Importance of Railroads

by Aimee Harmon

How important are Railroads to everyday life?

Railroads have always been around to the modern world. Many see trains as a hassle when stopped at a crossing. Your kids may have counted them or played the game to see how many different countries the trailers are from. If you are on your way to or from work, you tap the steering wheel in annoyance, wondering how long this will take. To the commerce world, trains are very important. They take products from shipping ports across the country to warehouses that in turn send the products to stores, and then to our homes.

Next time you sit at a train crossing watching car after car go by, think about how trains helped create a nation. This journey would begin before the Civil War in a port town called Charleston, South Carolina. Here is where the very first train trip in the United States began at the speed of 30 miles per hour. People thought it was too fast, that trains were dangerous and this idea would not go very far. In less than 50 years train tracks connected this country coast to coast and help tame the Wild West.

The first time trains had a chance to prove their importance was during the Civil War. Right at the very beginning, in one of the earliest major engagements between armies, trains played an important role. The battle was in Virginia at a little crossing called Manassas. The Union army was pushing General Pierre Beauregard’s weary troops back. A train arrived filled with the fresh troops of General Thomas Jackson helped rejuvenate the Southern spirit and pushed the Union forces back to Washington, DC.

Both sides took notice, but the North more readily than the South. The North was more industrialized and already discovered the use of railroads to transport commerce. The North had over 21,000 miles of rail across the Northern States, connecting areas west of the Mississippi River with shipping ports on the Atlantic Ocean. The South lagged behind with less than 10,000 miles of rails and did not cross the Mississippi. Texas and Florida were not even connected to the rest of the South.

In realizing the importance of the railroads, the North created the United States Military Railroad (USMRR). The USMRR, under the direction of Herman Haupt, created a well coordinated system. The USMRR was in charge of running and maintaining all railroads including those seized in the south. Under the USMRR the railroads became a system that ran well with rules and regulation so important cargos could reach the appropriate destination without interference.

The USMRR also developed ways to destroy railroads. As the war continued, this proved to be important as Union Army moved south and west. By destroying the rails, the Union made it hard for the Confederacy to bring supplies to its troops and people. The South had a difficult time rebuilding the rails once they were destroyed due to lack of supply and industrial centers. The rails were protected and used as supply lines for the Union Army.

When the war was over in April 1865, nearly all the railroads in the South were unusable. By late December almost all the rails were back in service. To start the process of rebuilding the South, the importance of the rails was evident. Materials had to be shipped in or out away ports, and railroads were the quickest way.

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