert E. Lee at the very beginning of the war urged the construction of connecting tracks.11 The railway companies had long desired to make the connection but had been prevented from doing so by the opposition of the town itself. As a question of law was involved the Virginia state convention passed an ordinance, June 26, 1861, authorizing the connection. The roads now asserted that the expense would be too great for them to undertake the work without government loan; and when this seemed in a fair way to be obtained, the question arose whether the new law contemplated a permanent connection, in which the railroads would have an interest, or only a temporary one in which they would have practically none. As a temporary connection would be of light and flimsy construction and impassable for heavy freights, and as the authorities of Petersburg continued strenuously to oppose a permanent connection, no action was taken, and the congestion continued.12 At other connecting points, as Lynchburg, through traffic p798was impossible because of the change of gauge. The confusion and congestion were not relieved by the frequent interference of lesser military officials, who sought on their own responsibility and regardless of schedules and distribution of rolling-stock to order trains back and forth within the limits of their respective commands.13 The quartermaster-general had no control over these officers and he was put to the utmost exertions to straighten out the tangles and mollify the railroad officials. The first general order issued by General Lee after he was called to Richmond in March, 1862, was directed against this practice.14 It was becoming increasingly evident that some system of effective supervision or control looking to better co-ordination of shipments would soon be essential to the supply of the armies and the safety of the government itself.

Another difficulty which appeared early and steadily grew worse under the stress of war was the shortage of cars and engines. The supply on most of the Southern roads was scanty before the war and it proved wholly inadequate for the needs of the government. Moreover, some of the roads upon which the heaviest traffic was thrown were least able to bear it. This was the case with the line of roads extending from the vicinity of Chattanooga up the Tennessee valley and across to Lynchburg. These roads were comparatively new and their traffic before the war had been light, but now they became the chief carriers of grain, beef, and pork from the Tennessee region to the armies in Virginia. The task was far beyond their capacity and the continuous use of cars and engines without giving time for repairs reduced both rolling-stock and the frail tracks to a sad condition. The quartermaster-general made repeated efforts to obtain cars and engines from other roads for use on this line; but, as this aroused the jealousy of the officials of the other roads, who protested vigorously that they had none to spare, little was procured even under threat of impressment.15 In fact every road was suffering for cars and engines, since the few shops which would build or repair them were soon either leased by the government for its own uses or were crippled by the conscription of their skilled workmen. It was becoming impossible to replace p799losses and by the opening of 1862 the shortage of rolling-stock was so alarming that railroad men were predicting the utter breakdown of the roads within a short time.16

Imbued as the Southern people were with laissez faire ideas, their government was slow to take a hand in the operation of the roads, and when finally compelled by force of circumstances to interfere, it came only by degrees to any assumption of control. When the congestion of traffic in the summer of 1861 became serious, W. S. Ashe, formerly president of the Wilmington and Weldon, was appointed major and assistant quartermaster and assigned to the duty of "superintending the transportation of Troops and Military stores on all the Railroads, North and South, in the Confederate States". He was directed to give his special attention to the detention of freights on the roads from Wilmington to Richmond and from Nashville to Richmond, and to obtain concert of action among the several roads in order "to control the movement, speed, time-table, and connections" of the numerous trains going out of Richmond.17 How long Ashe was retained in this position is not clear, nor is the exact extent of his authority anywhere defined. His rank and the correspondence of the quartermaster-general with various railroad officials indicate that Myers kept the general control of the business in his own hands and that he employed Ashe only as a sort of travelling agent and inspector to make contracts, investigate complaints, give assistance to the roads where possible, and make recommendations to the quartermaster-general.18

This arrangement seems to have accomplished but little toward the solution of the problems and was evidently unsatisfactory to the Secretary of War, by whose order Col. William M. Wadley, president of the Vicksburg and Shreveport Railroad, was, on December 3, 1862, assigned to the "supervision and control of the transportation for the Government on all the railroads in the Confederate States".19 Wadley's powers were somewhat more extensive p800than those previously assigned to Ashe, especially in respect to control over government agents, employees, engines, cars, and machinery. He was further not to be subject to the orders of the quartermaster-general but was to report through the adjutant and inspector-general to the Secretary of War. Of this last provision Myers complained repeatedly that only inconvenience, confusion, and embarrassment could result from transferring to another division of the war office the supervision of a service for which the quartermaster-general was responsible.20 Myers was not in the good graces of the administration now, however, and his protests were unheeded.

Colonel Wadley tried to induce the railroad heads to agree (1) to a definite plan of co-operation under his immediate supervision, by which each railroad superintendent should act as an assistant to him and make weekly reports, and (2) to a through schedule of trains between Montgomery and Richmond. But his efforts were without success. The roads on the contrary adopted a schedule of rates which Wadley considered inequitable.21 It seems that he never acquired direct control over any of the roads further than allowed by the contracts he was able to induce them to enter into, and his activities were confined chiefly to settling rates, helping the destitute roads to obtain rolling-stock, and making recommendations to the Secretary of War for the assumption by law of direct control and management of the roads that failed to perform their full duty.22 For some reason not disclosed, Wadley's nomination was not agreeable to the Confederate senate and was rejected May 1, 1863.23 Thereupon Capt. F. W. Sims was appointed June 4, 1863, to his position with the same duties and powers.24

On August 10, 1863, Brig.-Gen. A. R. Lawton replaced Colonel Myers as quartermaster-general, and the railroad bureau, of which Sims was the head, was placed at once under his jurisdiction.25 Sims was both an able and an industrious officer and strove hard to improve the condition of the railroads, but his efforts to have detailed from the army enough mechanics to set the shops to building p801cars and engines and to rolling rails had no effect upon the higher military authorities. He seems to have had the confidence of the railroad men, probably because he showed a sympathetic understanding of their difficulties. Sims retained his post until the end of the war, but during the last year the duty of repairing the roads, especially bridges, was imposed upon the engineer bureau; and as the duties of supervision became too heavy for one man, the quartermaster-general from time to time called upon experienced railroad men in distant parts of the country to take charge of the transportation in those regions.26

Mere supervision could not make the transportation system efficient. Early in the war it became clear that the roads could not unaided procure the supplies and repairs necessary to keep them in good condition, and it was not long before they turned to the government as the only possible source of help. Besides, new lines were needed to link together certain neighboring roads in order to shorten distance and both to cheapen and to expedite shipments; and the building of these connections would require a financial backing which only the government was able to give.

The most important connection proposed was that between Danville, Virginia, and Greensborough, North Carolina. Mr. Davis called attention to the advantages of bridging this gap of about forty-eight miles, in his message to the Provisional Congress in November, 1861.27 It was estimated that a loan of one million dollars would be sufficient to provide for the speedy construction of the road, and Congress passed an act on February 10, 1862, authorizing the loan.28 Mr. Davis had expressed the opinion that since the work was "indispensable for the most successful prosecution of the war, the action of the Government will not be restrained by the constitutional objection which would attach to a work for commercial purposes". Some of the foremost members of Congress thought differently and fought the bill with every available resource; and after its passage they caused to be spread upon the journal a protest against the act as an unwarranted and dangerous violation of the constitution under the guise of military necessity.29 The actual construction of the road was delayed for more than two years, p802partly by the necessity of completing satisfactory surveys and examining rival routes, partly by the scarcity of labor and material.30 Connection was established about May 20, 1864.31 Though flimsy of construction and prolific of wrecks, this road, opened just after the beginning of Lee's desperate struggle with Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant, was of great benefit to the Confederates and became more and more important when later in the year the Weldon railroad was threatened. Another important connection, which was undertaken at about the same time, was that between Meridian, Mississippi, and Selma, Alabama. This would not only greatly shorten the route from Richmond to Vicksburg and New Orleans, but by giving Vicksburg direct communication with central Alabama and Georgia would greatly strengthen that important post. The distance was about one hundred miles, but for about half this distance a road had already been completed and part of the rest was graded. The company sought an advance of $150,000 from the government and Mr. Davis recommended it to Congress.32 An act of February 15, 1862, carried out the recommendation, but it soon was discovered that the sum was insufficient because of the rapidly increasing cost of materials. After many delays this road was completed about the end of 1862.33 While the last-mentioned bill was before Congress a third was introduced, to lend money to establish a connection between the roads in western Florida and southwestern Georgia, but it failed on third reading.34 In April, 1862, the first permanent Congress authorized a loan of $1,500,000 to aid the construction of a line between New Iberia, Louisiana, and Orange, Texas, which would give direct railway connection between Houston and New Orleans and make the resources of Texas available for the defense of the lower Mississippi. The fall of New Orleans shortly afterwards rendered the prosecution of the work useless and it was abandoned.35 In October, 1862, Congress passed an act which authorized the President to cause a railroad to be constructed between Rome, Georgia, and Blue Mountain, Alabama, and appropriated p803$1,122,480.92 for that purpose.36 Such a road would not only establish a new connection from northern Georgia through central Alabama to the Mississippi, but, more important, would give access to the great iron and coal deposits in Alabama. After much delay, because of the difficulty in procuring iron, construction was begun, but the road was not completed before the end of the war.37 All of these acts were based upon "military necessity" and all of them were steadily opposed by the ultra-conservative strict-constructionist minority in Congress. Numerous other railway companies made appeals for aid, but no action was taken in their behalf until the beginning of 1865 when, upon the recommendation of the Secretary of War, Breckinridge, and the President, a blanket appropriation was made, March 9, for the construction and repair of railroads for military purposes.38

Where and how to procure material for laying tracks, building bridges, and constructing or repairing engines and cars was the most difficult problem of the railroads and it was fundamental to their very existence. Iron and machinery were especially scarce. Before the water these necessities had been supplied from the North: now they must be manufactured or imported from Europe. But few iron mines, smelters, and foundries existed in the South in 1861, and these were small and were soon under contract to their full capacity with the ordnance department. It seemed that if railway foundries or machine shops were necessary, the roads themselves must build them. But it was a serious question whether the average company could afford to build a complete set of shops of its own when it operated only a short line of one hundred to two hundred miles — and some of the most important were even much shorter. The capital required was out of proportion to the size and earning capacity of the road. Moreover, because of the widespread belief that the war would be short, there was at first a natural reluctance to invest large sums in plants which would almost certainly prove unprofitable after the coming of peace.39 For a group of roads to combine for the purpose involved practical difficulties of management which they were unprepared to solve or even to attempt. p804Besides, it was clear that however well supplied with machine shops, the roads would still be helpless so long as the government monopolized the output of iron and continued to conscribe skilled workmen into the army.40

For these reasons and because the building of shops and mills, even if determined upon, would take time, the railroad men at first tried to import supplies from Europe. But the growing stringency of the blockade and the lack of well-established commercial or credit relations with European firms made this very difficult. The administration refused to take any part in promoting or financing large mercantile combinations for the purpose of establishing credit accounts in Europe based upon cotton,41 and the roads were unable to command enough capital, or cotton, and steamboat transportation, independent of government aid, to make importations on their own account. Nor would the government, though frequently appealed to, itself import railroad material for sale to the roads.42 On one occasion certain Virginia roads were allowed to purchase supplies in England through an agent of the War Department; but the favor was not allowed again, the secretary, Mr. Seddon, explaining that he was unwilling to intervene officially in matters relating "exclusively" to the interest of the railroads.43 In 1864 the president of a railroad in Mississippi, which was cut off from the sea, obtained military permission to export cotton through the Federal lines and to bring in railroad material in return, but this was exceptional.44 The total amount of railroad supplies brought in from outside the Confederacy was trifling. If the needed materials were to be had there was only one way left: they must be produced in the Confederacy and the government must aid directly in the work. Early in the war some of the more far-sighted railroad men had pointed out the possibilities of utilizing and improving the railroad shops with government aid and the advantages to the government of contracting p805cars and engines of its own.45 The administration, however, for the time preferred to contract with the companies directly for transportation and to leave to them the problem of maintaining the efficiency of their roads. Before 1863 the entire output of most of the shops, foundries, mines, and mills was absorbed by government contracts and except in a few cases — chiefly in Georgia — the roads were without any means of manufacturing even the simplest materials. When the rolling-stock on one road wore out, the transportation officers sought it from other roads and in many cases impressed it. When this hand-to‑mouth policy failed, the quartermaster-general contracted for the building of cars for government use; but he was never able to obtain enough, for not only was material lacking but sufficient details of mechanics could not be obtained from the army to carry out any large contract. Special agents and commissioners were detailed to inspect roads, impress, collect, and redistribute rails; and the smaller and less important roads were stripped of both rails and rolling-stock to keep the main lines in operation.46 Lieutenant-Colonel Sims, the superintendent of railroad transportation, made repeated appeals for government aid in the manufacture of supplies, for "men and iron", but without substantial effect; and on February 10, 1865, we find him lamenting that "not a single bar of railroad iron has been rolled in the Confederacy since [the beginning of] the war, nor can we hope to do any better during the continuance".47

Although forced by military necessity to interfere frequently with the operation of the roads and to exercise an ever-increasing control over them, the Confederate government disclaimed any intention of doing more than to compel the railroad officials, under the contracts which had been made, to give priority to government freight over that of private persons and to expedite shipments.48 This exaction became a matter of serious concern both to the roads and to private shippers as the traffic grew heavier and the roads p806weaker. By the end of 1863 there was no room except at intervals for anything but government freight on the main lines. Since Virginia and North Carolina had been stripped bare of provisions, Lee's army was now being supplied from South Carolina and Georgia and the roads to the south of Richmond were overworked. In March, 1864, all passenger trains in North Carolina were stopped for several days to permit the passage of corn to Richmond.49 The order raised a storm of protests, but the quartermaster-general and the Secretary of War held to it until the stores of corn were brought up. The stopping of passenger trains became a frequent occurrence thereafter and private travel along the roads to Virginia practically ceased. Some communities along the Wilmington and Weldon road were threatened with actual famine because the War Department would not relax the rule of priority in order that they might bring in their own supplies of corn.50 The rule probably was not enforced with absolute rigidity, because we find that station quartermasters were are frequently charged with violating it, and in fact it was claimed that speculators, by the aid of bribes, could usually get their shipments through. All trains running to Wilmington — which was the only seaport left in 1864 — were required to take government freight, usually cotton, to at least half of their capacity.51 The control of transportation gave the quartermaster's department a powerful weapon with which to force manufacturers of cotton goods, especially in North Carolina, to make contracts to furnish the government with cloth — usually at prices below the market rate — for without the consent of the department they could obtain no shipments of raw cotton.52

Time-honored conventional theories about the limitation of the functions of government had begun even early in the war to give way before the pressure of imperious military necessity. As the responsible government officials had been led to interfere more and more in railroad affairs in order to sustain the armies at the front, it became increasingly evident that the railroad companies, if left to themselves, either could not or would not render the service which the government must have. While most of the obstacles to efficiency lay in conditions for which the roads were not to blame, p807there were others which the railroad officials themselves seemed to raise. But in some cases it is not easy to censure them. For instance, when every company was trying anxiously to husband its scanty supply of rolling-stock it was only natural that it should resist every attempt to have its cars run on through to Richmond or other distant destination and should insist on breaking bulk and reloading at its own terminus.53 And it is hardly surprising that the commission of army officers appointed to collect and redistribute railroad iron should find "every possible impediment" thrown in its way and its efforts often defeated.54 As the freight rates paid by the government were far below those for private business, railroad officials connived with civilians to forward freight for the latter even at the cost of holding up army supplies. Disagreements between the various companies frequently caused needless delays and unnecessary diversion to roundabout routes. Those roads which were owned in whole or in part by states were especially troublesome because they took refuge behind the authority of the state. The most conspicuous was the Western and Atlantic of Georgia, championed by Gov. Joe Brown; but certain roads in North Carolina and Florida also took a very independent course.55 In all these cases the Confederate authorities found themselves helpless because the government was unwilling to incur the odium of overriding state authority.

The first quartermaster-general, Myers, had steadily opposed the assumption of governmental control over the railways.56 It seems that when Sims became head of the railroad bureau in 1863 he held similar views, but by April, 1864, he said:

That the railroads should come under military control I am becoming every day more satisfied. There seems to be a desire to work for the road's interest rather than sacrifice all convenience for the country's cause. . . . Greater harmony would doubtless produce better results, but p808this I fear can never be obtained until a Government officer manages every road.57

President Davis probably never seriously considered the idea of subjecting any of the railroads, except in a military exigency, to complete control by the government. His few references to the subject in his messages to Congress are almost casual and indicate that beyond delegating a general supervision of the government's interests to Wadley, Sims, and the quartermaster-general, to be enforced by threat of impressment, he was unprepared to go.58 Nor was the majority of Congress at first willing to go very far in this direction. On August 21, 1861, a bill was introduced from the committee on military affairs "authorizing the President to regulate and take control of railroads in certain cases", but it failed to become a law.59 In January, 1862, a special committee which had been appointed to examine into the various divisions of the War Department recommended, among other things, that military control be taken of all railroads terminating in or passing through Richmond, Nashville, Memphis, and Atlanta, or leading to the headquarters of the several army corps, and that they be placed under an efficient superintendent.60 This recommendation was without immediate result, but in the first session of the permanent Congress the House of Representatives passed a bill "to provide for the safe and expeditious transportation of troops and munitions of war by railroad".61 It directed the President to appoint "a military chief of railroad transportation," who should be selected from the railroad officials, and provided that the regular officials of each road should be given a stated rank, should be left as far as possible in charge of their own roads, but be subject to the orders of the chief and liable to court martial for neglect of duty.62 The bill was referred in the Senate to the Committee on Military Affairs, was reported without amendment on April 21, the last day of the session, and failed for want of time to come up for passage. Although other bills of this general character were introduced, none became p809law until February, 1865, when finally an act was passed which authorized the Secretary of War to place any railroad, canal, or telegraph line under such officers as he should designate, to place the regular railroad officials, agents, and employees under these officers on the same footing as soldiers in the field, and to maintain any road in repair or to give it any necessary aid. Provision was made for reimbursing the road for any damage sustained while in the hands of the government.63 Whether this measure would ever have proved effective may be doubted, for it did not insure an improvement in the material condition of the roads, and death-bed resolutions are somewhat unconvincing.

For more than a year before the end came the railroads were in such a wretched condition that a complete breakdown seemed always imminent. As the tracks wore out on the main lines they were replenished by despoiling the branch lines; but while the expedient of feeding the weak roads to the more important afforded the latter some temporary sustenance, it seriously weakened the armies, since it steadily reduced the area from which supplies could be drawn. The rolling-stock, replenished in the same way, wore out so fast that some roads were nearly destitute of cars and engines. It is very difficult to get precise information about particular roads in 1864, but from scattered statements of Quartermaster-General Lawton it appears that on the roads from Georgia to Richmond not more than two or three trains per day could be run at the rate of one hundred miles per day and less. Despite the low rate of speed, accidents were frequent and helped to block the tracks. On one occasion Lawton declared it impossible for cars to be run through from Columbus, Georgia, to Charlotte, North Carolina, a distance of approximately five hundred miles, because they would break down on the way if not repaired.64 From the winter of 1863‑1864 Lee's army had to draw its supplies from South Carolina and southern Georgia, a distance of from five hundred to a thousand miles, and it rarely had more than two or three days' supply of food ahead. No surplus could be accumulated and as time wore on the supply became scantier. By the end of summer the roads could not bring enough, with the utmost exertions and even when unhampered by the enemy, to feed the men and horses half rations. Indeed it is hard to see how Lee could have maintained his army in Virginia for another year, even if Grant had been content to watch p810him peace ably from a distance. And yet Lee's army was starving not because there was no food in the Confederacy, for it was plentiful in many portions of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, but because the railroads simply could not carry enough of it. Over and over again Lawton declares that "transportation is scarcer than provisions".65 Corn brought in Richmond twenty and twenty-five times as much as it sold for in southwest Georgia.66 When this region was cut off and the remnant of the feeble roads wrecked by Sherman's destructive march through Georgia and the Carolinas, the stoppage of all supplies followed, and the long struggle was over.

It would be claiming too much to say that the failure to solve its railroad problem was the cause of the Confederacy's downfall, yet it is impossible not to conclude that the solution of that problem was one of the important conditions of success.67 The failure to solve it was due partly to the industrial unpreparedness of the South, partly to the shortsighted policy of leaving the task of maintenance entirely to the stockholders, although depriving them of the use of workmen and materials, partly to the apparent inability to comprehend the essentially public character and responsibility of the roads, and partly to an ingrained abhorrence of extending the activities of the general government into the field reserved to the states or to private enterprise. Had the Confederate government been able at the outset to adopt measures with respect to its railroads as vigorous and far-sighted as it did for its ordnance department, it seems certain that the roads would have been maintained and improved, and the effective resources of the Southern people and the strength of their armies would have been tremendously increased.

Charles W. Ramsdell.


The Author's Notes:

1 A paper read at the meeting of the American Historical Association in Cincinnati, December 27, 1916.

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2 Cf. Pratt, Rise of Rail-Power in War and Conquest, 1833‑1914, p14 ff.

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3 Cuyler, Report of the President of the Southwestern Railroad, Savannah Republican, August 14, 1861.

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4 Official Records, War of the Rebellion, fourth series, I.120, 224, 236, 238.

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5 Quartermaster-General's Letter-Book, I.98‑100, Confederate Archives, U. S. War Department; Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.269, 538.

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6 Circular of Quartm.-Gen., December 13, 1861, Letter-Book, II.442.

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7 A. C. Myers to various persons, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, IV.232; VI.6, 77, 117, 227, 278, 301.

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8 W. S. Alexander to James Stewart, January 14, 1864, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, VII.528; H. K. Burgwyn to J. A. Seddon, Offic. Rec., fourth series, III.616‑618.

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9 Savannah Republican, November 11, 1861, for conditions at Augusta.

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10 Myers to J. S. Barbour, June 17, 1861, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, I.197203;º Myers to Campbell Wallace, July 9, 1861, ibid., p275; Myers to G. R. Echols, July 12, 1861, ibid., p287; Myers to M. J. Harman, July 12, 1861, ibid., p287; Myers to E. H. Gill, July 22, 1861, ibid., p322.

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11 Lee to E. T. Morris, June 18, 1861, Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.394.

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12 P. V. Daniel, jr., to Davis, June 27, July 17, 1861, Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.405, 484; Daniel to Walker, July 2, ibid., p417; Wm. T. Joynes to Walker, July 17, ibid., p485; "Resolutions of the Common Council of Petersburg", December 10, 1861, Public Documents of the Virginia Assembly, 1861‑1862, no. 32.

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13 Wallace and John R. Branner to Benjamin, December 4, 1861, Offic. Rec., first series, vol. LII, pt. 2, pp227‑228; Myers to Joseph E. Johnston, March 6, 1862, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, III.380.

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14 See Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.1010‑1011.

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15 Myers to Wallace, September 18, 1861, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, II.60; Benjamin to Myers, September 24, and Myers to W. S. Ashe, September 25, 1861, Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.617; Myers to Wallace, September 30, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, II.103; Myers to Ashe, October 5, 1861, ibid., p123; Benjamin to Joseph E. Brown, September 30, and Brown to Benjamin, October 2 and 4, 1861, Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.634, 646, 666.

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16 Neill S. Brown to Benjamin, January 12, 1862, Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.839; resolutions of a convention of railroad presidents, Richmond, December 6, 1861, Pickett Papers, Library of Congress, accession 1910, fol. 108; Myers to H. J. Ranney, January 10, 1862, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, III.106‑107.

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17 Myers to Ashe, July 18, 1861; Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, I.313.

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18 Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, I.322, 332; II.103, 123, 187, 353, 442; Ashe to Davis, November 27, and December 13, 1861, Pickett Papers, accession 1910, fol. 108.

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19 "General Orders, No. 98, Adjt. and Insp. General's Office", Offic. Rec., fourth series, II.225. Wadley had been in the railroad business for many years in Georgia and Mississippi. Phillips, History of Transportation in the Eastern Cotton Belt, p319; Pollard to Davis, April 4, 1862, Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.1048.

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20 Myers to Seddon, December 9, 1862, January and 26, 1863, Offic. Rec., fourth series, II.231, 304, 372.

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21 Wadley to Cooper, December 31, 1862, ibid., pp270‑278.

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22 Wadley to Seddon, January 26, April 14 and 15, 1863, ibid., pp373, 483, 486; Myers to Larkin Smith, April 23, 1863, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, VI.301.

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23 Journal of Congress of Confederate States, III.426.

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24 Offic. Rec., fourth series, II.579.

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25 Ibid., p697; Lawton to Sims, August 12, 1863, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, VII.31.

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26 Lawton to Sam Tate, October 6, 1863, ibid., p178; Lawton to Thomas Peters, November 27, 1863, ibid., p364.

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27 Journal of Cong. of Conf. St., I.470.

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28 Statutes at Large of the Provisional Congress, p258.

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29 Journal of Cong. of Conf. St., I.731‑734, 762‑764, 766‑770, 781‑782. Among the ten who signed the protest were Robert Toombs, who was evidently its author, R. B. Rhett, J. L. M. Curry, W. S. Oldham, and M. J. Crawford. A. H. Stephens voted against the bill but did not sign the protest.

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30 Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.947, 1025‑1027, 1085‑1087; III.392‑393.

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31 Lawton to Chisman, May 19, 1864, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, VIII.237.

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32 Ashe to Davis, November 27 and December 13, 1861, Pickett Papers, accession 1910, fol. 108; Journal of Cong. of Conf. St., I.586.

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33 James L. Price to Randolph, April 10 and 15, 1862, Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.1053, 1060; Gaines to Randolph, April 24 and June 25, 1862, ibid., pp1089, 1171; Shorter to Randolph, October 27, 1862, ibid., II.148‑150.

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34 Journal of Cong. of Conf. St., I.819. For the genesis of the bill, see Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.612, 777‑779.

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35 Ibid., p1013; Journal of Cong. of Conf. St., I.238, 361; V.260, 261, 279; II.195, 197‑199; Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.1073; II.107‑108.

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36 Ibid., II.200‑201.

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37 Shorter to Davis, October 25, 1862, ibid., pp144‑146; Campbell to Bragg, April 21, 1864, ibid.III.312; Fleming, Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama, p156.

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38 Offic. Rec., fourth series, III.1095‑1096, 1114; Journal of Cong. of Conf. St., VII.671, 685, 709, 749. The amount appropriated is not shown in the journal, but $21,000,000 was recommended. This, however, was in greatly depreciated currency or bonds.

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39 Sims to Lawton, October 23, 1863, Offic. Rec., fourth series, II.881.

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40 Offic. Rec., fourth series, II.881; also, Sims to Lawton, February 10, 1865, ibid.III.1092.

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41 For one proposition of this character, see D. T. Bisbie to Benjamin, January 16, 1862, ibid.I.843‑845; E. Fontaine to Benjamin, ibid., p868.

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42 Resolutions of a railroad convention at Richmond, December 6, 1861, Pickett Papers, accession 1910, fol. 108; Daniel to Seddon, February 12, 1863, Offic. Rec., fourth series, II.394; also April 22, 1863, ibid., pp499‑510.

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43 Seddon to J. M. Robinson, February 24, 1863, ibid., p409; Daniel to Seddon, April 23, 1863, ibid., p511; September 30, ibid., pp841‑842; Seddon to Daniel, October 3, 1863, ibid., p852; Daniel to Seddon, October 9, ibid., p866.

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44 Ibid., pp381, 388; III.478, 508, 514, 651.

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45 Goodman to Davis, January 25, 1862, ibid., I.880‑882; Neill S. Brown to Benjamin, January 12, 1862, ibid., p839; Daniel to Seddon, April 22, 1863, ibid., II.499‑508, 511; Cuyler to Seddon, April 22, 1862, ibid., pp508‑510; Jones, A Rebel War Clerk's Diary, I.302 (April 30, 1863).

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46 Seddon to Kenney, July 21, 1863, Offic. Rec., fourth series, II.655; "Special Orders No. 232", September 30, 1864, ibid., III.694; J. F. Gilmer to Breckinridge, February 16, 1865, ibid., p1085; Sims to Lawton, February 10, 1865, ibid., p1091‑1093; Wallace to Gov. Z. B. Vance, February 6, 1863, Vance's Letter-Book, I.124, in Confederate Archives, U. S. War Department; Cowan to Vance, September 5, 1864, ibid., pp568‑570.

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47 Offic. Rec., fourth series, III.93, 229, 1092.

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48 Randolph to Shorter, November 8, 1862, ibid., II.175; Myers to Joseph E. Brown, February 11, 1863, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, VI.6.

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49 Lawton to Vance, Cameron, Echols, and Lee, March 11, 1864, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, VIII.91; and to various others, March 16, 18, 30, and April 7, 12, ibid., pp97, 101, 131, 152, 160.

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50 Lawton to W. A. Graham, June 8, 1864, ibid., p277.

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51 Lawton to J. W. Cameron, December 11, 1863, ibid., VII.420; Lawton to Davis, September 20, 1864, ibid., IX.129.

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52 Lawton to W. G. Ferguson, September 12, 1864, ibid., p96.

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53 In respect to this the roads were sustained by both Colonel Sims and General Lawton. See Offic. Rec., fourth series, III.228; and Lawton to Davis, September 20, 1864, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, IX.129.

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54 Report of Gilmer to Breckinridge, February 16, 1865, Offic. Rec., fourth series, III.1085.

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55 For correspondence relative to condition of the Western and Atlantic Railroad see Offic. Rec., first series, vol. LII, pt. 2, pp593, 596, 601, 607‑608, 616, 621‑623; vol. XXXII, pt. 2, pp591;º for Florida Railroad, ibid., LIII.350‑359, 362‑364; for North Carolina roads, Cowan to Vance, February 13, 1864, Vance's Letter-Book, I.458‑462; Vance to Gilmer, ibid., p552; Gilmer to Vance, ibid., p561; Cowan to Vance, ibid., pp568, 571; Cowan to Gilmer, ibid., p570; Vance to Gilmer, ibid., p572.

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56 Myers to Davis, January 31, 1862, Offic. Rec., fourth series, I.896; Myers to Chilton, October 3, 1862, ibid., II.108.

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57 Sims to Lawton, April 1, 1864, Offic. Rec., fourth series, III.228.

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58 Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, I.139, 152, 236, 295. See also report of Secretary of War (Seddon), January 3, 1863, Offic. Rec., fourth series, II.293.

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59 Journal of Cong. of the Conf. St., I.379.

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60 Ibid., p721.

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61 Ibid., V.251‑254. For earlier suggestions see ibid., p122, and II.87 (Senate).

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62 For a protest against the bill, see Journal, V.269. The Augusta Chronicle and Sentinel, April 24, 1862, endorsed the protest and denounced the bill as a "usurpation".

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63 Journal, VII.584‑587, 607, 707; IV, 571, 573‑574. The act was approved February 28, 1865.

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64 Lawton to Davis, September 20, 1864, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, IX.129.

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65 Lawton to Maj. J. G. Michaeloffsky, Macon, Ga., January 19, 1864, Quartm.-Gen.'s Letter-Book, VII.543; Captain Seals, Fort Gaines, to McMahon, February 9, 1864, ibid., VIII.18.

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66 Daily Examiner, February 25, 1864.

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67 So keen an observer as William M. Burwell believed that the deficiencies in transportation aggravated the currency troubles. Offic. Rec., fourth series, III.226‑227.


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