Best Defense

More on how “railroad generalship” was learned during the Civil War

Following my discussion of parallels between the railroad in the mid-19th century and the internet in our time, one of you sent me an interesting essay titled “Railroad Generalship: Foundations of Civil War Strategy.”

USMR_Locomotive_W._H._Whiton_and_Lincoln_Presidential_Car

 

(And if you are one of those wondering, “Hey where is my daily Churchill and Orwell excerpt?” you can read this.)

Following my discussion of parallels between the railroad in the mid-19th century and the internet in our time, one of you sent me an interesting essay titled “Railroad Generalship: Foundations of Civil War Strategy.” It’s an interesting article, though I would say far more operational or tactical than strategic.

It was hard to learn the new tool of railroad movement, which changed the rules of war, Christopher Gabel writes. For example, the advantage of interior lines was greatly reduced. But interference by field commanders often screwed up railroad operations, he adds.

Finally, Federal forces established five ironclad rules, he writes:

1. No military officers were to interfere in the running of trains.

2. Supplies would be sent forward only as needed.

3. Trains reaching the front were to be unloaded immediately by anyone available. Officers who refused to cooperate faced dismissal.

4. Where telegraph communications were unavailable, trains would run according to a rigid schedule. All trains departed on schedule, fully loaded or not….

5. 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.

I didn’t realize how much fodder the railroads carried — it amounted to more than half the supply requirement. It was necessary to fuel the animals who moved the supplies from the railheads to the troops.

Photo credit: U.S. Military Railroad/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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