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The Confederacy Serves the Southern: The Construction of the Southern Railway Network, 1861-65 Scott Nelson "The South" or "die southland" or the "southern states" were understandable abstractions before the Civil War, often used by railway promoters in construction projects thatwere"nearly complete." Promoters saw the "South" as aregion that could be bound together by railroads and given access to the West. In 1837 the chairman of the Knoxville Convention wrote that the ill-fated Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston would "break down the mountain barriers which now separate two entire sections of our common country, making the inhabitants of those regions almost strangers and aUens to each other; to lay open the great westtothecommerceofthe South;connectthewestern waters andtheirtributary streams, extending even to the upper lakes, with the South Atlantic ... to mould into one common Brotherhood the now estranged and alienated inhabitants of our widely extended republic." The message was nationalistic, but the referents were Southern. "South" was capitalized and discrete while "west" was lowercase and (it was hoped) "tributary." Every Southern commercial convention in the 1 840s and 1850s promised a Southern railway system that could match the territorial ambitions of the Baltimore and Ohio or the massive Pennsylvania.1 But such a "common Brotherhood" was still a little way off in 1861. The legislatures of individual states, more powerful than corporations before the 1 Fairfax Harrison, A History ofthe Legal Development ofthe Railroad System ofthe Southern Railway Company (Washington, D.C, 1901), 9. The author would like tothank Cindy Hahamovitch at the College ofWilliam and Mary, Bryant Simon at Drake University, and Leon Fink and William Barney at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for reading earlier drafts of this paper. This paper also relies heavily on the insights oftwo books, not cited elsewhere in the text: Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso Press, 1991), and Richard Franklin Bensel, Yankee Leviathan: The Origins ofCentral StateAuthority inAmerica, 1859-1877(New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990). This study ispart of a larger manuscript in progress entitled "The Iron Confederacy: The Southern Railway and the Reconstruction of the South." Hubert Wender, Southern Commercial Conventions, 1839-1859 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1930), 423-659. Civil War History, Vol. xli. No. 3 © 1995 by The Kent State University Press 228CIVIL WAR HISTORY war, had been reluctant to support or give charters to roads that crossed state borders or that might threaten estabUshed cities. The Knoxville committee's ambitious Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston had foundered before it got out of South Carolina in 1840. The Western & Atlantic went as far west as Chattanooga in 1850, while the "Atlantic" part of the name was fulfilled when Marthasville obligingly changed its name to Atlanta. Most Unes were small, parallel connections to ports. The few that connected, in places like Richmond and Atlanta, were often separated by four or five downtown blocks or by Unes of a different gauge.2 For the nonperishable staples of the Southern states, the haphazard-looking and independently managed lines oftrack were acceptable—cotton did not care if it traveled by bateaux or boxcar or some promiscuous combination of the two. Nobody much cared until war came. To Confederate generals, set on drawing defensible peripheries with internal Unes of supply, the Southern transportation network was a nightmare. Suddenly the "common Brotherhood" built on iron rails was sorely missed. The James, the Savannah, the Chattahoochee , and Mississippi rivers, with the little gashes of rail Unes that reached them here and there, made it easy to enter the South from nearly any point. "There are so many points to attack, and so Uttle means to meet them on water," wrote Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, "that there is but Uttle rest." Without a substantial web of inland railways, Lee could not maintain internal supply lines except with coaches and wagons. As the war progressed, truckloads of beeffrom Atlanta had to be ordered weeks in advance and make a long, slow trek across rail Unes of different gauge and then carried across city streets and state borders to be unloaded and reloaded by teamsters and boatmen. Stops were frequent; as late...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 227-243
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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