(1861-1865) Civil War Battles (Eastern Theater)
Posts: 227
Joined: 2020
civil war Logistic facts
10/1/2022 6:07:14 PM

civil war Logistic facts


I hope no one minds some civil war
Logistic facts and numbers as illustrating the challenges for the advancing union armies.
Here limited to Sherman’s Atlanta campaign as example and typical for many campaigns.

Start with the basic geographic fact of distance from the main base in Louisville.
Atlanta Campaign mileages
Louisville to Atlanta 445 mi
Nashville to Atlanta 270
to Chattanooga 151
Chatt to Atlanta 136

Sherman’s army of 100k in Chattanooga required about 700-750 tons supplies per day.
Typical rail train of a single locomotive and 15 cars at 8 tons per car about 120 tons.
The army need about 6 trains per day, 40 per week.
It took about 2-1/2 days one way and 5 return to cover the distance.
To allow for the travel time at least 30 trains needed every 5 days.
These are optimal figures. Also not considering loading/unloading.
Civil war Locomotives did not have brakes, stop trains by cutting power,
using the whistle to signal their brakemen. The brakemen would turn the
brakes in one car and jump to the next to set the brakes til the
braking was done. Wow! (brakes about 1872)

Roundtrip from Chattanooga to Atlanta took 3 days needing at least 18 trains.
Nashville and Chattanooga served as intermediate depots
Due to single track lines and limited sidings trains were generally sent
in convoys and no trains would be sent until previous trains had
returned and competed the run. (a matter of safety)
but ultimately all supplies had to be shipped from Louisville.
Operations were precarious because actually only 50 locos and 400 cars were
usually operational roughly equal to 25-26 trains.
Between Louisville and Nashville only 21 locos and 195 cars were available,
about 13-14 trains. All locos could not be used to allow for necessary maintenance and repair.

This may also be taken to show why Atlanta was the limit of Union railroad supply projection for an army of
75-100,000 men. From Louisville to Savanah Ga by Nashville and Atlanta is nearly 700 miles (685).
Travel time would be at least 8 days round trip. Needed 50 trains every 8 days to supply the army.

Because of the very poor conditions of confederate railroads by 1864 USMRR re-laid the whole road to accommodate heavier union supply trains and also allow greater train speeds. Also to allow for northern locomotive gauges and the fact that most southern lines used poor quality rails to begin with. During 1864 USMRR employed more than 10000 workers each month for train operations and maintenance in Mississippi division. About 26 mile of bridging was built and total more than 440 miles of new track laid. Mississippi division also supported other operations. USMRR lines were turned back to private owners by July 1865, even to southern lines.

It took about two months for Sherman to trim down his army to about 62k to start the march to Savannah while cutting loose from his railhead. Atlanta was abandoned and railhead removed to Chattanooga. He cut down his transportation to 2500 wagons which allowed only 2-3 days food and forge to be carried. His bummers might forage up to 30 miles with strong guards from the line of march.

The three classic sources are;
Angus James Johnston, Virginia Railroads in the Civil War 1961
Turner, George Edgar, Victory Rode the Rails: 1953
Black, Robert C., The Railroads of the Confederacy 1952

thanks, Mike_C.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 6500
Joined: 2004
civil war Logistic facts
10/2/2022 4:32:05 AM
Mind boggling stuff, Mike_C.

Sherman certainly thought outside the box, didn’t he ?

Cut loose, diminish size of force and defy orthodoxy ?

Or is he following in the tradition of those English grand raids in the Hundred Years War ?

Much is said about the Northern superiority in men and materiel being compromised by the need to sustain logistics on the advance as an offensive war strategy was pursued. Your data certainly make that very apparent.

As a counter suggestion, I want to ask : didn’t the South also face a difficult task in trying to defend a huge area, especially with the far flung maritime ports to hold. How much rebel strength was dispersed in this colossal effort ?

Regards, Phil
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Steve Clements
Toronto ON Canada
Posts: 910
Joined: 2004
civil war Logistic facts
10/2/2022 8:42:51 AM
Mike C,

Thanks for this. Very helpful IMO

morris crumley
Dunwoody GA USA
Posts: 3309
Joined: 2007
civil war Logistic facts
10/2/2022 8:55:49 AM
Very in depth and interesting post Mike. Thanks for giving us this info.

Respects, Morris
"You are a $70, red-wool, pure quill military genius, or the biggest damn fool in northern Mexico."
home  USA
Posts: 953
Joined: 2021
civil war Logistic facts
10/2/2022 8:58:30 AM
An army marches on its stomach.

Those of us who study campaigns are particularly interested in the logistics involved.

The book, Retreat From Gettysburg is an excellent example of logistics.

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