Analysis tends to address miles of track; condition of track and stock; compatibility of gauges; number and location of hubs and transfer points; inventories of cars and locomotives; engineering talent pools; railroad materiel on hand; and loss replacement capability. These are secondary matters, however.
The primary issue in rail-based warfare is entirely legal and managerial: what authority (or how much) does a commander have over the road? Everything else comes in a distant second. The warring sides of the ACW are not equals in this.
There are obviously ways to gain control over the road. (1) You can contract a certain amount of business (you become "the customer") (2) You can give local commanders exceptional powers and rules for applying power (3) You can expropriate the lines needed (4) You can set up a military railroad (5) You can negotiate railroad use case by case on an ad hoc basis.
H. David Stone's Vital Rails: The Charleston & Savannah Railroad and the Civil War in Coastal South Carolina comes out next month and it contains some passages certain to awaken us from our dreams of managerial equivalency. Rebeldom seems, in the early war at least, to have made exclusive use of (5) above. Item (5) seems to embody the total repertoire of military-railroad interaction.
Stone notes not only "the Confederate government's inability to harness the Southern railroads" but also a policy that seems to have been to try to maintain the fiscal health of the individual railroad companies - thus preserving a potential military capacity - by minimizing military disruption of commercial operations.
So, in Vital Rails, we find Lee - in his ill-starred contest with Union General Tim Sherman - tiptoeing around the "brash" demands for railroad services made by subordinates Maxcy Gregg and John Pemberton. To allow military riders on the Charleston & Savannah - the posting of sentries on the line being an issue - Gregg and Pemberton ask for authority over the conductors - in essence, they want the power to demand fare-free delivery of guards. To "defuse" this explosive request, Lee arranges for use of a handcar in lieu of a free ride for sentries.
General Lee knew that military interference with railroad operations had been a frequent complaint of numerous rail carriers, and he tried to avert the potentially inflammatory request.Apparently matters were worse elsewhere:
Cooperation with the armed forces was not as much an issue with the Charleston & Savannah as it was with some others.Mind you Pemberton and Gregg (and Lee) are trying to protect the railroad from Sherman, one of whose objectives is the destruction of the road. With Lee packed off to Virginia under a cloud, Pemberton assumes command and with it the responsibility for protection of the railroad. His "demands" for services are now unchecked by Lee's diplomacy:
Alarmed over the increased [enemy] activity in the region, [railroad] President Magrath asked General Pemberton how the railroad would be impacted by additional military traffic. Pemberton tried to reassure Magrath that he did not anticipate any interruption of the business of the railroad in the ensuing months. He did not foresee a great increase in military or other government transport that summer, but he did allow for the possibility of emergencies arising. Of course this would necessitate the forwarding of troops from either Charleston or Savannah to support points of attack along the [rail] line. Since he would need to travel to Savannah more frequently and might be needed at other intermediate points along the railroad, he thought he might need a special train for his use in those instances. Otherwise, he felt business should continue as usual.Emphasis added. LOL, as they say.
Notice that the prospect of military or government business does not appear to Magrath as a money-making proposition! There is some sort of flawed contracting structure that creates a disincentive. Consider, in comparison, one of the early outrages associated with Penn Central's Simon Cameron was his use of the war portfolio to enrich his old firm (and deprive the competition of same). We get a taste of why Confederate business is distasteful in another Pemberton episode.
After one of Sherman's attacks on the railroad, Pemberton offers this radical idea to Magrath: (1) The company should keep available enough rolling stock on hand to move a regiment of infantry and some artillery (2) It should charge only "expenses" for this standby capability (3) If the regiment actually has to move on that stock to defeat an attack on the rail line, there should be no charge to the government. As they use to say in my own Army, Pemberton acts like he's spending his own money!
After careful thought, Magrath assented to the proposal. He had a railroad to run, but he also knew that the military was essential to the railroad's survival.If the South was to use railroads to wage war, could it hope to do so with this mindset and these arrangements?
(More ACW railroading tomorrow.)