I discovered plenty of really interesting things during the research on my project about how trains were used in the civil war. First, the South had only about half of the rail lines as the North did and 1/24th of the locomotive production as the North (Railroads of the Confederacy). This created a disadvantage right off the bat, which was compounded because all the railroads in the south were made by different companies. This led to multiple railroads in the same town having different widths and gauges which would not allow one train to go onto new tracks. This meant that if a person wanted to move supplies from one train to another in the same town, they would have to lug it across the city just to get it on a new train. This infrastructure disadvantage was a huge downfall for the South even before the war began.
Another thing I learned while researching is just how much better trains were than other forms of transportation at the time. Trains moved much faster than freighters and, most importantly, were 95% less expensive than anything else at the time (Smithsonian). This allowed for money to be allocated into different area rather than just moving soldiers and supplies around. This along with the fact that most of the war was fought in the South, below the Mason-Dixon line, so the North would take over or break the rail lines, which made the south have to use other, slower, more expensive means to transport things.
The Third thing I learned is that General U.S. Grant quickly realized what a huge advantage the railroads could be and how to utilize them. He wrote a letter to General William T. Sherman which said that the enemy was retreating and was tired, hungry, and low on ammunition so he wanted Sherman to stock a large train with lots of food, coffee, and bread in order to feed his and take advantage of the weary, retreating Southern army. After receiving the supply line, Grant then moved in and took Vicksburg which was a very important base because the Mississippi River bends sharply around the base and enemy boats are not able to make it past. This quick and fresh supply of rations allowed the North to quickly march in and take the base, which was then used to move out across the South and live off what they could scavenge.
The South was also hesitant to use civilian locomotives for military purposes because they did not see what a huge advantage they could be (American Rails). The South was at such a huge railroad disadvantage in terms of miles of line that they could not afford to waste some of their lines which they did with this mistake.
Thesis: Although both the North and South had rail lines they could use, the North was able to utilize them in order to give them a huge advantage which the South would never be able to overcome.
CivilWar.org (Railroads of the Confederacy)- Talks about why the south had such a bad rail system during the Civil War. The southern people believed wanted to live agricultural lives and would leave the railroad jobs to the people in the north. This led to them having much fewer lines than the North which hurt them in the war.
American-Rails.com-The south had a few advantages with the railroads, but were unable to utilize them properly. They had locomotive manufacturing plants in Richmond and many central hubs for transportation throughout the region.
Records Relating to the U.S. Military Railroads during the Civil War by David A. Pfeiffer- This is found in the government archives and shows historical records of people who wrote or talked about trains during the war. This is a primary source because it has direct quotes from many people from the time, most notably Abraham Lincoln.
Library of Congress- By using the maps at my disposal on the library of congress, I can get a clearer view of the locations of the rail lines and look at the sites of battles over the railway.
Smithsonian- There is an article in the Smithsonian American Art Museum website which talks about the importance of the railroad and compares the cost and speed of them to that of other means of transportation from the time, such as freighters.
A Railroad War by George A. Mclean, Jr.- Talks about how the South had lost the war, before it had begun. The quality of the rails was low and the fact that every rail production company used different gauges and rail width didn’t allow for much flexibility from the South.
CivilWar.org (Grants Vicksburg Supply Line)-Tells the story of Grants plan in Vicksburg, has a great letter that he sent to his number 2, William T. Sherman, about all they needed to win was more food, men, and ammunition on the trains.
Memoirs of General U.S. Grant– Grant talks in the first person about the ways he used the railroads and how it gave the Union a tactical advantage. He had a great understanding of just how to use them and when to move his army away from one and to let a line go.