Thursday, May 4, 2017

Review of Bright - "LOCOMOTIVES UP THE TURNPIKE: The Civil War Career of Quartermaster Captain Thomas R. Sharp, C.S.A."

[Locomotives Up the Turnpike: The Civil War Career of Quartermaster Captain Thomas R. Sharp, C.S.A. by David L. Bright and illustrator Andrew H. Hall (Author, 2016). Softcover, maps, photos, drawings, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. 231 pp. ISBN:978-0-9852034-7-4. $24.95]

Often mentioned in the literature but never truly elaborated upon, the famous "Haul" is one of the most intriguing railroad stories of the Civil War. At a moment early on in the war, Stonewall Jackson cleverly trapped a vast amount of Baltimore & Ohio Railroad equipment in the lower Shenandoah Valley. Given the lack of unhindered track connections, the problem became how to get this valuable booty south to supplement overworked and underequipped Confederate railroads. Over a period of months (June 1861 through May 1862), Confederate quartermaster and rail construction expert Thomas R. Sharp supervised the transport of 17 locomotives and over 100 cars of various types over roads (including the macadamized Valley Turnpike) using men, horses, and oxen. David Bright's dual-focused Locomotives Up the Turnpike is a microhistory of the "Haul" and a biographical treatment of the man most responsible for its success.

About half the narrative is devoted to Bright's meticulously reconstructed account of the Haul. In addition to being both a testament to still heavily discounted Confederate engineering prowess and the literature's first truly comprehensive and primary source based history of the event, the book very effectively counters the many naysayers past and present. Contrary to common belief, abundant evidence that the event truly happened exists in the archives, and Bright was able to compile hundreds of these primary source documents as the backbone of his study. The mental image of teams of men and horses dragging enormously heavy locomotives down primitive roads probably dominates the thinking of the doubters, but the truth of the matter is that much of the engine and rolling stock was either wholly or partially burned prior to the removal operation, and the locomotives were significantly dismantled (as an example, wooden engine trucks were often substituted for the metal trucks to lower the weight) before being moved. The processing, organization, and routes of these equipment convoys are detailed in the text.

Upon the Haul's successful completion Thomas Sharp's career in Confederate railroads was far from over, and the rest of the book recounts his activities and responsibilities in North Carolina and South Carolina on a month-by-month basis. At Raleigh, Sharp managed a Confederate repair and maintenance facility until it was closed due to a short-sighted War Department policy of turning over to private firms any operation that could theoretically be managed by non-governmental enterprise.

From Raleigh, Sharp moved in March 1863 to a new position as Superintendent of the Charlotte & South Carolina Railroad, a civilian job he seems to have held concurrently with his military one. The book well demonstrates the South's struggle to balance civilian vs. military needs on railroad systems generally incapable of expanding capacity. Along the eastern seaboard transportation network discussed in the book, this unsolvable problem is most strikingly illustrated during the winter and spring months of 1864, when western sources were dwindling and the needs of the armies in Virginia needed to be met from more local sources. In 1865, when advancing Union armies systematically seized and destroyed the railroads in the Carolinas, the very highly regarded Sharp was employed as something of a roaming fixer.

The book is abundantly illustrated with photographs, original maps, and color artwork. For the benefit of the reader, a vast number of tables organize data of all kinds. In the appendix section, one can find among other things an effective summary rebuttal of the Haul's detractors, full 'biographies' of the locomotives saved through the Haul, and rosters of the hundreds of men (and a few women) employed by Sharp during his various postings and operations in Virginia and the Carolinas.

On several levels, Locomotives Up the Turnpike is a significant contribution to the railroad history of the Confederacy. Its unique and exhaustive documentation of the famous Haul means that other authors finally have a proper source to refer to in their own work, and the question of whether the event actually occurred or not seems more than convincingly answered. Bright's study also extends proper recognition to the architect of the Haul, while in the process bringing to light Captain Sharp's other equally important services to the Confederate war effort. Finally, the book offers useful accounts of how some of the many logistical challenges of the Confederacy's Atlantic railroad network were addressed by military, state, and Richmond authorities. Recommended.

1 comment:

  1. llWilliam E. LockridgeMay 05, 2017

    Dave Bright has been known to many as "the new 'Black'". The book published by R. C. Black in 1952 was the single source for data on Confederate Railroads until Bright began compiling updated information for his exhaustive web page. The book is a fascinating story of perseverance and ingenuity by Sharp. It details what is perhaps the most amazing accomplishment in American railroad history.

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