[Civil War Times] The Confederacy failed to take advantage of railroad technology

Story

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 5, 2011
Messages
1,430
Location
SE PA
#1
From their June 2019 issue -

On April 12, 1864, Robert E. Lee implored Secretary of War James A. Seddon to address the management of railroads in the Confederacy. Problems of supply plagued the Army of Northern Virginia, and Lee wanted all obstacles to deliveries removed. “I earnestly recommend that no private interests be allowed to interfere with the use of all the facilities for transportation that we possess,” he wrote, “until the wants of the army are provided for. The railroads should be at once devoted exclusively to this purpose, even should it be found necessary to suspend all private travel for business or pleasure upon them for the present.”

https://www.historynet.com/insight-off-the-tracks.htm
 

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

uaskme

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 9, 2016
Messages
1,800
#2
States Rights thingy got in the way. The Confederacy was built on States Rights. It was hard for Davis to take it all away. Davis had conflicting views with several strongly opposed governors. He never thru them in Jail.
 

jgoodguy

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Aug 17, 2011
Messages
35,395
Location
Birmingham, Alabama
#4
One of the most interesting hypothethical scenarios of the war for me is how having a proper railroad system would have improved the Confederate supply situation.
IMHO the problem for the CSA is not the railroads which seem to work for 2 years however ineffective, they did work. But past 63, rails and rolling stock was wearing out with no replacement and skilled railroad men/mechanics had been drafted.
 

DaveBrt

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Messages
2,215
Location
Charlotte, NC
#5
From their June 2019 issue -

On April 12, 1864, Robert E. Lee implored Secretary of War James A. Seddon to address the management of railroads in the Confederacy. Problems of supply plagued the Army of Northern Virginia, and Lee wanted all obstacles to deliveries removed. “I earnestly recommend that no private interests be allowed to interfere with the use of all the facilities for transportation that we possess,” he wrote, “until the wants of the army are provided for. The railroads should be at once devoted exclusively to this purpose, even should it be found necessary to suspend all private travel for business or pleasure upon them for the present.”

https://www.historynet.com/insight-off-the-tracks.htm
It is not often you see a book review for a 65-year old book. I agree that it is the book to start with, but ther has been much research and publication since 1952, but the author of the review makes no mention of that work.

My web site (www.csa-railroads.com) is built on the foundation of Black's book, but has tons of information that Black, in the pre-internet age, could never have found or used. The basic conclusion -- that the railroads' war was lost by Davis and Congress -- remains true.
 

jgoodguy

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Aug 17, 2011
Messages
35,395
Location
Birmingham, Alabama
#6
It is not often you see a book review for a 65-year old book. I agree that it is the book to start with, but ther has been much research and publication since 1952, but the author of the review makes no mention of that work.

My web site (www.csa-railroads.com) is built on the foundation of Black's book, but has tons of information that Black, in the pre-internet age, could never have found or used. The basic conclusion -- that the railroads' war was lost by Davis and Congress -- remains true.
What did Davis and the CSA Congress do or not do?
 

DaveBrt

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Messages
2,215
Location
Charlotte, NC
#7
What did Davis and the CSA Congress do or not do?
Davis never took the actions that were necessary to support his field armies. No strong RR controller was ever created, no assistance provided the railroads in obtaining supplies through the blockade, and no priority was given the establishment of foundries and rolling mills to support the railroads. Congress did not force his hand on any of these issues.
 

USS ALASKA

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Mar 16, 2016
Messages
3,736
#8
I agree that it is the book to start with, but ther has been much research and publication since 1952, but the author of the review makes no mention of that work.
Sir, it is the book that got me started! And a whole bunch more since then. I still return to it - especially for the maps... :smile:
54

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 
Last edited:

USS ALASKA

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Mar 16, 2016
Messages
3,736
#9
States Rights thingy got in the way. The Confederacy was built on States Rights. It was hard for Davis to take it all away. Davis had conflicting views with several strongly opposed governors. He never thru them in Jail.
(Bold, italicized, underlining mine - apologies to @uaskme )

Sir, if they were being so obstructionist to be a detriment to the survival of their newborn nation, maybe he should have? (No snark intended)

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 

uaskme

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 9, 2016
Messages
1,800
#10
(Bold, italicized, underlining mine - apologies to @uaskme )

Sir, if they were being so obstructionist to be a detriment to the survival of their newborn nation, maybe he should have? (No snark intended)

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
Yes, he should. Confederates found out pretty quickly, what they ran away from, is exactly what they ran toward. Big Government.
 

USS ALASKA

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Mar 16, 2016
Messages
3,736

jgoodguy

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Aug 17, 2011
Messages
35,395
Location
Birmingham, Alabama

rebelatsea

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 30, 2013
Messages
4,132
Location
Kent ,England.
#13
Davis never took the actions that were necessary to support his field armies. No strong RR controller was ever created, no assistance provided the railroads in obtaining supplies through the blockade, and no priority was given the establishment of foundries and rolling mills to support the railroads. Congress did not force his hand on any of these issues.
That could be because by and large they didn't or didn't want to understand the new fangled technology of railroad a just as they didn't floating things.
 

jgoodguy

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Aug 17, 2011
Messages
35,395
Location
Birmingham, Alabama
#14
That could be because by and large they didn't or didn't want to understand the new fangled technology of railroad a just as they didn't floating things.
The North had a good start on socializing technology. Lincoln was interested in new fangled things and overrode folks at times. Now if they had brought in breechloaders early on, instead of buying cheap surplus small arms, that might have made a big difference.
 

Carronade

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Messages
4,301
Location
Pennsylvania
#15
That could be because by and large they didn't or didn't want to understand the new fangled technology of railroad a just as they didn't floating things.
If they really understood floating things, they would have realized they could get more bang for the buck from small craft and conversions than from tying up their heavy industry building ironclads.

I know you fellows from the naval forum would be disappointed if I didn't chime in with this :wink:
 
Joined
Feb 6, 2010
Messages
8,616
Location
District of Columbia
#16
Davis never took the actions that were necessary to support his field armies. No strong RR controller was ever created, no assistance provided the railroads in obtaining supplies through the blockade, and no priority was given the establishment of foundries and rolling mills to support the railroads. Congress did not force his hand on any of these issues.
That could be because by and large they didn't or didn't want to understand the new fangled technology of railroad a just as they didn't floating things.
From the limited reading I've done on the subject, I have gathered that:

(a) much of southerner antebellum commerce took place using waterways and seaports, and these were seen as adequate, certainly adequate enough, to meet the needs of the market; thus there was not as much investment in RR as might have been possible, if political constituents had desired it;

(b) once the war began, resources (labor and capital especially) were so tight that a policy for an expanded RR system was difficult, given competition for providing manpower for the army, for example.

Does anybody have any thoughts on these points?

- Alan
 

jgoodguy

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Aug 17, 2011
Messages
35,395
Location
Birmingham, Alabama
#17
From the limited reading I've done on the subject, I have gathered that:

(a) much of southerner antebellum commerce took place using waterways and seaports, and these were seen as adequate, certainly adequate enough, to meet the needs of the market; thus there was not as much investment in RR as might have been possible, if political constituents had desired it;

(b) once the war began, resources (labor and capital especially) were so tight that a policy for an expanded RR system was difficult, given competition for providing manpower for the army, for example.

Does anybody have any thoughts on these points?

- Alan
The CSA started off with the 3rd largest RR network in the world. At 1st Bull Run, the CSA used RRs to great advantage.

However
1864
In the last year before the end of the war, the Confederate railroad system was always on the verge of collapse. The impressment policy of quartermasters ran the rails ragged. Feeder lines would be scrapped for replacement steel for trunk lines, and the continual use of rolling stock wore them down faster than they could be replaced.[11]
Ramsdell, Charles W. “The Confederate Government and the Railroads.” The American Historical Review, vol. 22, no. 4, 1917, pp. 794–810. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1836241.

Before I863 the entire output of most of​
the shops, foundries, mines, and mills was absoirbed by government​
contracts and except in a few cases-chiefly in Georgia-the roads​
were without any means of manufacturing even the simplest mate-​
rials. When the rolling-stock on one road wore out, the transporta-​
tion officers sought it from other roads and in many cases impressed​
it. When this hand-to-mouth policy failed, the quartermaster-​
general contracted for the building of cars for government use; but​
he was never able to obtain enough, for not only was material lack-​
ing but sufficient details of mechanics could not be obtained from the​
army to carry out any large contract. Special agents and commis-​
sioners were detailed to inspect roads, impress, collect, and redis-​
tribute rails; and the smaller and less important roads were stripped​
of both rails and rolling-stock to keep the main lines in operation.46​
Lieutenant-Colonel Sims, the superintendent of railroad transporta-​
tion, made repeated appeals for government aid in the manufacture​
of supplies, for "men and iron ", but without substantial effect;​
on February IO, I865, we find him lamenting that "not a single bar​
of railroad iron has been rolled in the Confederacy since [the begin-​
ning of] the war, nor can we hope to do any better during the con-​
tinuance ".47​
 

DaveBrt

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Messages
2,215
Location
Charlotte, NC
#18
The CSA started off with the 3rd largest RR network in the world. At 1st Bull Run, the CSA used RRs to great advantage.

However
1864
In the last year before the end of the war, the Confederate railroad system was always on the verge of collapse. The impressment policy of quartermasters ran the rails ragged. Feeder lines would be scrapped for replacement steel for trunk lines, and the continual use of rolling stock wore them down faster than they could be replaced.[11]
Ramsdell, Charles W. “The Confederate Government and the Railroads.” The American Historical Review, vol. 22, no. 4, 1917, pp. 794–810. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1836241.

Before I863 the entire output of most of​
the shops, foundries, mines, and mills was absoirbed by government​
contracts and except in a few cases-chiefly in Georgia-the roads​
were without any means of manufacturing even the simplest mate-​
rials. When the rolling-stock on one road wore out, the transporta-​
tion officers sought it from other roads and in many cases impressed​
it. When this hand-to-mouth policy failed, the quartermaster-​
general contracted for the building of cars for government use; but​
he was never able to obtain enough, for not only was material lack-​
ing but sufficient details of mechanics could not be obtained from the​
army to carry out any large contract. Special agents and commis-​
sioners were detailed to inspect roads, impress, collect, and redis-​
tribute rails; and the smaller and less important roads were stripped​
of both rails and rolling-stock to keep the main lines in operation.46​
Lieutenant-Colonel Sims, the superintendent of railroad transporta-​
tion, made repeated appeals for government aid in the manufacture​
of supplies, for "men and iron ", but without substantial effect;​
on February IO, I865, we find him lamenting that "not a single bar​
of railroad iron has been rolled in the Confederacy since [the begin-​
ning of] the war, nor can we hope to do any better during the con-​
tinuance ".47​
You have to be careful using 100-year old articles. Ramsdell talks of stripping steel rails to keep up the main lines, but there were no steel rails in America until about 1870. A note to the Wikipedia article quotes him as saying the Meridian to Selma construction project was abandoned after the fall of New Orleans. In fact, that road was completed (except for the use of a ferry to cross the Tombigbee River) by stripping the Alabama & Florida (of Florida) RR and using its iron to complete the road in late 1862.

The time, effort and cost required to do deep, non-OR research before the microfilming of the National Archives in the 1950's made it impossible for early writers to have as complete a view of the documentation as we have today (especially with so much now being on line at Fold3.com and at the NA Catalog site). All old articles need to be checked with recent research before being accepted at face value.
 

DaveBrt

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Messages
2,215
Location
Charlotte, NC
#19
From the limited reading I've done on the subject, I have gathered that:

(a) much of southerner antebellum commerce took place using waterways and seaports, and these were seen as adequate, certainly adequate enough, to meet the needs of the market; thus there was not as much investment in RR as might have been possible, if political constituents had desired it;

(b) once the war began, resources (labor and capital especially) were so tight that a policy for an expanded RR system was difficult, given competition for providing manpower for the army, for example.

Does anybody have any thoughts on these points?

- Alan
(a) In the 1850's railroads were seen as the way around the unreliable river system of transportation. There were cases of cotton shipments being stranded by low water in the mid-West for an entire year. Railroads were also well known as the way to open new land to cultivation -- a nearby river was no longer required to grow cotton. It was also well understood that western cotton could be sent out from the Atlantic ports without the delay and danger of shipping from New Orleans and Mobile around Florida.

The South's problem in investing in railroads was a lack of cash. Slave labor and payment with railroad company shares solved part of the problem -- the rest being solved by hypothication -- the State governments backing up the bonds issued by the railroads. States also provided loans and grants to building roads, making the State the major shareholder in many of them. Political will was not wanting, only time was.

(b) I don't know what you mean by an expanded railroad system competing with the army for manpower. All the machinists and carpenters in the 1861 army could not have amounted to more than a brigade. And the expansion of the RR system had to do mostly with slave labor and tools and IRON. The strong RR controller I mentioned in a post above would have been able to wrest a portion of the iron production for the railroads, but without such a champion on their side, the roads had to take what the iron makers could produce in addition to the government's demands (ie very little).
 

jgoodguy

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Aug 17, 2011
Messages
35,395
Location
Birmingham, Alabama
#20
You have to be careful using 100-year old articles. Ramsdell talks of stripping steel rails to keep up the main lines, but there were no steel rails in America until about 1870. A note to the Wikipedia article quotes him as saying the Meridian to Selma construction project was abandoned after the fall of New Orleans. In fact, that road was completed (except for the use of a ferry to cross the Tombigbee River) by stripping the Alabama & Florida (of Florida) RR and using its iron to complete the road in late 1862.

The time, effort and cost required to do deep, non-OR research before the microfilming of the National Archives in the 1950's made it impossible for early writers to have as complete a view of the documentation as we have today (especially with so much now being on line at Fold3.com and at the NA Catalog site). All old articles need to be checked with recent research before being accepted at face value.
Indeed, but good enough for free to illustrate that the CSA railroads were good enough for a couple of years, but not for a long war.
 



(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Top