• Civil War Railroads 1861-1865

  • A general discussion about shortlines, industrials, and military railroads
A general discussion about shortlines, industrials, and military railroads

Moderator: Aa3rt

  by jaystreetcrr
Clinton and Port Hudson (Louisiana)

Here's a topic that hits of two of the three items of interest here. I grew up in Baton Rouge, LA and just north of there was the Port Hudson battlefield, site of a major siege in 1863. It was the southern outpost of the stretch of the Mississippi that the Confederates were trying to hold, with Vicksburg as the northern anchor.
The battlefield wasn't developed then in the 70s, though part of it is a state park now. The local landowners were sick of artifact hunters but my friend's dad know someone there so we could go search for stuff. At the time I was already into trains and knew there had been a railroad that ran for Port Hudson on the river inland 20 miles or so to Clinton. It was not connected to any other rail lines and was just a connection to a river port.
On one trip we got a ride in the back of some local's pickup truck and in the back he had a piece of strap iron rail from the old railroad! I went crazy. Forget about Minie balls, it was like finding the Holy Grail. I shamelessly begged for it, but no deal.
The railroad ran right through the siege lines but didn't play a role in the battle except in one way. Early in the siege, Union artillery scored a lucky hit on the Rebel grist mill. Apart from mules and worse, the only food they had was corn, so they improvised a mill using a locomotive for power. The Yankees know it was there but could never hit it. In the end, the corn ran out and Vicksburg surrendered so Port Hudson gave up.
I won't post links here but an online search will turn up stuff on the battle and railroad, including some pictures. That grist mill would make a nice diorama.
Anyone else out there interested in Civil War railroads?
By the way, some recent family research turned up a great great grandfather who was in an Arkansas regiment at the worst part of the siege....John W.
Last edited by Aa3rt on Thu Mar 31, 2011 7:52 pm, edited 2 times in total. Reason: Altered thread title
  by Aa3rt
Hi John,

Thanks for initiating this topic. As we are rapidly approaching the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War (AKA War Between The States, The War of Northern Agression, The Recent Upleasantness-all depending on your point of view), I think a thread on Civil War era railroads and railroading might be in order, particulary since many historians recognize the American Civil War as the first "railroad war".

Some of us on this forum are old enough to remember the Civil War Centennial that began in 1961 and how it affected the public consciousness at that time. One of the highlights for me was seeing "The General" at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair.

I looked up the Clinton & Port Hudson in my copy of Robert C. Black's The Railroads of the Confederacy and found that it ran between the two namesake cities with no connecting railroads and was built to a 5' 6" gauge. In fact, according to Black, there were only 328 miles of railroad within the state of Louisiana at the start of hostilities.

My bride of 30 years is a Louisiana native, having been raised in the Berwick/Morgan City area, so this topic is of interest to me as well.

Moderator's note: I welcome, and encourage all forumers who have an interest to contribute to this thread. However, this topic is for the discussion of Civil War railroads period! We are not here to discuss slavery vs. abolition, states vs. federal rights or the social conditions that many perceive were contributing factors to the start of the war. Please keep the discussion focused on Civil War era railroads.
  by jaystreetcrr
Civil War railroads aren't even a major rail obsession for me but hopefully I've started something here. I wonder why there aren't more fans and modelers interested in this topic. There's a lot of Civil War buffs and military modelers, people love steam, wooden rolling stock and rickety track (i.e. Colorado narrow gauge) and there's a lot of RTR stuff and even some craftsman kits out there. A while back there was a great RMC cover article on a Civil War theme layout but it's not common.
Art mentioned The Railroads of the Confederacy, a great book; also check out George Abdill's Civil War Railroads. A new book on the General/Andrews raid came out a couple of years ago, forget the author. And of course there's Buster Keaton's classic The General, which despite playing fast and loose with history, is amazingly accurate railwise. Despite being filmed in Oregon in 1925 there's few noticible anachronisms. Keaton was a train buff and must have had his guys working from old photos.
Back to the Clinton and Port Hudson: On the fringes of the Confederacy it was common for rail lines to be isolated and only reach the nearest navigable point. Rail lines in Texas and Florida weren't connected to anything. A similar line to the C & PH was the West Feliciana RR just to the north, which went from Bayou Sara on the river inland to Woodville, MS. This was one of the first railroads west of the Appalachians. I remember checking this out in the 70s when it was still running as an Illinois Central branch. A stub of the C & PH survived as an IC branch to Clinton but most of the line was abandoned after the war when the river changed course and Port Hudson was no longer a port.
Back in the 70s the battlefield was a tangled mess of woods, swamps and little hollows and it was hard to tell where anything was. I remember seeing some abandoned railroad track but it was the old South Shore/L & A which used to go up to Angola, LA where a carferry crossed the river. After they built the Huey Long Bridge at Baton Rouge this line was redundant.
The state park is on the northern part of the battlefield, where the railroad grade was, so I wonder if there's anything to see these days.
  by Aa3rt
Admittedly this is very much a "niche" topic that won't appeal to many. There is, however, a Civil War Railroads Yahoo group that currently has 600 members, some of whom are very knowledgeable on this topic. You can find it here:


In addition to the two books previously mentioned, Robert C. Black III's The Railroads of the Confederacy and George B. Abdill's Civil War Railroads, a couple of others in my meager collection include The Northern Railroads in the Civil War 1861-1865 by Thomas Weber and Civil War Railroads and Models by Edwin P. Alexander.

Photography was in its infancy at the time and aside from the efforts of Matthew Brady, famed Civil War photographer, there are very few photographs of this era available, particularly those specifically focusing on railroads.

The March 2011 issue of Trains Magazine includes a ten page article titled "The Railroad War-How the iron road changed the American Civil War" and a two page color map of railroads in the eastern half of the United States as they appeared in 1860.

One interesting aspect of this map, and also covered in Black's book, was the variety of gauges then in use. These included what we've come to accept as "standard" gauge (4 feet, 8.5 inches), 5 foot, 5 foot 4 inch, 5 foot 6 inch and 6 foot gauges. In fact, Black notes in his work on page 9, regarding the inability of Southern railroads to interchange:

"More unsatisfactory still was the situation at a number of junction points. Even where railroads possessed a common gauge (which way not always the case), their rails frequently enjoyed no physical contact. Though this was due in large part to the inability of early promoters to foresee the advantages of integrated transportation service, the ridiculous practice had been often retained through the influence of teamster interests. In Virginia their efforts had produced a law which prohibited any railroad from laying its track in the avenues of a city without the express consent of its corporate authorities and as late as 1861 local liverymen had prevented the intersection of any of the five railroads entering Richmond. At Petersburg all north-south traffic was obliged to move painfully by horse-drawn vehicle through the streets."

To those of us who grew up in an era of standard gauge and interchange between railroads throughout the North American continent, this concept from an earlier time seems almost inconceiveable.

Incidentally, I happened across some photocopies from a Model Railroader dating back to the late 1960's/early 1970's of six freight car drawings done in HO scale of some US Military Rail Road freight cars and a couple of other interesting cars including a Baltimore & Ohio iron sheathed boxcar and a Georgia Railroad boxcar that was built for 5 foot gauge.
  by CarterB
Here's a good article about the battle and the railroad.

  by Aa3rt
I mentioned in my first post how the Civil War Centennial was brought to the public consciousness. Being fairly young at the time, I still recall the offerings of both Lionel and Mantua/Tyco who both offered versions of "The General" in O and HO gauge. As I remember, American Flyer brought out a period offering in S gauge as well, all to capitalize in the interest of the war's centennial.

While I'm not selling or shilling anything here's a more contemporary offering. I was alerted to this when my bride recently received a Bradford Exchange mailing offering this rather pricey armored train in HO scale:

http://www.bradfordexchange.com/product ... train.html
  by Deval
The March issue of Trains magazine had a good article and map about railroading during the Civil War - it's worth a look.
  by CVSNE
My good friend Bernie Kempinski is building a wonderful O scale layout set in Virginia in 1863 - and he has done a great job documenting the layout on his blog:


Marty McGuirk
  by Marty Feldner
Shorpy should come with a warning label; it can be fully as addicting as nicotine or heroin...

More than once I've found myself there, and happen to glance up at the clock- to find it's two or three hours later.

Be forewarned. (But, highly recommended!)
  by csstrike
CVSNE wrote:My good friend Bernie Kempinski is building a wonderful O scale layout set in Virginia in 1863 - and he has done a great job documenting the layout on his blog:

Great crafts dude.
Especially the train.
Its so cool.
And by the way too I love the yellow sports car. lol
  by Aa3rt
I just found this site with numerous Civil War era railroad photos:

  by kevin.brackney
Slightly off topic but I found it interesting: The movie The GENERAL starring Buster Keaton was filmed on the Oregon, Pacific & Eastern Railroad, headquartered at Cottage Grove, OR (now a hiking trail) just south of Eugene along I-5. Also filmed on the OP&E was the movie The CHARTROOSE CABOOSE, the pilot for PETTICOAT JUNCTION. Edgar Buchanan who played Uncle Joe in the TV series played a character in CHARTROOSE CABOOSE; before this movie appearance he had been a dentist in Eugene. He appeared in a number of movies afterward. Edgar Buchanan passed-on in 1979 at the age of 76.

EMPEROR of the NORTH (1972), Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Kieth Carradine was filmed on the OP&E. Scene(s) from STAND BY ME were filmed on the OP&E and on the McCloud (River) Railway (Railroad). OP&E (Yreka Western) No. 19 (Baldwin 2-8-2, 1915) was the starring locomotive in EMPEROR of the NORTH. The last time I saw the 19 in October of 2010, she was in the YW enginehouse undergoing extensive repairs.
  by mreilly
It may be interesting to note that during the Civil War period the Mississippi river was changing it's course away from the Port Hudson terminus. Consequently, the "port" was moved several hundred yards to the south. Then even further south to the site of Port Hickey.

I have a small piece of the original track in my collection. Is there any interest in this artifact?

  by litz
Speaking of The General (and the Great Locomotive Chase), the 150th anniversary just passed.

Both locomotives from the chase still exist ... the Texas is in Grant Park (next to the Atlanta Zoo) in the building where the Cyclorama is (round diorama of the period) ... the General is in its own museum in Kennesaw, at the Southern Museum of Locomotive History.

The General is in the same condition it was in after the 1961 restoration, so it's not very original (in 1961 they had to add things like air brakes, to run it for the centennial) ... Texas, though, was idled in the first decade of the 1900s, and is much more original to the civil war period.

The railroad itself (the Western and Atlantic) also still exists : it's the W&A subdivision on CSX, and is a major north-south route between ATL and Chattanooga with multiple dozens of daily moves.

(Imagine what those civil war train crews would have thought of a modern freight train running on "their" railroad ...)