Civil War Book Review: American Civil War Railroad Tactics (Elite 171)

Hodges, Robert R. American Civil War Railroad Tactics (Elite 171) Osprey Publishing (August, 2009). 64 pages, illustrations, bibliography, index. ISBN: 978-1846034527 $18.95 (Paperback).

Two of my favorite topics are Civil War history and the history of railroads.  I was pleased to see one of Osprey’s latest books in their Elite series, American Civil War Railroad Tactics (Elite 171), covers both subjects in one book.  The Civil War was the first major war to utilize railroads, and Robert Hodges’ overview of how Civil War railroads were used, protected, and damaged by both sides provides a nice place to start if you are new to the subject.

The Osprey Elite series “explores the history of military forces, artifacts, personalities, and techniques of warfare.”  This book is just one of the Elite series which focuses on the American Civil War.  A review of another Civil War book in this series should be forthcoming at TOCWOC soon.

As in all Osprey books, American Civil War Railroad Tactics is profusely illustrated and attractive to those just getting into the subject.  Peter Dennis is the illustrator on this particular volume.  Author Robert Hodges Jr. has written numerous magazine articles on Civil War railroads.

American Civil War Railroad Tactics is broken down into eight sections which give coverage to the major Civil War railroad topics:

  • Harnessing the Iron Horse for War
  • Moving the Infantry
  • Rail Batteries
  • Wrecking the Railroads
  • Repairing the Railroads
  • Running the Railroads
  • Trains in Battle
  • Hospital Trains

After a brief introduction, Hodges looks at the state of railroads North and South just prior to the war and how this affected the struggle and the ultimate outcome.  Moving the Infantry covers major troop movements in the war, including the Confederate success at First Manassas and the massive Union and Confederate troop movements west in the fall of 1863.  Rail Batteries takes a look at the famous and not so famous railroad artillery pieces used during the war, including the “Land Merrimac” at Seven Pines and the Dictator at the Siege of Petersburg.  Wrecking, Repairing, and Running the Railroads are the chapters which supply the main focus of American Civil War Railroad Tactics.  Both sides spent quite a lot of time, money, and effort in keeping their own railroads running and protected while seeking to deny their use to the enemy.  In some cases non-combatant trains found themselves the subject of an ambush or otherwise moved into enemy territory, a subject covered in Trains in Battle.  Transportation of wounded soothe hospitals to care for them rounds out the book in Hospital Trains.

The book is rounded out nicely with a selected bibliography of books on the topic of Civil War railroads, although oddly a book on Black Confederates is also included.  Perhaps the author wanted to include this book due to the massive number of Blacks working in various occupations on and along the railroads in the North and especially the South.

American Civil War Railroad Tactics (Elite 171) is a good introduction to the subject of Civil War railroads.  It will appeal to both students of the Civil War and those readers interested in the various stages of railroad history in the United States.  The by now standard Osprey summation of events combined with the usual brilliant illustrations make for an attractive and interesting look at a fascinating sub-category of Civil War history. Additionally, Osprey volumes continue to be reasonably priced.  Collectors of Osprey Civil War books and the Elite series in general will also want to own this book.

I would like to thank Kerry Serini at Osprey Publishing.

Editor’s Note: The book covered in this review was provided free to the reviewer.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *