Post-Civil War Railroad Expansion: Crossing the Continent

Post-Civil War Railroad Expansion: Crossing the Continent

In the wake of the success of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, other ventures were launched that required huge subsidies and land grants like their predecessors. The federal government's willingness to fund private companies' exploits marked a radical change of philosophy. Construction of many lines was temporarily halted following the Panic of 1873, but railroad service later penetrated all regions of the country, including the following companies:

  • Northern Pacific Railroad Co. The Northern Pacific was granted a charter by Congress in 1864, which provided the private company with huge subsidies. Construction did not begin until 1870. The line followed the long proposed northern route, eventually connecting Lake Superior to Puget Sound. The NP was originally controlled by Jay Cooke, but the financier's failure during the Panic of 1873 slowed progress. Henry Villard reinvigorated the project in the 1880s, and the final link over Stampede Pass in the Washington Cascades was completed in 1887.Following the turn of the century, a titanic struggle developed over control of the Northern Pacific, pitting James J. Hill and J.P. Morgan against E.H. Harriman. Creation of the Northern Securities Company ended the financial warfare.
  • Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. The Santa Fe connected the heartland wheat belt areas with the Southern Pacific at Deming (New Mexico Territory) and El Paso. Interestingly, the town of Santa Fe was not included on the main line, having been outbid for that right by Albuquerque.
  • Texas Pacific. The Texas Pacific ran from Shreveport through Dallas and Fort Worth to intersect with the Southern Pacific in western Texas
  • Southern Pacific. In 1865, the Southern Pacific began its extension across the lower tier of states by purchasing existing lines and constructing new mileage where necessary. New Orleans was linked directly with California, which made use of the lands acquired in the Gadsden Purchase. The Southern Pacific pushed northward to San Francisco and later into the Northwest. The line survived the depression of the 1870s thanks to heavy demand for its services and lack of direct competition. In 1884, the SP merged administratively with the Central Pacific through the cooperation of railroad giants Leland Stanford and C.P Huntington. In 1901, the railroad became part of the empire of E.H. Harriman.


The period between the American Civil War (1861 – 65) and the end of the nineteenth century in the United States was marked by tremendous expansion of industry and agriculture as well as the spread of settlement across the continent. The population of the United States more than doubled during this period. In its report on the 1890 census the Bureau of the Census declared the frontier closed. Most of the economic growth was concentrated in the Northeast, Midwest, and plains states. The South remained largely agricultural, its total industrial production totaling about half that of New York State. The Northeast clearly emerged as the industrial core of the nation with 85 percent of the nation's manufacturing, processing raw materials from the Midwest and West.

For several decades prior to the Civil War, the North was forced to delay or compromise several of its national economic policy objectives due to Southern opposition and the strong position the Southern states held in the Senate. As soon as the Southern states seceded Congress began enacting this delayed agenda. The Morrill Tariff of 1861 raised rates to 20 percent on average, ending more than 30 years of declining tariffs. Funding for three transcontinental railroads was enacted in the Transcontinental Railroad Act. The Morrill Land Grant Act (1862) established agricultural and mechanical colleges by allotting each state that remained in the Union 30,000 acres of land for each member of Congress. The Homestead Act (1862) provided 160 acres (a quarter section) in western territories free to anyone who settled on it for five years and declared their intention to become a citizen. Each of these policies profoundly shaped the development of the U.S. economy for the rest of the century.

The American Civil War devastated the South. Most of the war was fought in the South and much of the region's infrastructure was destroyed. Confederate bonds and currency became worthless, depriving the region of a great proportion of its wealth. Emancipation of the slaves also destroyed a large part of the South's capital, creating the need for a new labor system. There was little capital available in the South to finance reconstruction. The sharecrop system that had replaced slavery had few incentives for innovation and the region remained capital poor and population growth was slow. The South failed to attract large numbers of immigrants because of limited opportunities. Its slowly growing population did not create a demand for expanded infrastructure, one of the factors driving the rapid expansion of the national economy outside the former Confederate states. For at least two generations after the American Civil War the South remained predominantly agricultural and largely outside the industrial expansion of the national economy. One exception was the development of the iron and steel industry around Birmingham, Alabama.

Northern control of Congress after the War led to ever higher tariffs, reaching an average of 57 percent with the Dingle Tariff of 1897. These rates remained in effect until 1913. Behind the protective wall of these tariffs U.S. industry grew and agriculture expanded westward to feed the growing populations of industrial cities. The United States was the largest free trade market in the world. Northern and Midwestern populations grew much faster than those of the South and the expansion of the nation's railroad system tied those two regions closely together. A large part of the industrial expansion during the post Civil War years was based on connecting the industrial northeast with the farm and grazing areas of the Midwest and Plains states and completing the transcontinental railroads. Railroad mileage in the United States doubled between 1865 and 1873 and increased by an additional 50 percent between 1873 and 1881. Transported freight increased from 2.16 billion ton/mile in 1865 to 7.48 billion in 1873 and 16.06 billion in 1881. The iron and steel industry was one direct beneficiary of the expansion of the railroad system. Steel production increased from 19,643 long tons in 1867 to 198,796 long tons in 1873 and 1,588,314 in 1881. In 1874 the United States was second to Great Britain in pig iron production. By 1900 the U.S. produced four times as much as Britain. Carnegie Steel alone produced more than the British. The expansion of iron and steel production led to comparable increases in iron and coal mining.

An important part of the tremendous economic growth following the Civil War was innovation. The number of patents issued by the Patent Office increased steadily. In 1815 the agency issued 173 patents, while 1,045 were issued in 1844 and 7,653 in 1860. After the Civil War the rate of innovation increased tremendously. At least 15,000 patents were issued annually during this period and 45,661 patents were issued in 1897. While not every patent represented a useful product, many of them did, such as the typewriter, cash register, calculating and adding machines, and the Kodak camera. Other patents were for improvements in industrial machinery such as faster spindles and looms in textiles, new processes for making steel, and the application of electricity to industrial production. In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell (1847 – 1922) patented the telephone. By 1895 there were 310,000 phones in the United States. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) was formed in 1885 to consolidate all of Bell's patents. Thomas Alva Edison (1847 – 1931) invented the electric light. He also made invention and industrial innovation a process, creating new products and improving existing ones on a regular basis. His Menlo Park, New Jersey facility was the first modern industrial research lab. Edison became a national hero. Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) developed systems for the transmission of high voltage electricity over long distances. He also developed the electric motor, which had a wide range of uses in the economy, especially in the street car and the electric railroad car. Tesla also developed the electric sewing machine for home and industrial use, and a wide array of industrial applications for electricity. Gustavus Swift developed the disassembly line, applying industrial production systems to meat processing in 1870. New products led to new industries, and new methods and techniques reshaped old industries.

The backbone of the rapid industrial growth of the U.S. economy during these years was the nation's natural resources. The United States had huge reserves of coal, iron ore, copper and other metals, petroleum, timber, and water power, as well as fertile land for agriculture. Iron reserves in northern Minnesota and along the Michigan – Wisconsin border were developed to augment those on the south shore of Lake Superior. Coal reserves in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee were developed. Silver and gold mines were developed in Nevada and Colorado. Copper found in Montana replaced that of Michigan as the main source of this increasingly important metal needed for the transport of electricity. An expanding range of uses for petroleum was discovered, its many components being used as lubricants and cleaning solvents. Its use as a fuel began only at the very end of the period. There was little in the way of raw material necessary for industrial expansion at this time that was not abundantly available in the United States.

The expanding economy needed an ever increasing work force, and large numbers of immigrants came to the United States during this period. During the first years of the Civil War immigration declined, but by 1863 it had rebounded to 176,282 new arrivals. Throughout the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s hundreds of thousands entered the country each year, nearly 800,000 in 1882 alone. Toward the end of the period the immigration patterns changed with more immigrants coming from Scandinavia and southern and eastern Europe.

The growing scale of the economy bought several structural changes. The larger scale of industrial plants and companies and the more complex technology they used made their financing more complicated and more expensive. Investment bankers played an increasingly important role in the economy, supplying the capital that fueled growth. J. P. Morgan was among the more visible of these new players in the nation's economy. The resources banks had were a reflection of a high savings and investment rate among U.S. citizens after the Civil War. By 1880 banks held approximately $819 million in savings and by 1900 just under $2.5 billion. Foreign investment also flowed into the economy, increasing from about $1.4 billion in 1870 to $3.6 billion by 1900, much of it in railroads and utilities as well as municipal bonds.

A second change in the economy was the emergence of monopolies in major industries and the trust as a way of managing them. In the petroleum industry John D. Rockefeller (1839 – 1937) established the Standard Oil Company in 1863 when the industry was in its infancy. He began by consolidating control of refining through acquisition of competitors. He then moved to "vertically integrate" by controlling transportation and distribution. By 1879 he controlled 90 percent of the nation's refining capacity and in 1882 he reorganized the Standard Oil Company as a trust to operate and manage the near monopoly. When he retired from active business in 1897 Rockefeller's personal fortune was estimated at $900 million. Similar concentrations developed in nearly every industry. In each industry no more than a handful of firms dominated, often one or two. Seven companies controlled two – thirds of the railroad mileage in the country by 1900.

The economy was, on a larger scale, prone to periodic downturns due to what has been called the business cycle periods of increased investment activity and expansion followed by periods of consolidation and slower growth. During the periods of consolidation, unemployment and business failures increased. There was a major panic (as such periods were called) from 1873 to 1879 that saw business failures double, and half the nation's capacity for producing steel remain idle. There was an even sharper drop in economic activity in 1893, but it was shorter in duration and by 1897 the economy was well into a recovery.

In the years between the American Civil War and the end of the nineteenth century the modern U.S. industrial economy developed and took a clear shape. The United States emerged as one of the major economies in the world. Its growth rate, vast reserves of natural resources, and stable political system positioned it well for continuing growth.

More Railroad History

Following its bankruptcy the government attempted to revoke this charter but such draconian measures were spared when new ownership managed to procure further funding and see its completion by 1883.   

Economic issues were not the only concern facing railroads: America's Heartland was filled with angry Native Americans who were not happy about the White Man's encroachment onto their lands. 

Whenever possible they routinely destroyed track, derailed trains, and disrupted operations.  It was a serious problem during Union Pacific's construction in the 1860's as grading and track crews were constantly harassed. 

In response, the U.S. government provided military support. After several years of bloodshed, capped by the famous Battle At Little Big Horn where Colonel George A. Custer's Seventh Calvary was annihilated by the Sioux Nation (led by Crazy Horse), most of the fighting had ended by 1877. 

The 1870's also saw new Midwestern startups like the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe pushing westward across the plains and into the southwest.

According to Keith Bryant, Jr.'s excellent book, "History Of The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway," the AT&SF began as the Atchison & Topeka Railroad of 1859.  After spreading across the Midwest, new leadership under William Barstow Strong in 1877 allowed it to reach California by 1883.

The 2-6-0 wheel arrangement was in use by the 1860's although did not become as common or widespread as other early designs like the 4-4-0, 4-6-0, and 2-8-0. Seen here is Canadian Pacific 2-6-0 #136 pulling a short mixed train for a photo shoot near Berkeley, Ontario in 1973. Listed as a Class A2m it was built by the Rogers Locomotive Works in 1883.

The Southern Pacific was also feverishly building that decade, working its way east from the San Joaquin Valley towards the Gulf Coast.

The SP served most of Southern California by the end of the 1860's under the leadership of Collis P. Huntington it reached El Paso, Texas in 1881 and New Orleans, Louisiana soon afterward. 

This corridor became its legendary "Sunset Route."  While westward expansion was underway railroads also grew prodigiously back east. 

As the 1870's dawned, Southern railroads were still recovering from the Civil War's ravages. But within a decade they had rebounded handsomely, gaining 55% of their 1870 mileage (or, over 19,000 miles). 

The 1870's also witnessed the four major eastern trunk lines either complete their Chicago corridors or nearly so (Erie Railroad). 

The Pennsylvania Railroad had arrived decades earlier, in 1852, while the future New York Central System provided a direct link in 1873 when owner Cornelius Vanderbilt named himself president of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern.  The Baltimore & Ohio reached the Windy City a few years later, in 1875, although indirectly.

III. The Indian Wars and Federal Peace Policies

The “Indian wars,” so mythologized in western folklore, were a series of seemingly sporadic, localized, and often brief engagements between U.S. military forces and various Native American groups. More sustained and equally impactful conflicts were economic and cultural. New patterns of American settlement, railroad construction, and material extraction clashed with the vast and cyclical movement across the Great Plains to hunt buffalo, raid enemies, and trade goods. Thomas Jefferson’s old dream that Indigenous nations might live isolated in the West was, in the face of American expansion, no longer a viable reality. Political, economic, and even humanitarian concerns intensified American efforts to isolate Indians on reservations. Although Indian removal had long been a part of federal Indian policy, following the Civil War the U.S. government redoubled its efforts. If treaties and other forms of persistent coercion would not work, federal officials pushed for more drastic measures: after the Civil War, coordinated military action by celebrity Civil War generals such as William Sherman and William Sheridan exploited and exacerbated local conflicts sparked by illegal business ventures and settler incursions. Against the threat of confinement and the extinction of traditional ways of life, Native Americans battled the American army and the encroaching lines of American settlement.

In one of the earliest western engagements, in 1862, while the Civil War still consumed the United States, tensions erupted between Dakota Nation and white settlers in Minnesota and the Dakota Territory. The 1850 U.S. census recorded a white population of about 6,000 in Minnesota eight years later, when it became a state, it was more than 150,000. 8 The illegal influx of American farmers pushed the Dakota to the breaking point. Hunting became unsustainable and those Dakota who had taken up farming found only poverty. The federal Indian agent refused to disburse promised food. Many starved. Andrew Myrick, a trader at the agency, refused to sell food on credit. “If they are hungry,” he is alleged to have said, “let them eat grass or their own dung.” Then, on August 17, 1862, four young men of the Santees, a Dakota band, killed five white settlers near the Redwood Agency, an American administrative office. In the face of an inevitable American retaliation, and over the protests of many members, the tribe chose war. On the following day, Dakota warriors attacked settlements near the Agency. They killed thirty-one men, women, and children (including Myrick, whose mouth was found filled with grass). They then ambushed a U.S. military detachment at Redwood Ferry, killing twenty-three. The governor of Minnesota called up militia and several thousand Americans waged war against the Sioux insurgents. Fighting broke out at New Ulm, Fort Ridgely, and Birch Coulee, but the Americans broke the Indian resistance at the Battle of Wood Lake on September 23, ending the so-called Dakota War. 9

Buffalo Soldiers, the nickname given to African-American cavalrymen by the native Americans they fought, were the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular United States army. These soldiers regularly confronted racial prejudice from other Army members and civilians, but were an essential part of American victories during the Indian Wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. “[Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry, some wearing buffalo robes, Ft. Keogh, Montana] / Chr. Barthelmess, photographer, Fort Keogh, Montana,” 1890. Library of Congress.

Farther south, settlers inflamed tensions in Colorado. In 1851, the first Treaty of Fort Laramie had secured right-of-way access for Americans passing through on their way to California and Oregon. But a gold rush in 1858 drew approximately 100,000 white gold seekers, and they demanded new treaties be made with local Indian groups to secure land rights in the newly created Colorado Territory. Cheyenne bands splintered over the possibility of signing a new treaty that would confine them to a reservation. Settlers, already wary of raids by powerful groups of Cheyennes, Arapahos, and Comanches, meanwhile read in their local newspapers sensationalist accounts of the uprising in Minnesota. Militia leader John M. Chivington warned settlers in the summer of 1864 that the Cheyenne were dangerous, urged war, and promised a swift military victory. Settlers sparked conflict and sporadic fighting broke out. The aged Cheyenne chief Black Kettle, believing that a peace treaty would be best for his people, traveled to Denver to arrange for peace talks. He and his followers traveled toward Fort Lyon in accordance with government instructions, but on November 29, 1864, Chivington ordered his seven hundred militiamen to move on the Cheyenne camp near Fort Lyon at Sand Creek. The Cheyenne tried to declare their peaceful intentions but Chivington’s militia cut them down. It was a slaughter. Chivington’s men killed two hundred men, women, and children. 10 The Sand Creek Massacre was a national scandal, alternately condemned and applauded.

As settler incursions continued to provoke conflict, Americans pushed for a new “peace policy.” Congress, confronted with these tragedies and further violence, authorized in 1868 the creation of an Indian Peace Commission. The commission’s study of American Indians decried prior American policy and galvanized support for reformers. After the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant the following spring, Congress allied with prominent philanthropists to create the Board of Indian Commissioners, a permanent advisory body to oversee Indian affairs and prevent the further outbreak of violence. The board effectively Christianized American Indian policy. Much of the reservation system was handed over to Protestant churches, which were tasked with finding agents and missionaries to manage reservation life. Congress hoped that religiously minded men might fare better at creating just assimilation policies and persuading Indians to accept them. Historian Francis Paul Prucha believed that this attempt at a new “peace policy . . . might just have properly been labelled the ‘religious policy.’” 11

Tom Torlino, a member of the Navajo Nation, entered the Carlisle Indian School, a Native American boarding school founded by the United States government in 1879, on October 21, 1882 and departed on August 28, 1886. Torlino’s student file contained photographs from 1882 and 1885. Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center.

Many female Christian missionaries played a central role in cultural reeducation programs that attempted to not only instill Protestant religion but also impose traditional American gender roles and family structures. They endeavored to replace Indians’ tribal social units with small, patriarchal households. Women’s labor became a contentious issue because few tribes divided labor according to the gender norms of middle- and upper-class Americans. Fieldwork, the traditional domain of white males, was primarily performed by Native women, who also usually controlled the products of their labor, if not the land that was worked, giving them status in society as laborers and food providers. For missionaries, the goal was to get Native women to leave the fields and engage in more proper “women’s” work—housework. Christian missionaries performed much as secular federal agents had. Few American agents could meet Native Americans on their own terms. Most viewed reservation Indians as lazy and thought of Native cultures as inferior to their own. The views of J. L. Broaddus, appointed to oversee several small Indian tribes on the Hoopa Valley reservation in California, are illustrative: in his annual report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1875, he wrote, “The great majority of them are idle, listless, careless, and improvident. They seem to take no thought about provision for the future, and many of them would not work at all if they were not compelled to do so. They would rather live upon the roots and acorns gathered by their women than to work for flour and beef.” 12

If the Indians could not be forced through kindness to change their ways, most agreed that it was acceptable to use force, which Native groups resisted. In Texas and the Southern Plains, the Comanche, the Kiowa, and their allies had wielded enormous influence. The Comanche in particular controlled huge swaths of territory and raided vast areas, inspiring terror from the Rocky Mountains to the interior of northern Mexico to the Texas Gulf Coast. But after the Civil War, the U.S. military refocused its attention on the Southern Plains.

The American military first sent messengers to the Plains to find the elusive Comanche bands and ask them to come to peace negotiations at Medicine Lodge Creek in the fall of 1867. But terms were muddled: American officials believed that Comanche bands had accepted reservation life, while Comanche leaders believed they were guaranteed vast lands for buffalo hunting. Comanche bands used designated reservation lands as a base from which to collect supplies and federal annuity goods while continuing to hunt, trade, and raid American settlements in Texas.

Confronted with renewed Comanche raiding, particularly by the famed war leader Quanah Parker, the U.S. military finally proclaimed that all Indians who were not settled on the reservation by the fall of 1874 would be considered “hostile.” The Red River War began when many Comanche bands refused to resettle and the American military launched expeditions into the Plains to subdue them, culminating in the defeat of the remaining roaming bands in the canyonlands of the Texas Panhandle. Cold and hungry, with their way of life already decimated by soldiers, settlers, cattlemen, and railroads, the last free Comanche bands were moved to the reservation at Fort Sill, in what is now southwestern Oklahoma. 13

On the northern Plains, the Sioux people had yet to fully surrender. Following the troubles of 1862, many bands had signed treaties with the United States and drifted into the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies to collect rations and annuities, but many continued to resist American encroachment, particularly during Red Cloud’s War, a rare victory for the Plains people that resulted in the Treaty of 1868 and created the Great Sioux Reservation. Then, in 1874, an American expedition to the Black Hills of South Dakota discovered gold. White prospectors flooded the territory. Caring very little about Indian rights and very much about getting rich, they brought the Sioux situation again to its breaking point. Aware that U.S. citizens were violating treaty provisions, but unwilling to prevent them from searching for gold, federal officials pressured the western Sioux to sign a new treaty that would transfer control of the Black Hills to the United States while General Philip Sheridan quietly moved U.S. troops into the region. Initial clashes between U.S. troops and Sioux warriors resulted in several Sioux victories that, combined with the visions of Sitting Bull, who had dreamed of an even more triumphant victory, attracted Sioux bands who had already signed treaties but now joined to fight. 14

In late June 1876, a division of the 7th Cavalry Regiment led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer was sent up a trail into the Black Hills as an advance guard for a larger force. Custer’s men approached a camp along a river known to the Sioux as Greasy Grass but marked on Custer’s map as Little Bighorn, and they found that the influx of “treaty” Sioux as well as aggrieved Cheyenne and other allies had swelled the population of the village far beyond Custer’s estimation. Custer’s 7th Cavalry was vastly outnumbered, and he and 268 of his men were killed. 15

Custer’s fall shocked the nation. Cries for a swift American response filled the public sphere, and military expeditions were sent out to crush Native resistance. The Sioux splintered off into the wilderness and began a campaign of intermittent resistance but, outnumbered and suffering after a long, hungry winter, Crazy Horse led a band of Oglala Sioux to surrender in May 1877. Other bands gradually followed until finally, in July 1881, Sitting Bull and his followers at last laid down their weapons and came to the reservation. Indigenous powers had been defeated. The Plains, it seemed, had been pacified.

Donald Trump Is Writing A Terrifying New Chapter In The History Of Political Repression

In his quest for reelection, President Donald Trump has gone hunting for demons. Federal law enforcement officers entered cities including Portland, Oregon Chicago Kansas City, Missouri and Albuquerque at Trump’s direction, clearly meant to gin up clashes and disorder between federal officers and the groups disfavored by his core supporters in pursuit of “ viral online content .”

Trump officials deployed Border Patrol officers to suppress a small group of anarchists in Portland inflicting a federal courthouse with graffiti and minor property damage. When officers started snatching people off the streets in unmarked minivans , it provoked a larger protest reaction and a further increase in federal deployment. Some of those officers are now scheduled to leave Portland at the urging of state and local elected officials who called them an “occupying force.” The Department of Justice plans to “surge” federal officers into Black and Latino neighborhoods in Chicago, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Milwaukee, Detroit and Cleveland to provoke scenes of racial conflict. Trump suggested he could send up to 75,000 federal officers into American cities this summer.

These conflicts are the reason Trump’s most fervent supporters elected him. These voters, most of them white, wanted him to erase the legacy of the first Black president and wage war against the unfavored groups haunting their minds. With the economy cratering, unemployment skyrocketing and an uncontrolled pandemic sweeping the nation, Trump’s last hope for reelection is fomenting disorder and division ― this time, using the power of the presidency.

White Americans have long defined themselves as threatened by racial, ethnic and political minority groups that they believe ― often based on conspiracy theories ― will change their way of life. Americans who think their freedom and right to hold on to power are at risk seek to strike down those they think are coming to take it.

“American history is normally seen as a history of freedom rather than suppression,” political scientist Michael Rogin wrote in his 1987 book, ” Ron ald Reagan, The Movie,” b ut that “American racial history suggests that the suppression of people of color outside the normal political system has supported the freedom of the people within it.”

This same logic animates Trump’s deployment of federal forces to create scenes of disorder involving racial and political groups disfavored by his supporters ― the most fervent of whom are the white evangelical Protestants whose own political power and freedoms are tied to the suppression of disfavored groups.

Trump proclaimed as much during his Fourth of July speech in front of the Mount Rushmore monument in South Dakota. There he declared a war on a “left-wing cultural revolution,” emanating from “cities that are run by liberal Democrats,” that is, “designed to overthrow the American Revolution.”

Trump’s War is waged in defense “without apology,” he said, of the traditional American mythological history of a “people who pursued our Manifest Destiny across the ocean” to create “the most just and exceptional nation ever to exist on Earth.”

“This country will be everything that our citizens have hoped for, for so many years,” Trump declared, “and that our enemies fear.”

Red Scares And Slave Uprisings

In his Mount Rushmore speech, Trump sings the sweet tune of the traditional American myths of a divinely inspired people who spread onto and beyond a frontier that made them free. Missing in Trump’s tale are the many other peoples who were crushed, enslaved, overrun and ethnically cleansed to make that freedom possible.

The Manifest Destiny mythology originated from Jacksonian political writer John O’Sullivan, who in an 1845 article advocating for annexing Texas from Mexico, declaring it “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” O’Sullivan’s “our” meant, almost exclusively, Americans of Anglo-Saxon descent.

President Thomas Jefferson invoked such myths in his promise that he would help provide the Anglo-Saxon people “room enough” to reach a “final consolidation” when the land would be populated with white Northern European settlers from sea to shining sea.

Historian Frederick Jackson Turner would codify a more progressive vision of Manifest Destiny in his 1893 paper “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” The frontier’s “free land” provided “a gate of escape from the bondage of the past” and a safety valve for domestic pressures that gave birth to a unique American identity and spirit. Turner’s progressive twist was that this identity was open and available to all peoples of the world, not just Anglo-Saxons.

But the land they wanted to spread into wasn’t free. It was occupied by indigenous tribes. American independence, as the Founding Father imagined it, was cramped from the beginning by the mere existence of Indians. To achieve white freedom, Indians had to be removed. And in order to justify it, Americans dehumanized them.

“Indians were the first people to stand in American history as emblems of disorder, civilized breakdown, and alien control,” Rogin wrote in 1987. “Differences between reds and whites made cultural adaptation seem at once dangerous and impossible. The violent conquest of Indians legitimized violence against other alien groups, making coexistence appear to be unnecessary.”

Freedom and demonization and repression went hand in hand. And so it was with racialized slavery. The enslavement and subjugation of Blacks gave whites their freedom, which meant in turn that enslaved and freed Blacks posed an internal threat to subvert the political culture by breaking their chains, gaining political power and seeking vengeance. To prevent such a result, those in power suppressed dissent, from whites as well as Blacks, and restricted rights.

Americans often explained their racialized fears of indigenous people and Black Americans through paranoid conspiracies claiming these groups were not only outside of the American national family but also directed by external threats to the nation. Before the Civil War, they claimed indigenous people were directed by the British and that Haiti influenced slave revolts in the U.S. And they used those external conspiracies to justify internal repression.

“[T]hey have seduced the greater part of the tribes, within our neighborhood, to take up the hatchet against us,” Jefferson wrote in 1813 about the hidden British hand behind the Creek War in the Ohio Valley during the War of 1812.

The same was true of the racial demonization and violence directed at other groups, including Mexicans, preceding, during and after the Mexican-American War, and Chinese, Catholic and Jewish immigrants into the early 20th century. These groups were often seen as being directed to undermine the American way of life at the behest of external conspiracies emanating from the Vatican, the Illuminati or the Elders of Zion.

Political repression did not solely target racial or religious minorities. Left-wing working-class uprisings were similarly repressed and demonized as external threats. Movements for economic equality were perceived as threats to the private property rights that underpinned the foundation of American society. And they were perceived as external ideologies smuggled in from “French Communism” or, later, the Soviet Union.

But originally, working-class movements were seen through the same lens as the lives of Native Americans, whose practice of collective landholding was deemed dangerously subversive to the white settlers’ way of life.

Working-class revolts were then seen as an extension of the threat of Indian subversion. They were also viewed as providing a potential to unite Black and white working-class interests. In the political chaos and violence of the late 19th century, the demonization of these groups united into one tale of the nation’s history of political repression.

In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes pulled Union troops out of the former Confederate South and sent them West to begin the final fight to wipe out the Plains Indian tribes. The removal of American forces from the South allowed ex-Confederates to violently overthrow the post-Civil War Reconstruction state governments and impose a new system of oppression on freed Blacks. But those troops sent to the West were soon dispatched back east to suppress the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

When those troops entered Chicago to crush striking workers, the Chicago Tribune referred to it as a “Red War,” inciting fears of communism.

Trump’s War

Freedom continued to be linked to repression through the anti-communist Red Scares of the 20th century. When imperial expansion on the North American continent ended with the closing of the frontier, that frontier soon extended into the Pacific and around the world. America would wage war against external threats to promote the freedoms at home, including consumer freedom now fueled by oil.

Paranoia about external contamination and infiltration colored all of America’s conflicts through the Cold War, the Middle East oil crises and then the “war on terrorism.” The country would create a vast national security state, both internally and externally focused, to root out this contamination. Anyone could be a threat, whether an opera singer, a Hollywood writer or a civil rights activist. Internal repression followed external demonization.

But with Trump, the direction of American energies externally has come to an end, as historian Greg Grandin notes in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall.” Overseas wars promise no fix or diversion for the country’s internal problems. They are simply endless. The frontier, meanwhile, should be walled at the border.

“[T]oday the frontier is closed, the safety valve is shut,” Grandin writes in his 2019 book. “Whatever metaphor one wants to use, the country has lived past the end of its myth.”

And so the country turns inward, bringing its external wars home. Just as the troops fighting the Plains Indians switched to fight striking workers and the national security state targeting Nazi fascists was turned against real and imaginary Communists at home, Trump directs federal officers fighting America’s demons at home and abroad to battle anti-racism protesters on city streets.

Border Patrol officers are redirected from countering what Trump called Mexico’s “most unwanted people,” who are, “in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists,” to now battle “anarchists” and protesters in Portland. Riot control officers are redeployed from prisons, the main institution used by America to repress Black people, to the streets of Washington, D.C., during Black Lives Matter protests. And federal agents from the Department of Justice will now be sent to fight crime in Black and Latino neighborhoods.

Trump’s War is suffused with “war on terrorism” rhetoric. The deployment of officers into cities is a “surge.” The New York Post labels demonstrators damaging property as “insurgents.” The Pentagon calls protesters and journalists “adversaries.” The Department of Homeland Security circulates “Baseball cards” identifying protesters, as the military did for former ministers and generals in Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq and al-Qaeda terrorist leaders.

Trump himself finds domestic property damage to be worse than war. “This is worse than Afghanistan, by far,” Trump said about the protests in Portland. “This is worse than anything anyone’s ever seen.”

Where Trump’s War diverges from much of America’s history of repression is where he situates its source. The subversive behavior he aims to repress does not emanate from indigenous people in the forest it doesn’t originate from the USSR it isn’t directed by the pope there is no anti-American “axis of evil.” The demons animating Trump’s imagination are directed by the Democratic Party.

“All run by the same liberal Democrats,” Trump said about the cities he’s targeting that have seen protests. “And, you know what? If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell.”

Trump has portrayed former Vice President Joe Biden, his likely Democratic opponent in the November election, as a Trojan horse for progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“Joe Biden would be nothing more than an autopen, a Trojan horse for a radical agenda so radical, so all-encompassing that it would transform this country into something utterly unrecognizable,” Vice President Mike Pence said in a July 17 speech in Racine, Wisconsin.

Biden is cast as a white exterior masking the subversive Latinos, Blacks, Muslims and socialist Jews inside.

This is also a tale about the Democratic Party. Biden is an elderly white Catholic of Irish descent who was raised in a blue-collar community. He represents the old Democratic Party, once the home for the interests of the white working class. But the party has shifted and now represents a broad multiracial and multi-religious coalition. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the white vote was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

The party is today the political home for large majorities of Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Jews, women (in particular, single women) and the working class. These groups are among those that have been demonized throughout American history as subversive to the American way of life.

And so Trump places the Democratic Party outside of America. It is now a threat to freedom, to the American way of life. It wouldn’t be the first time in American history when the frontier collapsed in on itself and directed domestic political opponents against each other.

We now know a bloody civil war resulted from that rift. And who knows what all this may lead to.

17.3: Post-Civil War Westward Migration

n the decades after the Civil War, Americans poured across the Mississippi River in record numbers. No longer simply crossing over the continent for new imagined Edens in California or Oregon, they settled now in the vast heart of the continent.

Many of the first American migrants had come to the West in search of quick profits during the midcentury gold and silver rushes. As in the California rush of 1848&ndash1849, droves of prospectors poured in after precious-metal strikes in Colorado in 1858, Nevada in 1859, Idaho in 1860, Montana in 1863, and the Black Hills in 1874. While women often performed housework that allowed mining families to subsist in often difficult conditions, a significant portion of the mining workforce were single men without families dependent on service industries in nearby towns and cities. There, working-class women worked in shops, saloons, boardinghouses, and brothels. Many of these ancillary operations profited from the mining boom: as failed prospectors found, the rush itself often generated more wealth than the mines. The gold that left Colorado in the first seven years after the Pikes Peak gold strike&mdashestimated at $25.5 million&mdashwas, for instance, less than half of what outside parties had invested in the fever. The 100,000-plus migrants who settled in the Rocky Mountains were ultimately more valuable to the region&rsquos development than the gold they came to find. 2

Others came to the Plains to extract the hides of the great bison herds. Millions of animals had roamed the Plains, but their tough leather supplied industrial belting in eastern factories and raw material for the booming clothing industry. Specialized teams took down and skinned the herds. The infamous American bison slaughter peaked in the early 1870s. The number of American bison plummeted from over ten million at midcentury to only a few hundred by the early 1880s. The expansion of the railroads allowed ranching to replace the bison with cattle on the American grasslands. 3

Figure (PageIndex<1>): While bison supplied leather for America&rsquos booming clothing industry, the skulls of the animals also provided a key ingredient in fertilizer. This 1870s photograph illustrates the massive number of bison killed for these and other reasons (including sport) in the second half of the nineteenth century. Photograph of a pile of American bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer, 1870s. Wikimedia.

The nearly seventy thousand members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (more commonly called Mormons) who migrated west between 1846 and 1868 were similar to other Americans traveling west on the overland trails. They faced many of the same problems, but unlike most other American migrants, Mormons were fleeing from religious persecution.

Many historians view Mormonism as a &ldquouniquely American faith,&rdquo not just because it was founded by Joseph Smith in New York in the 1830s, but because of its optimistic and future-oriented tenets. Mormons believed that Americans were exceptional&mdashchosen by God to spread truth across the world and to build utopia, a New Jerusalem in North America. However, many Americans were suspicious of the Latter-Day Saint movement and its unusual rituals, especially the practice of polygamy, and most Mormons found it difficult to practice their faith in the eastern United States. Thus began a series of migrations in the midnineteenth century, first to Illinois, then Missouri and Nebraska, and finally into Utah Territory.

Once in the west, Mormon settlements served as important supply points for other emigrants heading on to California and Oregon. Brigham Young, the leader of the Church after the death of Joseph Smith, was appointed governor of the Utah Territory by the federal government in 1850. He encouraged Mormon residents of the territory to engage in agricultural pursuits and be cautious of the outsiders who arrived as the mining and railroad industries developed in the region. 4

It was land, ultimately, that drew the most migrants to the West. Family farms were the backbone of the agricultural economy that expanded in the West after the Civil War. In 1862, northerners in Congress passed the Homestead Act, which allowed male citizens (or those who declared their intent to become citizens) to claim federally owned lands in the West. Settlers could head west, choose a 160-acre surveyed section of land, file a claim, and begin &ldquoimproving&rdquo the land by plowing fields, building houses and barns, or digging wells, and, after five years of living on the land, could apply for the official title deed to the land. Hundreds of thousands of Americans used the Homestead Act to acquire land. The treeless plains that had been considered unfit for settlement became the new agricultural mecca for land-hungry Americans. 5

The Homestead Act excluded married women from filing claims because they were considered the legal dependents of their husbands. Some unmarried women filed claims on their own, but single farmers (male or female) were hard-pressed to run a farm and they were a small minority. Most farm households adopted traditional divisions of labor: men worked in the fields and women managed the home and kept the family fed. Both were essential. 6

Migrants sometimes found in homesteads a self-sufficiency denied at home. Second or third sons who did not inherit land in Scandinavia, for instance, founded farm communities in Minnesota, Dakota, and other Midwestern territories in the 1860s. Boosters encouraged emigration by advertising the semiarid Plains as, for instance, &ldquoa flowery meadow of great fertility clothed in nutritious grasses, and watered by numerous streams.&rdquo 7 Western populations exploded. The Plains were transformed. In 1860, for example, Kansas had about 10,000 farms in 1880 it had 239,000. Texas saw enormous population growth. The federal government counted 200,000 people in Texas in 1850, 1,600,000 in 1880, and 3,000,000 in 1900, making it the sixth most populous state in the nation.

Post-Civil War Railroad Expansion: Crossing the Continent - History

As native peoples were pushed out, American settlers poured in. Aside from agriculture and the extraction of natural resources—such as timber and precious metals—two major industries fueled the new western economy: ranching and railroads. Both developed in connection with each other and both shaped the collective American memory of the post – Civil War “Wild West.”

As one booster put it, “the West is purely a railroad enterprise.” No economic enterprise rivalled the railroads in scale, scope, or sheer impact. No other businesses had attracted such enormous sums of capital, and no other ventures ever received such lavish government subsidies (business historian Alfred Chandler called the railroads the “first modern business enterprise”). By “annihilating time and space,” by connecting the vastness of the continent, the railroads transformed the United States and they made the American West.

Railroads made the settlement and growth of the West possible. By the late nineteenth century, maps of the mid-West like this one were filled with advertisements of how quickly a traveler could get nearly anywhere in the country. Map. Environment and Society.

No railroad enterprise so captured the American imagination—or federal support—as the transcontinental railroad. The transcontinental railroad crossed western plains and mountains and linked the West Coast with the rail networks of the eastern United States. Constructed from the west by the Central Pacific and from the east by the Union Pacific, the two roads were linked in Utah in 1869 to great national fanfare. But such a herculean task was not easy, and national legislators threw enormous subsidies at railroad companies, a part of the Republican Party platform since 1856. The 1862 Pacific Railroad Act gave bonds of between $16,000 and $48,000 for each mile of construction and provided vast land grants to railroad companies. Between 1850 and 1871 alone, railroad companies received more than 175,000,000 acres of public land, an area larger than the state of Texas. Investors reaped enormous profits. As one congressional opponent put it in the 1870s, “If there be profit, the corporations may take it if there be loss, the Government must bear it.”

If railroads attracted unparalleled subsidies and investments, they also created enormous labor demands. By 1880, approximately 400,000 men—or nearly 2.5% of the nation’s entire workforce—labored in the railroad industry. Much of the work was dangerous and low-paying and companies relied heavily on immigrant labor to build tracks. Companies employed Irish workers in the early-nineteenth century and Chinese workers in the late-nineteenth. By 1880, over 200,000 Chinese migrants lived in the United States. Once the rails were laid, companies still needed a large workforce to keep the trains running. Much railroad work was dangerous, but perhaps the most hazardous work was done by brakeman. Before the advent of automatic braking, an engineer would blow the “down brake” whistle and brakemen would scramble to the top of the moving train, regardless of the weather conditions, and run from car to car manually turning brakes. Speed was necessary, and any slip could be fatal. Brakemen were also responsible for “coupling” the cars, attaching them together with a large pin. It was easy to lose a hand or finger and even a slight mistake could cause cars to collide.

The railroads boomed. In 1850, there were 9,000 miles of railroads in the United States. In 1900 there were 190,000, including several transcontinental lines. To manage these vast networks of freight and passenger lines, companies converged rails at hub cities. Of all the Midwestern and Western cities that blossomed from the bridging of western resources and eastern capital in the late nineteenth century, Chicago was the most spectacular. It grew from 200 inhabitants in 1833 to over a million by 1890. By 1893 it and the region from which it drew were completely transformed. The World’s Columbian Exposition that year trumpeted the city’s progress, and broader technological progress, with typical Gilded Age ostentation. A huge, gleaming (but temporary) “White City” was built in neoclassical style to house all the features of the fair and cater to the needs of the visitors who arrived from all over the world. Highlighted in the title of this world’s fair were the changes that had overtaken North America since Columbus made landfall four centuries earlier. Chicago became the most important western hub, and served as the gateway between the farm and ranch country of the Great Plains and eastern markets. Railroads brought cattle from Texas to Chicago for slaughter, where they were then processed into packaged meats and shipped by refrigerated rail to New York City and other eastern cities. Such hubs became the central nodes in a rapid-transit economy that increasingly spread across the entire continent linking goods and people together in a new national network.

It was this national network that created the fabled cattle drives of the 1860s and 1870s. The first cattle drives across the central Plains began soon after the Civil War. Railroads created the market for ranching, and because for the few years after the war that railroads connected eastern markets with important market hubs such as Chicago, but had yet to reach Texas ranchlands, ranchers began driving cattle north, out of the Lone Star state, to major railroad terminuses in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. Ranchers used well-worn trails, such as the Chisholm Trail, for drives, but conflicts arose with Native Americans in the Indian Territory and farmers in Kansas who disliked the intrusion of large and environmentally destructive herds onto their own hunting, ranching, and farming lands. Other trails, such as the Western Trail, the Goodnight-Loving Trail, and the Shawnee Trail, were therefore blazed.

This photochrom print (a new technology in the late nineteenth century that colorized images from a black-and-white negative) depicts a cattle round up in Cimarron, a crossroads of the late-nineteenth-century cattle drives. Detroit Photographic Co., “Colorado. ‘Round up’ on the Cimarron,” c. 1898. Library of Congress.

Cattle drives were difficult tasks for the motley crews of men who managed the herds. Historians struggle to estimate the number of men who worked as cowboys in the late nineteenth century, but counts range from 12,000 to as many as 40,000. Most were young. Perhaps a fourth were African American, and more were likely Mexican or Mexican American. (The American cowboy was an evolution of the Spanish (and later Mexican) vaquero: cowboys adopted Mexican practices, gear, and terms, such as “rodeo,” “bronco,” and “lasso”) There are at least sixteen verifiable accounts of women participating in the drives. Some, like Molly Dyer Goodnight, were known to have accompanied their husbands. Others, like Lizzie Johnson Williams, helped drive their own herds. Williams made at least three known trips with her herds up the Chisholm Trail. Most, though, were young men, many hoping one day to become ranch owners themselves. But it was tough work. Cowboys received low wages, long hours, and uneven work, they faced extremes of heat, cold, and sometimes bouts of intense blowing dust, and they subsisted on limited diets with irregular supplies. Fluctuations in the cattle market made employment insecure and wages were almost always abysmally low. Beginners could expect to earn around $20-25 per month, and those with years of experience might earn $40-45. Trail bosses could sometimes earn over $50 per month.

Cowboys like the one pictured here worked the drives that supplied Chicago and other mid-western cities with the necessary cattle to supply and help grow the meat-packing industry. Their work was obsolete by the turn of the century, yet their image lived on through vaudeville shows and films that romanticized life in the West. John C.H. Grabill, “The Cow Boy,” c. 1888. Library of Congress.

But if workers of cattle received low wages, owners and investors could receive riches. At the end of the Civil War, a $4 steer in Texas could fetch $40 in Kansas. Prices began equalizing, but large profits could still be made. And yet, by the 1880s, the great cattle drives were largely done. The railroads had created them, and the railroads had ended them: railroad lines pushed into Texas and made the great drives obsolete. But ranching still brought profits and the Plains were better suited for grazing than for agriculture and western ranchers continued supplying beef for national markets.

Ranching was just one of many western industries that depended upon the railroads. By linking the Plains with national markets and moving millions, the railroads made the modern American West.

The Olomana in the Kingdom of Hawaii

Researching the life and times of a historic object reveals many engaging stories. A small, toy-like locomotive such as this one can lead you to stories about work, industry, or personal experience.

Plantation locomotive, Olomana, built 1883

The Olomana was purchased for the sugarcane industry that developed in the Kingdom of Hawaii in the 19th century. It served in the fields for 62 years pulling cars of sugarcane from the fields to the mill for processing. During this time few mechanical changes were made however, the boiler was replaced twice and the fuel was changed from coal to oil in 1928.

The Olomana was built in 1883 by Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Baldwin, a prosperous locomotive builder, shipped the little locomotive around Cape Horn to the Waimanolo Sugar Company in the Kingdom of Hawaii.

The Olomana is a small industrial locomotive designed to be used for mining, logging, and on plantations. They burned wood, coal coke, or dry refuse such as dry sugarcane for fuel. Such locomotives were operated on a narrow-gauge track (gauge refers to the distance between rails) and used to pull or push loads of sugarcane for short distances.

Waimanolo Bay on the island Oahu—east side of the Koolau Mountain Range. 1908

Olomana in the foreground

Although sugarcane had been grown in Hawaii since the early 1800s, the first export of sugar did not occur until 1837. Through the 1840s, sugar grew more important to the local economy as it became one of Hawaii’s chief exports. With the expansion of sugarcane fields came the need for more labor. Workers were brought into the islands under contract as cheap labor. Most came from Asia, notably China and Japan, and after 1900 the Philippines. Smaller numbers also came from Korea, Europe, and North America.

Small flatbed railcars piled high with sugarcane

The Olomana was purchased to get the sugarcane from the field to the mill. Working the plantation was a sunup to sundown job. Skilled and unskilled laborers were needed in the fields, the mill, the plantation store, and the clerk’s office. A worker’s life centered around the plantation.

By sweat and tears we get by” is part of a Japanese bushi work song. New immigrants combined traditional folk tunes with lyrics describing their work life in the sugarcane fields.

The seeds were planted and tended during the year. Water needed to be brought in from artesian wells. When the stalks reached about 12 feet, it was time to harvest. Both men and women labored in the fields. Men would cut the cane, and women stripped the dry sharp leaves from the stalks. The stalks were bundled and carried to waiting wagons or small railcars.

To move the harvested crop to the mill, workers laid temporary track in the area where the sugarcane had been cut. Men bundled the stalks and loaded them high on small, four-wheel railroad cars in the field.

After loading, one man would operate the locomotive, while others watched closely as the train moved along the temporary track. Maintaining traction was very important. Sand often was thrown on rails which were covered by juice from the sugarcane. The temporary track could be taken up and put down in another part of the field.

Engineer guiding train over temporary tracks

The Olomana heading to the the mill

To move the harvested crop to the mill, workers laid more track in the area where the sugarcane had been cut. The sugar was processed at the mill. The cane was crushed and the juices boiled into sugar. (Note the mill in the foothill of the mountain.)

For more on Hawaiian sugar plantation life, see the A More Perfect Union website link below, or read:

Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii 1835-1920, Ronald Takaki. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983.

(Currently, the locomotive can be seen at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Strasburg, Pennsylvania.)

Post-Civil War Railroad Expansion: Crossing the Continent - History

Along with the development of the atomic bomb, the digging of the Panama Canal, and landing the first men on the moon, the construction of a transcontinental railroad was one of the United States' greatest technological achievements. Railroad track had to be laid over 2,000 miles of rugged terrain, including mountains of solid granite.

Before the transcontinental railroad was completed, travel overland by stagecoach cost $1,000, took five or six months, and involved crossing rugged mountains and arid desert. The alternatives were to travel by sea around the tip of South America, a distance of 18,000 miles or to cross the Isthmus of Panama, then travel north by ship to California. Each route took months and was dangerous and expensive. The transcontinental railroad would make it possible to complete the trip in five days at a cost of $150 for a first-class sleeper.

The first spikes were driven in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. Two companies competed to lay as much track as possible. The Central Pacific built east from Sacramento, Calif., while the Union Pacific built west from Omaha, Neb. The government gave the companies rights of way of 200 feet on each side of the track and financial aid of $16,000 to $48,000 for each mile of track laid.

At first, the Union Pacific, which had flat terrain, raced ahead. The Central Pacific had to run train track through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Working three shifts around the clock, Chinese immigrants hand drilled holes into which they packed black powder and later nitroglycerine. The progress in the tunnels through the mountains was agonizingly slow, an average of a foot a day.

Stung by the Union Pacific's record of eight miles of track laid in a single day, the Central Pacific concocted a plan to lay 10 miles in a day. Eight Irish tracklayers put down 3,520 rails, while other workers laid 25,800 ties and drove 28,160 spikes in a single day. On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah, a golden spike was hammered into the final tie.

The transcontinental railroad was built in six years almost entirely by hand. Workers drove spikes into mountains, filled the holes with black powder, and blasted through the rock inch by inch. Handcarts moved the drift from cuts to fills. Bridges, including one 700 feet long and 126 feet in the air, had to be constructed to ford streams. Thousands of workers, including Irish and German immigrants, former Union and Confederate soldiers, freed slaves, and especially Chinese immigrants played a part in the construction. Chinese laborers first went to work for the Central Pacific as it began crossing California's Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1865. At one point, 8,000 of the 10,000 men toiling for the Central Pacific were Chinese. At one point, Chinese workers were lowered in hand-woven reed baskets to drill blasting holes in the rock. They placed explosives in each hole, lit the fuses, and were, hopefully, pulled up before the powder was detonated. Explosions, freezing temperatures, and avalanches in the High Sierras killed hundreds. When Chinese workers struck for higher pay, a Central Pacific executive withheld their food supplies until they agreed to go back to work.

An English-Chinese phrase book from 1867 translated the following phrases into Chinese:

Can you get me a good boy? He wants $8 a month? He ought to be satisfied with $6. Come at 7 every morning. Go home at 8 every night. Light the fire. Sweep the rooms. Wash the clothes. Wash the windows. Sweep the stairs. Trim the lamps. I want to cut his wages.

Many of the railroad's builders viewed the Plains Indians as obstacles to be removed. General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote in 1867: "The more we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed the next year, for the more I see of these Indians the more convinced I am that they all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers."

Construction of the railroad provided many opportunities for financial chicanery, corruption, graft, and bribery. The greatest financial scandal of the 19th century grew out of the railroad's construction. The president of the Union Pacific helped found a construction company, called Credit Mobilier, which allowed investors, including several members of Congress, to grant lucrative construction contracts to themselves, while nearly bankrupting the railroad.

The railroad had profound effects on American life. New phrases entered the American vocabulary such as "time's up," "time's a wasting," and "the train is leaving the station." It also led to the division of the nation into four standard time zones. In addition, the railroads founded many of the towns on the Great Plains on land grants they were awarded by the federal government, and then sold the land to settlers.

The completion of the transcontinental railroad changed the nation. Western agricultural products, coal, and minerals could move freely to the east coast. Just as the Civil War united North and South, the transcontinental railroad united East and West. Passengers and freight could reach the west coast in a matter of days instead of months at one-tenth the cost. Settlers rushed into what was previously considered a desert wasteland. The 1890 Census would declare that the American frontier had disappeared. The railroad was a major cause.

Equally important, the success of the transcontinental railroad encouraged an American faith that with money, determination, and organization anything can be accomplished. The construction of railroad demonstrated the effectiveness of complex military-like organization and assembly-line processes.

Historic Civil War Railroad Maps

The maps featured here are historic items produced during or just after the war and housed at the Library of Congress.

The first was the work of James T. Lloyd in 1861 depicting all railroads in operation at that time the second was authored by Julius Bien in 1866 and highlights those rail lines requisitioned by the United States Military Railroad throughout the war.  Note that General McCallum's name is prominently displayed on this map.

While this tactic was unsuccessful the Confederacy did cause more than $2.5 million in damages (over $35 million in today's dollars) which required 10 months to repair. In an attempt to curb further property destruction the railroad built the first-ever armored rail car. 

It looked quite similar to the South's famous Merrimack ironclad warship except that it rode on wheels!  

Interestingly it was the very B&O that initially proved the railroad's tactical effectiveness on June 2, 1861, more than a month prior to the war's first major engagement at the "First Battle of Bull Run" (known within the Confederacy as the "Battle of First Manassas") it transported troops from Grafton, Virginia to a location about six miles east of the city to capture the town of Philippi ("Battle of Philippi").  

The speed of the movement caught Southern forces off-guard, demonstrating just what the railroad could do.

A view of Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania during November of 1863. Today, the station and tracks are still in use.

For the Union's many successes the South enjoy its own triumphs with this technology.  There was the previously mentioned "Battle of First Manassas" when General Joe Johnston used the Manassas Gap Railroad to move his troops into position, eventually securing a Confederate victory.  

Also, the "Battle of Chickamauga" in early September of 1863 saw a Southern victory after General James Longstreet quickly moved his force of 12,000 men from Virginia to Georgia, which bolstered Confederate lines as part of theਊrmy of Tennessee.  Thanks in large part to this effort U.S. forces were defeated after three days of fighting.  

More often than not it, however, it was military strategy and not the railroad which led to Southern victory.  With a belief in unilateral states' rights there was no central oversight or management of its network. ਋y the time leaders realized this fallacy all hopes for total victory had, to a greater extent, been lost.

Perhaps the most famous railroading event of the war took place in the South, best remembered as the Great Locomotive Chase.  It all began in April of 1862 when disguised Union soldiers stole the General, a Western & Atlantic 4-4-0 "American Type" steamer in an attempt to destroy Confederate supply lines.

Also known as the "Andrews Raid" it began at Marietta, Georgia and lasted for nearly 91 miles until a Confederate crew caught up with the locomotive near Ringgold. During the chase the Southerners used a hand-powered track car as well as the locomotives YonahShorterਊnd Texas򠯯ore finally catching the raiders.

As schooners anchor just offshore, Federal artillery and accompanying caissons sit on the wharf awaiting transport by rail at City Point, Virginia during the ongoing Siege of Petersburg in early 1865.

The twenty-two Union soldiers attempted to flee after abandoning the General but were soon discovered. For their bravery the U.S. troops were awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor, some posthumously.

During the war's final years Southern railroads were in such horrid condition they offered virtually no strategic military importance.  

In particular was the Louisville & Nashville which saw the most destruction of any system.  The Confederacy's idea to win the war had largely been predicated on outlasting its aggressor.  

A similar tactic was successful just over a century later when North Vietnam caused enough American casualties during the Vietnam War to cause the U.S. government to give up.  

Destroying railroad infrastructure became a common strategy by both sides to slow the other's advance. Seen here is a wrecked bridge of the Richmond & Fredericksburg Railroad at North Anna River, Virginia on May 25, 1864.

The Confederacy faced a much more determined leader in President Lincoln who, for a number of reasons, did everything within his power to reunite the country and was eventually successful in that effort.  

Looking back, the South may have achieved its desired result if Lincoln had never found an effective commander.  

As Mr. Hankey points out, had the U.S. lost one battle here or there it may have turned the tide.  Today, this is all conjecture, of course, but the questions and rhetoric regarding such are still brought up among historians.

Civil War Railroad Statistics

Below is an interesting set of statistics concerning Union and Confederate railroad operations during the war.

Numbers Notes
419Number of USMR locomotives.
6,330Total USMR rolling stock.
2,105Mileage operated by the USMR.
$10,000Average cost in the north for a new 4-4-0.
6, 0There were six railroads serving Richmond but not one interchanged with the other.
60 PoundsAverage rail weight (per yard) during the Civil War. Today, rail is roughly twice as heavy.
220,000: 26,000The amount of rail produced annually by the North (220,000) and South (26,000) at the start of the war.
0The amount of rail and number of locomotives produced in the South after the war began.
4,000: 400Rail mileage laid annually in the North (4,000) and South (400) during the conflict.
$15: $500Average cost of new cast-iron wheels in the South in 1861 ($15) compared to 1865 ($500).

Source: "The Railroad War: How The Iron Road Changed The American Civil War , " by John P. Hankey (March, 2011 issue of Trains Magazine).

The USMR crewman of the 4-4-0 "General Haupt," named after the U.S. Military Railroads' Chief of Construction and Transportation, pose proudly next to their locomotive. Photo courtesy National Archives.

After The Civil War

While the Civil War had emotionally and physically scarred the country, the railroad paved the way for further expansion and growth after hostilities ended.

Between 1850 and 1871 the federal government offered more than 170 million acres of western land to railroads in exchange for establishing new routes between the Midwest and the west coast.

Along with the aforementioned Transcontinental Railroad the Northern Pacific, financed by banker Jay Cooke, began a northerly route from Lake Superior at Duluth, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington in 1864.

Building through the very rugged and remote regions of western Montana, northern Idaho and Washington it took NP nearly twenty years before its completion in 1883 (hampered, partially, by the financial Panic of 1873).

Finally, two major technological advances were introduced just a few years after the war George Westinghouse's automatic air brake of 1869 and Eli Janney's automatic coupler of 1873.  

These two devices were so revolutionary they remain in regular use today as the most practical and efficient way to stop a train and join/detach equipment.  

As the century came to a close railroads were rapidly opening new routes, branches, and corridors throughout the country.

Even though track widths were still prolific and a standard gauge had not yet been established the 1860's did witness improved cooperation, particularly in railroads' willingness to exchange freight. 

Watch the video: Μπογδάνος: Ο Βελουχιώτης έσφαξε στον Μελιγαλά σαν τους τζιχαντιστές