Targeted Tracks: The Cumberland Valley Railroad in the Civil War, 1861-1865
The Civil War was the first conflict in which railroads played a major role. Although much has been written about their role in general, little has been written about specific lines. The Cumberland Valley Railroad, for example, played an important strategic role by connecting Hagerstown, Maryland to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Its location enhanced its importance during some of the Civil War's most critical campaigns. Despite the line's significance to the Union war effort, its remarkable story…

 Admittedly, at first glance the thought may occur regarding why the Cumberland Valley Railroad, with its origin in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and terminus only about 25 miles inside the Maryland border at Hagerstown be of any consequence or interest with Civil War enthusiasts. The answer is revealed.

   The authors illustrate why every great military commander understands the value of a strong logistics support structure and they very ably address how a fledgling nation, recognizing the need to move goods from their point of origin to the American market and beyond to Europe, needed faster and more efficient transportation alternatives than road and rivers. They also address the contrast between the quality and quantity of rail in the North and the South and the use of rail as a force multiplier by rapidly transporting troops and war supplies by using interior lines i.e., rail but always subject to enemy interdiction. General Joseph E. Johnston demonstrated the concept at first Bull Run. 

   They describe the difference between the Federal government’s practice of nationalizing the use of rail and the Confederacy’s less aggressive management that conceded to States Rights doctrine by relying on patriotism to support an essential military need.

   Substantial research supports the narrative and the authors describe the various incidences with direct Civil War implications from John Brown’s clandestine shipment of arms to support his aggressive action in Kansas and Harpers Ferry, the Confederate raid on Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and the impact on the Union Army resupply after the Battle of Gettysburg. 

   Unlike the South, where the limited industry was devastated by war, in the North, the economy flourished and the railroads benefited financially adding to the economic benefits of westward expansion.

   The author’s respective skills complement and benefits the narrative with Scott Mangus’ skills as a consultant as well as his research and writing regarding slavery and the Underground Railroad. Cooper Wingert is also an accomplished author of Civil War related topics that complement the scientific background of Mr. Mangus. They provide a compelling analysis of the Cumberland Rail line in the era of national growth and war.

 

Reviewed by Arley McCormick