- Paperback: 433 pages
- Publisher: Bison Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0803294239
- ISBN-13: 978-0803294233
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,459,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Victory Rode the Rails: The Strategic Place of the Railroads in the Civil War Paperback – September 1, 1992
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Grant beat Lee, as he had already beaten every commander the Rebels could throw at him in the west, by recognizing the mechanics of the new warfare. Grant's victory at Vicksburg was above all a triumph of military engineering, and Vicksburg was of course the battle that saved the war. Lee made what he could out of the Virginia railroads, particularly in hastening back and forth to Harper's Ferry, but the effort to keep openthe single rail supply line from the south to Richmond consumed more forces than the Secessionists could afford. The defense of Richmond was a huge and telling mistake from the logistical prospect of modern warfare. Lee fought Napoleon's battles; Grant fought Eisenhower's. Ironically, at Antietam and Gettysburg, mediocre generals beat Lee at his own game, leaving nothing for Grant but the bloody mopping up of the Slaveocracy's desperate stubbornness.
Turner mainly depends on the O.R. and key memoirs (Grant's, Haupt's) to pull this all together, in a roughly chronological account. His writing was also at times difficult to follow. The bulk of the book is a retelling of the course of the war while highlighting the importance of rail supply. Much of this overview military history was not that surprising, and can be summed up as "cutting the railroads was important to most campaigns." This is perhaps the lasting value of the book, although this theme and message seems to be well understood by now, and therefore not surprising. Turner's account was at times too broad, as so this isn't an account of rail operations specifically. Even so, the book provides some useful insights.
Turner shows that the South wasn't prepared to fight this war from the start. Many of the rail lines ran from the coasts inland, east to west, in order to make the shipment of cotton and other crops easier. Too, many lines didn't connect within cities. These facets of Southern antebellum railroad development may have had economic or business advantages in peacetime, but they would become troublesome in wartime. Added to this were the well-known effects of the Union blockades on the heavily used rail lines during the war. Spare parts, new cars, and raw materials all became difficult to acquire, and the Southern railways degraded through hard use and lack of maintenance.
More than this, though, is perhaps a vital element that histories of the war, in all its elements, should pay attention to: The North had an advantage in brains. The North had the men who understood railroad organization and the military possibilities of this technology. For Turner, this is mainly summed up in Herman Haupt, who thoroughly understood how to run a railroad, and helped the North to great effect. Perhaps, more than any other asset, the South started behind by not having a Haupt on its side. How much the various generals of both sides understood the importance of railroads is less clear, although several stand out here: Grant, Sherman, Jackson, and Lee.
The North also had the right organizational approach to winning the railroad war. Both sides adopted a kind of laissez-faire approach, with vital differences. The North let its railroad companies run as needed, in cooperation with the government, and with the threat of government takeover if it was required. The South, in contrast, let all of its railroad operators alone, and chaos ensued. The North had some in-fighting between railway interests early in the war, but these were overcome and the rest of the war ran smoothly. Southern policy was a mess from start to finish.
The North also led the way in innovation. Turner doesn't cover these technical details much, but there is a fascinating chapter on the development of hospital cars and the integration of rail into taking care of the wounded. This is important to 19th-century warfare, because it meant that an army could move relatively unencumbered its wounded, knowing that they were moved quickly to, and cared for in, the rear. This is a striking modern development that one can see leading to things like helicopter medevac in later wars. The South had nothing like this, and Turner wonders what the impact on morale must have been.
From the early skirmishes in Baltimore to the final rail movements surrounding the surrender at Appomattox, Turner does a magnificent job of making the railroads of the 1860s come to life. By keeping his focus on the railroads and their role in the various campaigns, Turner highlights a side of the war that is commonly glossed over in histories that focus on battle tactics.
Starting with the differing North/South attitudes towards railroads prior to the war, which left the CSA with a rail network that was ill prepared for the rapid dispersal of troops and supplies that the war required, Turner celebrates the business plans, engineering feats and supply marvels that allowed the Northern commanders to continue their advances even as Southern troops worked to destroy the rails, and vice versa.
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the book could have been improved with a better use of maps, they should have:
been on a larger scale,...Read more