End of March 1865 – Lee’s Confederacy, where the war would be decided

General Robert E. Lee spent his first winter in command of the Army of Northern Virginia confronting the Federals along the Rappahannock River.  For support, in theory if not in very efficient practice, he could call upon the resources of the Confederacy from as far away as Mississippi, if not beyond to the Rio Grande.

During Lee’s second winter in command of the Army of Northern Virginia, he could still call upon support from places as far away as Alabama, Florida, or, even parts of Mississippi.  Responding to Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign, Lee drew troops from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee (where Lieutenant-General James Longstreet had wintered).  Most importantly, Lee could still draw resources from large areas of Virginia, to include much of the Shenandoah Valley.

Just a few weeks into the winter of 1865, Lee was promoted to command of all the Confederate armies.  More than at any other time in the war, Lee needed strategic mobility to concentrate combat power and supplies to meet the needs at the front.  However, given the pace at which Federal operations came in March and April 1865, realistically Lee could only plan to wield resources (manpower, material, or supplies) that were close to railroad depots.  A day or two for rail transportation was cutting things close. Anything more than a few days march or wagon ride from a working (stress working) railroad was out of Lee’s reach, and thus of little help.  Not to diminish the activities that took place in that time period in other theaters, but for Lee’s needs those Confederate forces may as well been in Siberia than Texas or Alabama.

So what did Lee’s reach look like at the end of March?  Here’s my rough depiction:


The rose-colored section is that reach.  You see that just past the South Carolina line, Sherman had destroyed the infrastructure.  Not to say that troops or supplies from South Carolina were inaccessible.  Rather that would be a question of time and effort.  Neither of which the Confederacy had in abundance.  The one remaining transportation artery was a triangle of railroads connecting Richmond-Petersburg with Raleigh and Charlotte, with key junctures at Salisbury, Greensboro, and Danville.  And no seaports.

And the situation was bound to get worse into April.  I’ve depicted one of the next “blows” to fall 150 years ago this week on the left side of the map – Major-General George Stoneman’s raid out of Tennessee, which would disrupt the already teetering transportation system.  Only a matter of days before the major forces started moving on the other side of the map.

As the month of March 1865 came to a close, Lee’s reach, and thus ability to react to those Federal advances, was severely limited.  In more ways than one, Lee’s actions would decide the fate of the Confederacy, determine how the Civil War would close, and, if we step up to the big podium, decide several important questions about the future of the United States as things sat in 1865.  All of that would play out within the rose-colored section labeled “Lee’s Confederacy.”

At the start of the war, the seceded states included over/around 775,000 square miles across eleven states.  For all practical purposes, at the close of March 1865, Lee’s Confederacy was just 40,000 square miles, mostly in two states.


“We can hardly expect the first through line can be repaired before the middle of February”: Fixing Georgia’s wrecked railroads

On January 3, 1865, Major-General Jeremy F. Glimer, Chief of the Confederate Engineer Bureau, provided an update on the progress of repairs to railroads damaged during the Savannah Campaign.  Addressed to the Secretary of War, James Seddon, the report broke out the status of important rail lines through Georgia:

I have the honor to report the following injuries to the main railroads in Georgia done by the enemy in General Sherman’s advance from Kingston to Savannah, viz:

First. Western and Atlantic road (Georgia State road): Track and bridges from Atlanta to Etowah River, inclusive, are destroyed. Beyond Etowah no injury of moment is reported. Length of track destroyed, about 46 miles; length of bridges at Chattahoochee and Etowah, 1,200 feet. The Governor of Georgia has sent his agents to examine and report as to the extent of injury to this road, the property of the State, but at the time of Captain Grant’s report, 16th of December, no portion of the repairs had been made. All the labor and materials that can be obtained by the Government will be first applied to the reconstruction of the Georgia road (from Augusta to Atlanta), and to the Atlanta and West Point road, with a view to get one connection as soon as possible.

Second. Georgia road: The work to be done on this road is comprised in three important bridges–one over the Oconee River, the other two over smaller streams–and thirty-eight miles of track. Of the latter, fifteen miles will require iron rails from other sources. About twenty-three miles of bent rails can be straightened. Cross-ties will be needed for twenty-five to thirty miles. The most favorable estimate as to time for finishing the repairs of this road is the middle of February. All the labor that can be had by temporary impressments and by impressments for twelve months has been assigned to this work, and to,

Third. Atlanta and West Point road: This road at last report was repaired to Palmetto from West Point; it will be finished as soon or sooner than the Georgia road.

Fourth. The Central Railroad of Georgia: This road, which connects Macon with Augusta via Millen, has been repaired to Gordon, where the branch to Milledgeville has its junction with the main road. Cars now run from Macon to Milledgeville. The Central road from Gordon to Millen is very seriously destroyed. Every effort is being made to induce the company to renew the road, but there are about 100 miles seriously injured; they cannot be repaired as soon as the roads leading through Atlanta. The best engineers that could be furnished from the command of General Beauregard are employed in rebuilding the roads; and General Beauregard has assured this bureau that he will give them every support, and that all that is possible will be done to hasten their completion. With every exertion and with all the assistance that can be brought to bear, we can hardly expect the first through line can be repaired before the middle of February next.

The bottom line addressed a question – how soon will trains run from Alabama to South Carolina?   Prior to the fall of Atlanta, one of the cornerstones to Confederate defense strategies was the ability to move troops from one theater to another as threats emerged.  Of course that changed with the fall of Atlanta.  And damage done in November-December practically cleaved the railroad system in half.

However, that was not to say the railroads were wrecked beyond repair.  As Gilmer’s status indicates, work to repair the roads pressed forward even as Sherman’s force was getting ready to leave Savannah.   Using that status, the map below indicates the area of broken railroads, in red:


With respect to operational needs in the winter months of 1865, the important parts were addressed in section four of Gilmer’s update – the Georgia Central.  If the line could be repaired to Millen and thence to Augusta, it was possible to shift what was left of the Army of Tennessee from Alabama to South Carolina by rail.   And if Sherman vacillated in Savannah for a month or more, Gilmer gained time to implement repairs to that line. Otherwise, the troops would have to travel part of that route on foot.

There are two interesting “between the lines” observations to make in regard to Gilmer’s prioritization of the repairs.   First, while he was able to “unbend” some of the rails, clearly he needed some of the Confederacy’s precious iron resources allocated to this task.  Instead of cannons or ship armor, the Confederacy was putting rails on the top of the list.

Second, consider the big chessboard here – Confederate authorities desired to move what remained of Hood’s army out of the Western Theater to reinforce the Carolinas.  The pressing threat was Sherman and everything – save the defenses of Richmond-Petersburg – would be stripped in the attempt to block his next move.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 1012-3.)

150 years ago: Delays due to delivery of corn and transportation of prisoners

The Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida had a new commander at the close of April 1864.  Gone was General P.G.T. Beauregard.  Now Major-General Samuel Jones had command.

But while the command changed, from the perspective of those in Richmond, some problems persisted – namely delays moving troops to reinforce the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee.  Just as the Federals moved Major-General Quincy Gillmore and the Tenth Corps to Fort Monroe, the Confederates issued orders pulling troops north in anticipation of the spring campaigns.  This movement now became Jones’ responsibility.  And on April 27, General Samuel Cooper, Confederate Army Adjutant and Inspector General, called in question some delays moving the troops – “Explain why the movement of the troops ordered from Savannah to Virginia and to Tennessee is delayed.”

Shortly after receipt, Jones forwarded his response:

Charleston, S.C., April 27, 1864.
General Samuel Cooper,
Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.:

Your telegram of this date regarding movements of troops from Savannah received. The orders for their movement were given without delay. Your change of orders for the Sixty-third and Sixty-fourth Georgia Regiments occasioned some delay, as the latter had not returned from Florida. Another delay has been caused by the obligation of the South Carolina Railroad to deliver a certain amount of corn in Richmond per day, and I have not thought proper to give any order which would interfere with compliance with that obligation. The transportation of prisoners to the South has also caused delay in transportation of troops.

Sam. Jones,

This was not the first time, despite the short time in command, that Jones complained about the railroads.  Two days earlier, Jones responded to an inquiry asking why HIS movement to Charleston, assuming command there, had taken too long.  After establishing the date he had been relieved from duties on a court of inquiry, Jones proceeded to detail the problems encountered with his movement south:

As the Government had prohibited the running of passenger trains on some of the roads going South, and as I desired to send my horses to the department to which I had been ordered, I consulted the Quartermaster-General as to the route it would be most convenient to his department I should travel. He designated the route by Danville, Va., and through North Carolina. I accordingly started by that route on the 9th, and stopped that night to procure my personal baggage at the place, where I had left it. It rained heavily on the 9th and 10th instant, producing a flood such as had not been known in that section of country within this century.

The president of the Richmond and Danville Railroad informed me that his road had been much damaged by the flood, and that I would find difficulty and delay if I attempted to continue by that route.

The superintendent of the road informed me that trains could not pass over his road without interruption in less than two weeks. All the information I could obtain convinced me that I could reach Charleston sooner by way of Weldon than by the route on which I had started. I accordingly telegraphed to Richmond to ascertain if I could go by that route on which, as I had been informed, the Government had prohibited the running of passenger trains. On being informed that I could go by Weldon I started by that route, and traveled as rapidly as the cars would carry me. I was detained twenty-one hours at one point by the failure of the trains to connect, and arrived at this place without other stoppage on the 19th instant, and immediately on my arrival reported to General Beauregard.

So even before serving out his first few weeks in command, Jones found himself with a few “demerits” on his report card.  As he argued, none of the delays were his own fault.  Rather the by-product of the Confederate railroad policies which put the emphasis on moving much needed sustenance to Richmond and shuffling prisoners to camps in the deep south.  Somewhere between train-loads of corn and prisoners, troop trains ran.  And then somewhere between those, Sam Jones managed to get himself and his party to Charleston.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 453.)

150 years ago: Arms buildup for Vicksburg

The string of tactical defeats and strategic withdrawals for the Confederates in the Western Theater through 1862 not only conceded territory to the Federals but also translated to lost war material.  At the Iron Buffs of Columbus, Island No.10, Fort Pillow, and Memphis, the Confederates shed much needed heavy ordnance and material.  Likewise, the rebels left many small arms on the field at Fort Donelson and Shiloh.  Not to mention the loss of production facilities in Nashville, New Orleans, and Memphis.  All of which was sorely lacking at the next bastion under pressure – Vicksburg.  During the fall of 1862, as the center of gravity in the west shifted towards that particular bend of the Mississippi River, Confederates shipped large quantities of equipment to Vicksburg.

But “shipped to” does not necessarily mean “received at” when one balances the books.  In the last days of November, those in Vicksburg complained of delays.  A message sent on November 30, 1862 complained of receiving only 1,700 small arms.  In response, on December 2 Colonel Joshia Gorgas reported in detail the support offered to that point by the Confederate Ordnance Department:

  • October 29, Richmond: One thousand seven hundred small-arms.
  • October 29, Richmond: Four 4.62 rifled and banded guns, with carriages and ammunition complete; four 12-pounder bronze guns; four 24-pounder howitzers, with carriages, caissons, and ammunition complete.
  • November 9, Richmond: Four thousand rounds ammunition for 6-pounder gun and 12-pounder howitzer (three-fifths gun and two-fifths howitzer); 80 rounds 20-pounder Parrott ammunition; 200 rounds 3-pounder Parrott ammunition.
  • November 10, Charleston: Eight hundred arms to General Smith, Vicksburg.
  • November 10, Atlanta: Five hundred 3-inch rifle shot and shell.
  • November 11, Richmond: Seventy rounds 20-pounder ammunition.
  • November 18, Richmond and Lynchburg: One thousand five hundred arms and ammunition.
  • November 18, Knoxville: One thousand five hundred arms and ammunition.
  • November 18, Atlanta: Five hundred arms and ammunition.
  • November 24, Richmond: Three 10-inch columbiads.

In short about 6000 small arms forwarded from depots in Richmond, Charleston (South Carolina), Atlanta, and Knoxville to Vicksburg.  But of course the majority of those (save the first 1,700) didn’t get on a train until November and thus were likely still on the rails when Gorgas responded. (*)

But that was just the muskets and such.  The “fun” stuff we discuss on this blog is the artillery, right?  Four 4.62-inch rifled and banded guns, four 12-pdr guns (likely Napoleons), four 24-pdr howitzers, and three 10-inch Columbiads.  At least one of the 4.62-inch rifles ended up at Port Hudson and another ended up in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Because of that scattering, its hard to say for sure all three 10-inch Columbiads served at Vicksburg.  The river defenses contained at least two weapons of that caliber before hand, so mention in action reports is not proof of presence of these big triplets.

But there is a good line on when the guns left Richmond.  Tredegar often filed claims for hauling equipment and stores for the Confederacy.  A tally of the “hauling account” for November lists an entry for November 22:

On the 15th, Tredegar unloaded three 10-inch Columbiads shipped downriver from Bellona Foundry, from the wording “boat in basin,” likely using the James River Canal.  The entry also indicates one of the Columbiads went to the proving grounds.  Tredegar also loaded up two 4.62 inch rifles for shipment to Danville at that time – which may or many not be part of the set Gorgas ordered shipped on November 9.  The going rate to unload a gun from a canal boat was $5.  The rate to haul a gun to the range was $10.  Loading two guns on the railcars cost $15.

On November 22, Tredegar loaded three 10-inch Columbiads  on cars heading to Danville, and from there points west.  Since the entry mentions handling one Columbiad from the proving grounds and the other two from the basin to the depot, that covers the weapons mentioned on the 15th.  Tredegar also loaded three carriages for the Columbiads.

Notice the costs of the labor for the 22nd.  Just as on the 15th, $10 a gun to transport to the depot (either from the basin or proving range).  Counting gun and carriage, Columbiads cost $7.50 per gun to load onto rail cars.  The 4.62-inch rifles loaded on the 15th were mounted on siege carriages, so handling costs were fifty cents left.   Again, let me highlight the rather tight bookkeeping done for the Confederate government.

A look further down on the “hauling” tally indicates Tredegar handled five more of the 10-inch Columbiads a few days later:

On the 29th, Tredegar’s workers loaded three of five 10-inch Columbiads handled that day onto rail cars.  The tally does not indicate where those were sent.  Either date (the 22nd or the 29th) would fit for the day those Columbiads rolled out bound for Vicksburg.  I’m inclined to go with the 22nd since the name of the connecting destination was provided.  And again look at the handling costs – $10 to move a gun, $5 to load a gun on a railcar, and $7.50 to haul and load a carriage.

But before leaving the tally sheet, consider this entry made between the two clipped above:

Anyone care to venture a guess about those pieces and where they were used?  I’ll give you a hint.

Fredericksburg 24 Nov 12 051

In late November 1862, the Confederacy rushed guns to several threatened points.


* For Gorgas’ report and the original inquiry from Vicksburg, see OR, Series I, Volume 17, Part II, Serial 25, pages 775-6.

The receipt for hauling is located in the Confederate Citizens Files for J.R. Anderson & Company.

150 years ago: The debut of railway artillery at Savage Station

One hundred and fifty years ago today (June 29), the seven days battles continued. Following the defeat at Gaines’ Mill, General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac concentrated south of the Chickahominy River. The Federal position centered on a railway stop named Savage Station, on the Richmond and York River Railroad. The railway passed through the Federal lines, east to west, running into the Confederate lines defending Richmond. This arrangement provided the Confederates an opportunity to employ a new weapon in an effort to dislodge the Yankees from their positions at the gates of Richmond. General Robert E. Lee ordered forward an armored railway gun.

The story of the Confederate railway gun traces back to the desperate days of early June 1862. On June 5, General Lee inquired if Colonel Josiah Gorgas, Confederate Chief of Ordnance, had the means to mount a heavy cannon on an armored railway car. The mobility afforded on such mounting would counter the numerical superiority of the Federal siege guns (I hesitate to use the proper term “siege train”, which might confuse some readers). If the Army could not support this request, Lee asked if the Navy might.1

And it was the Navy which accepted this task. With Captain George Minor and Lieutenant John M. Brooke involved, the Navy expedited the work. On June 21, Lee informed Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory, “…the railway battery will be ready for service to-morrow.” Lee felt it appropriate the Navy man the gun.2 Five days later, Captain Minor related more details about the railroad gun to Lee:

The railroad-iron plated battery designed by Lieut. John M. Brooke, C.S. Navy, has been completed. The gun, a rifled and banded 32-pounder of 57 cwt., has been mounted and equipped by Lieut. R.D. Minor, C.S. Navy, and with 200 rounds of ammunition, including 15-inch solid bolt shot, is now ready to be transferred to the Army.3

The exact design is, in my view, open for some debate. A drawing based on the recollections of Confederate veteran Charles S. Gates appears in a 1921 Army assessment of railway artillery:4

Granted, memory should be taken with a grain of salt. This does depict a basic two-bogie flatcar with an angled superstructure. The front has iron plate on top of the wooden face. The carriage is, if not accurate, at least suggestive of a two truck navy carriage. Of course the gun depicted is not anything like a banded 32-pdr.

More recently, in the February 2011 issue of Civil War Times, David H. Schneider proposed one of the more familiar wartime photos, showing a railroad gun attributed to the Federals at Petersburg, actually depicts the Confederate railroad gun. Schneider suggested the two photos were taken in 1865 after Richmond was abandoned, and show Federal soldiers inspecting the weapon. (While that explanation is certainly plausible, and even lean in that direction, I think we are still short of documentation for positive identification.)

Railroad Gun, rear view

Readers may recall that I offered up a more precise identification of the gun on the railroad car in a letter to the editor that appeared in the August issue of the magazine. I contend the gun is not a Navy type, but rather an Army 32-pdr seacoast gun, based on the presence of sample scars (the dimple on the knob) and the lines. So we’d call this weapon a “32-pdr seacoast gun, banded and rifled.” I could even suggest a couple of Tredegar receipts to narrow down the date the weapon was modified.

Front View of Railway Gun

Unfortunately the surviving photo of the gun from the front does not offer sufficient resolution to make out any markings, which would conclusively identify the gun. And I cannot square my identification with Captain Minor’s description. He referenced a 57 cwt. gun, which would weigh around 6384 pounds. The likely Army models were Models 1840 or 1845, which would weigh between 6,900 and 7,200 pounds – or upwards of 62 cwt.

Regardless if we have the exact model of gun correct, the photos show a seven axle railcar, not a four axle type seen in the Gates drawing. So… Maybe it the Minor-Brooke railgun, and maybe it isn’t.

What we do know is the railgun went into action on June 29, 1862. As General John Magruder‘s command (his own division along with those of Generals D.R. Jones and Lafayette McLaws) advanced out of Richmond along the Williamsburg Road towards Savage Station, the railroad battery moved forward in support. In his official report, Magruder noted the railroad line had to be cleared of obstructions to allow the battery to move forward (one of the many limitations of railroad artillery). Once in position, Magruder felt the railroad gun performed well.

Taking my position on the railroad bridge, which commanded a good view of the fight and of the enemy’s line of battle, I directed the railroad battery, commanded most efficiently by Lieutenant Barry, to advance to the front, so as to clear, in some degree, the deep cut over which the [temporary Federal] bridge was thrown, and to open his fire upon the enemy’s masses below, which was done with terrible effect.5

General McLaws’ assessment was somewhat more subdued. He reported that Lieutenant Barry “… moved down the road, keeping pace with the advance of the troops and by his fire annoying the enemy whenever the range would allow. His enthusiasm at the decided success of the experiment and in pushing through obstructions deserve all praise.”6 On the Federal side, the railroad gun received little mention in official reports.

The main tactical shortfall of railway artillery (be that Civil War or World War era) was the limitations on employment. Railway guns were stuck on the railway. And unless complex traverse mechanisms were used, their traverse was very limited – often governed by the curvature of the track. The Confederate gun could only “point” in the direction the track ran. After the brief work at Savage Station, Confederate artillerists could not bring the rail-bound, rifled 32-pdr to bear on any targets.

Today the railroad right-of-way on which the first railway gun went to war still runs eastward from Richmond. The battlefield site, however, is largely covered by the intersection of Interstate Highways 64 and 295. A marker in Sandston, at the site of Fair Oaks Station where the rail gun was first pushed towards Federal lines, mentions the debut of railroad artillery.



  1. Letter from General Robert E. Lee to Colonel Josiah Gorgas, June 5, 1862. Official Records, Series I, Volume 11, Part III, Serial 14, page 574.
  2. Letter from General Robert E. Lee to Secretary Stephen R. Mallory, June 21, 1862. Official Records, Series I, Volume 11, Part III, Serial 14, page 610.
  3. Letter from Captain George Minor to General Robert E. Lee, June 26, 1862. Official Records, Series I, Volume 11, Part III, Serial 14, page 615.
  4. Miller, H. W., Lt. Col. Railway Artillery: A Report on the Characteristics, Scope of Utility, Etc., of Railway Artillery, Volume I Washington: Government Print Office, 1921, Page 8.
  5. Report of General J. Bankhead Magruder, August 12, 1862. Official Records, Series I, Volume 11, Part II, Serial 13, page 664.
  6. Report of General Lafayette McLaws, July 20, 1862. Official Records, Series I, Volume 11, Part II, Serial 13, page 718.