The real gap between the two railroad systems.

wausaubob

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The railroad system in the northern states of the United States at the start of the US Civil War was the largest railroad system in the world. Because of its shear size, the railroad system supported its own iron makers, and 3 major locomotive manufacturers.
Although the commonly stated ratio of US mileage to Confederate mileage is 9:21, or 3:7, the actual difference was much greater.
The northern states had 5 times the locomotives of the Confederacy:
Compared to the Union the Confederacy had one-third of the freight cars, one fifth of the locomotives, one eighth of rail production, one tenth of the telegraph stations and one twenty fourth of locomotive production. These numbers have led some to say the Confederate rail system was inferior to that of the Union.
https://www.essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com/a-railroad-war.html
In fact, the US system was five times the size of the Confederate system in terms of traffic. The process of using telegraph communication to run busier and tighter schedules, was already started in the northern states. Similarly as early as 1848 the railroads in the north began to study ways to improve service by cooperating.
How could the northern railroads run so many trains?
Large sections of right of way were double tracked.
1616808162111.png

https://www.jstor.org/stable/1888813?seq=2#metadata_info_tab_contents
 

wausaubob

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Because the US possessed so much excess capacity in steamship and steamboat transportation, the US railroad industry had time to gear up.
Similarly, though Jackson in Virginia and other Confederates in Kentucky "borrowed" locomotives from the Baltimore and Kentucky railroads without benefit of a formal lease, the numbers involved, 12 or 13, the numbers were trivial. The railroads in Pennsylvania finished the war with over 1500 locomotives.
See p. 328 https://www.jstor.org/stable/1888813?seq=5#metadata_info_tab_contents
The war proceeded to absolute victory, primarily because the railroad industry was able to support US logistical demands in multiple theaters, without significant difficult.
It was not a coincidence that the federal government and the state governments were not interested in restraining the railroad industry once the US Civil War ended.
 

Drew

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Oct 22, 2012
"A feature commonly found in general history books on the American Civil War is a set of statistics comparing the resources of North and South at the time of secession. Although such statistics may vary from source to source, they invariably show that the North enjoyed major advantages in terms of population, industrial capacity, wealth, and railroads. A careless reader might infer from these statistics that the Confederate States of America was doomed and the outcome of the Civil War decided before the first shot was fired. Even the more prudent reader might assume that these resource disparities were causal factors in the Confederacy's defeat. However, such assumptions overlook the fact that the war lasted four bloody years, and ultimately approximated the modern notion of "total" war. If the Confederacy's resource disadvantages were truly as debilitating as the statistics suggest, the war should have ended much earlier than it did."

I've attached the U.S. Army War College instructor's paper from which the quote came. A very interesting read to anyone interested.
 

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Lubliner

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Thank you @wausaubob for the thread post. Reading today about the Amtrak rail tunnel up in New Jersey that goes under the Hudson into New York, the report made mention of much of that rail infrastructure dates back to the Civil War.
@Drew, I heartily agree with the quote you provided. I will check out the thesis link. Thanks,
Lubliner.
 

DaveBrt

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Location
Charlotte, NC
"A feature commonly found in general history books on the American Civil War is a set of statistics comparing the resources of North and South at the time of secession. Although such statistics may vary from source to source, they invariably show that the North enjoyed major advantages in terms of population, industrial capacity, wealth, and railroads. A careless reader might infer from these statistics that the Confederate States of America was doomed and the outcome of the Civil War decided before the first shot was fired. Even the more prudent reader might assume that these resource disparities were causal factors in the Confederacy's defeat. However, such assumptions overlook the fact that the war lasted four bloody years, and ultimately approximated the modern notion of "total" war. If the Confederacy's resource disadvantages were truly as debilitating as the statistics suggest, the war should have ended much earlier than it did."

I've attached the U.S. Army War College instructor's paper from which the quote came. A very interesting read to anyone interested.
While Dr. Gabel got nothing wrong in his paper, he never got to the root cause of the railroads' many problems -- lack of manpower in all aspects of the railroad system (miners, blacksmiths, wood cutters, on and on and on). While he mentions manpower in a couple of places, it was really the underlying problem. No new rail because of too few miners and too few skilled ironworkers in the foundries. Unable to keep Lee fed because of too few maintenance men on the roads and too few farmers remaining in states close to the need (North Carolina and South Carolina). Every issue has manpower as its root cause.
 

wausaubob

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While Dr. Gabel got nothing wrong in his paper, he never got to the root cause of the railroads' many problems -- lack of manpower in all aspects of the railroad system (miners, blacksmiths, wood cutters, on and on and on). While he mentions manpower in a couple of places, it was really the underlying problem. No new rail because of too few miners and too few skilled ironworkers in the foundries. Unable to keep Lee fed because of too few maintenance men on the roads and too few farmers remaining in states close to the need (North Carolina and South Carolina). Every issue has manpower as its root cause.
The southern railroads, that became the Confederate railroads ran 1/5th the number of trains used by the northern railroads, because they did not need them. In peacetime, the rivers and ports of the south remained open in winter. The major crops shipped from the south, cotton and tobacco, were durable, and the time taken to ship by steamboat and steamship did not matter as much as the great efficiency of moving bulk produce by water. So the Confederate system began the US Civil War with many fewer trains, and many fewer employees. Which did not matter very much during the first 15 months of the war. But after that, it did matter, because rails and ties and locomotives wore out consistently, in that era.
And as the paper pointed out, even in the US, many maintenance items had to be postponed during the course of the war as labor costs escalated. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1888813?seq=12#metadata_info_tab_contents
How much worse was the situation in the Confederate states once the army drew off much of the white young men? But the situation in the Confederacy was much worse than it was in the US. The Confederates lost their peacetime access to the rivers and to the coasts, which never happened in the US. Then the Confederacy lost a few of their direct connections, such as at Corinth, which added more miles and required more locomotives.
 
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wausaubob

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"A feature commonly found in general history books on the American Civil War is a set of statistics comparing the resources of North and South at the time of secession. Although such statistics may vary from source to source, they invariably show that the North enjoyed major advantages in terms of population, industrial capacity, wealth, and railroads. A careless reader might infer from these statistics that the Confederate States of America was doomed and the outcome of the Civil War decided before the first shot was fired. Even the more prudent reader might assume that these resource disparities were causal factors in the Confederacy's defeat. However, such assumptions overlook the fact that the war lasted four bloody years, and ultimately approximated the modern notion of "total" war. If the Confederacy's resource disadvantages were truly as debilitating as the statistics suggest, the war should have ended much earlier than it did."

I've attached the U.S. Army War College instructor's paper from which the quote came. A very interesting read to anyone interested.
The statistics cited are usually wrong. The census methods of the era could not come close to measuring the the productive capacity of small business and independent contractors in the construction trades. Only war would truly reveal what the US already was by 1861. And since the valuation of railroads was based on what the equity owners and bond purchasers had invested in the businesses, and not on their limitless future income potential, the valuations were meaningless.
The value of the railroads had only a little to do with the mileage they owned. It was the managers, civil engineers, locomotive operators, skilled mechanics and construction foremen that really mattered.
 

wausaubob

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The static position of the two belligerents in 1860 was misstated by the commonly used statistics. But the static position barely mattered. By 1861 the US was one more year into rapid recovery. And by January and February of 1863 the US had created a federal borrowing system, an improved tax collection system, a national currency, and a primitive version of the federal reserve system. Based on what the railroads and telegraph systems had already achieved by April 1861, the US created a national financial system in about 21 months.
 
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wausaubob

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The real risk was not that the US railroads would help the national government to win the US Civil War, but instead they would convince the Republicans, and northern Democrats, that once the US had the far west, especially Kansas, and territorial Nebraska and Colorado, and controlled the entire Mississippi River, the rest of the south was not worth fighting for.
 

Drew

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Oct 22, 2012
While Dr. Gabel got nothing wrong in his paper, he never got to the root cause of the railroads' many problems -- lack of manpower in all aspects of the railroad system (miners, blacksmiths, wood cutters, on and on and on). While he mentions manpower in a couple of places, it was really the underlying problem. No new rail because of too few miners and too few skilled ironworkers in the foundries. Unable to keep Lee fed because of too few maintenance men on the roads and too few farmers remaining in states close to the need (North Carolina and South Carolina). Every issue has manpower as its root cause.

My understanding and anyone can correct me if I'm wrong, is that the Confederacy conscripted into Army service the kinds of skilled laborers they needed to effectively operate the railroads. Huge mistake.

We may have learned something from this, insofar as occupational exceptions were made in WWII conscription. My own grandfather, who worked in geological survey for a major oil company, was exempted from military service in the latter war. You don't put people who know how to find crude oil into foxholes.
 

DaveBrt

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Location
Charlotte, NC
My understanding and anyone can correct me if I'm wrong, is that the Confederacy conscripted into Army service the kinds of skilled laborers they needed to effectively operate the railroads. Huge mistake.

We may have learned something from this, insofar as occupational exceptions were made in WWII conscription. My own grandfather, who worked in geological survey for a major oil company, was exempted from military service in the latter war. You don't put people who know how to find crude oil into foxholes.
Many skilled men were laid off in late 1860 as the economy ground to a halt after Lincoln's election. Many men quickly joined units in order to get an income. Later, the skilled workers who were in the army were, on the RRs' application, detailed to a RR, usually for 60 days at a time.

All of the conscription acts had provisions to exempt RR employees. The number exempted was too small, but the need and solution were understood from the start.
 

Lubliner

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It still amazes me that skilled workers at Tredegar and some other places could remain with highly productive outputs, and even the iron needs were usurped in the same matters of priority needs. Why they saw fit to set the RR system to naught was a huge mistake.
Lubliner.
 

wausaubob

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Denver, CO
While Dr. Gabel got nothing wrong in his paper, he never got to the root cause of the railroads' many problems -- lack of manpower in all aspects of the railroad system (miners, blacksmiths, wood cutters, on and on and on). While he mentions manpower in a couple of places, it was really the underlying problem. No new rail because of too few miners and too few skilled ironworkers in the foundries. Unable to keep Lee fed because of too few maintenance men on the roads and too few farmers remaining in states close to the need (North Carolina and South Carolina). Every issue has manpower as its root cause.
The railroads were not as fuel efficient and were not as labor efficient as the steamboat and steamship modes of transportation.
What did the railroads offer? Speed, which becomes very important in war.
In addition railroads ran in winter, which was essential in the Great Lakes region, and in PA and NY. The also ran during low water conditions, which is why one of the most important railroads in the southern states ran from Richmond/Petersburg through Tennessee to Memphis.
 

wausaubob

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It wasn't just the cotton industry and the Confederacy that the railroad industry was going to change, it also made the east coast shipping industry, including whaling, irrelevant to the future of the US.
By 1869 the railroad civil engineers and the railroad vendors had completed the 1st of multiple transcontinental railroads. Neither cotton nor the shipping industry was capable of that feat.
By 1883 the railroad structure of time was beginning to adopt the international time zone system to US conditions.
The adaption of standard gauge, based on US equipment, surged in 1886. But Virginia and North Carolina were already using standard gauge and equipment shipped in from Philadelphia before the Civil War began.
 

wausaubob

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Locomotive production was a small industry in 1860.
1616943289897.png

https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1860/manufactures/1860c-05.pdf
1616943334909.png

And locomotives had to be constantly re-manufactured once they were out in the economy being used.
There had never been a big railroad war. Though the allies had used a siege railroad with some steam power locomotives in the Crimean War. No one knew what affect, if any the railroads would have on the war.
 

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