Impacts of railroad during the Civil War

This exhibit demonstrates the impact of railroads in the civil war, specifically showing how the Union advantage helped contribute to their win.  It’s important to note the statistics of the Union advantage over the Confederacy.  The Union had 22,000 miles of railroad to the Confederates 9,000; more specifically the Union had 71% of the nation’s railroads, the Confederacy had just 29%. (1) This advantage in railroad mileage can also be seen in my 1861 map of the U.S. by James T. Lloyd. (2)  Based on the map and statistics we can conclude the Northern areas have a larger/more intricate network than the South.


The Union and Confederate sides both knew the importance of the rail for war and built strategies around making sure the enemy side didn’t have access to it.  Per the text “The Iron Way”, despite being unable to take the Chattanooga rail in 1862 and 1863 “the Union forces had Captured Corinth, Memphis and Knoxville knocking out nearly 20,000 square miles of railroad corridor out of the Confederacy.” (3)  The text further notes by 1863 Union Commanders took over Confederate railroads under leadership from Ulysses S. Grant thus further expanding the Union lead railroads.  My image shows a train track in the year 1864 located in Georgia. (4)  We can see based on this image the tracks are destroyed in certain places and there seems to be wreckage from a train.


To close, the massive advantage in railroads matters because it allowed the Union forces to sustain their war effort better than the Confederates could.  In a letter from Lt. Col. S. H. Walkup to Governor Z. B. Vance it’s noted the Confederate soldiers are desperate for supplies.  Walkup writes, “In truth there is one Compy (I) having 66 men & only Eleven Blankets in the whole company — The pants are generally ragged & out at the seats — & there are less than three cooking utensils to each Company — This sir is the condition of our Regt. upon the eve of winter here among the mountains of Va. cut off from all supplies from home & worn down & thinned with incessant marchings, fighting & diseases.”(5)  Further noting, “Add to this that our surgeons have no medicines & don’t even pretend to prescribe for the sick in camp.”  Walkup closes his letter asking for a quick delivery of supplies.  As my conversation source argues, “Historically, infantry soldiers carry 60-70 pounds of gear, with half of it taken up by uniform, armor, weapons, etc….  That means that the average soldier can only carry two to three day’s rations at a time.” (6)  Thus with adequate railroads the Union is able to effectively move supplies and troops through the country, where the Confederacy tended to rely more on wagons for their supplies.


  1. North and South in 1861.” North and South in 1861 – North Carolina Digital History. Accessed November 28, 2016. (Numbers source)
  2. Lloyd, James T. Lloyd’s American railroad map. [New York, 1861] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed December 13, 2016.) (Map source)
  3. Thomas, William G. The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. (Time source and physical source)
  4. Destruction of Hood’s Ordnance Train, Ga., 1864. 1864. Pictures of the Civil War, National Archives., (Image source)
  5. A Plea for Supplies.” S.H. Walkup to Govr. Z. B. Vance. October 9, 1862. Accessed through North Carolina Digital History ( ) (Words Source, link to Voyant: )
  6. Hollis, David. “The Impact of Railroads on Warfare During the American Civil War.” TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog (blog), February 16, 2010. Accessed December 11, 2016. . (Conversations Source)



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