Darryl Carpenter will lead the Little Round Table discussion of “Southern Railroads and the Confederate War Effort”
The Civil War is the first war in which railroads were a major factor. In the 1850s there was rapid growth in the railroad industry throughout the United States and 1861, 22,000 miles of track had been laid in the Northern states and 9,500 miles in the South. The great rail centers in the South were Chattanooga, Atlanta, and most important, Richmond. Very little track had yet been laid west of the Mississippi.
Few of the 100 railroads that existed in the South prior to 1861 were more than 100 miles in length. The South had always been less enthusiastic about the railroad industry than the North; its most successful businessmen focused on large market agriculture, and left industrial investment to men from the Northern states. The railroads existed, they believed, solely to get cotton or other crops to the ports. By September 1863, the Southern railroads were in bad shape; for a number of reasons the railroads began to deteriorate very soon after the outbreak of the war with the North. Difficulty of rail movement was often cited as a reason the Confederate armies were so often short of food, fodder, and even ammunition.
Still, the Confederates made imaginative use of the railroads to move entire armies more rapidly to the field of battle, much earlier than the Federals.
Darryl will lead the discussion, but all members are invited to contribute as the LRT concludes our three-month long review of Confederate wartime logistics, which began in November with Emil Posey’s discussion of Confederate Arsenals and Depots.
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