Learning Lincoln On-line
Sets to Study the Civil War Home Page
CONTENTS SET FIVE:
Those Great Civil War
Battlefield Technologies, Weapons and Firsts
Here to Enter the U.S. Military Railroad
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A new concept for
old school generals, had to be learned quickly
in the field. Railroad generalship at the
strategic level dealt with long-distance
movements of troops and war resources. Since
most American railroads in the 1860s were still
small-scale local enterprises, such movements
typically involved coordination among multiple
corporate entities. Naturally, the military
desired priority treatment by the railroads, but
railroad managers still had an obligation to
show a profit and to maintain civilian traffic.
Railroad corporations, civil government, and the
military were all involved in this delicate
legislation would give the authority of the
railroad and telegraph systems to the U.S.
Military. In January 1862, the United States
Congress authorized President Abraham Lincoln to
seize control of the railroads and telegraph for
military use. The operation of any rail lines
seized by the military was entrusted to a new
War Department agency called the U.S. Military
Rail Roads (USMRR). In practice, however, the
USMRR restricted its authority to Southern rail
lines captured in the course of the war. Except
in time of extreme emergency, the military
counted on cooperation rather than coercion in
dealing with Northern railroads. Realistically,
the military had no choice. Relatively few
military men were experts in railroad
transportation. The true experts in railroad
generalship at the strategic level were the
civilian executives who managed railroads as a
General Herman Haupt
Herman Haupt, the civilian railroad man in uniform,
established a system for tactical rail
generalship that eventually came into use
throughout both the eastern and western
theaters. His principles were simple and direct
and received the blessing of the secretary of
No military officers were to interfere in the
running of trains.
Supplies would be sent forward only as needed.
Trains reaching the front were to be unloaded
immediately by anyone available. Officers who
refused to cooperate faced dismissal.
Where telegraph communications were unavailable,
trains would run according to a rigid schedule.
All trains departed on schedule, fully loaded or
not. Extra trains would pick up the slack.
On lines where the absence of sidings prevented
opposing trains from passing each other, convoys
of five or six trains would travel as a group.
Each convoy delivered its cargo and returned to
base before the next convoy started out.
The American Civil War was the first conflict in which
railroads played a dominant role, thus
introducing to the world a military instrument
that changed the face of warfare forever.
Later World Wars in Europe would organize their military
railroad systems after the pattern of the USMRR
of the Civil War.
Civilians were a necessary part of managing the new concept
of "RAILROAD GENERALSHIP." The Civil War was
perhaps the last war that showed the high level
of cooperation of civilian, political and
What of the
They also relied heavily on railroads at
both the strategic and tactical levels and
conducted many noteworthy troop movements in the
course of the war. However, the Confederacy
began the war with a fragmented and incomplete
rail system (9,000 miles, as opposed to 20,000
miles in the north). Unlike the Union, the
Confederacy lacked the manufacturing capacity to
expand, or even maintain, its railroad
infrastructure once the fighting began.
Moreover, it was not until February 1865 that
the Confederate government asserted its
authority over the railroads. For most of the
war, military traffic moved only at the
discretion of civilian railroad managers. There
was no Confederate equivalent of Thomas A. Scott
or John W. Garrett who possessed both the
expertise and the authority to mesh military
requirements with corporate capabilities. There
was no Confederate Herman A. Haupt to
institutionalize and enforce the procedures for
effective tactical rail operations, and no
Confederate Military Rail Roads to operate lines
in immediate support of the armies.
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