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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
The Yale Review
Vol. 15 No. 2 (August 1906), pp195‑213

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 p195  The Canal and the Railroad from 1861 to 1865

In the industrial development of the country from 1861 to 1865 no phase is more remarkable than the growth and prosperity of the canals and railroads. During four years of war there was a steady increase in traffic on these lines, unprecedented activity, and a surprisingly widespread public interest in transportation questions. At the close of the year 1861 the American Railroad Journal declared, "The year has on the whole been a very favorable one for the Northern railroads. Their earnings for the present season greatly exceeded those of 1860. Their traffics have immensely increased to supply the foreign demand for breadstuffs. It is consequently a somewhat remarkable fact that in a period of civil war the value of railroad property should have improved while that of all other kinds has greatly deteriorated."​1 In the middle of the war, reviewing the year 1863, the same journal said, "The railway system has greatly flourished the past year. The companies have got out of debt or largely diminished their indebtedness, their earnings are increasing, their dividends have become regular and inviting. The past year has been, therefore, the most prosperous ever known to American railways."2

Concrete illustrations of this growth are to be seen in the rapid increase in freight cars and in tonnage. The Pennsylvania Railroad, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago, the Erie, the New York Central, the Cleveland and Toledo, the Michigan Southern, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, the Illinois Central, and the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati doubled their number of freight cars; those of the Central of New Jersey were more than trebled. The growth in freight carried was proportionate in almost every case.

The movement of the enormous harvests was one cause of this usual activity, especially to provide for exportation to  p196 Great Britain, where the harvests were poor in each of the successive years, 1860, 1861, and 1862. Up to 1860 the largest annual shipment of grain from Chicago had been 31,000,000 bushels, but in each year of the war Chicago shipped on an average 50,000,000 bushels. There were large shipments also from Milwaukee and the other lake ports, and from Cincinnati. In 1863 Chicago sent eastward 95,000,000 pounds of provisions and cut meats, as against a previous maximum of 13,000,000 pounds. Petroleum was listed as a Pennsylvania output for the first time in 1859, and rose to 128,000,000 gallons by the year 1862. Her anthracite coal mines produced 10,000,000 tons in 1864, as against 8,000,000 tons in 1860. The mines of all the States raised their production of pig-iron from 800,000 tons in 1860 to over 1,000,000 tons in 1864, and this rapid increase of fuel and iron meant a corresponding swelling of manufacturing. To distribute these growing products of the farms, the mines, and the factories, was the task of the railroads and water routes. In addition all lines had to respond to new demands for transportation of soldiers and their supplies.

The stock market reflected this prosperity. Practically the first substantial sign of recovery from the crisis of 1861 was the heavy investment in railroad stocks in the summer of 1862, and from that time on, till the announcement in the fall of 1863 that the harvests in Great Britain were at last good, and that, therefore, there would be less activity in the movement of grain to the seaboard, these were the most prominent stocks on the Stock Exchange. In the year 1864 investors turned also to mining and petroleum stocks and to the Produce Exchange, but these transactions, unlike those in railroad stocks, were not founded on a genuine increase of business. The quotations for the stock of all the large roads became very high in the last part of the war, an acceptable change from the low prices of the years before the war.

Of the various roads, those in New England, almost shut off from grain movement and army transport service, showed the least advance over their previous flourishing condition; those in Pennsylvania prospered with the growing output of iron, coal, and petroleum which they carried; those in the West and Northwest,  p197 built in the previous decade far in advance of immediate needs, were now for the first time used to their utmost capacity in carrying the crops, which, but for them, could not easily have reached a market after the closing of the Mississippi; the North and South lines, such as the Illinois Central and the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, which had the previous record of never making money, throve on army business. The most prominent, if not the most important lines, were the three East and West trunk lines, the Pennsylvania, the Erie, and the New York Central, which were continued westward by the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne and Chicago, the Michigan Central, and the five lines later consolidated into the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. Farther north the Grand Trunk reached the lakes in Canada, while to the south was the Baltimore and Ohio, largely within the war zone.

The various meat products sent eastward from Chicago commonly went over the railroads, especially the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne and Chicago, but in the middle of the war 99 per cent of the wheat, 95 per cent of the corn and 81 per cent of the flour from Chicago took the lake route to Buffalo and other eastern lake ports, to be forwarded thence by rail and canal to New York and Boston. These lake routes secured much more traffic than the competing land routes. In 1862, 2,500 more vessels entered and cleared the port of Buffalo than in any previous year. Although the Erie and the New York Central had their own boats plying the lakes and supplying their steam lines at Buffalo and other lake terminal points, the Erie Canal took twice as much of this lake traffic as the two great railroads together. Never had the New York waterway performed such services. The boats on its waters rose from 3,000 in 1860 to 6,000 in 1863.

The resulting activity in boat building was very great. Not since 1847, the year of heavy exportations of grain to famine-stricken Ireland, were so many vessels built on these canals of the Empire State as in 1862. In this year vessel building in every lake port also was greater than in any previous year. The commerce of the western rivers, where government transport service filled the gap made by the disappearance of the old southern trade, was comparable to that of the lakes. In the last part  p198 of the war more vessels were built on these rivers than for many years.

American transportation on the ocean had not so brilliant a record. In 1860 2,872 American vessels entered New York harbor, and 1,474 foreign vessels; in 1864 only 1,568 American vessels and 3,206 foreign vessels. The experience of every harbor was similar. In the last part of the war, of the ocean tonnage that entered the United States, exclusive of that from the British North American provinces, 60 per cent was foreign, whereas in no year before the war had more than 31 per cent been foreign. No one shipped in an American vessel unless there was no foreign vessel at hand. Many of the ships under the American flag did not have full cargoes, while those flying foreign flags were always filled, and the valuable cargoes were without exception secured by the foreigners. This was in large part the work of the 25 Southern privateers and cruisers, which captured in all 283 United States ships, valued with their cargoes at $25,000,000, and the fear of which destroyed the prestige of the ships of the United States, which before 1860 had ruled in American foreign trade. During the war more than 1,000 American vessels were transferred to the British flag — over 600 in the single year of 1863, though the usual number of such transfers in times of peace was from 30 to 30.

At this result every Northerner felt deep indignation, which increased as the statistics for each new year were published. When the Alabama, which left England July 29, 1862, and up to the end of 1863 had captured 64 vessels, was finally destroyed off the coast of France by the Kearsarge in June, 1864, a feeling of generous exultation and relief filled every heart, and most of all the hearts of the merchants. The Philadelphia Board of Trade tendered Captain Winslow an elaborate banquet with a most complimentary address, and the New York Chamber of Commerce presented captain, officers, and men with a purse of $25,000.

Few of the American ships that remained on the ocean were steamers. Of the three American transatlantic lines started before the war, the Collins Line failed in 1858, the Bremen Line was withdrawn in 1858, and the Havre Line was taken into the  p199 government service. Flushed with pride over the success of their steam transportation on land, it was humiliating to Americans to see eleven foreign lines with fifty-four steamers entering their leading port, carrying the foreign mails, and meeting no American competition. The foreigners spent little in the United States for repairs and supplies, and added nothing to its merchant marine. It was seriously questioned by many people whether it had been wise to devote so much energy to internal improvements at the expense of neglecting steam ocean transportation.

The actual conditions of transportation on the ocean must be set over against those on the land in order to enable us to appreciate another phase of the general subject — the agitation for increased transportation facilities. Nothing is more characteristic of the period, aside from interest in war and politics, than the efforts of rival cities to gain commercial supremacy, to build additional means of transportation both on land and sea, and especially to improve connections with the West.

Of these cities, New York with the Hudson River Railroad, the New York Central, the Erie, the eleven transatlantic steamship lines, meeting on the best harbor of the continent, was easily the leader. Exports of wheat, wheat flour, and corn grew from 9,000,000 bushels in 1860 to 40,000,000 in 1861; 57,000,000 in 1862; 50,000,000 in 1863; with a fall to 30,000,000 in 1864; while those from Boston, 800,000 in 1860, rose only to 2,000,000 in 1862; and those from Philadelphia never got beyond 5,000,000 bushels. The total foreign commerce of New York started on a higher scale and increased more rapidly than that of her rivals. In 1864 its value was twenty times that of Philadelphia and nine times that of Boston. Neither Philadelphia nor Boston had a line of steamers to Europe. The former had one trunk line leading to the West, but Boston was dependent on roads terminating in other cities. On the north Boston had a rival, small but growing, — Portland, the terminus of the Grand Trunk. On the south, Philadelphia was opposed by Baltimore with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, but this border city was too harassed by war to be formidable while hostilities lasted. Every commercial city was the rival of every other, working for its own aggrandizement and the depreciation of all the rest.

 p200  New York's water communications with the West were quite as important as those by rail, and the attempts to improve them, while not so effective as the changes on the railroads, attracted much more attention both in the city and in the nation at large. The movement began in Chicago and the West in 1861, because there did not seem to be facilities to carry the crops of the year to market. The important route by the Mississippi River was closed, and consequently freight rates on other available lines became very high. The Westerners insisted that these east and west lines, with their suddenly acquired monopoly, should be checked, and they called on the national government to open the Mississippi to the Northeast by enlarging the Illinois and Michigan Canal from the Great Lakes to the Illinois River. This would give the river traffic and the many northwestern communities that were dependent on it a new outlet to eastern markets, and enable many more boats to ply the lakes. The demand was not new, but it was now made with renewed energy, and soon the Trent affair added the argument of military necessity, for Great Britain began mobilizing for service in Canada troops and gunboats which could easily be taken through the Canadian canals to Lake Ontario, whence by way of the Welland Canal they could reach the other lakes, while none of the canals in the United States leading to the lakes were large enough to admit such craft. Thus in the sudden emergency of war the Illinois Canal, widened, and deepened, was urged as a channel for western gunboats to the lakes, and as an outlet for western products to a new market. Extensive reports on the plan with estimates and specifications were made to the Secretary of War and to Congress, and three different bills were introduced in Congress on the subject, but there no action resulted.

At the same time the State of New York was aroused at the inadequacy of her accommodations for the western traffic, although after twenty-seven years' work and an expenditure of $40,000,000 the State was just bringing to conclusion a great enlargement of the Erie Canal. If the increasing western crops were to be handled, the canal would have to be further enlarged. Again, the Trent affair brought into the discussion the military argument. However, the State was unwilling to tax itself a second  p201 time for the purpose. If the work was to be done, Congress might furnish money; but Congress held back. New York was plainly blocking Chicago, and Chicago was blocking New York.

Few anticipated the next step. Chicago business men held a mass meeting, and within less than six months transferred their local scheme into an almost national demand, with the hearty support not only of New York but also of many other parts of the Union. It was a fine illustration of the power of the western market over all sections. To bring New York to terms, Chicago held up to the public mind the rival route seaward of Canada and the St. Lawrence, appointed committees and secured the appointment of others in various sections of the West, who in person urged upon the Canadians the improvement of the Canadian waterways. Canadian boards of trade, newspapers, and parliamentary committees argued and reported in favor of the idea, as they had done in the middle fifties at the same solicitation, setting forth the advantages of a route by way of Lake Michigan, Georgian Bay, a short canal connecting with the Ottawa River, and thence to the St. Lawrence and Europe, with a considerable saving of distance over the Erie Canal route.

Canada was in earnest; New York and New England were aroused. At the psychological moment in 1863, at a call signed by fourteen United States Senators and eighty Representatives, a great ship canal convention assembled in Chicago. The Vice-president of the United States was in the chair; representatives from every section were present, strong eastern delegations coming from Portland, Boston, and New York. Although many cities refused to be represented, there were two thousand delegates in all; one thousand from Illinois. All agreed that the western trade must not be allowed to go through Canada.

In the convention many interests were represented. There were urged a canal around Niagara Falls, around the Rapids of the Mississippi, the improvement of the St. Clair Flats, of the Fox, Wisconsin, and Hudson Rivers, a canal between Lakes Ontario and Cayuga, and the improvement of all the Ohio canals. These plans were allowed to be presented in order to placate the different localities, but the one dominating, over­powering, interest  p202 was that of the Chicago and New York delegates, and the final resolution by a mass vote was that the national government should be asked to improve both the Illinois and the New York canals for military and commercial reasons. A special committee was appointed to lay this memorial before the President and Congress, and the President favorably referred to the petition in his next annual message. No action was secured from Congress, for the opposition was very strong. Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee sent no delegates, and bitterly, though not always consistently, denounced the whole plan. Canals were out of date, they claimed. Where railroads had not already superseded them, as, for example, in New York, nothing but state taxation of the land routes could keep the water routes alive. The relief must be immediate, while to complete the proposed improvements would require a long time. Chicago and New York, they declared, were using the cloak of military necessity to conceal their local and selfish designs, which it would be unwise for the general government to gratify, because so many other communities were clamorous for their special claims.

Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Cincinnati, and Louisville preferred the improvement of the Ohio River, and accordingly a convention in Louisville in 1864 framed petitions advancing that claim upon Congress. Others would have the much discussed gunboats reach the lakes by way of the canal between Cincinnati and Toledo. The improvement of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers appealed to the people of Milwaukee and of large parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. As early as 1849 Wisconsin planned to connect the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes through these rivers, and in 1856 the enterprise was begun by a private company. These interests led to more conventions. Oswego and northern New York advanced the old plan of a canal around Niagara Falls, the route for which had been surveyed a number of times after 1782, and they found strong support in Boston and Philadelphia; but Buffalo, foreseeing in the project the inevitable decline of her growing commerce, offered vigorous opposition. Much pressure was brought to bear on New York City to secure support, Congress was besieged in the ordinary way, and the House of Representatives passed the  p203 desired bill, but there the matter slept. Some New Yorkers favored improving the canal connections between Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River in order to increase trade with Canada. A few renewed the scheme of connecting Lakes Michigan and Erie by a canal west from Toledo.

For more than a year after the Chicago convention all these schemes were widely discussed in the newspapers and magazines. Enthusiasm for canals was very strong, and seemed to be world-wide. The French were building the Suez Canal, finished in 1865, and English and French capitalists were negotiating for concessions for the Panama and Nicaragua routes between the Atlantic and Pacific, interest in which projects was renewed by the presence of the French in Mexico.

Despite this extended public discussion, little was practically accomplished for canals. No new ones were dug and no important improvements made. In railroad building, however, much was accomplished for New York and for all her rivals. The railroad interests were spurred to the greatest activity in their endeavor to hold their own against the popular canal agitation. Their most effectual response to the canal measures was the construction, by foreign capital, of a new trunk line to the West, the Atlantic and Great Western, built from Salamanca, New York, on the Erie Railroad, which furnished direct connection with New York City, to Dayton, Ohio, whence there were direct connections with Cincinnati over the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton, and on to St. Louis over the Ohio and Mississippi. This was the greatest railroad achievement of the war. In May, 1865, when the first trains arrived in Cincinnati, shipments from New York, which had formerly taken thirty or forty days, began to come through in less than a week. Merchants were delighted beyond expression. The daily press, realizing beforehand the significance of the road, faithfully chronicled the progress of the work as it advanced over the three States of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. A special excursion from New York, a banquet, speeches, and fireworks celebrated the completion of the road to Cleveland, which had particular reasons to rejoice, for, besides through cars without change to New York, this city boasted that the Chicago and New York lake traffic, which now  p204 went by way of Buffalo, would be diverted to her to go eastward by the new road. There were similar celebrations in St. Louis and Cincinnati.

Philadelphia secured three new routes to the West. Since 1836 there had been a demand for a railroad northwest from Philadelphia to meet the lake route at Erie, but little was done till 1861, and during the excitement of the Presidential campaign of 1864 the road was completed. Erie with the new road, like Cleveland with the Atlantic and Great Western, would now contend with Buffalo for the honor of being the connecting link between the East and West, and Philadelphia would wrest from New York some of that city's commercial prestige as the depot for western products. Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania left off making campaign speeches to join in a great excursion in honor of the event. Time was soon to prove how hollow were the hopes for the new line and how much more substantial were the results of connections secured in the West with Cincinnati and Chicago. In 1864 a new line was completed from Steubensville, Ohio, to Pittsburg, giving Philadelphia direct communications via Pittsburg with Columbus and Cincinnati, and with Chicago via existing lines from Columbus to Richmond, Indiana, from which point a new road just completed led to Chicago. Thus in three ways Philadelphia met the competition of New York's new line, the Atlantic and Great Western.

New York on the north had another rival. Boston, the metropolis of New England, shut up in a corner away from the rest of the country, conscious that she had been comparatively indifferent in the past to the trade of the West, and that she was consequently losing her hold there, was aroused. Massachusetts had spent only $5,000,000 on western connections, and individuals of the State, together with the city of Albany, $11,000,000 more, while New York State had spent $65,000,000 for the same purpose, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia $40,000,000, Maryland and Baltimore $12,000,000, individuals in these states and cities $117,000,000, and Canada $75,000,000. Boston saw that she must exert herself to meet the occasion.

It was vexatious for Boston merchants to be dependent to so great an extent for their western trade upon a single line which  p205 was liable to be overcrowded, and which, without a rival save indirect routes through Canada, was able to extort high freight rates. All interests demanded a new western road, but while it was commonly agreed that it was impracticable to construct one through to the West, and that some existing trunk line should be tapped to divert traffic, there was no unanimity as to the manner in which this project should be realized. Negotiations to draw the terminus to Grand Trunk from Portland to Boston were repeated each year, with no success, however, other than exciting much ill-will between the two cities.

South of the Grand Trunk were the New York Central and the Erie Canal, which might be tapped at Albany by a second line. As early as the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, Boston men planned the Hoosac Tunnel and agitated for it. In 1848 the Troy and Greenfield Railroad was chartered and given seven years to build its road and the tunnel. There was delay in raising money and State aid was secured in 1854. In 1855 the tunnel was begun, but, although the company availed themselves of State aid again in 1860, little was done, and in 1861 they abandoned their task. In 1863 the State took up the unfinished work, and pushed it vigorously throughout the remainder of the war with Boston's hearty support. This was one of the most substantial public works of the period, rivalling the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad in general interest, and comparable to the great contemporary undertaking of tunneling Mt. Cenis in Italy. Governor Andrew of Massachusetts took the ground that it was necessary to support public works as far as possible in order to keep up the courage of the people. To have their minds occupied in matters of this kind would be the surest way to preserve them from discontent and fears. For the same reason he was one of the most ardent supporters of the Pacific Railroad.

Farther south than the New York Central was one of the eastern termini of the Erie Railroad, at Newburgh, New York, opposite Fishkill, to which point Boston capitalists in 1863 secured a charter for a road, designing to use some small existing roads, and to build the necessary connecting links. This line was to be called the Boston, Hartford and Erie, and all predicted for it a great future because it would bring direct connections, without  p206 change of cars, with Cincinnati and St. Louis; and further because it would have the advantage of delivering its freight by the side of the ships themselves, whereas the Boston and Worcester delivered its grain at the terminus on the Charles River, whence cartage was necessary across the city to the ocean. Despite all the agitation, however, the road was not completed till 1881.

In addition to trunk lines, another facility was needed before Boston could hope to become a great railway terminus. Boston, in common with Philadelphia and in strange contrast to New York, had no regular steamship lines to Europe. If the competition with New York for western grain was to become serious, this lack must be supplied. It would avail little to build roads to bring more grain, if there were no swift steamers to carry it to its destination. Throughout the war both Boston and Philadelphia strongly and continuously agitated in favor of new transatlantic steamship companies. Subscription papers for the purpose were opened in both cities, but the expense and the fear of Rebel privateers checked all plans. In Boston nothing was accomplished, but in Philadelphia in 1865, in imitation of the progressive Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Baltimore, which had just inaugurated a steamship line of its own to Liverpool, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia matured plans for a similar line. There was obviously no such incentive for New York to build new ocean lines to supplement her railroads and canals, for the reason that eleven foreign companies were already performing that service.

Pittsburg, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Chicago were active equally with the seaboard cities in struggling for more trade. Pittsburg shared with Philadelphia in the benefits of the new connections with Columbus, Cincinnati, and Chicago, already mentioned. She endeavored without success to reach the Baltimore and Ohio, but her strongest desire was to reach the newly opened oil fields in northwestern Pennsylvania. The Alleghany River was one avenue of approach to these. Another and more important one was the Erie and Pittsburg Railroad, projected before the petroleum discoveries but not completed till 1864. These two routes brought most of the crude oil to Pittsburg,  p207 and made her the great oil center. But there were rival routes, namely two branches of the new Atlantic and Great Western, and a branch of the new Philadelphia and Erie, which transported some oil to New York and Philadelphia. Pipe lines were not invented till the very end of the war, and for the greater part of our period the oil had to be hauled to the steam cars in wagons over difficult country roads.

Cincinnati and St. Louis rejoiced in the completion of the Atlantic and Great Western, but aside from this east and west line the interests of the two cities in increased transportation lay in different directions; Cincinnati turned to the South, St. Louis to the West. Even before the war the Queen City had endeavored to extend her trade southward to eastern Tennessee, but the war stopped all agitation except for government construction of the road as a military necessity. The government, however, did not act, and in 1866 the city itself, led by her Chamber of Commerce, by most generous subscriptions, made the line an assured fact.

The prize in the west for St. Louis was the large overland transportation business of the Missouri River towns with New Mexico, Pike's Peak, and the Colorado gold mines, Utah, Nevada, and points on the plains. In 1860 it was estimated that from Kansas City, Leavenworth, Atchison, St. Joseph, Nebraska City and Omaha, approximately 7,000 prairie schooners were engaged in this trade, carrying over 36,000,000 pounds of freight. During the war the trade increased. In 1865 21,000,000 pounds of freight were despatched from Atchison alone, compared with 6,000,000 pounds in 1860. The problem was to win this great market for St. Louis, and to keep it away from Chicago. The Pacific Railroad of Missouri was the solution. This road, planned as early as 1850 but completed only in 1865 after active work in the last part of the war, was the shortest route between these two cities, and, as it was enabled to reach farther and farther west over Kansas by the gradual completion of the Kansas branch of the Union Pacific, its value to St. Louis increased. It was prepared also to join the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, whenever that much discussed road, now richly endowed by large land grants from Congress, should begin to traverse directly the old southwestern route.

 p208  Chicago's efforts to increase her trade were many and diverse, as befitted the great railroad center of the West. She worked toward the overland Kansas trade and the Kansas branch of the Union Pacific by gaining control of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. Her hold on the Nebraska branch of Union Pacific she made stronger by the consolidation of the Chicago and Northwestern with the Galena and Chicago Union, thus securing a continuous line extending through Iowa two hundred and four miles west of the Mississippi River, beyond which the construction of one hundred and thirty miles of track would give through connections with Omaha, the Nebraska terminus of the Pacific road. She matured plans for new connections with St. Paul and the Northwest, she laid a new route to Madison, Wisconsin, and, as she thought, gained complete control of the traffic from the iron and copper mines of northern Michigan by extensions of the Chicago and Northwestern. Her three trunk lines to the East she added to by building the Chicago and Great Eastern already mentioned, and at the very end of the war definite plans were laid for the extension to Chicago of the Grand Trunk from Port Huron, opposite Sarnia, Ontario.

The Pacific Railroad, to which the West and in fact the whole country were turning, was the realization of public discussion as old as the discovery of gold in California. In 1853 Congress ordered the survey of northern, central, and southern routes to the Pacific, and by the next year the roads seemed to be a certainty, but not until the Republican party, pledged to the project by their platform of 1860, came into power did Congress take definite action. By an act of 1862, amended slightly in 1864, the national government incorporated a company to build a road from the wilds of western Nebraska to the western border of Nevada, with a western branch leading to Sacramento; and in the East two branches, one leading through Nebraska to Omaha, the other through Kansas to Kansas City. The route was located by the existence of frontier settlements in Nebraska and Kansas, and by the thin strip of settlements extending across the continent through Colorado, Utah and Nevada. The government pledged itself to subsidize the line with 35,000,000 acres of public land and $50,000,000 in United States bonds.

 p209  The incorporation in 1862 easily secured the necessary public subscriptions of $2,000,000 and at once many arguments in favor of the work were widely advanced. California must be drawn more closely to the Union, her trade retained, and her secession made impossible; the nation's influence in the Pacific and its share in the commerce of the East must be advanced; the movements of the French and English in Mexico and Central America for short Isthmian railroads and canals must be checkmated; Western mining and agriculture must be fostered; great public works, like this one and the Hoosac Tunnel, must be pushed for the sake of their encouraging influences on the public mind. Only a few miles of track were completed while the war lasted, but that little aroused great interest. The laying of the first rails in Kansas, Nebraska, and California was the occasion of much ceremony and public enthusiasm. After the war it was asserted that no public work since the Erie Canal had so held the public mind. The Northern Pacific, to which attention was directed by the discovery of gold in Idaho in 1863, was chartered in 1864, the government guaranteeing a subsidy in land of 47,000,000 acres, but no bonds.

The most characteristic and important feature of transportation during the war, the one that accomplished most toward solving practical transportation problems, yet remains to be discussed, — the gradual improvement of the facilities of the existing roads. The consolidation of small roads into larger roads was widespread. Boston's most effective stroke in achieving a new western route was her consolidation of the seven lines leading from that city to Ogdensburg, New York, in the hope that thereby she might tap the Grand Trunk across the St. Lawrence at that point; and her most earnest endeavor each year of the war toward bettering herself was to untie the Boston and Worcester with the Western Railroad, which continued the route to Albany. These two roads, composing her only direct route to the West, could not perform their best services while continually quarrelling with one another over profits. But, despite the fact that their union was so important and public sentiment in favor of the union so strong, the consolidation was not effected till 1867. The Erie gained control of certain small lines in northwestern  p210 New York and changed its northern terminus from Dunkirk to Buffalo. The Pennsylvania took over the Philadelphia and Erie, the Oil Creek Road, both leading to the oil fields, the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne and Chicago, and the Cleveland and Pittsburg. The four lines forming the Lake Shore route from Buffalo to Toledo, partly under the extending influence of the New York Central, united and eventually included in the agreement the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. In Canada the Grand Trunk and the Great Western were united. Examples could be multiplied, but sufficient have been given to show the universality of the tendency of small railroads to merge into large corporations. The phenomenon was not new, but nevertheless was now especially marked. Heavy traffic and the appreciation of gold could hardly have acted otherwise. It was in every way desirable to do away with the losses of competition between rival cities and between rival railroads, and in the presence of high prices to hold in check the expenses of management. Akin to this movement and as extensive was the reorganization of many roads and their establishment on firm financial ground, notably the old New York and Erie, the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne and Chicago, and the Chicago and Northwestern.

An obstacle to all traffic was the different gauges on the railroads in different parts of the country. On the New York and New England roads the rails were four feet and eight and one half inches apart; in Ohio, the West, and south of Philadelphia, four feet eight and one half inches, and four feet and ten inches; in Canada and in some parts of Maine, five feet and six inches; and in some special cases in the West six feet. In no direction could cars run long distances without changes and delays. The Hudson River and New York Central cars passed from New York to Buffalo without change, but could not run to Chicago over the Lake Shore route without changes on the five lines west from Buffalo; they could not go through Canada and strike the Michigan Central without similar changes, and if they proceeded over the Ohio roads to Cincinnati there was a change; the Pennsylvania could not send its cars west from Pittsburg without changes; there were changes between New York and Washington; Grand Trunk trains, suited to the Canadian gauge, could  p211 not reach Boston from Portland, nor Chicago from Detroit, without the delay. In the opening of the war, when government officials made re­quisitions on the roads for cars, the response could not be immediate, and after the cars were once delivered there was the delay of fitting them to the Southern tracks. In many cases there was no possible adjustment and the contents of trains had to be transferred to other cars. But although no standard gauge was adopted, there was progress in doing away with the evil. The Atlantic and Great Western established a uniform broad gauge from New York to St. Louis, an unusually long distance for one gauge. The completion of the new road between Steubenville and Pittsburg made another uniform gauge between two such distant points as Philadelphia and Cincinnati. The gauge of the Oil Creek Road was made similar to that of the Pennsylvania. The Atlantic and Great Western entered Cleveland from Leavittsburgh by a third rail on the Cleveland and Mahoning, and Cincinnati in the same way over the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton. Some roads, like the Pennsylvania for a part of its western traffic, availed themselves of a new patent wheel, extra wide, designed to accommodate different gauges, while others, like the New York Central in its eagerness to reach Cincinnati, built cars of an adjustable axle, cars of a "compromise gauge." The Star Freight Line between Buffalo and Chicago also used this latter expedient. There were few roads which did not have to deal in some way with this universal evil. It is not, then, surprising that the railroad traffic on the Lake Shore route between Chicago and Buffalo was so much lighter than that on the Pittsburg, Fort Wayne and Chicago, and on the lake steamers. Private and state initiative in railroad building was a good thing, but national supervision would never have allowed anything but a uniform gauge.

Another obstacle quite as vexing as the existence of different gauges was the absence of bridges over the wide rivers; "the chief miseries of travelling are changing cars and crossing ferries," said a contemporary.​3 But desirable as were improvements in this direction, and anxious as the railroads were to make them, there was strong opposition from the established ferry  p212 companies and from rival commercial cities. Troy endeavored to divert to her own bridge, away from the Albany ferry, all New York Central lines, and with injunction fought the forthcoming bridge at Albany in the courts, uselessly, however, for the great iron structure at the latter point was begun in 1864 and finished in 1866. It was a revolution in American railroading, attracting universal interest. The ferry companies successfully blocked all Mississippi River bridge projects at St. Louis, although there was an old charter for such a bridge, and the whole city united in fighting a new bridge over the river farther north which would be to the advantage of Chicago. Chicago won and the bridge, the second over the Mississippi, was built in 1864 by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad at Clinton, Iowa. A suspension bridge over the Ohio at Cincinnati was begun in 1864. The same river was bridged at Steubenville, thus connecting Pittsburg and Philadelphia with Columbus. A new bridge was erected over the Monongahela at Pittsburg. The ferry at Havre de Grace,º Maryland, over the Susquehanna on the main route from Philadelphia to Washington was displaced. Most of these great new structures were of iron, and many smaller iron bridges were appearing throughout the country. The old wooden bridges, cheap but dangerous, were certainly not yet supplanted, but the opposition to them, begun early in the previous decade, waxed stronger during the war when traffic was heavy, and was destined eventually to drive them out of existence.

In laying double tracks little progress was made before 1861, but during the war some of the leading lines advanced in this respect. The Hudson River completed double tracks from New York to Albany; the New York Central from Albany to Buffalo. The same was accomplished between New York and Washington.

The building of new grain elevators was extensive. St. Louis had none at all, and to judge from the public discussion in her newspapers one would conclude that to erect a grain elevator was the most important step which that city could take in fighting the overshadowing and ever-growing predominance of Chicago. Without suitable storage facilities the one city could not hope to attract grain trade away from the other, equipped with a score of elevators. Detroit and Erie likewise got their  p213 first elevators. New York, which stored little grain but shipped vast amounts to Europe, in 1861, when the great grain exportations began, got her first floating elevators to lift the grain from lighters and canal boats to the steamers. Previously this work had been done, as in Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, by hand pulleys, an immemorial custom. The Irish laborers, by a stubborn strike and threats, most strenuously resisted the change, but the companies persisted. In the first year of the war two of the monster labor-saving machines were set up, five in 1862, the year of the strike, seven of them throwing two thousand laborers out of work. Each year thereafter more were erected, as also in the other great cities of the seaboard, but, in spite of this fact, at the close of the war some of the grain was still handled in the old way in all these cities. Chicago and Buffalo were the great centers of grain elevators. Nothing better illustrates the growth of lake commerce in grain than the erection in Buffalo of nine new elevators during the war, doubling the capacity of the elevators of that city in four years.

Thus throughout the war Northern transportation lines enjoyed remarkable growth and prosperity. Their traffic was extraordinarily heavy, while numerous improvements were made in equipment and in methods of operation on the existing roads, though only a few roads were built in contrast to the great building activity of the preceding decade. It was an era of great interest in transportation questions, of keen competition between rival commercial cities to secure new routes. Far from checking their development, the war undoubtedly worked to the advantage of the canals and railroad.4

Emerson D. Fite.

The Author's Notes:

1 American Railroad Journal, January 4, 1862.

2 American Railroad Journal, January 2, 1864.

3 New York Tribune, August 11, 1861.

4 This article has been prepared from so many sources that it is impracticable to refer to them all in foot-notes; the most important, however, are, Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, The Bankers' Magazine, Reports of the Boards of Trade and Chambers of Commerce of the various cities, and the local newspapers.

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