CONFEDERACY'S RAILWAY DEFICIT, HIGH DAMAGES MAY HAVE CONTRIBUTED HEAVILY TO LOSS OF WAR
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Railroads and the military have a long association. Many West Point graduates, schooled in civil engineering, surveyed and planned the first railroad routes and helped improve locomotive technology. As early as the 1830s, the Army experimented with rail cars to carry troops and artillery.
During the Civil War, both the Union and Confederate railroads was pressed into service in the war effort. Transported in rail cars, troops could cover in one day the same distances that would have taken a month to travel on foot. Troops, horses, mules, kitchens, food, artillery, ammunition and medical equipment could travel as a unit on one train to the next battle. Messengers could speed vital information more quickly to waiting military officials along the rail lines. Specialized equipment, such as armored rail cars carrying riflemen, were used first in the Civil War to fire on troops from a moving train.
The Confederacy during the Civil War (1861-1865) did not build a single mile of railroad. All its railroad construction consisted of rebuilding the damaged areas destroyed by the Unionists. One source stated that most railroads would not be affected by the War engagement, however, this statement was totally in error. Shortly, both the Confederacy and the Union railroad lines were crowded with trains transporting troops and military supplies to the war front.
The Confederacy recognized the railroads' probability early on in the event of a war. Eventually, they employed rail transport at length in support of a number of chief military events, mostly in the battles of Shiloh and Chattanooga. Also, Confederate raiders were successful in harassing and breaking up Federal railroads accordingly so that the Union momentum was to a great extent slowed. Additionally, some Confederate railroaders exhibited remarkable persistence in keeping their rail systems operating regardless of mounting scarcity of basic equipment and supplies.
The year 1861 found the competitive railroad systems unequal as to quantity in total mileage. The eleven Confederate states possessed about 9,000 miles of railroad, which was a total of one-third of the nation's rail system. The southern railroads had been constructed more lightly, carried a smaller volume of traffic, and employed a fifth of the country's railroad workers.
In the end the Confederacy lost the war: it seems probable that the inadequacies of their railroads contributed to this collapse. Tennessee and other southern railroad operations were constantly plagued by shortfalls. Scarce rail line mileage, and the crippling gaps in the total rail system essentially contributed to the downfall of the Confederacy.
The Southerners did not take-to mechanical abilities, and so, previous to the War, many Unionists relocated south to man the railroad system. At the coming of the War, most of the northern railroaders returned home, leaving the people left in the South filled with suspicion.
Prosperity to the railroad companies in the North was brought about by the conflict. The Confederacy made all their purchases of railroad equipment from the North. The Southern Railways were soon witnessing a drastic rise in inflation. Between 1861 and 1864, prices rose for lubricating oil from $1.00 per gallon to $50.00 per gallon; mechanic's wages from $2.50 to $20,00 a day; coal from 12 cents to $2.00 a bushel.
Two or three of the larger railroads in the North had as many locomotives as were in the entire Confederacy. The South was disadvantaged in wartime as to maintenance of locomotive power, which included rolling stock and track. There were a dozen locomotive plants in the North to every one in the South.
Each side used their own tactics as to how to destroy the other's railroads. However, since the bulk of the fighting was in the South, the Confederate's losses were greater. The worst destruction of the South's' railroads was during General Sherman's March to the Sea in 1864-1865. The Baltimore and Ohio was the only northern road to suffer any damage at the hands on the Confederates.
Tennessee's railroad system materialized in the 1850's. It played an essential role in the military events of the Civil War. Although Tennesseans considered railroads as early as 1827, the first actual railroad construction began with the Hiwassee Railroad in 1837, failing in 1842. The LaGrange and Memphis Railroad, in 1842, became the first to actually operate a train in Tennessee, this company failing a few months later. By the 1850s, with financial and organizational arrangements finalized, a railroad development boom developed, and by 1860 Tennessee had completed 1,197 miles of track. This represented about 13% of the South's total of 9,167 miles.
Tennessee's strategic location as a border state between North and South destined its railroads to play a major role in the Civil War.
Listed below are the immediate railroads in the main area of Knoxville and LaFollette, which were operated during the War.
The Knoxville and Kentucky Railroad was organized in 1853 through a charter amendment that changed the name to the Lexington and Knoxville Company. It was sold in 1871 and reorganized as the Knoxville and Ohio Railroad Company. Although originally intended to extend into Kentucky, through Caryville and LaFollette and ultimately to river connections, it did not cross the state line of Kentucky until well after the War.
The Knoxville and Ohio Railroad Company (1873-1903), as mentioned above, ran from Knoxville to Jellico, Tennessee, a total of 65 miles. It was controlled by the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad Company from 1881 to 1894 and by the Southern Railway Company after 1894.
The East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad ran 112 miles from Knoxville to Chattanooga. It was chartered in 1848, the original line being completed in 1855. It ran from Dalton, Georgia to Chattanooga. However, a more direct line was built between Cleveland and Chattanooga, Tennessee (the Cleveland Branch), a distance of 27 miles. Because the ET&G ran through an area with strong Unionist sympathies, there were several bridge burning episodes on this line during the War.
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