Railroads in Mississippi
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Source: Rowland, Dunbar, ed. Mississippi, Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form, in three volumes. Vol. 2. Atlanta: Southern Historical Publishing Association, 1907. pages 502-516

Railroads. (Also see Internal Improvements.) In 1830 a railroad was completed for several miles out of Charleston, S. C., on which was operated a wonderful steam car, running 15 miles an hour. In April, 1831, a railroad four and a half miles long, from New Orleans to Lake Ponchartrain was opened. In the same year the Mississippi legislature chartered a railroad company to build from Woodville, Miss., to St. Francisville, La. The subscription to the stock was nearly completed in 1832, when also, a route had been surveyed from Vicksburg to Warren, 55 miles, and a large part of the stock taken. A railroad meeting was held at Natchez, October 10, 1834, presided over by James C. Wilkins, and addressed by John T. Griffith, Felix Huston and Adam L. Bingaman, to promote the building of a railroad to Jackson, with future extension to the Tennessee River. Delegates were chosen to a convention which met at Gallatin in December, the object being to open up the interior of the State. Surveys were made, and before January, 1836, seven and a half miles of the road was put under contract, upon individual responsibility, in anticipation of an act of incorporation. This was "The Mississippi Railroad." According to Acting Governor Quitman's message of 1836, the Vicksburg Commercial Railroad & Banking Company, the Grand Gulf & Port Gibson, and the Woodville & St. Francisville Company had received favorable charters (1835), and were proceeding "with energy to the construction of their several useful works of internal improvements." The Commercial Company was to build a railroad from Vicksburg to Jackson, with a bank attached for the manufacture of capital; the other two were of the same nature; and in 1836 the Mississippi & Alabama Company was chartered to build the road from Jackson east, with a bank at Brandon that soon became notorious, its downfall causing the suicide of the president; also the Mississippi Company, at Natchez, of which John A. Quitman was president, which established a bank at Natchez and started the railroad from Natchez northeastward. The proposed Lake Washington & Deer Creek road also had its bank; there was another at Columbus, and the Benton & Manchester project was similarly provided.

A complete statement of the railroad situation was printed by the Woodville Republican in January, 1837, from which it appears that about 700 men were then employed constructing the Woodville & St. Francisville road, to be 29 miles long. A line from New Orleans to Liberty was projected. On the Natchez-Jackson railroad several hundred hands were at work, out from Natchez, and bets had been made that cars would be running to Washington, six miles, by July 4th. It was hoped that the public spirit that supported this enterprise would not abate until "the traveler might in the same day, drink from the Tennessee in Tishomingo and the Mississippi at Natchez." A locomotive and train was running on the road in May, 1837, when the financial crash came. Several hundred hands were also at work on the Grand Gulf & Port Gibson road, 7 1/2 miles long. A line was projected from Grand Gulf via Raymond to Jackson. About 800 hands were at work between Vicksburg and the Big Black on the Vicksburg & Jackson line. Other chartered roads, not yet so far along as actual work, were the Manchester & Benton, Pontotoc & Aberdeen, Narkeeta, Jackson & Brandon, Jackson & Mobile, and the Noxubee. Most of these would be feeders of the river traffic. The proposed New Orleans & Nashville line, which threatened competition with the river, was bitterly opposed. Governor McNutt, in January, 1839, said the Vicksburg & Jackson road would be completed in 1839 and rapid progress was being made with the Mississippi railroad. Little had been done by the railroad-banking concerns toward building the Grand Gulf & Port Gibson, St. Francisville & Woodville and the Mississippi & Alabama (the Brandon bank), and the various other railroad-banking companies had confined their operations mainly to the issue of paper money. (See Banking.) The Mississippi railroad company (Natchez & Jackson) owned 78 slaves. It laid iron on 24 1/2 miles of track, before the collapse of the bank. A tornado in 1840 destroyed some of its extensive buildings. Its locomotive, the first in Mississippi, was exhibited at the Chicago Exposition of 1893. The Vicksburg & Jackson had been built 28 miles out from Vicksburg in January, 1840, at a cost of nearly $2,000,000. The Woodville and St. Francisville road was intended to connect on the south with the proposed Bayou Sara Railroad, to extend 101 miles from New Orleans along the left bank of the Mississippi, to St. Francisville, and on the north with a road to run from Woodville to Natchez and ultimately to Vicksburg. It is a curious fact that Woodville still remains the northern terminus of this line of road, which now constitutes the Bayou Sara Branch of the Y. & M. V. railroad.

The Vicksburg road to Clinton was the first 54 miles constructed of the present Alabama & Vicksburg. A grand barbecue was given followed by a ball at the Galt House in Clinton, on the date of the arrival of the first train from Vicksburg. "But the festivities were interrupted by terrific tornado which in the afternoon swept the country and tore up the rails for miles. Carriages and wagons were conscripted to carry the visitors from Vicksburg back to the city, and soon order was brought out of chaos." (M. H. S., Vol. 7, p. 291)

By the year 1840, 83 miles of railroad had been built in Mississippi, composed of the railroads above mentioned, with an aggregate mileage of 61.75; Jackson & Brandon, 14 miles, and the Grand Gulf & Port Gibson, 7 1/4 miles. The interests of the Vicksburg & Brandon companies were transferred to the Southern Railroad Company which, in 1854, was granted an extension of time to March 8, 1858, to build the road from Brandon to the State line. It was aided by a land grant. The Mobile & Ohio was incorporated in Mississippi February 4, 1848, and completed April 22, 1861.

In 1850 the cost of construction and equipment of railroads in Mississippi aggregated $7,998,298, and in 1855 there were 226 miles of railroad in operation according to the annual report of the Railroad Journal, N. Y. The New Orleans road in January, 1856, was graded north as far as Brookhaven and cars were running to Osyka. From Jackson northward, the road was constructed and in operation early in 1856 as far as Canton. The total mileage is given as 862 in 1860. De Bow's Review, Vol. 28, gives the following figures for that year: Grand Gulf & Port Gibson, miles operated, 8; Memphis & Charleston, 27 in State; Mississippi & Tennessee, 80; Mississippi Central, 187; Mobile & Ohio, 169 in State, and Columbus Branch, 14; New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern, 118 in State; Raymond road, 7; Southern, 83; West Feliciana (Woodville road), 7 in state. The New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern was complete with single track, and necessary side-tracks, depot buildings and water stations, from New Orleans to Canton, a distance of 206 miles, and its construction is said to have equalled that of any railroad in the United States. North from Canton, the Mississippi Central extended the line to Jackson, Tenn., and formed a link in the great through route between New Orleans and Chicago, while the Mississippi & Tennessee connected Grenada with Memphis. In April, 1861, the Mobile & Ohio was completed to the Tennessee line, and was in running order from Mobile to Columbus, Ky. The Vicksburg & Jackson, and Brandon (Mississippi & Alabama) lines, united under the name of the Southern (A. & V.), were completed as part of a through line June 3, 1861. These, and the Memphis & Charleston, through Corinth, were the railroads fought over during the war. The railroads built before the war were aided by loans from the State, as well as by land grants from the United States. (See Internal Improvements and Chickasaw School Fund.) After the war began the railroads came largely under the control of the Confederate military authorities. When the Union Armies entered the State they destroyed the roads, rolling stock and depots, to impair the Confederate means of communication, and in cases where the Union troops rebuilt the roads for their own use, they were destroyed by Confederate troops.

The State government favored the railroads by permitting them to pay an indebtedness to the State of about one million dollars in depreciated State and Confederate money, in 1863 and later. But after the war this act was held to be unconstitutional and the roads were required to pay in sound money. The companies were also authorized to issue scrip to circulate as money. "The Mobile & Ohio was empowered to issue $300,000, the Mississippi Central $300,000, the Mississippi & Tennessee $125,000, the Southern $150,000, the West Feliciana $50,000, the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern $300,000." (Garner's Reconstruction.)

The railroads were finally all seized and operated by the Military Railroad department of the United States army, and $45,000,000 was expended by the United States in the entire South in repair and equipment, which was a debt against the roads when restored to the companies. Practically none of the railroads were able to pay the debt, and it went by the board. The debt of the Mississippi railroads on this account was over $1,000,000. In Garner's Reconstruction, pp. 142-45, is given an account of the misfortunes of several roads in the war times. The Memphis & Charleston was fought for and in turn damaged by both armies. From Pocahontas to Decatur, 114 miles, it was in 1865 almost entirely destroyed. The Memphis & Tennessee, from Grenada to Memphis, had also been almost continuously raided. The first train, after 1862, went through on January 3, 1866. The Mississippi Central, from Canton to Jackson, Tenn., was a wreck and the company carried a debt of $1,500,000. In the summer of 1865 hand cars were used between Oxford and Holly Springs and passengers were ferried across the Yalobusha River at Grenada. The N.O., J. & G. N., New Orleans to Canton, which had been completed at a cost of $7,000,000 and was said to be the best equipped road in the South, was seized by General Lovell, on behalf of the Confederacy, in 1862, but later restored, and was in operation as far north as Ponchatoula, the more northern part having been wrecked as a continuous line by the raids of Sherman and Grierson. In 1865 Gen. Beauregard was elected president, 78 bridges were rebuilt, rails laid, and equipment supplied, and trains began to regularly run between New Orleans and Canton October 3, 1865, for the first time since May, 1863. The last rail of the Mobile & Ohio, built mainly by English capital, was laid just before the firing on Fort Sumter. At the end of the war the company lost what was due it from the Confederate government, $5,000,000. All the bridges and trestles were destroyed north of Okolona, and the road was generally wrecked in the vicinity of Meridian. None of these suffered more than the Southern (Vicksburg to Meridian), during the war one of the most important military lines of the South. To put it out of condition was the first step in the siege of Vicksburg in 1863, and it was afterward destroyed as far east as Meridian by Sherman.

This section ends at approximately the top of page 506.

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