THE WAR AND THE RAIROADS
When the Civil War began there were approximately 9,000 miles of railroads in the South, with slightly less than 900 of these being in North Carolina. Its chief lines were the state-owned North Carolina Railroad connecting Charlotte with Raleigh and Goldsboro, the Raleigh and Gaston, the Wilmington and Weldon, the Atlantic and North Carolina running from Beaufort to Goldsboro, and the Wilmington and Manchester extending from Wilmington to the South Carolina border.
These lines, like all Confederate railroads, went through lightly populated areas, carried relatively light freight, and consequently were lightly and even carelessly laid. Ties were generally put on bare ground with little ditching beside them, and bridges were spindly. Even the rails were made of rolled and wrought-iron "T" sections which scarcely lasted ten years. Fuel was invariably wood, which the companies contracted to be piled up along their lines at regular intervals, a cord of wood being generary used every seventy-five miles. On these rickety, rusting rails the wheezing and patched-up engines pulled passenger trains at an average of about sixteen miles an hour under favorable conditions, while freight trains did well to average twelve.
But the weaknesses of the Confederate railroad system were not all physical. In all it was a patchwork of short lines, most of them connecting a seaport with the immediate hinterland. Rates differed, equipment varied, schedules were uncoordinated, and worst of all the gauges differed, causing disgraceful delays for passengers and freight attempting long passage. On 1 May 1863 Congress finally authorized the War Department to seize and manage the railroads and thereafter the use of the deteriorating facilities improved, but the authority here was chiefly that of coordination. It was not until 28 February 1865, too late to be of any value, that Congress finally established complete War Department control over all transportation and communication.
Nevertheless, under the most trying circumstances, its railroads were of the utmost value to the Confederacy. Indeed, one of the many ways in which the Civil War might be considered the first "modern war" was in its use of railroads, for both participants gradually saw the advantage of