This is as solid an essay as you will find on the history and legacy of Sherman’s March. And yet there is something missing in this story.
The destruction caused by Sherman’s army almost always eclipses the rebuilding that took place immediately following the war. In his excellent book, The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America, William G. Thomas explores the effort by Sherman’s men to rebuild what it destroyed during its 1864 campaign.
Reconstruction of the South in this respect was literally re-construction, a fact long obscured in the era’s twisted history, which the white South remembered long as punishment and subordination, conveniently forgetting the generous terms of their restoration….
No railroad suffered more than the Western and Atlantic (what Wright called the Chattanooga and Atlanta) because of both Union army maneuvers across it and Confederate cavalry raids against it during the Atlanta Campaign in the summer of 1864. The Confederates tore up twenty-five miles of the railroad in a massive raid aimed at disabling the Union’s key supply route. And in an effort to cut off Atlanta from external communication, Sherman just before his November March to the Sea, “very effectually destroyed the road” and gave orders for Wright’s Corps to remove sixteen miles of track between Resaca and Dalton. Yet, after Sherman’s March was completed, Wright’s Corps went back to Atlanta and rebuilt nearly all of the Western and Atlantic, laying down 140 miles of new track and cross-ties, raising 16 bridges, and erecting 20 new water tanks. Close to $1 million in construction labor and $1,377,145 in new material were expended on the Western and Atlantic before turning it over to the state of Georgia and its original corporate officers in September 1865. (pp. 183-84)
According to Thomas, in less than one year rail service in the South had been largely restored.