Friday, September 25, 2009

Fetters: "THE CHARLESTON & HAMBURG: A South Carolina Railroad & an American Legacy"

[The Charleston & Hamburg: A South Carolina Railroad & an American Legacy by Thomas Fetters (The History Press, 2008). Softcover, maps, photos, illustrations. 160 Pages. ISBN:9781596294202 $21.99]

Roughly paralleling the inland course of the Edisto River and its South Fork, The Charleston & Hamburg Railroad eventually stretched for 135 miles (located directly across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia, Hamburg was an important market town). Thomas Fetters's book The Charleston & Hamburg: A South Carolina Railroad & an American Legacy traces the history of the railroad from its 1827 charter through the end of Reconstruction. It's a well organized and fascinating overview of evolving transportation means and technology. Detailed discussions, lists, and drawings of the various locomotives and passenger/freight cars are included. Biographical sketches of a number of individuals important to the line's development are also provided.

The volume is profusely illustrated, with probably as many maps, photos, and drawings as pages. A number of maps trace the extent of the railroad at various stages of its development, as well as the growth of the transportation network in the state of South Carolina as a whole. Others show the extent of damage to the rails by the Union army during General William T. Sherman's march through the state. One illustration I really would like to have seen is a drawing of the "planes" at Aiken, a fascinating-sounding mechanical apparatus that allowed the train to travel across the large elevation drop at Aiken, South Carolina in the shortest distance possible [something like the railroad equivalent of a canal lock].

The Civil War section covers roughly twenty pages, centering on the Union army's efforts at rendering the C&H's tracks, engines, and cars useless to the Confederates when the Federals passed through the state. The Confederate system of railroad management (or mismanagement) is also touched upon. There are some errors and lack of attention to detail. For instance, Fort Sumter was certainly not "back in Union hands after the first months" participating in the bombardment of Charleston (pg. 115), nor was Robert E. Lee still directing the coastal defenses in the fall of 1862 (pg. 117).

It is readily apparent that the book is a labor of love for Fetters and a great deal of research went into it, but its value as an authoritative reference work is lessened by the decision to not include notes, a bibliography, or an index. Nevertheless, the early American railroad enthusiast will find this volume to be a fine addition to his library, and Civil War students can also glean useful information from it about Sherman's march of destruction through the state.

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