Railroad Math, Why Chattanooga Mattered

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Since the US held Chattanooga, the campaign in 1864 was going to take place in Georgia. If both US armies were operating in the 5 Atlantic coast states of the Confederacy, it was very unlikely that the Confederacy could survive that kind of pressure. If one or both of the blockade runners' destination ports fell to the US navy, the pressure would become too much for the Confederacy to bear.
Since @Rhea Cole comes from Tennessee he could explain why the stretch of railroad from Bridgeport to Dalton was so critical.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Since the US held Chattanooga, the campaign in 1864 was going to take place in Georgia. If both US armies were operating in the 5 Atlantic coast states of the Confederacy, it was very unlikely that the Confederacy could survive that kind of pressure. If one or both of the blockade runners' destination ports fell to the US navy, the pressure would become too much for the Confederacy to bear.
Since @Rhea Cole comes from Tennessee he could explain why the stretch of railroad from Bridgeport to Dalton was so critical.
The Bridgeport to Chattanooga rail link was how the N & C RR connected to Chattanooga. Once it was open, Chattanooga became the node that connected Knoxville, Nashville, Louisville, Johnson City, Vicksburg, Memphis & Atlanta by rail. Supplies & troops could move with a speed unimaginable a decade before. The railroads were the arteries through which the lifeblood of the Union army flowed. Without Chattanooga, an advance into Georgia would have been all but impossible.
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 12, 2016
Question much beef came from Florida was the rail transport in place to move it. 2nd any effort to build CS supply depots at each end of rail lines.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
Question much beef came from Florida was the rail transport in place to move it. 2nd any effort to build CS supply depots at each end of rail lines.
Cattle had to be driven from central Florida to central Georgia. Though they crossed two railroads, the roads' east-west orientation (and severe lack of rolling stock) prevented their being useful. Driving during the dry season caused huge weigh loss on the cattle as there would be little to eat on the 2-300 mile trip, so it was not done if possible.

Supply depots were located in cities, where labor, transportation and other resources were available. Supplies were not forwarded to the armies in excess of likely need -- the more they had on hand, the more that would be lost if quick movement, especially retreat, was required. The lack of wagons and animals was the limiter.
 

LetUsHavePeace

Volunteer
Joined
Dec 1, 2018
In that era railroads were valued based on what the investors had put into the business in terms of bonds or stocks, not based on the net revenue stream they could generate. The equipment could and did depreciate, but the locations in the cities and towns and the inter connected right of ways, including the engineering at each river crossing, were permanent. A railroad could and did regularly rebuild as long as it owned the right of way. Under the accounting systems that existed at the time, the railroads seemed to be worth only about $1B.
In contrast the slaves were valued based on the prices generated at major slave auction centers like in New Orleans. They were valued at the theoretical sale price, even though as someone has commented, in the middle 8 states, many of the slaves were not for sale at any price.
The more accurate way of looking at it was that the railroads were capable of generating an infinite amount of revenue that was dependent not only on the strength of the cotton market, but on the total economic health of the US.
And as you noted, the direct routes were worth much more than the indirect routes. The direct routes were cheaper to maintain and required fewer engine miles, and in that era engine maintenance was a large expense.
Some of these places that did not seem very important based on the size of the town were very important for the efficiency of the railroad system. In the north it would have been places like Toledo, OH or Altoona, PA. In the southern areas, places like Atlanta, Chattanooga and Nashville, despite being very small towns, had critical switching yards, roundhouses and machine shops that were extremely valuable.
Once General Sherman's forces occupied Atlanta, and the US siege covered the Weldon RR which was the direct route south from Petersberg, the Confederacy had to control the Shenandoah Valley. Why? Because it was close to Richmond. And the Confederacy was running out of locomotives.
A few quibbles:
1. "Net" was not part of the calculation in 1860; there were no corporate income taxes.
2. Rights of way you could always buy or bribe your way into getting; what allowed Lincoln to became locally famous was his finding his niche a railroad lawyer in the Illinois state capitol.
3. In the aggregate the future of the railroads was certain; the question for the investors was always whether a particular company's revenues would show the compound growth rates that made "rails" what tech stocks are for our era.
4. "What the investors had put into the business in terms of bonds or stocks" was a question that only the suckers considered. The complaints about "watered stock" were a reflection of that fundamental misunderstanding of what mattered. Vanderbilt was initially a deep sceptic about railroads' value precisely because, measured by replacement costs, their assets were puny compared to canals and steamships. But, their ability to generate ever increasing income from freight transportation at lower and lower unit costs was unstoppable. So, late in life, the Commodore became a convert, trading assets for cash flows.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
In this context "net" would mean the income left after labor and material costs were paid. If the railroad could maintain its bonds, build fortunes for its equity owners, and build financial security for the high level managers and civil engineers, it was worth much more than what the investors had put into the companies.
The railroads in that era were odd entities, almost extensions of the state governments. They were very hard to value, but their value reflected directly on the size of the belligerents' armies and the continued health of the livestock and the soldiers.
If they could have been correctly valued, they were probably worth more than value attached to the involuntary labor of the enslaved population.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
In this context "net" would mean the income left after labor and material costs were paid. If the railroad could maintain its bonds, build fortunes for its equity owners, and build financial security for the high level managers and civil engineers, it was worth much more than what the investors had put into the companies.
The railroads in that era were odd entities, almost extensions of the state governments. They were very hard to value, but their value reflected directly on the size of the belligerents' armies and the continued health of the livestock and the soldiers.
If the could have been correctly valued, they were probably worth more than value attached to the involuntary labor of the enslaved population.
It is useful to keep in mind that much of the hardware & the capital necessary to purchase it was British. US iron production fell far short of requirement. The only full blooded support for the CSA in GB came from banking interests.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
A few quibbles:
1. "Net" was not part of the calculation in 1860; there were no corporate income taxes.
2. Rights of way you could always buy or bribe your way into getting; what allowed Lincoln to became locally famous was his finding his niche a railroad lawyer in the Illinois state capitol.
3. In the aggregate the future of the railroads was certain; the question for the investors was always whether a particular company's revenues would show the compound growth rates that made "rails" what tech stocks are for our era.
4. "What the investors had put into the business in terms of bonds or stocks" was a question that only the suckers considered. The complaints about "watered stock" were a reflection of that fundamental misunderstanding of what mattered. Vanderbilt was initially a deep sceptic about railroads' value precisely because, measured by replacement costs, their assets were puny compared to canals and steamships. But, their ability to generate ever increasing income from freight transportation at lower and lower unit costs was unstoppable. So, late in life, the Commodore became a convert, trading assets for cash flows.
For moving bulk cargoes of non perishable freight, the canal boats and steam boats had a big efficiency advantage. But railroads were faster. For moving passengers and mail, flour, pork and munitions, the speed of railroads was highly preferred. As the distribution of manufactured items increased, the speed of railroads mattered.
Also the size of the northern railroad system, its domestic locomotive industry, and its domestic iron/steel suppliers meant that the pace of innovation was accelerating. The engines were going to get faster, and the dangers to yard workers was going to decrease. Basic technical changes were going to make railroad construction faster and steel was going to make rail maintenance much less costly.
The US advantage in making wooden ships, and constructing the sails and rigging, did not matter nearly as much by 1860. And the US was no longer dependent on the carrying trade to maintain a balance of payments with the rest of the world. Vanderbilt adjusted his investment strategy.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
As it was mentioned, any railroad hub was important, no matter what city it helped nourish. Losing any would cause severe setback.
@Rhea Cole if the shipper owns the car, that is his rail point to point as well, why waste it on an empty shipment. Those points had flow both ways didn't they?
Lubliner.
I am not exactly sure what your question is. During the CW, the QM's in Nashville still dealt with both the management of the L&N and N&C RR's. In Georgia, the US Military RR was in charge & the local RR company had no say in what was done. During the CW, boxcars from RR's all over the North were seen in Chattanooga. Unlike today, there were no rolling stock leasing companies. Northern RR companies cooperated with the USMRR out of enlightened self interest to avoid being taken over by the War Department.
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 12, 2016
The rail line to Bragg at Murfreesboro and later Tullahoma how was it employed to support his army. How would you rate the efficient use of it- good, bad or indifferent.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
The rail line to Bragg at Murfreesboro and later Tullahoma how was it employed to support his army. How would you rate the efficient use of it- good, bad or indifferent.
This is a topic too complex to go into here. The N&C RR had thousands of broken rails when Nashville fell. The company used cheap British rails on the Monteagle to Murfreesboro section. They were too light for the rolling stock. The line had to be rebuilt to support the extremely high volume of traffic headed south. Railroad construction regiments, prefabricated bridge sections, track made up like giant model train sections were stacked on flatcars & a host of other innovations kept the USMRR rolling.

A really vicious counter insurgency operation protected the tracks in Middle Tennessee. The weather was an even greater foe. Keeping the line operating was a monumental task.

The rail road was the circulation system of the Union army. Supplies, fresh men & horses went southward, broken down horses & casualties returned. Without the RR, armies would have marched & been supplied no different than a first century Roman army.
 
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Dead Parrott

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 30, 2019
Eventually you reach literally, the point of no return. When the supply distance is so long that you can't carry the additional grain for the draft animals in addition to your regular supply due to the distances involved.

Reminds me of studies I did in college on the logistics of Alexander the Great, Frederick and Marlborough. If you love military history, studying the Logistics will really open your eyes. A whole new world, and all that.....
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
As noted in the OP, Logistics dictate when, where and how battles and campaigns are planned and often dictates their results.

The importance of Chattanooga was early recognized by Union planners, which dictated the buildup of Nashville as as the Union prime supply base for the invasion of the csa in the West(making it one of, if not The, most heavily defended cities in the CW)

Buells glacial advance from Nashville was the first and early Union attempt to take Chattanooga, in 1862. What slowed Buell was keeping his supply rail line safe from confederate raiders(besides his own cautious nature) In the end, It turned out that the Union Logistics line was more secure running the longer distance through Ky South, than the shorter from Nashville.

The war in the West was a war of Logistics, as noted by the OP, like no other during the War, IMO and not just in Tn but also Mississippi.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
It was very important that Rosecrans got to Chattanooga and the way he did it was the correct operational design. But then Bragg, using Joe Johnston's tactics got Rosecrans to go a little farther south and the pressure applied by Sec'y of War Stanton played into Bragg's design.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I think the administration's attitude towards the Civil War changed fundamentally after the US occupied both Vicksburg and Port Hudson. They thought the Confederacy was on the point of collapse they did not know it would stagger on for 20 months.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
It was very important that Rosecrans got to Chattanooga and the way he did it was the correct operational design. But then Bragg, using Joe Johnston's tactics got Rosecrans to go a little farther south and the pressure applied by Sec'y of War Stanton played into Bragg's design.
The more I study the contemporary record, which is my thing these days, Beyond the more or less textbook formulation in the preliminary phase, Bragg had no plan. The textbooks say defeat a superior enemy in detail. North Georgia is perfect ground in order to do that. A series of vaguely worded orders, inferior subordinates & the ubiquitous distrust of Bragg combined to throw away an chance of success.

My personal analysis, for what it is worth, is that by choosing to fight at Chickamauga, Bragg displayed a profound incompetence.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The more I study the contemporary record, which is my thing these days, Beyond the more or less textbook formulation in the preliminary phase, Bragg had no plan. The textbooks say defeat a superior enemy in detail. North Georgia is perfect ground in order to do that. A series of vaguely worded orders, inferior subordinates & the ubiquitous distrust of Bragg combined to throw away an chance of success.

My personal analysis, for what it is worth, is that by choosing to fight at Chickamauga, Bragg displayed a profound incompetence.
Bragg contrived to get Rosecrans to advance to ground unfamiliar to Rosecrans. I think Bragg had a plan of attack when that happened. However both armies were moving, Rosecrans was able to partly consolidate and Bragg had to change his plans. What does you research show?
 
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