Railroads during the Civil War

By: Ariel Wagner

April 12, 1861 shots were fired at Fort Sumter, beginning a feud between a nation, but also a high demand for railroads to be for the first time as military tactics.

The Civil War introduced many new weapons, and railroads would prove to be one of the most successful tools that helped enable the North to defeat the South. Railroads were used as strategic resources and military targets. Soldiers, materials, and food were routinely transported by rail; they kept the war effort progressing and troops supplied. Both the Union and the Confederacy recognized that railroads would help make or break the Union. Railroads proved to be a vital Civil War technology.

The Union had a distinct advantage over the South with most of the nation’s track and locomotive factories located in the North: 2/3 of the rail was located in the North. Union officials used railroads to move troops and supplies from one place to another. They also used thousands of soldiers to keep tracks and trains safe from Confederate attacks. The North was more industrial and the South was primarily agricultural that relied on cash-crops. 4/5 of the manufacturers were also located in the North. The South was at a distinct disadvantage in men, material, and transportation.

Trains were undermined at the beginning of the war. The Union railroad executives were more concerned about the rates for transporting war material and the profits they would make rather than the welfare of the Union. Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s Secretary of War, was forced to retire because of his profiteering by manipulation of the rates the War Department would pay for the transportation of its soldiers and material. Such corruption in the rail industry prompted the enactment of the Railways and Telegraph Act of January 31, 1862. This legislation allowed the president to take possession of railroads and control them as desired, to preserve public safety. The few railroads that were seized under the act were organized into the United States Military Railroad (U.S.M.R.R.). Fear of being seized railroads fell into line to aid the Union, and profiteering and corruption immediately began to diminish and trains began to move in an expedient way.

South began to comprehend the importance of rail transportation and would employ it as one of their main tactics throughout the entirety of the war.

While railroads were recognized for their benefits to the war effort, military leaders also recognized them as great targets for destruction. Destroying rail lines prevented food and material supply to reach large armies and prevented easy transportation of troops. As an army advanced, it often had to rebuild the track that the fleeing army destroyed. Construction trains became indispensable to military operations.

Rebel attacks were common on Union rail lines, so the North set up garrisons along the rail lines to guard depots and bridges. General Sherman trained ten thousand troops in railroad repair because understood the importance of railroads and also that the lines were a main target. Troops would destruct railroads by taking all the ties from a stretch of track and set them aflame, and then they would bend the rail around tree and twisting it.

As Union troops moved south they would sabotage the rails by pulling them up, heating them until they could bend, and wrap the rails around tree trunks, which later became known as “Sherman’s Neckties.”

General Herman Haupt, the union’s brilliant and innovative chief of construction and transportation, is the one who initiated the stockpiling of pre-fabricated parts.

North and South employed locomotives for tactical missions. The “railroad weapons” were a variety of vehicles, most notable being armored trains and railroad batteries. Maneuver elements they performed several missions such as: railroad defense, escort duties, and artillery support. Small windows were installed to armor cars to reduce the chances of a sharpshooter’s bullet penetrating the glass or the inside overheating, but while still affording adequate visibility for the crew. Locomotives, at times, served as rams. While trains served as artillery bait and transportation, they could also transport heavy guns to the battlefield, but commanders took it a step further and mounted heavy artillery pieces on flatcars for combat operations. Railroad batteries enabled firepower on the move. To protect railroad batteries against counterfire, builders mounted thick iron and wooden shields on the flatcars to deflect enemy projectiles. Weapons had limited range and mobility, not too effective but psychologically it scared the opponent army being shot at. American Civil War railroad weapons were even conceptual ancestors to tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and self-propelled artillery.

To prevent Federal trains from being attacked they would put Confederate hostages and sympathies on the trains.

Railroads provided logistical support for the armies, which was prudent to the economies of the divided nation. Large military were the worst danger to railroads. They supplied the units that were on campaign, railroads were often major objectives-and army without supplies cannot operate for long. Armies usually stayed near the railroad tracks. Missions by locomotives mainly included close combat. Commanders sometimes sent locomotives to reconnoiter the terrain and gain information on enemy troop depositions. Gathering information was crucial; locomotives could quickly reverse direction and move as fat as 60 mph. because of their great mobility locomotives were also useful as courier vehicles when commanders had to rush vital intelligence to headquarters. This communications service was an important advantage in a war where raiders frequently cut or tapped telegraph lines.

Unlike the Union, the Confederate government was slow to recognize the importance of the railroads in the conflict. They did not have the parts to replace worn out equipment. The Southern railroads had imported iron from England, and the Union had blockaded the Atlantic and Gulf ports—shutting off that supply effectively. Locomotives and tracks began to wear out. By 1863, a quarter of South’s locomotives needed repairs. Fuel was also a problem; southern locomotives used wood, and the Confederate drafted railroad employees into the military. Railroad companies became understaffed, so the railroad crew would have to stop along their route to chop and load wood as needed.

Railroads allowed the Union Forces to successfully implement a strategy of exterior lines, overland invasion of the Confederacy, and it acted as a force multiplier upon the Union advantages in manpower and industrialization.

Railroads dramatically increased the strategic mobility of armies due to their ability to carry large amounts of troops and supplies rapidly. Some Civil War generals were slow to grasp the importance of rails, but generals on both sides became aware of the immediate impact and potential of railroads on the conduct of the war. The technology increased the value of larger industrial base to the Northern armies; greater production of war material would be useless without a large capacity transportation system to effectively and efficiently distribute the material. Railroads could rapidly move a larger number of available and well equipped soldiers to successfully support a strategy of exterior lines and a primarily land invasion of Confederate states. Logistical operations kept them properly surprised; Required sophisticated transportation system to enable the Union to shift troops rapidly to deploy at critical locations. The Union army was better fed and better equipped. Part of the Union’ army strategy was to attack and divide the Confederacy into non-supporting and isolated zones by cutting water and existing rail transportation lines.

Large military forces were the worst danger to railroads. Armies without supplies cannot operate for long, so armies stayed close to railroad tracks in order to secure them.

The Civil War was the first major military action in which railroads were an effective tool, but were at times undermined. When the progressive leaders began to utilize the rails for transport of troops, supplies, wounded, and other impediments of warfare, the advantages soon became apparent. As a result the rail lines became military targets of prime importance and the tide of battle was often turned by the ability of the railroads to rush up reinforcements and keep up a steady flow of ammunition, rations, and forage. The Confederate Government’s defeat was due, in large measure to the lack of a concentrated authority to seize and operate the railroads in the South.


Intoxicating Nostalgia

By: Sam Noble

Trains, to me, have always had a certain intoxicating nostalgia and mystique to them. In the distance you can hear their forlorn calls, identifying themselves on short and long blasts of the whistle. Up close, their raw power and size is evident as they trundle past, unhindered by the world around them. They move almost on their own schedule and accord, out of sync, it would appear, to their surroundings.

I don’t think the average person gives them much thought outside of the nuisance of a whistle late at night or an unexpected stop on the commute to work, though. Certainly, when Dan and I were stopped by a train while driving around Muncie the other day, we weren’t planning for it. We wouldn’t have given the tracks another thought if there hadn’t been a train coming as we pulled up to them. Normally, we probably would have been annoyed at the inconvenience, but the pause gave us time to stop, think, and chat. Today, the crossbucks signaled nothing more than a brief pause, instead of a hinderance.

If it weren’t for my involvement in Indiana Crossrails, I wouldn’t think twice about what exactly the train was doing, but watching the huge, multi-ton cars rumble past, we both remarked that it actually is a major feat of engineering to be able to move so much weight over such distances with one engine. As train car after train car rolled by, the point really sunk in: this behemoth machine truly is a lifeblood in our country. After minor investment in rails and cars, you get massive returns, both in efficiency and environmental friendliness. Shipping materials hundreds of miles on set routes with near guaranteed travel times, incredible track records for safety, and minimal chance of unexpected stops, jams or delays is a powerful idea.

The thought that these machines are both a moving, working object and a part of the urban and rural landscape struck me. These massive machines carry some of the best camouflage I’ve ever encountered. They are as ubiquitous as buildings and roads, to the point that I, and many others like me, rarely give them a second thought. The graffiti splotched cars blended the train into the cityscape, like one more downtown alleyway. How can advocates and idealists bring attention to something so ubiquitous that it disappears except when inconvenient? We mulled this question over, but drew no conclusions.

No sooner had our conversation started than the train was gone, and the railroad warning lights lifted. We found ourselves back in sync with the world, off of the unexpected schedule of the train. We drove home, but the short hiatus stuck with me. It really makes me wonder what else is just under my nose, slipping by uninvestigated.


Work Worth Doing is Worth Doing Silly

By: Andrew Frey

“They don’t raise up,” says Dan, trying to situate himself comfortably in the short swiveling chair, “I don’t want to have to sit in a short chair.” There is another long day of editing ahead for the post-production team and we all strive for comfort. “Is there coffee downstairs?” asks Sam as he settles into his place and prepares to craft artwork for the documentary. We try to focus on the many individual tasks that will soon mesh together. The waves of chitchat calm as the 90’s music begins to make itself present. Cheesy lyrics are uttered under our breaths. Our eyes focus on computer screens and the slight conversation that happens shifts to questions about files and purposefully awkward sports talk, i.e. “how ‘bout them bears?” We boo at the bad joke and chuckle collectively. After months of travel and working closely, we have grown to know each others’ humor and learned how to keep the mood light and silly. It helps to keep the moral up and the drive strong as we come to a stressful close. There have been many late, late nights and more than enough early mornings to have us drained for the rest of the year. The light and silly method has proven that it can keep us not only motivated but also content. Knowing one another this well could have (maybe even should have) caused more tension and provided more heat than it has. Instead, we have learned how to pick each other up with a sincere compliment. Together we sit. Keep it light. Keep it silly. And at the end of the day, we know that we will get the job done and produce something worthwhile. We know when to talk, when to listen, when to joke or to be serious. But most of all, we have learned when to just let the music fill the air.


Walking Old Rail Lines

By: Yorgo Douramacos

Having walked the Cardinal Greenway and Monon Trails here in Central Indiana I was only vaguely aware that they were once rail lines. The Cardinal Greenway in particular is remarkable for connecting a 62 mile stretch of Indiana, town and country. But having recently spent an intensive few months reviewing and considering the history of transportation in Indiana, these trails take on a more weighted significance.

If you happen to believe, as I do, that rail is an underutilized and neglected transit option, these trails become similar to grave sites. They illicit a sense of longing and loss. If you merely find rail interesting they might have the resonance of archeological ruins: evidence of some dimly remembered past. The Cardinal Greenway lies on top of the the old Chesapeake and Ohio Cardinal Line. It was the only length of track in the state served by the iconic Chessie the Cat, emblem of the C&O railroad.

The converging horizon lines of railroad tracks have always made for potent visual metaphor. The visible evidence of a blazed trail, a path out, beckoning into the distance is hard to ignore. Yet somehow a blacktopped greenway seems to symbolize residence, an invitation to walk a few miles and then saunter casually back.

I love hiking and biking trails and the Cardinal Greenway is one of my favorites. But they are ostentatious in their way, seeming to say “Our transportation needs are so well served we only need rail lines to serve as recreation.” Yet this is clearly not the case. Our transit systems are sparse and undernourished and require a drastic reordering among our transportation priorities.

I cherish long walking paths. Walking is as close a thing to a core philosophical value as I possess. But I am forced to consider, as I ride in a car to a remote location pre-designated for a long walk, about the priorities behind a 62 mile walking path built over derelict rail lines in a state with so few effective or reliable transit options. This is not meant as a cry against the Cardinal Greenway. Merely a point of mediation as regards its meaning and significance.


The Chicago Science and Industry Museum: A Perspective on Electric Rail

By: Yorgo Douramacos

The Museum of science and Industry in Chicago makes a lot of very large phenomena and forces tangible. In one room the rail lines connecting Chicago to Seattle are shrunk down to model size and fit, with incredible detail, into one room.

Museums are meant to instill awe. They exist to strike a sort of cultural tuning note, to let us all know what we should admire or regret about our selves and our shared history. With that in mind one can tell a lot about one’s own culture by noticing what is put in and what is left out of a museum’s collections and displays.

In the Science and Industry Museum’s “Transportation Gallery” there are notable omissions. It is immediately apparent for instance that the automobile is not a concern of the Transportation Gallery. The included vehicles are locomotives of every stage and type. From early primitive steam engines to the iconic iron horses familiar to anyone who’s seen a Western. There are relics of aviation from bi planes to a jet liner.

It would be easy to think the Automobile was left out because it would represent too large a history to include and still have room for these spectacular novelties. I think that there is also a textual reason as well, a message being communicated about what we are meant to find awe-inspiring. The museum seems to require transportation to rise to a larger significance than private ownership in order to qualify as a cultural accomplishment or a point of national pride. We can perhaps find more to fuel our sense of wonder in an 1893 steam locomotive than a Model-T Ford or the first Corvette.

Also included in the display are examples of public transportation from America’s past, and more specifically from Chicago’s past. Because the museum was begun and built in Chicago it necessarily draws a greater portion of its identity and its collections from that area. So when it puts a late 19th century cable car on display it is one that ran on Chicago’s city streets. The same for the horse-drawn street car that sits somewhat neglected and unnoticed among jet fighters and an airliner.

What is not present though is an example of an electric street rail car. At first this seemed odd to me. In every major city in the country the progression went predictably from horse drawn car, to cable car to electric and I knew that Chicago was no different. As I walked around looking to see if I had missed something on the outskirts of the exhibit the answer occurred to me.

The transportation gallery mostly wishes you to marvel at the past, to wonder at the things that have passed away and been improved upon. But in among the miniature city streets of the Chicago portion of the model railroad display are still-running electric rail cars. Unlike the life-size displays, which are evocations of the past, the model railroad is meant as a snapshot of the present. And in Chicago, and cities all around the world, electric rail is as modern and present as any new model automobile.

I was frustrated at first that there was no historic electric rail car on display. But once I understood the message behind its omission I felt better. Electric rail is not a relic of the past and should not be thought of as such. It is a vital and vibrant tool for building the future.


Mass Transit is Worth Fighting For

By: Jill Clark

It was still dark out when my dad and I parked at Midway Airport and walked onto the train platform. We boarded the Orange Line at 5:45, and made it to downtown Chicago at 6:20. At five years old, this was a fast paced adventure. The doors closed just as quickly as they opened, and, some how, dozens of people were able to board the train. The train screeched to a halt at Madison and Wells, where my dad and I quickly jumped off, walked down the grimy metal stairs, and into the front door of his building. My dad had been making this effortless commute for 10 years.

15 years later, I’ve taken the train more times than I can count. With two viable trains, the el and the Metra, within minutes of my house, there is no better or more efficient way to get into the city. Mass transit has always been a logical option for me, so you can imagine my surprise when I moved to Indiana for college, without a car, and had no reasonable way to get around. In the few years that I have lived here, I have seen many different areas of the Hoosier state. Towns are few and far between, giving the state that small town feel; small towns that could thrive with the addition of rail. The people I have met along the way have so much to offer, and I just think of how they could share their gifts with the state if there was a more convenient way of transportation. With the unpredictable weather, and the ever expanding roadway construction, rail would be a benefit to the people of Indiana.

Mass Transit is worth fighting for.


Model Train Show in Muncie

By: Jill Clark

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked in to the Delaware County Model Train Show in late February. I imagined a lot of Thomas the Tank Engine, train sets that are usually displayed at the mall, and overalls. What I found instead were people that were passionate about trains (playfully called ‘foamers’), unique collections in pristine condition, and stories about any aspect of rail you could imagine.

As I weaved throughout the tables lined to the edge with model train parts, books, and other memorabilia, I encountered some folks who were happy enough to share their stories with me.

One of my favorite people at the event was an older woman and her husband who collected the fine china served in the meal cars on various train lines. She had complete sets of beautiful, hand painted china that you couldn’t help but stare at. She told me how every year, she and her husband travel by train to their vacation spot. They always went somewhere new, and the train was the best way to get there. She piped in how trains nowadays serve all their food on paper plates, or throw it in a microwave in a styrofoam container.  She was proud of the china collection she had acquired, and it was truly a marvel to see.

Further along down the line, a man named Frank showed me his extensive collection of lapel pins, wax stamps, and Monon lanterns. All of the pins and wax seals were behind glass, all unique in their own way. He explained the process of creating a wax seal, as well as provided me with a brief history of some of the lapel pins in his collection. But what Frank was most proud of was his lantern collection. He pointed out the subtle differences they each had, as well as informed me of where he acquired the lanterns. He grinned from ear to ear during the entirety of our conversation.

In the next room, there were approximately 4 large model trains set up, all of them run by a crew in matching polo shirts. As I snapped pictures, one of the crew members tapped me on the shoulder to give me a rundown about the trains that were running on the track. He then proudly pointed to a little bridge construction scene that he happily informed me he had put together himself.

The Train Show was unlike anything I had ever experienced. There was the sense of community everywhere you looked in the room. People spoke to strangers as if they were old friends. These people have a passion, These are the kinds of people you would want to run into on the train.


Crossrails Snapshot: The Team in Charlotte

By: Yorgo Douramacos

Half the team has spent the hours since sunrise stalking and documenting the repetitive yet dynamic pattern of arrival and departure along Charlotte, North Carolina’s nine mile Blue Line electric rail. Bisecting the city North to South, it seems to have been embraced as both convenience and amenity by the city’s residents.

The whole crew of eight convenes and compares goals and achievements for the day so far and the day going forward. A GoPro on the front of bike share bikes, time lapse of a city moving at a an expanding pace, lunch, set up, train ride, meet up and “What’d you get?” “What’s next?”

It’s only 2pm and it feels too late for some things, too early for others.

“My interview’s tomorrow, I wanna scout the site.”

“Did you bring the release forms?”

“Where’s Kathie?”

She’s crouched low to the ground with a black duvatyne shroud over her head so she can compose her shot without glare.

To us, trying to capture both the novelty and the symbolic weight of mass rail transit, its material existence, Charlotte’s Blue Line is an uncontainable quarry. No matter how many times we catch it, ride it, photograph and record it, it goes further on its way, continues and returns. If only we could close the trap and pack it in our luggage to be released and live back home the way it does here.

After the sun’s gone down and we reluctantly call it a day the team of eight sits around a low lit dinner table at “Mert’s Heart and Soul” restaurant. Working tensions are starting to arise but around good food those things matter less. The cornbread comes out in small loaves, one per person. Not the mealy and dense crumb-loaf often called “cornbread,” these are light and sweet and they erupt with fragrant steam when broken. We eat noisily, acclaiming the food around full mouths.

“Does anyone want the rest of my cornbread?” Jeremy asks.


“It’s good, I just can’t finish it.”

“Everyone.” I say. “Literally everyone wants the rest of your cornbread.”

We’ll be returning the next night to interview the restaurant’s owner, a rail enthusiast and long time Blue Line advocate. We are glad to have an interview to structure the next day around because aimlessness can really exacerbate fatigue.

The Indiana Crossrails crew in Charlotte: eight people over five days trying to pin down a city’s innovation and personality that put it a long stride ahead of our own area in terms of transit and investment in its own mobility.

“How was the trip?”

“Good. We got a lot of good material.”


“I wish you could’ve tasted the cornbread.”



Why I’m Selling My Car

By: Zane Bishop

In the past, I have read about people who have intentionally decided to live without a car, even people who don’t live in big cities. I was inspired by these people, but never thought I could do it. How would I get groceries? What about the rain? Or winter? But here I am now, ready to commit. Will it be challenging? Yes, but I feel confident in my decision, and am dedicated to the cause I am supporting.

car1My old ride, missing hub cap and all.

There are two main factors that have led to my decision: money and advocacy.

Driving costs a lot. More than you would expect. For a sedan such as mine, an estimate places the cost at 50.5 cents per mile, including gas, insurance, depreciation, maintenance, repairs, and other fees (1). There are also other costs that we don’t directly pay for, such as infrastructure, parking, congestion, and pollution. Factoring these costs in, driving can cost up to 68 cents per mile (2)!

Comparatively, biking 30 miles per week over the next 10 years will only cost me 19.7 cents per mile, a total of $3,075. This cost includes bike tubes, annual maintenance, and capital costs such as a helmet, lock, lights, and bike. Driving this same amount would cost $78,000 over the next 10 years.

When I ride the bus, I get sad. No, not because of the service. Muncie actually has a good bus system, better than Indianapolis, and excellent for a city of 70,000. What I really get sad about is thinking about individuals who have to ride the bus. People who can’t drive or can’t afford to drive. Transportation equity is a real problem in America. Those walking, biking, or riding transit are at a great disadvantage. Nothing is built to their scale; everything is car-oriented. Buildings have large setbacks for parking, destinations are spread out, roads are unsafe, sidewalks are in disrepair, bike lanes are relatively non-existent. These forms of transportation are not given their due diligence. People who don’t drive are not only put at a disadvantage, but are also stigmatized and downcast. For me, selling my car is about taking a stand against this injustice.

While cars may provide convenience and give a sense of freedom, I actually feel more free without one. I don’t feel tied down. I don’t worry about parking, or getting a ticket. I feel more patient. I am able to see my environment in a new light. I have a desire to explore, to be adventurous. I see the beauty that is around me. I feel free.

bike My lifeline: Raleigh Technium Single-Speed


  1. Lisa Smith, “The True Cost of Owning a Car,” Investopedia, accessed March 26, 2015,
  2. David Levinson, “We Don’t Pay Enough for Transportation,” Transportationist, August 4 2014,

W.W. Garrott – First Indiana Railroad Man

Today when someone rides the train the only people that they will see is probably the conductor and maybe the engineer, who is driving the train. However, when trains where first becoming popular there were many different people working on the train to make the experience enjoyable and comfortable for the passengers. One of these people was the train boy; whose job it was to bring food and water for the passengers to enjoy.

W. W. Garrott started out as a train boy in 1856 at the age of thirteen and became one of the first railroad men in Indiana. He happened to get the job just by chance, for the train crew found themselves without a train boy, so he was permitted to make the trip. It was with great reluctance that he was allowed on the trip due to the dangerous nature of the job. In the beginning the train cars where all different heights and coupled together with either one or three links of chain. This made it necessary to jump from one to the other. With Garrott being such a small boy it was feared that he would not be able to make the dangerous jump with the basket of fruits, buckets of water and papers that he had to carry from car to car. When put to the test, however, he won the admiration of the crew. The company was reluctant to hire him due to his age but with the help of the other crew members he was hired, and in a way became the mascot of the New Albany and Salem route.

He was steadily promoted and by the age of 20 found himself as a conductor, which makes him one of the youngest in the state to hold the position.

Source: Hargrave, Frank, A Pioneer Indiana Railroad :the origin and development of the Monon. Wm. B. Burford Printing Company, Indianapolis. (1932)