April 9, 1865

Appomattox Cemetery
Image credit to Southbound_07

Today is the anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union forces at Appomattox. This is a significant date in US history and it also marks a reflection point on the history of transportation. The American Civil War was arguably the first “modern” war. The advent of the cheap rifle and the miniĆ© ball produced a level of casualties not seen in the Napoleonic era. Another addition to this conflict was the widespread use of the railroad to move troops and supplies.

In some respects, the war was entirely about securing bases of supply and production. The paramount example of this is Sherman’s drive on Atlanta. The goal of the campaign was to seize Atlanta and eliminate it’s usefulness to the Confederacy as a railroad hub and production facility. It is also no coincidence that Sherman moved from Chattanooga to Atlanta always following the Western & Atlantic railroad, which was the only way he could supply his troops. The Battle of Appomattox occurred because Lee wished to resupply his army there. Unfortunately for him, Union forces got there first and burned the trains that were waiting. The Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day of the entire war, was situated there because Lee was looking for shoes for his army.

The South was hampered in its war fighting capability by unstandardized railroad guages (width’s between the rails) across the states. The North, while having some of the same problem, had many more rails of the same guage and were therefore able to move railroad cars around more easily.

Today is a day to remember, whether you supported the Southern Cause or not. But also remember that railroads and other transport helped to determine the outcome of the war.

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