How Many Employees to Run a Busy Confederate Railroad

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
It is well known that Lee and other army commanders were unwilling to allow the detail of men to support functions, like running railroads and making ordnance and quartermaster goods (though they eventually did detail some men). Rarely discussed is how many men were required to provide those support functions. Below are tables showing the number of employees for two busy Virginia railroads. Both were considered vital roads and were a bit more successful in securing employees than roads farther from Richmond.

The Richmond & Danville RR started the war as just a feeder of agricultural goods to Richmond. By the end of the war, it was the vital connection between the North Carolina railroads and the Virginia railroads, making use of the Piedmont Railroad (owned and built by the Richmond & Danville RR and completed in the late spring 1864). The Piedmont RR numbers are NOT included on this table. Notice the great increase of employees in 1864, with car cleaners, car overhaulers, carpenters, greasers and watchmen. The North Side Shops were built on the north shore of the river at Danville in the summer of 1862, when the company had made a quick move to Danville to prevent loss in case Richmond was taken, and remained in operation, eventually being the shop supporting the Piedmont RR.


The Richmond & Petersburg RR was essential from day 1, but even its workforce doubled as the war continued. The increased number of machinists is because of the necessity of making repairs without replacement parts -- everything had to be made on site.


Any other changes in employees catch your attention? Seems that for two vital roads, the number of men required to run them was rather minimal.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
It is well known that Lee and other army commanders were unwilling to allow the detail of men to support functions, like running railroads and making ordnance and quartermaster goods (though they eventually did detail some men). Rarely discussed is how many men were required to provide those support functions. Below are tables showing the number of employees for two busy Virginia railroads. Both were considered vital roads and were a bit more successful in securing employees than roads farther from Richmond.

The Richmond & Danville RR started the war as just a feeder of agricultural goods to Richmond. By the end of the war, it was the vital connection between the North Carolina railroads and the Virginia railroads, making use of the Piedmont Railroad (owned and built by the Richmond & Danville RR and completed in the late spring 1864). The Piedmont RR numbers are NOT included on this table. Notice the great increase of employees in 1864, with car cleaners, car overhaulers, carpenters, greasers and watchmen. The North Side Shops were built on the north shore of the river at Danville in the summer of 1862, when the company had made a quick move to Danville to prevent loss in case Richmond was taken, and remained in operation, eventually being the shop supporting the Piedmont RR.


The Richmond & Petersburg RR was essential from day 1, but even its workforce doubled as the war continued. The increased number of machinists is because of the necessity of making repairs without replacement parts -- everything had to be made on site.


Any other changes in employees catch your attention? Seems that for two vital roads, the number of men required to run them was rather minimal.
With 775 slaves employed on the Richmond to Danville RR that is a security risk if Union troops are nearby plus they need to be guarded. It appears there are more slave workers then free workers so that could be problematic.
Leftyhunter
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Most noteworthy is that the number of enslaved persons working for each RR is about equal to the number of employees. Without all that labor, the skilled employees could not have run the operation by themselves. Which leads to the question as to how those slaves were obtained. Were they impressed by the authorities, willingly transferred by their "masters," or some other mechanism?
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
Most noteworthy is that the number of enslaved persons working for each RR is about equal to the number of employees. Without all that labor, the skilled employees could not have run the operation by themselves. Which leads to the question as to how those slaves were obtained. Were they impressed by the authorities, willingly transferred by their "masters," or some other mechanism?
They were hired, usually for a year at a time. The contract stated whether the company or the master was responsible for clothing; the company provided medical care, food and lodging. A worker who was sick more than a week at a time was returned to his owner and the contract was ended.

There were several groups of slaves. One group was at the shops, doing basic manual labor. One group was at the various stations to load and unload cars. A third group was distributed to section masters (whites) to help maintain the roadway and do road repairs.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
With 775 slaves employed on the Richmond to Danville RR that is a security risk if Union troops are nearby plus they need to be guarded. It appears there are more slave workers then free workers so that could be problematic.
Leftyhunter
The Richmond & Danville had several major needs for slaves in 1864-65. They had two major floods that washed out large sections (miles) of track and bridges, all of which had to be rebuilt as fast as possible. They were also improving the track between Junction and Danville, replacing the last strap rail with whatever heavier rail the government could find. I'm sure some R&D slaves worked on the Piedmont RR, too, even though they were contracted to the R&D -- since both roads were owned by the R&D stockholders, it was a wash financially.
 

Peace Society

Corporal
Joined
Jun 25, 2019
Location
Ark Mo line
Just for contrast -

Sherman's repair crew:
The rebels had struck our railroad a heavy blow, burning every tie, bending the rails for eight miles, from Big Shanty to above Acworth, so that the estimate for repairs called for thirty-five thousand new ties, and six miles of iron. Ten thousand men were distributed along the break to replace the ties, and to prepare the road-bed, while the regular repair-party, under Colonel W. W. Wright. came down from Chattanooga with iron. spikes. etc. and in about seven days the road was all right again.
Memoirs 1864 Atlanta and After
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
Interesting stats.

Not really as there was an overseer and the RR was responsible for the cost if they ran away. Plus, the owner did send his best slaves.
What we don't know is did slaves on RR gangs escape and if so how often. We don't know if Union Cavalry Raiders liberated slaves on RR gangs .
Just for contrast -

Sherman's repair crew:
The rebels had struck our railroad a heavy blow, burning every tie, bending the rails for eight miles, from Big Shanty to above Acworth, so that the estimate for repairs called for thirty-five thousand new ties, and six miles of iron. Ten thousand men were distributed along the break to replace the ties, and to prepare the road-bed, while the regular repair-party, under Colonel W. W. Wright. came down from Chattanooga with iron. spikes. etc. and in about seven days the road was all right again.
Memoirs 1864 Atlanta and After
Good point why among other reasons the Union had superior RRs. Even in modern warfare it takes a tremendous concerted effort to effectively knock out a RR.
Leftyhunter
 

ucvrelics

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Shiloh 2020
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
What we don't know is did slaves on RR gangs escape and if so how often. We don't know if Union Cavalry Raiders liberated slaves on RR gangs .
Good point why among other reasons the Union had superior RRs. Even in modern warfare it takes a tremendous concerted effort to effectively knock out a RR.
Leftyhunter
Oh they got loose from time to time and I believe that @DaveBrt has an ad the Selma & Meridian RR put in the paper for a reward for one that go loose on his https://www.csa-railroads.com/ website
 

Lubliner

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
It would seem better for the confederacy that if any slave escaped, it would require the owner to replace such loss with another worker, or be penalized and have the contract taken over by a more affluent master. Is that the occurrence?
Thank you for starting up a talking point.
Lubliner.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
It would seem better for the confederacy that if any slave escaped, it would require the owner to replace such loss with another worker, or be penalized and have the contract taken over by a more affluent master. Is that the occurrence?
Thank you for starting up a talking point.
Lubliner.
If a slave escaped, and was not recaptured in short order, the contract was terminated. A new contract could be written for a replacement from the same owner or another one. For some slaves, an insurance policy was taken out on the slave, but that was usually done for skilled workers, not laborers.
 

Lubliner

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
If a slave escaped, and was not recaptured in short order, the contract was terminated. A new contract could be written for a replacement from the same owner or another one. For some slaves, an insurance policy was taken out on the slave, but that was usually done for skilled workers, not laborers.
In the south among many plantations and farms, some of the slaves themselves became overseers, and some learned skills for trade, such as blacksmithing. The need to repair equipment mitigated that necessity. The railroad in Chesterfield County had 118 slaves in early 1964 and I was supposing this was based upon it's proximity to the industrial works of Tredegar. Do you believe this to be the case, or could these slaves been just as easily transported to other roads?
It is an interesting note to mention the nearness of Union ranks as the progression of the war overwhelmed the confederacy.
Thank you,
Lubliner.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
In the south among many plantations and farms, some of the slaves themselves became overseers, and some learned skills for trade, such as blacksmithing. The need to repair equipment mitigated that necessity. The railroad in Chesterfield County had 118 slaves in early 1964 and I was supposing this was based upon it's proximity to the industrial works of Tredegar. Do you believe this to be the case, or could these slaves been just as easily transported to other roads?
It is an interesting note to mention the nearness of Union ranks as the progression of the war overwhelmed the confederacy.
Thank you,
Lubliner.
If at all possible, owners liked to rent their slaves in locations near enough to the plantation for the owner to be able to drop by now and again to check on the condition of his slaves and the work they were being required to do (the contract stated the type of work).

But the war caused owners to be willing to send their slaves to jobs farther away in order to prevent them being captured/liberated by Union raiding/scouting parties. For example, the slaves from north and east of Richmond were called out to work on the Richmond defenses and the response was pretty good, because of the safety from loss to raiding parties. Likewise, the Piedmont RR and the State of North Carolina heavily advertised the safety of the construction of the job in northwestern North Carolina, far from the coastal raiding parties.
 

Lubliner

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
If at all possible, owners liked to rent their slaves in locations near enough to the plantation for the owner to be able to drop by now and again to check on the condition of his slaves and the work they were being required to do (the contract stated the type of work).

But the war caused owners to be willing to send their slaves to jobs farther away in order to prevent them being captured/liberated by Union raiding/scouting parties. For example, the slaves from north and east of Richmond were called out to work on the Richmond defenses and the response was pretty good, because of the safety from loss to raiding parties. Likewise, the Piedmont RR and the State of North Carolina heavily advertised the safety of the construction of the job in northwestern North Carolina, far from the coastal raiding parties.
I was reviewing all the O. R. documents upon the Piedmont railroad concerning the transfer and impressment of slave labor due to the need for repairs in 1865. There appears for sure to have been great haste made by passage of commanding orders but results seem as though months passed without fulfilment. All the impressments began in early January with Jefferson Davis' direction, transferring power to Major Chisman, and also General Bradley Johnson. By April 10 they were still trying to proceed with uniform gauge replacement on the Va./N. C. system with 22 engines blocked up at Danville. On March 19, Sharp was in Salisbury when immediate steps were taken to impress 300 slaves. Seeing how this whole system was in straits, and even a passage for 300 thousand dollars was given approval by the Government, nothing could be done for completion by the end of the war. Is this correct?
Lubliner.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
I was reviewing all the O. R. documents upon the Piedmont railroad concerning the transfer and impressment of slave labor due to the need for repairs in 1865. There appears for sure to have been great haste made by passage of commanding orders but results seem as though months passed without fulfilment. All the impressments began in early January with Jefferson Davis' direction, transferring power to Major Chisman, and also General Bradley Johnson. By April 10 they were still trying to proceed with uniform gauge replacement on the Va./N. C. system with 22 engines blocked up at Danville. On March 19, Sharp was in Salisbury when immediate steps were taken to impress 300 slaves. Seeing how this whole system was in straits, and even a passage for 300 thousand dollars was given approval by the Government, nothing could be done for completion by the end of the war. Is this correct?
Lubliner.
Piedmont RR repairs were vital to maintaining the army and Richmond; they were completed as quickly as possible. The gauge replacement project was pushed against great local opposition and appears to have made only some headway -- almost everyone could see that the war was about over and there was little enthusiasm for anything that did not have immediate returns for the effort.
 

Similar threads

Top