150 years ago: Railroads west to Tennessee

If you read the monuments at Gettysburg for the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, specifically the battle honors of the regiments, you will notice a lot of western place-names listed along with the great eastern battlefields.  Most recall this is due to the transfer of the two corps in the fall of 1863 to reinforce the besieged Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga.  We often wave our hand over the map to explain this movement, but forget this was a herculean effort of strategic mobility.

Earlier in the season, the Confederates shifted part of General James Longstreet’s Corps to northern Georgia using some sixteen different railroad lines.  The first of those troops left the station in Orange, Virginia on September 8 or 9, 1863.  The lead elements of the force arrived in Georgia in time for the battle of Chickamauga.  But it is a misconception to say the movement was complete at that time.  Significant combat force remained on the trains or at the depots on September 20, and baggage would arrive only in the weeks following the battle.

Now it was time for the Federals to demonstrate their rail lines.  As reports from the battle trickled into Washington, President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and others debated the best way to reinforce Major-General William Rosecrans’ (for the moment) Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga.  On paper, Major-General Ambrose Burnside was close by at Knoxville.  But in reality the terrain did not allow for a rapid march, particularly where provisions were scarce and Confederate raiders were thick.  Likewise the movement of 20,000 troops from Vicksburg, Mississippi, under command of Major-General William T. Sherman, looked easy on paper but was not easily conducted on the ground.

The solution offered was to move two corps from the Army of the Potomac in Virginia out by rail to Tennessee.  Though some cautioned the movement would require over a month. But such estimates were largely based on pre-war experience.  Stanton and the railroad men felt the move could be done with much more speed, if properly organized.  Orders went out on September 24 to Major-General George Meade to release the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps for movement.

Initially, the Eleventh was to use Bristoe Station and Rappahannock Station.  But after organizing the rolling stock and coordinating troop movements, Major-General O.O. Howard loaded his troops at Manassas Junction (with artillery going on the trains at Alexandria).  The Twelfth loaded at Brandy Station.   And there was some counter-marching required in order to keep this movement of troops out of sight from the Confederate observers on Clark’s Mountain.

To reach Chattanooga, the troops started their journey on the Orange & Alexandria (O&A) at some of the war’s most important rail junctions.  The trains then would move, by way of Washington, to Baltimore and switch to the B&O for a westward leg. Reaching the Ohio River at Benwood, the troops were to ferry (later move by pontoon bridge) across to Bellaire, Ohio where they would board trains on the Central Ohio Railroad and make the run to Columbus, Ohio.  Next the troops would switch to the Indiana Central and move to Indianapolis.  There the plan called for another transfer onto the Jeffersonville, Madison, and Indianapolis Railroad for a trip to Jeffersonville, Indiana.  Another ferry ride would put the troops in Louisville, Kentucky where they would take the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N).  In Nashville the troops would board trains for their last leg on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad (N&C).  The closest terminus would be Bridgeport, Alabama.  All told the troops would transit eight states, plus the District of Columbia, and cross four major rivers (the Ohio and the Potomac twice), in their journey of 1200 miles.

Leading this movement effort was a mix of civilian and military officials.  Stanton coordinated with John M. Garrett of the B&O, Samuel M. Felton of the Pennsylvania Railroad, H.J. Jewett of the Central Ohio, James Guthrie of the L&N, and several others with connecting rail lines.  And on the military side, Colonel Thomas Scott (who was more a War Department official with military rank) supervised the operation.  There was at times friction with Colonel William Innes, who supervised Rosecrans’ railroad department.  But Stanton’s directives brushed aside any disagreements.

While planning the move on September 23, Stanton forwarded inquiries to Brigadier-General Jeremiah T. Boyle in regards to the L&N:

Please ascertain and report to me immediately:
1. How many men can be transported by employing the whole rolling stock of the road from Louisville to Nashville, enumerating the number of cars of every description that could be employed?
2. How many hours it usually takes to make the trip from Nashville to Louisville, and at what rate of speed?
3. Is the road from Nashville to Chattanooga the same gauge as the road from Louisville to Nashville, so that cars can go direct from Louisville to Chattanooga, and what time does it take from Nashville to Chattanooga?
4. If the gauge of the roads is different, what is the supply of rolling stock on the  [Nashville] and Chattanooga road?

The following morning, Boyle responded that the L&N could transport 3,000 men a day, requiring sixteen hours to cover the 185 mile distance.  The L&N connected to the N&C in Nashville, but Boyle was unable to determine the rates for that last leg of the trip.  Military campaigns of the last eight months had used up and badly damaged the N&C, but with repairs, Boyle felt the lines could support 4,000 men.

Contrary to some statements you hear today, the Federal railroad lines were not uniform gauge.  An alternative route crossing the Ohio at Cincinnati and using the Covington & Lexington Railroad was considered.  However, the president of that line warned of the different gauge of track between Lexington and Louisville.  Later, the War Department would spend an estimated $38,000 to rectify this issue.  Another modification to the rail lines was the laying of connecting track in Indianapolis to allow cars to switch over, instead of having the troops disembark.

On September 25, the first troop cars passed through Washington as the first of nearly three days of nearly continual movement through the city.  Some 390 B&O railcars sent down the O&A allowed for rapid transition in Baltimore.  By September 28 the first troop trains reached Indianapolis.  A day later those lead elements prepared to recross the Ohio River into Kentucky at Louisville.  On September 30, four trains arrived in Nashville with the lead elements of the Eleventh Corps.  Within a few days, the bulk of the Eleventh Corps arrived at Bridgeport, where they looked over the Tennessee River at the broken bridge which prevented their transit to Chattanooga.

A few days later, the troop movement was complete with the two corps ready to assume operations in what would become the Chattanooga Campaign.  Historian Thomas Weber summarized the movement:

By October 3, the first regiments of the 11th Corps began arriving at their base camp 26 miles from Chattanooga.  October 6, the last regiment passed through Indianapolis, and by October 8, the troop movement was complete.  In 14 days, 23,000 men had moved 1,233 miles, an accomplishment not to be surpassed during the war …. The baggage of the two corps, including horses, wagons, ambulances, and commissary, moved west over the same route during the first two weeks of October…. Thus the complete transfer of men and equipment took only about three weeks, a time so far under the general estimate that it must have greatly surprised Halleck and Lincoln.

Indeed, the movement put two veteran corps in a place that left the Confederates concerned.  More than the bickering among generals, I would submit the rapid movement of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps contained the Confederate gains in September 1863.

And as a side note, this is perhaps the only post narrative that one might mention “Brandy Station” with “Louisville” and “Bridgeport.”  More than anything, this troop movement shows how interconnected the theaters of war really were.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part I, Serial 48, page 147; Thomas Weber, The Northern Railroads in the Civil War: 1861-1865, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1952, page 186.)


150 Years Ago: Trouble getting the trains to run on time in Mississippi

On this day (February 14) in 1863, Walter Goodman, the president of the Mississippi Central Railroad Company was certainly not exchanging Valentines to Brigadier General John S. Bowen. Goodman voiced his grievances in a letter to Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton in Vicksburg. Goodman’s letter was a response to criticism made by Bowen of the railroad’s operation in January. Bowen felt the railroad was at fault for delays transporting troops between Grenada and Jackson, Mississippi. Now Goodman felt compelled to respond.

Before the war, the Mississippi Central connected the “Jacksons” – that is Jackson, Tennessee and Jackson, Mississippi. While the railroad’s southern terminus was at Canton, Mississippi, a connector linked with rail lines going south the Jackson (Mississippi) and thence to both Mobile and Vicksburg. In the winter of 1863, this short rail line offered the Confederates defending Mississippi the means to shift forces to meet threats expected from several directions.

Mississippi Central in Yellow

Goodman made a firm stance against Bowen’s charges:

In reply to the letter and charges made by Brigadier-General Bowen, I have to remark that this road is not chargeable with any delays occurring after the arrival of trains at Canton, the southern terminus of our road. So far as this road is concerned, I pronounce the charges made in the letter of General Bowen as untrue, except in a few cases of accidental detention occasioned by trains running off the track, accidents that do and will occur on the best managed roads. I ask, and think I have a right to claim, the most rigid examination into the truth or falsity of the charges made.

During the movement of troops from Grenada, some three, perhaps four, trains were delayed at different times by up, and in one case a down, train running off the track. The longest detention was six hours, others for a shorter period of time. In one or two cases trains were delayed from one to three hours for want of fuel, our wood at our principal station, Vaiden, having been consumed by troops stationed there, although we had used every means at our command to protect it for the use of our engines.

Bowen’s complaints referenced the use of flat-cars, which were not preferred during the movement. Goodman indicated he had informed Major E.A. Banks, quartermaster at Grenada…

…that out of 500 cars belonging to the road not more than 50 or 60 were on the road in running order; that most of the residue had been taken from our road by military authority and in use on the New Orleans and Jackson, the Southern, and Mobile and Ohio roads, for the purpose of transporting sugar and others freights for military or private speculation; that many of the cars had been absent for six months, notwithstanding my frequent application to the officers of the roads and military authorities to have them returned, and I could not supply the number of cars he required unless ours were returned or cars belonging to other roads were ordered on to ours.

Although Banks worked to return the required cars, none arrived.

Goodman went on to describe some of the confusion and delays loading troops at Grenada:

Nearly all the trains were detained at Grenada from six to thirty-six hours for loading, and I am quite sure the troops must have suffered quite as much by their detention at Grenada, exposed to snow, sleet, and rain, as they did during the transit. As to overloading and crowding, the trains, when ready to receive their freights, were placed at the command of the quartermaster who superintended the movement of troops, and, if overloaded, it was done by military authority, and often in opposition to our protestations. Many of the box-cars, perhaps most of them, were used for the transportation of horses belonging to commanders, and the men were placed on platform cars, and this by direction of those claiming the right of directing how the cars should be loaded, and not by direction of railroad officials.

Not content to simply call out the Army’s poor loading process, Goodman attempted to absolve the railroad any fault for the poor condition of engines and rolling stock.

If the cars are or were in bad condition, it is no fault of the railroad officials; it has been occasioned often by malicious destruction by troops in transit, without interference of their commanders, and the wanton destruction of material prepared for their repairs for fuel, simply because it happened to be well seasoned. As to worthlessness of engines, I have only to remark the charge made by General Bowen may be true, but this I know, that no road in the Confederate States ever had better equipments than the Central had one year ago, and, if his charge is true, it is because the Government has become the purchaser of all the materials that are required to repair engines, and refuse to permit railroads to obtain them when they may be found, and for the additional reason that Government officials are permitted to enter our workshops and entice away our mechanics by offering them increased wages.

Goodman went on to address allegations of unnecessary delays. He knew of one or two cases where trains were delayed half a day, or more, by military authorities due to bad weather. Otherwise the trains ran from Grenada to Canton within nine to eleven hours.

Closing his defense, Goodman wrote:

I think I can convince any man possessing practical business information that the charges made in the communication of General Bowen are in the main untrue, and that all are based on slight foundation. I feel quite confident that “these railroad officials” referred to are quite as competent to manage the affairs intrusted to them as the military officials are to manage theirs, and that they have at all times and on all occasions exhibited as much zeal, made as great sacrifices for the public good, and are actuated by as patriotic motives in the discharge of their respective duties as any general or other military officer. That they will continue to do so, I do not doubt, until those military officers who make such groundless charges have been brought to “their senses,” if a thing so devoutly desired can be effected.

Two days later Goodman forwarded a copy of the letter to Secretary of War James Seddon, adding “…that there is just enough of truth in the charges made by General Bowen to give the semblance of truth to the whole, yet in almost all particulars they are untrue.” This was not the first time Goodman had reached out to Seddon with respect to his railroad. Weeks earlier, he’d related the issues facing the railroad in correspondence to the secretary. And the state of the railroad would only get worse as the war progressed.

What stands out here, at least to me, is the competition between several war-critical activities for the same resources – be that wood fuel, rolling stock, rail iron, or repair parts. The end result was trains could not run on time and thus impeded movement across the theater. If the trains can not deliver the troops on time, then throw away the military maxim about interior lines.

(Goodman’s letters appear in OR, Series I, Volume 24, Part III, Serial 38, pages 627-8.)

150 years ago: Moving trains by water to supply the army

Yesterday I left off noting that armies on the move need support in order to keep up momentum.  Even without suggesting General Sumner should have crossed the Rappahannock and occupied Fredericksburg – just to stay in front of Fredericksburg – the Army of the Potomac needed logistic support.  To continue the offensive, the army needed everything from axle grease to hard tack to bullets, and even more in-between.

However by early November 1862, the logistic tail following the Army of the Potomac lay back along the Orange & Alexandria Railroad.  Engines and their rolling stock worked the rails extending to the southwest of Alexandria.  With the change of objective, the army no longer needed depots at places like Manassas Junction or Warrenton.  Rather the army needed a line running due south towards Fredericksburg.  For General Ambrose Burnside’s plan to reach Richmond through Fredericksburg to work, the rail road had to move.  Problem was the old Fredericksburg railroad was not in shape to support anything, having suffered damage due to the war.  And even if built, railroaders feared the line was exposed to irregular activity.

To resolve the problem, the U.S. Military Railroad came up with a novel solution.  General Herman Haupt wrote of this in his reminiscences:

The reconstruction of the wharves and track from Acquia Creek to Fredericksburg was prosecuted with unprecedented expedition.  It was on November 10 that I directed W.W. Wright to hold himself in readiness to commence work so soon as General Halleck should decide upon its necessity. It was November 11 when a telegram was sent to Colonel Belger at Baltimore to provide canal boats, and five days later, November 17, considerable progress had already been made in the work of reconstruction.  The Superintendent reported that, in five days after commencement, a section of the wharf 1,000 feet long was completed, and a locomotive and cars landed and trains commenced running to Potomac Creek.  In five days more trains were running to the Rappahannock.

The Schuylkill barges answered admirably, and thus was formed a new era in Military Railroad transportation.  Two of these barges were placed parallel to each other and long timbers bolted transversely.  The length of the barges was sufficient for eight tracks carrying eight cars, and two such floats would carry the sixteen cars which constituted a train.

In this way hundreds of loaded cars were transferred from the advanced location of the Army, on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, loaded on the floats, towed sixty miles to Acquia Creek, transferred from river to rail, and sent to Falmouth without break of bulk, in about the same time required to march the army across the country by land.  Supplies were at Falmouth as soon as there were forces there for their protection.

We might fact-check Haupt’s claim about the arrival of supplies and troops coinciding.  Still the point made is valid – the railroad system shifted with remarkable speed and flexibility.  While the repair of port facilities was certainly nothing new, the use of barges to move the rolling stock was a new practice at the military operational level.

One wartime photo shows a pair of barges, as described by Haupt, with eight box-cars loaded.

Rolling stock on barges

Another wartime photo shows perhaps a variation on the theme – three lashed barges with more tracks.

Three barge floats

I’ll defer to the railroading experts out there.  But this seems to me a likely means to transport the heavier locomotives.

As a “trained” logistician, I’d point out the genius of this operation was not just floating the rolling stock, but alluded to in Haupt’s closing – no breaking of bulk cargo.  In other words, the cars were packed at a depot or warehouse and then shipped directly to the front without cross packing.  Such was a significant time savings. And time is everything when discussing transportation and logistics in the military context.

Fast forward a little over eighty years.  Different location, similar logistic problem, but larger scale.  For the armies going into Normandy in June 1944, logistic support was more so a monumental task.  A modern mechanized army requires more than just hay and hardtack.  No doubt, you’ve seen the D-Day documentaries that cite tens of millions of tons of supplies going ashore at the Mulberry harbors.  But just getting those supplies to the beach didn’t meet the needs of the front line soldier.  As the beachhead enlarged and extended, the supplies had to be transported over one-hundred miles (excuse me… kilometers) to the front line areas.  As with the Civil War days, the logisticians needed to save time by avoiding the practice of breaking bulk.  So they did this:

Rails allowed the LST to carry the cars from English ports to the French beaches.  There the LST opened its bow doors and the stock rolled down onto a pre-fabricated line across the beach.

Take away the trucks and helmets, and you have a scene not too far removed from Acquia Landing in November 1862.