By Robert C. Black III
The American Civil War was the first modern war, the first of the wars of the Industrial Revolution. It was the first war in which railroads were of primary strategic significance. Although the commercial possibilities of rail transportation had been recognized three decades previously, it was not until the struggle between the American states that railroad lines came to be regarded as military objectives of the first order. But now the echo of the steam locomotive's whistle was to haunt the dreams of staff officers, and railroads were to succeed wagon trains as the prime movers of military materiel.
In the Confederate states •about nine thousand miles of primitive track were involved in this pioneer experience. •About one thousand miles of Confederate trackage consisted of a group of small, independent roads in Georgia; and despite the ramshackle condition of these poorly developed little lines, they were to prove more vital to the cause of southern independence than those of any other state, with the possible exception of Virginia. Their ultimate failure to nourish the Confederate war effort did much to insure the military defeat of the South.
The seceding states entered the conflict of the 1860's with so many basic weaknesses that only the most efficient utilization of the few advantages they possessed could have brought ultimate success. Especially prominent among these advantages was the possibility of waging war upon interior lines. Such a possibility served to diminish somewhat an otherwise hopeless disparity in manpower and resources; p512 it presented, in fact, a constant opportunity to "get there first with the most men." This would have meant very little, however, had not the Confederacy possessed a railroad net sufficient to offset in some measure the relatively highly developed system in the North.
Although the railroad lines of the Confederacy were subdivided into a number of small operating companies, they were so located that it was possible to utilize them as connecting links in large-scale interior lines of communication. In general, they followed the basic southwest-to‑northeast pattern imposed by the Appalachian Mountains. An important southwestern terminus of the system was Vicksburg, Mississippi; the northeastern anchor was Richmond, Virginia. These cities were connected by a line extending from Vicksburg to Richmond by way of Jackson, Mississippi; Grand Junction, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Bristol, Tennessee; and Lynchburg, Virginia. A second but incomplete route utilized a sequence of roads operating to Richmond via Meridian, Mississippi; Montgomery, Alabama; West Point, Atlanta, and Augusta, Georgia; Wilmington, North Carolina; and Petersburg, Virginia. The unfinished portions lay in central Alabama, between Meridian, Mississippi, and Demopolis, Alabama, and between Selma and Montgomery. By the fall of 1861 these gaps could, however, be partially circumvented by a somewhat lengthy detour through Mobile, which involved a •thirty‑mile steamer trip across Mobile Bay and the Alabama River.
The first, or Chattanooga route, was by far the more efficient and rapid of the two; but it lay dangerously exposed to hostile attack by any force which could control the navigation of the Tennessee River. In the event of a successful movement by an invading force, the Atlanta route would become highly important as the one fairly adequate interior line of communication remaining to the Confederate States.1 Although Vicksburg and Richmond protected the termini of these essential communication lines, the cities of Chattanooga and Atlanta p513 controlled the mid-sections of both routes. Moreover, the Georgia roads were so situated as to be potential avenues of reinforcement and supply for any army defending the mid-sections of either of the two principal routes from hostile attack.
The railroad net of Georgia in May, 1861, included the lines of nineteen companies, nearly all of which eventually became involved in the war. The Central Railroad and Banking Company, organized in 1833 as Georgia's first railroad company, in 1861 possessed a main line from Savannah to Macon, with a branch from Gordon through Milledgeville to Eatonton.2 Another early venture was the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company, which wound through the red clay uplands from Augusta to Atlanta. Macon and Atlanta were connected during the 1840's by the Macon and Western, and during the decade preceding the war further extensions into the western counties were provided by the Atlanta and West Point, which reached the Chattahoochee River in 1854, and by the South Western, a backwoods system extending palmately from Macon to new and booming cotton centers like Americus, Cuthbert, and Albany. Most important of all the Georgia carriers was the Western and Atlantic, the only line connecting Atlanta and Chattanooga during the period. Traversing the easiest pass across the Appalachian uplift south of New York, it had been constructed by the state during the 1840's in the absence of sufficient private capital to insure to Georgia a share in the benefits of the "western waters." Operated by the state, this road not only carried Socialism into the wilderness while Marx and Engels were still in the early stages of their social thinking, but it was a profitable enterprise.
Another company which owed much of its existence to state aid was the Savannah, Albany and Gulf, which, with its affiliate, the Atlantic and Gulf, extended from Savannah southwestward through two hundred sparsely settled miles to Thomasville. Intended originally to divert to Savannah the bonanza cotton crops of southern Alabama, it ran into p514 financial difficulties in the flatwoods of the coastal plain and was able to reach Thomasville in the spring of 1861 only by virtue of a state subscription of $650,000.3 Despite its considerable length, it played a relatively minor role during the war.
The Georgia railroads connected with other southern carriers at four principal points. From Savannah, the Charleston and Savannah passed through miles of swamp to Charleston and the northeast. From Augusta, the South Carolina Railroad afforded a route from Middle Georgia to the east. At Chattanooga connections were available to Memphis, to Nashville, and to points in eastern Tennessee and Virginia. From West Point, rail service was in operation to Montgomery and beyond. No joint schedules were in effect through these junctions, however, although the Georgia roads and all of the connecting lines, with the single exception of the one between Montgomery and West Point, used the •five‑foot gauge.4 Moreover, due to the influence of teamster interests, there existed in 1861 no physical connection whatever between the South Carolina and the other roads entering Augusta, or between the Savannah, Albany and Gulf and the other carriers at Savannah.
In their physical characteristics the Georgia railroads differed little from other southern roads. In common with many other pioneer lines, they were lightly, if not carelessly, built. Wrought iron "T" rail •about twenty-four feet in length was usual by 1860, but the heaviest section that had been installed weighed only •fifty-seven pounds to the yard.5 Most of the locomotives were of the so‑called "America" type and p515 were used interchangeably in freight and passenger service. For fuel they depended exclusively upon the profusion of pine, oak, and gum that lined every right of way, a source of supply that seemed cheap and inexhaustible, but which involved so much manual labor that the procurement of an adequate supply would become a serious matter in the event of a manpower shortage. The ordinary maximum speed of •twenty-five miles per hour was dictated by the frightful condition of the track rather than by the capacity of the engines themselves, but they seldom handled a load greater than about 120 tons.6 The cars which rattled unevenly to war over the poorly laid rails were somewhat similar to their modern counterparts. Freight equipment had begun to differentiate itself into specialized types, such as box and "platform" (flat) cars, but their capacity never exceeded 16,000 pounds. Passenger equipment resembled that in the United States in later periods, although the details of construction and refinement were at best crude. Most cars, both freight and passenger, were constructed almost entirely of wood, metal commonly being used only in such appurtenances as couplers, springs, axles, and wheels.
The operating officialdom of the average Georgia carrier of the Civil War period commonly consisted of a president, a superintendent, and — usually — a master mechanic. Their salaries seem to have been commensurate with their undeniably important positions: the usual salary of a superintendent averaged between $6,000 and $8,000 per annum, which for the period and before the coming of wartime inflation, represented a handsome income.7 Employees were organized roughly as at present into operating, maintenance, mechanical, and clerical departments, and the wages paid for the more skilled labor seems to have been solved in part by the ownership of slaves. p516 In 1860 the Central Railroad possessed slaves valued at $58,863,8 and as late as December 1, 1864, the Macon and Western listed twenty-five slaves valued at $51,478.9 According to the annual report to the stockholders of the Georgia Railroad for 1859, that company owned slaves worth $32,352.
The advantages of freight car interchange were only dimly understood in 1861. Clerical measures were taken to insure the return of rolling stock which had to be carried over to the rails of other companies, and the principle of rentals for the use of such cars was universally recognized; but neither the railroads of Georgia nor those of the Confederacy were properly prepared for such operations on a large scale, and they appeared unwilling to undertake them.
Financially, the carriers entered the war years upon a generally sound basis. The effects of the financial panic of 1857 had been more serious along the sidewalks of northern cities than in the southern piney woods, and the roads shared to the full the genial monetary warmth of the last Indian summer of the ante-bellum South. The resulting dividends went mostly to individual stockholders, the majority of whom seem to have been Southerners.10
A distinctive and unsatisfactory feature of Georgia railroading was the fact that supplies and material replacements normally came either from across the Potomac or from across the Atlantic. There were exceptions, of course, such as the famous Tredegar Iron Works at Richmond, Virginia, which could prepare material to meet any railroad need from spike to locomotive. In Augusta, Georgia, the Forrest City Foundry, operated by Messrs. Lufburrow and Timmons, specialized in railroad car castings, with a capacity of fifty car wheels per day.11 In p517 Atlanta, the Atlanta Rolling Mill Company was particularly adapted to the re‑rolling of rail. The Etowah works, near Cartersville, Georgia, manufactured car axles and other items. Moreover, every carrier of consequence possessed locomotive and car shops capable of supplying a certain amount of new production: at Savannah, for example, the Central Railroad could build both locomotives and cars within its own facilities.12 But since the entire manufacturing potential of the infant Confederacy was scarcely adequate for the proper maintenance of its transportation system, it was grossly inadequate for both railroad and military needs.
Throughout the first year of the war, the utilization of the roads in the war effort appears to have been haphazard and desultory. The new administration did not at first make any serious effort to co‑ordinate the activities of the southern carriers, although on April 30, 1861, at a meeting of railroad officials held amidst the political turmoil of the temporary capital at Montgomery, an effort was made to regularize the relationship between the roads and the government.13 A second convention of all the companies of the Confederacy was called in Chattanooga on June 4‑5, not under political or military auspices, but at the initiative of the roads themselves. Even here, the discussions displayed less concern with the military situation than with the routine difficulties incident to their positions as Confederate, rather than American, railroads.14
War, from the very outset, provided many surprises. Less than a fortnight after Fort Sumter all of the Georgia lines were in a state of confusion because of the aimless travel of newly recruited military units, whose enthusiasm for the Confederate cause was equaled only by their lack of any clear conception as to the authority under which p518 they were to serve, or of their destination.15 The shops of the Central at Savannah and of the Georgia road at Atlanta found themselves engaged in the production of gun carriages and rifled cannon for both the state and the Confederacy.16 Here and there in the backwoods counties, particularly in those regions where the Appalachians thrust a tongue of northern climate deep into the domain of King Cotton, Unionist sympathizers amused themselves by the sabotage of railroad property, at one time precipitating a South Western passenger train "down an embankment •23 feet high,"17 and on another occasion burning two Western and Atlantic bridges over Chickamauga Creek. An altogether unique incident was a strike, not of labor but of the northern shareholders of the Brunswick and Florida, a short line traversing the coastal plain in the southeastern part of the state. Regarding secession with a jaundiced eye, the majority interests simply refused to carry on the corporate affairs of the company, and it is significant that Governor John E. Brown, having pronounced the property "a means of public defense," seized it in behalf of Georgia "to hold and manage . . . until such time as I may think it proper to again leave the management of such road to said Company."18 Thus, government intervened in private enterprise in order to assure the continued functioning of strikebound rail transportation.
Even before the first battle of Manassas the carriers of eastern Tennessee found themselves nearly overwhelmed with the flood of antique ordnance and excited volunteers which flowed northward toward Beauregard's motley regiments, nor did the Federal defeat at Manassas bring more than a temporary respite. By early autumn the depots of the Tennessee roads were again choked with increasing mountains of p519 vital freight, which reached such vast proportions that it was evident something must be done quickly to relieve the situation. In an effort to break the jam, the Confederate War Department ordered the seizure of a considerable amount of Western and Atlantic rolling stock. Governor Brown at once refused to relinquish it, on the premise that the Western and Atlantic was the property of the state of Georgia, even threatening "by military force if necessary to make counter seizures."19 Although the Governor evidently understood the true importance of railroads in wartime, his enthusiasm halted at the boundaries of his own state. Indeed, he became an embodiment of that excessive emphasis upon local self-interest which contributed so largely to the ruin of the Confederacy.
By the fall of 1861 the difficulties of obtaining adequate railroad supplies appeared insuperable, but occasionally a chance discovery temporarily brightened the outlook for an individual line. Early in December the Western and Atlantic stumbled upon 1,100 tons of new iron rail, which was instantly snatched up at a price of fifty dollars per ton. Less than a year later the same material would have cost "at least $150,000.00 more" than the $55,000 actually expended, Governor Brown asserted.20
By 1862 the Federal forces had begun the application of that vast amphibious pressure which even the genius of Lee, Forrest, and Semmes could counter only temporarily and at scattered points. As early as February the whole Confederate frontier in Tennessee gave way with the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson; in a few works Nashville was in the hands of Union troops, and a large portion of the more northerly of the two principal southern railroad arteries was in deadly peril. The Federal break-through so alarmed the Richmond authorities that they now began to overlook the peculiar status of the Western p520 and Atlantic as Georgia property and to impress its rolling stock for military purposes. For the moment, Governor Brown swallowed his protests and even permitted with fair grace the seizure by General Albert Sidney Johnston of a large number of cars for service on the Memphis and Charleston road.21 There they proved of great value in the reassembling of the scattered Army of Tennessee at Corinth, Mississippi. But the southern failure to press the initial advantage at Shiloh and the evacuation of corn on May 29 completely marooned the borrowed equipment, and the majority of it never returned to Western and Atlantic rails. A much more serious threat to Confederate prospects was the fact that the only complete interior line of railroad communication possessed by the South had now been decisively cut near its western end.
Another serious problem to Georgia railroads was the introduction of military conscription shortly after Shiloh. Indeed, the policies of over-zealous Confederate draft agents occasionally threatened the continued operation of the roads. Governor Brown succeeded in partially blocking the draft of Western and Atlantic employees by the device of mustering them into the state militia; moreover, he wrote President Davis on April 22, expressing the view that "the military operations of the Government cannot be carried on without the use of all our railroads, and the same necessity exists for the exemption of all other railroad officers and workmen which exists in the case of the State Road."22 No satisfactory solution of the pressing manpower problems of the Confederacy was ever found. Industry, agriculture, and transportation were constantly struggling with the military authorities for the control of the rapidly dwindling labor supply. In fact, this was the first war in which there was a conflict between the principle of universal military service and the necessity for skilled railroad workmen.
Gradually it became obvious that railroads were something more than mere pawns in the game of war. In the spring of 1862 the Union p521 forces in central Tennessee were under the command of Major General Ormsby M. Mitchel, whose customary befuddlement was offset at times by a singularly clear understanding of the importance of the railroad as a primary agency in logistics. He was largely responsible for the famous Andrews raid and the theft of the locomotive "General" on April 12; the fact that the episode was an almost complete failure from the Federal point of view was not so much a reflection upon the soundness of the idea as a tribute to the determination of certain Western and Atlantic employees, who were able to press the raiders so closely that they were unable to carry out the intended destruction of the line.23 The affair did result in the hasty mobilization of two companies of Georgia militia for the purpose of guarding critical portions of the property.
Such protective measures were well taken, for that very summer the rail carriers, and especially the Western and Atlantic, were to make possible some of the Confederacy's most successful weeks in the west. After their gains in Mississippi the Federal forces were extended on a broad front eastward along the line of the half-wrecked Memphis and Charleston, toward Chattanooga. Following a characteristic period of hesitation, the Confederate General Braxton Bragg comprehended the real meaning of the threat to Chattanooga and to the easy pass leading southward from it through the broken Appalachian ridges to Atlanta and the Piedmont country beyond. Moreover, he not only grasped the present necessity of protecting Chattanooga, but recognized the opportunity which lay in a lightning movement around the point of the Federal advance and a heavy blow upon the heart of the Union communications system in central Kentucky.
Bragg's Army of Tennessee had been casually reorganizing in Tupelo, Mississippi, more than two hundred airline miles from the proposed scene of operations. A few years before there would have been p522 no opportunity for him to arrive in Chattanooga in advance of his opponent. But railroads, though primitive and circuitous, were never available. On July 21 the first Confederate troop trains departed from Tupelo; on July 29 the same ragged regiments, having proceeded via Mobile, Montgomery, and Atlanta, were clattering over the switches into Chattanooga.24 For the time being the whole complexion of the war in the West was changed in favor of the South, and if Bragg subsequently was to fritter away great opportunities amid the Kentucky blue grass, his failure was no reflection upon the military potentialities of the steam locomotive.
But temporary successes upon the field of battle did little to alleviate the economic blockade, and with a flood of paper money sweeping the land the expenses of railroad operation soared even higher, against which the carriers attempted to protect themselves by heavy increases in freight rates. This practice became so widespread that still another railroad convention was held under Confederate auspices at Columbia, South Carolina, in September, 1862, in an attempt to set up a universal schedule of fair and just charges for carrying government traffic. This agreement was promptly cited by a number of roads as justification for a further increase in their ordinary tariff.25
Keeping abreast of a monetary inflation was relatively easy for a time, but coping with the practical difficulties which had helped to bring about that inflation was a more serious matter. The war had brought with it an unforeseen labor shortage which was particularly reflected during the summer of 1862 in a growing scarcity of cordwood for the locomotives. The fuel shortage became so serious that units of the state militia were occasionally detailed to cut a minimum supply. Passenger equipment proved utterly inadequate to cope with the demands of the military authorities or with the requests of the civilian population, which clamored for transportation in endless swarms that p523 were a constant amazement to railroad officials. Not only was it ordinarily impossible to secure additional rolling stock to alleviate the situation, but the growing scarcity of ordinary mechanical parts rendered it increasingly difficult to maintain any kind of car, freight or passenger, in operating condition. New rail became simply unavailable. When the Richmond government, in a somewhat belated effort to close the gap in the road across central Alabama, issued a plea for surplus iron, Governor Brown could only report bluntly that Georgia "has none she does not need and none to sell."26
By the winter of 1863, after two years of blockade, the problems of maintenance of the Georgia railroads were becoming so grave that continued operation of even the essential lines seemed doubtful. The whole problem had assumed, in fact, the form of an insoluble dilemma: improvement in the condition of the railroads depended upon further industrial expansion, and that expansion itself was impossible without an improvement in the railroads. The position of the Forrest City Iron Works at Augusta was typical: capable of casting fifty car wheels per day, the firm could actually produce but fifteen because of the car shortage.27
The declining efficiency of the Georgia carriers was quickly reflected in a noticeable flagging of the Confederate military effort. In March, 1863, General Bragg, at his headquarters in Tullahoma, Tennessee, complained that the Western and Atlantic would not accept shipment of ordnance stores of any character, and recommended the military seizure of the property to insure the uninterrupted flow of supplies to his army. Always the champion of outraged state sovereignty, Governor Brown reacted instantly and ungrammatically. "If General Bragg seizes the Road," he telegraphed Superintendent John S. Rowland, "take every officer, conductor, engineer, and agent off of it and stop operations until his superiors have learned him his duty."28 Brown also p524 warned President Davis that he would repel Bragg's "unwarrantable aggressions by force."29 The presidential reply was mild; even military necessity could scarcely take precedence over the sacred rights and property of a Confederate state.
The railroads of Georgia, although on the verge of complete collapse, desperately struggled to maintain service. Through efforts which must have been herculean, the Central completed in April, 1863, an entirely new series of car and engine shops at Macon to replace its original facilities at Savannah which had been converted into military arsenals at the beginning of the war. The same road had even gone so far as to manufacture its own spikes by hand.30 In May all of the Georgia carriers joined with the state in the organization of a "Rail Road Steamship Company" for the purpose of importing "such articles as cannot be done without for repairs" into Savannah through the blockade.31
While the capacity of Georgia railroads to supply the Confederate armies continued to decline, Federal pressure upon the Confederate front in Tennessee became overpowering. Worried by Federal movements, both real and imaginary, General Bragg decided upon a general retreat, and on May 14 his Chief of Staff, General William W. Mackall, requested Governor Brown to forward every piece of available railroad equipment in Georgia to Tullahoma in anticipation of the coming movement. For some reason the gubernatorial response was entirely cordial: Brown not only wired instantly that "every assistance" would be "cheerfully rendered,"32 but he quickly bullied the Macon and Western, the Central, and the Georgia roads into parting with a considerable portion of their rolling stock, and even released p525 the motive power and cars of his Western and Atlantic with an altogether surprising abandon. He evidently forgot that Bragg's withdrawal would bring serious war to the sacred soil of Georgia for the first time. With these additions to his transportation materiel, Bragg successfully withdrew from the vicinity of Tullahoma and concentrated his forces at Chattanooga.
A more revealing mixture of the actual position of the Confederate forces became evident a few weeks later. In July the dark blue flood of General Ambrose E. Burnside's division began to engulf eastern Tennessee; by September 2 it had occupied Knoxville, and effective Confederate control of the eastern Tennessee railroads was ended. No longer was Chattanooga a division point upon a principal southern communication line; it was now a fragile outpost, tied precariously to the remainder of the Confederacy by the single, tenuous line of the Western and Atlantic. Chattanooga had become a trap rather than a bastion, a fact which certainly was realized by Rosecrans and probably by General Bragg also. The supreme importance of the Western and Atlantic was clear to both, although it seems that Bragg at first feared cavalry raids upon it rather than the full-scale flanking movement which actually was contemplated. The Army of Tennessee lingered in Chattanooga, Bragg contenting himself with the preparation of duplicate parts for Western and Atlantic bridges and with calls for reinforcement.33 Not until September 6 did he become sufficiently aware of his real peril to move his regiments uncertainly southward through the ridge country near Chickamauga Creek.
As the two armies groped blindly for each other through broken and confusing terrain, the Confederate railroad system was carrying out its greatest single achievement. In answer to the pleas of Bragg, and despite the terrible losses sustained at Gettysburg, General James Longstreet's entire corps was detached from the Army of Northern Virginia for service in the West. Since the old direct rail line through eastern Tennessee could not be used, the transfer was accomplished by the p526 painfully roundabout route via the Carolinas, Augusta, and Atlanta. This was no mean task, involving as it did the transportation of some twelve thousand men over •nearly a thousand miles of dilapidated trackage in about ten days. "Never before," wrote one of Longstreet's staff, "were so many troops moved over such worn-out railways. . . . Never before were such crazy cars — passenger, baggage, mail, coal, box, platform, all and every sort, wobbling on the jumping strap-iron — used for hauling good soldiers. But we got there, nevertheless."34 For once, the makeshift liaison between the carriers and the military appears to have been at once cordial and efficient, and when the sweating divisions of Bragg and Rosecrans blundered into contact along the Chickamauga, the smoke of Longstreet's troop trains already hung heavy in the gaps below Ringgold. And if Bragg failed to press his advantage, the railroads were not responsible.
The routine problems of railroading in a beleaguered land without appreciable industrial potential increased steadily and with little regard for the result of Chickamauga or of any other battle. On the Western and Atlantic the continuing currency crisis and the operation of Gresham's Law rendered it nearly impossible for ticket agents to maintain a supply of small change.35 When the same road somehow located 350 tons of surplus rail in South Georgia in November, it could not find sufficient idle cars on its own line to bring the priceless iron to Atlanta and was obliged to appeal to the Central for the loan of the requisite equipment. By December the car shortage was so severe throughout the state that civilian shippers were telegraphing the Governor for aid in the placement of single box cars.36 Supplies which did manage to get through the blockade commanded prices twenty-five times the prewar levels.37 As expenses continued to rise, they were of course translated p527 into stiff rate increases, which, moreover, were applied to government traffic, regardless of previous agreement.38
For the supply of the fifty thousand men of the Army of Tennessee, now inactive along the heights overlooking Chattanooga, the Western and Atlantic and its feeder lines proved sadly inadequate. Because of the meager support furnished by the agents of the Western and Atlantic, Bragg on November 15 expressed the fear that his army soon would be starved out. "Soldiers in Atlanta," he reported, "have been waiting transportation for three weeks. . . . Our horses are starving, with the storehouses in Atlanta full of corn."39 After the Confederate defeat at Missionary Ridge and the substitution of Joseph E. Johnston for Bragg, the complaints of the military became even more insistent; in January the new commander was wiring Governor Brown that "the Rail Road from Atlanta does not supply our wants . . . if it does not supply us, we cannot defend this portion of the state."40 Western and Atlantic freight trains frequently were consuming thirty-six hours upon the •one‑hundred-mile journey from Atlanta to the new Confederate base at Dalton, Georgia.41 Inevitably, there developed an orgy of accusation and name-calling between Richmond and Milledgeville, certain of Governor Brown's sarcastic remarks being among the most scathing in all American history, but little practical improvement resulted. Although they functioned after a fashion to the very end, the railroads of Georgia were finally beginning to collapse burning a strain far greater than their builders ever anticipated.
As a result of the Federal successes at Chattanooga, •some twenty-five miles of the state road's right of way fell into the hands of the invading p528 forces. The Western and Atlantic had, in fact, become two railroads, each a vital supply for an army, and it was to remain in this divided condition until the fall of Atlanta permanently ended its career as a Confederate line. Under Federal military control, the northern or Chattanooga section of the road received ample supplies. War materiel rumbled unceasingly into the Federal supply depots at Ringgold, and upon the Western and Atlantic yards in Chattanooga there arose a completely equipped machine shop whose foremen were not hampered by shortages.42 It was against such an adequacy of material and equipment that the exhausted Georgia lines were now pitted.
By way of contrast, the Confederate portion of the Western and Atlantic had so deteriorated that accidents became usual rather than occasional. The Marietta Rebel of April 15, 1864, reported two serious derailments as a result of a single day's operation.43 Undoubtedly many minor accidents escaped the record, but any disruption of service upon their single, fragile life-line was a serious matter to Joseph E. Johnston and his forces.
On May 7, 1864, the Federal forces, now commanded by William Tecumseh Sherman, pushed forward with such vigor and in such overwhelming numbers that the cautious Johnston could do little to stop them. Thrust ever backward along the railroad, hustled relentlessly from one position after another, by mid-July the Army of Tennessee could see the church spires of Atlanta. Johnston understood the importance of the straggling iron rails which were his chief connection with what remained of the Confederacy. He succeeded in moving all of the Western and Atlantic rolling stock southward in advance of his withdrawals, and he even made some effort to destroy the track as it was left behind. Not once was Sherman able decisively to cut the Confederate line of communication. But such southern advantages as interior lines of communication and increasing nearness to base were p529 more than offset by Federal superiority in technology and manpower. Behind the advancing blue divisions the half-ruined railroad was rebuilt with "miraculous" speed;44 the Federal advance never seriously outran its supplies.
On the evening of July 22 the Federal left wing stood solidly across the line of the Georgia Railroad, midway between Atlanta and Decatur, and the last principal interior communication line between the two great combat areas was broken. Henceforth all rail transportation from Alabama and Mississippi into the Carolinas and Virginia was diverted to the roundabout and uncertain route via Columbus and Macon. Nor did the replacement of Johnston by John B. Hood appreciably improve a situation which really was beyond repair; dashing and valiant frontal attacks upon the encroaching Federal lines produced only long casualty lists. Now that its exits to the northwest and the northeast were blocked, Atlanta was no longer a master turntable in the supply system of an embattled country, but, with Richmond and Petersburg, had become a besieged bastion for which there was no hope of relief.
Soon the railroads approaching Atlanta from the south, already nearly overwhelmed by the traffic required to supply nearly the whole of the Confederate defense in the West, were threatened by Federal cavalry raids. In late July the Federals under Generals George Stoneman and Edward M. McCook succeeded in inflicting considerable destruction upon the Macon and Western in the vicinity of Lovejoy's Station and even more upon the Central lines radiating from Gordon. Although most of the raiders were subsequently captured and spent the remainder of the war behind the stockades of southern prison camps, they so damaged the Central's bridge over the Oconee that no trains operated into Macon from the east for four weeks.45 In addition, seventeen passenger cars and thirty freight cars, salvaged from the p530 Western and Atlantic, were destroyed, and four engines belonging to the same road were seriously damaged.46 For the rest of the siege of Atlanta the defending army was denied the use of its last complete railroad communication with the Confederate northeast.
Although the damage to the Macon and Western was of such a nature that it was quickly repaired, the general physical condition of the road was now so bad that the transportation of Hood's wounded from Atlanta into the interior was an almost impossible task. On August 1 Hood's chief of south reported that hospital trains were requiring seventy hours to cover the •one hundred miles from Atlanta to Macon.47 When even the optimistic Hood realized that the evacuation of Atlanta was very near, an attempt was made to convey the remaining casualties to safety by the simple expedient of seizing an entire passenger train and starting off toward Macon without the formality of notifying the Macon and Western dispatcher. The results were of course serious: in a collision with a commissary train near Barnesville about thirty lives were lost, including that of a "young lady of Memphis," who was evidently acting as a nurse.48 Indeed, the whole evacuation of Atlanta seems to have been carried out in a spirit of panic, although Hood later maintained that he foresaw the event as early as the twenty-eighth of August and that at that time he delivered definite instructions to the heads of his quartermaster, ordnance, and commissary departments to load their materiel upon railroad cars in preparation for a swift departure.49 But the rolling stock remained in the Atlanta yards until August 31, when the presence of Sherman's right wing within striking distance of the Macon and Western at Jonesboro rendered their movement impossible. There remained no other course, therefore, but destruction to keep cars and stores out of Federal hands, and soon the p531 night sky over Atlanta was illuminated by the brilliant flashes of explosions as stores and munitions were fired.
When Sherman's columns marched into Atlanta on September 2, they were merely carrying out a formality, for the heart of the Confederacy had ceased to pump vital nourishment to the body more than a month earlier, when Sherman first bivouacked along the red clay cuttings of the Georgia Railroad and halted the progress of Confederate supply trains over the most direct route from the south and west to the battlefields of Virginia.
The details of Sherman's succeeding moves, including the famous "March to the Sea," are not pertinent to a study of the role played by railroads in the war. When Sherman quit Georgia soil in January, 1865, however, he had destroyed nearly half the railroad mileage of the state so completely that the situation was beyond the power of the Confederacy to rectify. •Eighty-four miles of the Western and Atlantic between Atlanta and Resaca were little more than a smoking desolation; above Resaca the iron had been pried loose for a distance of about •twenty miles and hauled off to points where it would be safe in Federal hands.50 The railroad facilities of Atlanta had been reduced to a shambles. Complete ruin marked the line of the Atlanta and West Point between Atlanta and Fairburn, while the Georgia Railroad presented a similar picture of destruction from the same city to its crossing of the Oconee beyond Madison. Worst of all was the condition of the Central. Eastward from Walnut Creek, its entire main line, including all buildings, was completely demolished to the Little Ogeechee River, •forty-six miles from Savannah. On its Eatonton branch, •six miles of track, the passenger and freight stations at Milledgeville, the station and engine houses at Eatonton, and the bridges over Fishing Creek and Little River were destroyed. Along the old Augusta and Savannah road between Augusta and Millen the toll was •ten miles of track, three stations, one locomotive, and several cars. And when the Federal columns converged upon Savannah in December, •fourteen additional p532 miles of main line in the approaches to the city had experienced similar destruction. All told, •some one hundred thirty-nine miles of the Central system were practically obliterated.51 The Macon and Western fared somewhat better, as it was not located directly upon Sherman's route; nevertheless, all but •five and one-half miles of the road between Forsythe and Atlanta was torn up.52
In addition to their primary status as objects of destruction, Georgia railroads played certain minor, although significant, roles in the Sherman tragedy. Soon after the departure of the Union columns from Atlanta, Governor Brown ordered that most of the remaining Western and Atlantic equipment be devoted to the removal of the sick and wounded from the immediate vicinity of the enemy.53 Railroad employees were specifically exempted from his levy-en‑masse order of November 19, although their preferred status was subject to the following qualification: "All railroad companies in this state will transport all persons applying for transportation to the front, and in case anyone refuses, its president, superintendent, agents and employees will be immediately sent to the front."54
Railroads made possible the only serious attempt to concentrate troops for the defense of Savannah. This effort involved the transfer of a large portion of the organized state militia from Macon to Savannah over a roundabout and broken route via the South Western to Albany and the Atlantic and Gulf from Thomasville to Savannah, the •sixty miles of pine-dotted country between Albany and Thomasville being covered on foot. Even so, the shift was rather rapidly effected. The first units left Macon for Albany on November 23, and at two o'clock on the morning of November 30 the first troop train was approaching the p533 outskirts of Savannah.55 But though the troops concerned successfully halted a minor Federal column which was probing toward the city through the moss-hung swamp of South Carolina, they were far too few in number to face the plunging masses of Sherman.
Although the great decision against the Southern Confederacy already had been rendered, many of its people strove to rebuild and to fight on almost barehanded. But while these closing weeks of the war saw much lingering will, there often existed literally no way. The repair of the Atlanta and West Point was pronounced complete by the end of December, 1864, but its operation thereafter was formality rather than reality, with but a single freight engine fit for use.56 The Macon and Western was unable to resume service into Atlanta until late in the winter.57 The Western and Atlantic scarcely existed any longer, and it was not until the middle of March that an attempt was made merely to replace the tracks in the Atlanta yards to hold such rolling stock as had been salvaged.58 The Central was in so desperate a condition that its main line between Savannah and Macon did not completely resume operation until June 12, 1866.59 Presently there came tacit admission that the Georgia carriers could renew themselves only through the destruction of their own substance: proposals involving the dismantling of certain less important lines and the re‑laying of the old iron upon emergency links to be constructed along the more vital routes were seriously discussed and partially carried into effect. In February •twenty miles of the Fort Gaines branch of the South Western were torn up in this way for use in the repair of the Central, the Atlanta and West Point, and the Macon and Western.60 Between Augusta p534 and Millen •about eleven and one-half miles of the former Savannah and Augusta were dismantled by order of the Confederate government, even while the road was in the process of repair.61
But such frantic endeavors failed to renew even the basic rail net. Like Lee at Appomattox, the railroads and people of Georgia were finding that continuation of the struggle could mean nothing but useless sacrifice. The end came in mid‑April, when the wrecked facilities proved inadequate to concentrate state troops in the face of General James H. Wilson's cavalry raid.62 By the end of the month, even Governor Brown was co‑operating with General Wilson in the rehabilitation of the Western and Atlantic,63 and, for Georgia, the war was over.
Although the defeat of the Confederacy may be attributed generally to a chronic state of deficiency in nearly every phase of modern war save that of courage, the failure of its railroad system was a contributing factor of major significance. The South continued in the field for nearly two years after the fall of Vicksburg; within five months of Sherman's practical elimination of rail transportation in Georgia, the southern war effort was practically ended. The Confederate armies suffered from a variety of deficiencies and a multiplicity of problems. The failure of the transportation facilities of the Confederate and the subsequent collapse of its services of supply rendered it incapable of further resistance, even if the other problems which beset it had been soluble.
1 Those coastal waterways that were not covered by the Federal blockade were not sufficiently continuous to serve as satisfactory transportation routes.
2 In 1862 the Central also secured a branch from Millen to Augusta through its lease of the Savannah and Augusta Railroad.
3 List of Shareholders, appended to Semi-Annual Statement of Atlantic and Gulf Railroad Company, July 31, 1861 (MS. in files of Georgia Department of Archives and History, Atlanta).
4 The manner in which rolling stock was bandied about the state during the war proves the common gauge of all lines. Records of the Engineering Department of the Atlanta and West Point give its gauge as •five feet.
5 Superintendent's Report, December 1, 1859, in Macon and Western Railroad Company, Annual Report, 1859. In order to simplify citation, all references in this study to the annual reports of the railroad companies will appear in this abbreviated form. For clues to the location of such reports, see Bureau of Railway Economics, Railway Economics: A Collective Catalogue of Books in Fourteen Libraries (Chicago, 1912), 300‑332.
6 Georgia Railroad Local Tariff, December 3, 1867, in Georgia Railroad and Banking Company, Annual Report, 1867.
7 Cashier's Statement, May 10, 1859, in Georgia Railroad and Banking Company, Annual Report, 1859.
8 Superintendent's Report, December 4, 1860, in Central Railroad and Banking Company, Annual Report, 1860.
9 Report of the President, December 1, 1864, in Macon and Western Railroad Company, Annual Report, 1864.
10 This conclusion is based on a careful examination of the lists of stockholders which were appended to the annual reports of the various companies. Incidentally, the names of many famous Southerners appear in these lists.
11 Petition of Confederate Railroads to the Government at Richmond, February, 1863 (Georgia Department of Archives and History).
12 President's Report, December 10, 1860, in Central Railroad and Banking Company, Annual Report, 1860.
14 Report of Railroad Convention, Chattanooga, Tennessee, June 4‑5, 1861 (Georgia Department of Archives and History).
15 Circular letter from Governor Joseph E. Brown to the Presidents of the Principal Georgia Railroads, April 27, 1861, ibid.
16 Brown to President R. R. Cuyler, of Central Railroad Company, June 8, 1861, in Georgia Executive Letters (Georgia Department of Archives and History).
17 Superintendent's Report, August 1, 1861, in South Western Railroad Company, Annual Report, 1861.
18 Georgia Executive Minutes (Georgia Department of Archives and History), October 7, 1861.
19 Brown to Major William S. Ashe, October 3, 1861 (telegram), in Georgia Executive Letters.
20 Brown's Annual Message, November 6, 1862, in Georgia Executive Minutes. See also Allen D. Candler (ed.), The Confederate Records of the State of Georgia, 6 vols. (Atlanta, 1909‑1911), II, 283‑308.
22 Brown to President Jefferson Davis, April 22, 1862, in Georgia Executive Letters; also in Candler (ed.), Confederate Records, III, 192‑98.
23 A good resumé of this episode is given in Robert S. Henry, The Story of the Confederacy (Garden City, N. Y., 1933), 131‑35. See also James H. Johnston, Western and Atlantic Railroad of the State of Georgia (Atlanta, 1931), 52‑60, for a sketch of the problems of this road during the war.
24 Stanley F. Horn, The Army of Tennessee: A Military History (Indianapolis, 1941), 159‑60.
25 Advertisement of Savannah, Albany and Gulf Railroad Company, in Savannah Daily Morning News, October 7, 1862.
26 Brown to O. M. Avery, July 18, 1862, in Georgia Executive Letters.
27 Petition of Confederate Railroads to the Government at Richmond, February, 1863 (Georgia Department of Archives and History).
28 Brown to Superintendent John S. Rowland, March 20, 1863 (telegram), in Georgia Executive Letters.
29 Brown to President Davis, March 16, 1863 (telegram), ibid. For Davis' reply see Dunbar Rowland (ed.), Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist, 10 vols. (Jackson, Miss., 1923), V, 449.
30 Superintendent's Report, December 1, 1863, in Central Railroad and Banking Company, Annual Report, 1863.
31 Mary G. Cumming, The Georgia Railroad and Banking Company, 1833‑1945 (Augusta, 1945).
32 Brown to General William W. Mackall, May 14, 1863 (telegram), in Georgia Executive Letters.
33 Brown to Captain L. P. Grant, July 31, 1863, ibid.
34 Statement of General Moxley Sorrel, quoted in Horn, Army of Tennessee, 245‑46.
35 Superintendent Rowland to Brown, May 11, 1863 (telegram), in Georgia Executive Letters.
36 Samuel Sheats to Brown, December 12, 1863 (telegram), ibid.
37 Brown's Special Message to Georgia Legislature, December 2, 1863, in Georgia Executive Minutes; also in Candler (ed.), Confederate Records, II, 556‑58.
38 Brown to Major F. M. Sims, Assistant Adjutant General, C. S. A., November 27, 1863, in Georgia Executive Letters.
40 General Joseph E. Johnston to Brown, January 12, 1864 (telegram), in Georgia Executive Letters.
41 Johnston to Georgia Adjutant General Henry C. Wayne, January 14, 1864, in Official Records, Ser. I, vol. XXXII, Part 2, p552.
42 Minutes of Western and Atlantic Railroad, September 21, 1865 (Georgia Department of Archives and History).
43 Quoted in Savannah Daily Morning News, April 26, 1864.
44 General Oliver O. Howard, "The Struggle for Atlanta," in Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel (eds.), Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, 4 vols. (New York, 1887‑1888), IV, 303‑304.
45 Superintendent's Report, December 1, 1865, in Central Railroad and Banking Company, Annual Report, 1865.
46 Brown's Annual Message, November 3, 1864, in Georgia Executive Minutes; also in Candler (ed.), Confederate Records, 761‑63.
47 L. P. Dodge to Isaac Scott, August 1, 1864, in Official Records, Ser. I, vol. XXXVIII, Part 5, p938.
48 Milledgeville Southern Recorder, September 6, 1864.
49 See General Hood's official report to Adjutant General Samuel Cooper, February 15, 1865, in Official Records, Ser. I, vol. XXXVIII, Part 3, p633.
50 Milledgeville Southern Recorder, December 20, 1864.
52 Superintendent's Report, December 1, 1865, in Macon and Western Railroad Company, Annual Report, 1865.
53 Brown to E. B. Walker, November 17, 1864 (telegram), in Georgia Executive Letters.
54 Georgia Executive Minutes, November 19, 1864.
55 General Gustavus W. Smith, "The Georgia Militia during Sherman's March to the Sea," in Johnson and Buel (eds.), Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, IV, 667.
56 President's Report, July 25, 1866, in Atlanta and West Point Railroad Company, Annual Report, 1866.
57 Superintendent's Report, December 1, 1864, in Macon and Western Railroad Company, Annual Report, 1864.
58 Brown to Martin I. Dooley, March 15, 1865, in Georgia Executive Letters.
59 Central of Georgia Railway Company, The First Hundred Years (Privately printed, 1943).
60 Superintendent's Report, August 1, 1865, in South Western Railroad Company, Annual Report, 1865.
61 Superintendent's Report, December 1, 1865, in Central Railroad and Banking Company, Annual Report, 1865. It is interesting to note that the Confederate Congress had finally given the Government authority to commandeer railroads in February, 1865.
62 Brown to Robert Toombs, April 16, 1865 (telegram), in Georgia Executive Letters.
63 Brown to General James H. Wilson, April 28, 1865 (telegram), ibid.
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