Book Review: The Railroads Of The Confederacy

The Railroads Of The Confederacy, by Robert C. Black III

I love a book with a happy ending, although given the difference between the depth of coverage about the first year of the Civil War and the remaining three, and the author’s continual reference to a nonexistent “War Between The States,” the author and I have a lot we do not agree on.  While we will get to this in due time, I would like to say that despite the massive disagreements on perspective and worldview that the author and I have, that I appreciated this book for a few reasons.  For one, the author is immensely witty, and that is something I always enjoy [1].  In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that the author has the winsome tone of a Dennis Showalter [2], which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.  Additionally, the author spends a lot of time talking in detail about railroads in the Confederacy and their vital importance with regards to the operation of Confederate armies as well as the vital matter of logistics [3].  Anyone who can write authoritatively on such maters as operations and logistics is definitely someone I want to read, and this book proves to be far less dry of a book than any reader had a write to expect, even if the author’s worldview leaves a lot to be desired.

In 22 chapters that cover 300 or so pages, the author takes a comprehensive look at the railroads of the Confederacy that covers the course of the Civil War.  If you’re a fan of the Confederacy, it makes for grim reading.  The author is clearly a master of a very technical sort of prosography, reading various reports and paperwork related to trains and stories about trainwrecks as well as making a comparative analysis of train schedules to demonstrate how a shortage of fuel lengthened the time of travel as the war went on.  Here is quantitative history of the best kind, using data to draw sound conclusions based on firm evidence and not mere prejudice.  The data tells the sort of story that one would expect–Southern states and citizens were enthusiastic backers of various rail projects but most of them were local and not part of a larger, coherent and coordinate system.  As a result, when the war came, local and provincial interests and the inefficiencies of the system had disastrous consequences for a nation that had no alternative to the railroads for the large-scale transshipment of food and soldiers.

Ultimately, I recommend this book wholeheartedly despite substantial disagreement with the author.  In the main, the entertainment value of the author’s wit, even if he carries his rhetoric to extreme, for example, concerning Sherman’s destructiveness, is alone worth the time spent to read this book.  The information value concerning the often-neglected relationship between railroads and the Confederate war effort is itself of considerable value.  That said, this recommendation comes with a large caveat, and that is that I do not endorse two seemingly contradictory aspects of the author’s perspective.  For one, the author appears to be somewhat of a booster of Confederate independence, and that is not a cause I support at all.  Second, the author is hostile to the culture of consensus that required a slow and incomplete process of dealing with state and local interests and that remains a particularly American aspect of politics.  The author supports the unrestrained and “efficient” use of centralized government power, something I view with a great deal of horror and disgust.  If your political views are remotely close to mine in opposing both the tyrannical power of the rebellious lords of the lash as well as of a corrupt, centralized state, you will find much to criticize in the author’s approach.  Even so, this is a well-done history.

[1] The following passage may be taken as representative concerning the author’s wit:

“When Sim’s very real abilities are considered, it seems strange that he has become so shadowy a figure.  Even among the quiet squares of Savannah he has been almost forgotten.  He was a rather large, homely man, of medium complexion, with heavy features, yet his personality must have been pleasing.  Between the lines of his correspondence we glimpse an active, gregarious person, quick, intelligent, and much given to talk in the easy manner of mid-Georgia.  All things considered, F.W. Sims represented the administrative branch of the Confederate Army at its best (167).”

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: The Railroads Of The Confederacy

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Washed Up | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Supply Chain Strategy | Edge Induced Cohesion

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