Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Railroad Repair

This picture was taken in 1863 and shows a group of Black Men working on railroad tracks. If you look at the tracks, they are bent. This would indicate that the track had been sabotaged by Confederate Soldiers, who loved to pull up rails, and then bend them. This made much more of a mess, as the old rails could not simply be relaid, new ones had to be found and brought in. Later in the war, the North figured out ways to straighten the bent rails to speed up the repair process. I thought this was an unusual Civil War image.


  1. Actually, you have it backwards, I believe. The Union forces as they moved through the South (think Sherman neckties) tore up and twisted rail lines far more than the Confederates did. Any clue was to where this us?

  2. bs would be correct in assuming that the rails would have been bent by the Union. The Confederacy also took advantage of black labor , which was free , although I can't recall seeing any southern blacks wearing bowler style hats. Are we sure it is from the Civil War period and not after?

  3. Both sides were known to tear up the lines but Union troops took advantage of the fact that southern rail lines were not standardized, whereas in the north they were. It was easier to recover from rail sabotage in the union states.

    I'm wondering what the man in the center of the image is holding. Rail spikes? All the others seem to be holding some implement of railway repair.

  4. Here is the Wikipedia description of gandy dancers and some of their tools:

  5. The easiest way to bend a railroad track was to throw it across a fire. It not bent it but ruined the (very mile) temper of the rail.

    Maybe they got the bowler hats from the Peruvian Woman's Red Cross?


  6. Great photo!!! I wonder where those tracks were?

    I find it amazing that they could even repair them given the technology of the time.

  7. I am a Black American, a librarian by profession and a historian at heart. My grandfather is 100 years old, born 1908 and I have sat at his knee many, many times to hear the stories. I LOVE these pictures. Thank you so much for sharing them.

    Some day I will produce a website to share how some Black people managed to live very comfortable lives in spite of hardships typical of the time period.

    I think you will find the black experience during the depression was very different from the white.