Wig-Wags

Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

Archive for the ‘Corinth’ Category

On General Grenville M. Dodge

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Peter A. Hansen

One of my readers is researching General Grenville M. Dodge and asked for information. I, of course, turned promptly to my buddy Peter A. Hansen who knows more about rail history than anyone I know. Pete writes for most of the major rail history magazines, consults with museums and rail companies, speaks regularly on rail history, and is currently editor of Railroad History, the scholarly journal of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society. Pete has also been an on-camera source for CBS News and NBC News. More about Pete here.

Fun Fact: It’s an indisputable fact that Railroad History is the oldest (and still the most scholarly) rail history journal, but it is also believed to be the oldest industrial heritage journal of any kind in the U.S.

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The information below is all Pete’s.

Grenville M. Dodge Pre-Civil War

“You’ve seen Dodge many times, though you may not have known it. He appears at the center of what’s arguably the most famous photograph in American history (below). Two men on the ground are shaking hands; Dodge is the one on the right.

Golden Spike ceremony; 16-G-99-1-1, Still Picture Records; Photographs and other Graphic Materials; Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture; Record Group 16; National Archives.

Thomas C. Durant

Dodge was born in Danvers, Mass. in 1831, and educated at New Hampshire’s Durham Academy and Vermont’s Norwich University.  Upon receiving his engineering degree, he did what many ambitious young engineers did in the 1850s:  He went to work for a railroad.  He started with the Illinois Central, and later went to the Chicago & Rock Island and the Mississippi & Missouri.  It was during his service to the latter two roads that he met Thomas C. Durant, who would later become the driving force behind the Union Pacific, the eastern half of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.

Abraham Lincoln

Dodge’s relationship with Lincoln stemmed from a chance 1859 encounter on the front porch of the Pacific House hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Lincoln was in town to inspect some real estate that had been offered as collateral for a loan requested by a friend, and he was also due to make a speech there.  (He wasn’t yet an officially-declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, but he was at least considering it.)  Dodge had just returned from a surveying expedition in Nebraska’s Platte Valley, seeking a route for an eventual Pacific railroad.  Lincoln, a frontiersman by birth, was intensely interested in the subject of internal improvements, and particularly in a line to California.  During their two-hour meeting, Lincoln did most of the listening, and Dodge, the talking.  “By his kindly ways,” Dodge would recall, “[he] soon drew from me all I knew of the country west, and the results of my reconnoisances. [sic]  As the saying is, he completely ‘shelled my woods,’ getting all the secrets that were later to go to my employers.”

A few years later, when President Lincoln needed impartial advice on the Pacific Railroad, the greatest non-military undertaking of his administration (or indeed, in all of American history, up to that point), he turned to Dodge.  Apart from his unquestioned abilities, it may have been Dodge’s relationship with Lincoln that made him a favorite of Sherman and Grant.

Dodge began the war inauspiciously enough, as colonel of the Fourth Iowa infantry regiment.  He was to make his mark at Pea Ridge in early 1862, where he sustained multiple minor wounds and had three horses shot from under him.  He was promoted to brigadier general in April of that year, and was commanded to rebuild the Mobile & Ohio Railroad between Corinth, Miss., and Columbus, Ky.  Despite continual harassment by Nathan Bedford Forrest, he got the job done by October.

His performance did not go unnoticed.  Grant’s chief of staff, John Rawlins, sent for him that month, and he was given a divisional command with the Army of Tennessee.  He became something of a spymaster during the Vicksburg campaign, where he also covered Grant’s left during the final stages.

Brig. General Grenville M. Dodge circa 1863

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It’s also worth noting that Lincoln sent for Dodge during the Vicksburg siege, seeking his advice on several matters related to the Pacific Railroad Act.  In particular, the Act had authorized the president to name the eastern terminus of the line, and Lincoln wanted to hear more about Council Bluffs.  Also, certain provisions of the 1862 Act had scared private investors away from the project:  Lincoln sought Dodge’s advice on how to redress them, but ultimately rejected Dodge’s advice on the finance question.  Dodge thought the government should simply build the railroad itself;  Lincoln favored a revised Pacific Railroad Act in which government bonds would take second position to private issues – a reversal from the original Act.  Lincoln’s view prevailed in Congress, and a second Pacific Railroad Act was passed in 1864.  Lincoln did follow Dodge’s advice about Council Bluffs, however, and to this day, the city is Milepost 0 on the Union Pacific’s line west from the Missouri River.

Grenville Dodge

Dodge went on leave after Vicksburg, and Durant lobbied him vigorously to resign his commission and return to railroading.  Durant saw an opportunity in the young engineer for unparalleled Washington influence, and offered him the generous salary of $5,000.  Nonetheless, Dodge remained in uniform for the rest of the war, though he would never again attain the distinction of the early campaigns.  He served under Sherman during the siege of Atlanta, where a bullet fractured his skull, after which he was effectively out of the war.

Incidentally, Dodge’s papers can be found at the Iowa State Department of History and Archives in Des Moines.  Do take his writings with a grain of salt:  Dodge was not above embellishing his record.  His home in Council Bluffs is now a museum, and it’s well worth a visit.  While you’re in town, you might also check out the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, which tells the story of the first transcontinental railroad, and of Dodge’s role in it.
Two additional footnotes:

  • One of the perks of being a railroad construction engineer, especially in virgin territory, was the ability to name places.  Thus, the highest point on the first transcontinental line was at Sherman, Wyo., 8013 feet above sea level.  Some 120 miles west, another Wyoming town bears the name of Rawlins.
  • Some of Dodge’s history with Lincoln is recounted in my February 2009 Trains magazine feature, ‘The Rail Splitter and the Railroads.'”

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Many thanks to Pete for the information above!

For more on Grenville Dodge, I recommend:

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Excellent Description of the 2nd Battle of Corinth in “The State of Jones”

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In June 6th’s post I mentioned I was reading a review copy of The State of Jones: The Small Southern County That Seceded from the Confederacy by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer. This update: their description of the Battle of Corinth is outstanding, albeit gruesome. I will file the book in numerous places on my virtual bookshelves as it covers a great deal of ground: the experience of soldiers, rich versus poor in the military of the Confederacy, unionists in the South, the experience of slaves, etc., etc.

Battle_of_Corinth_II

This sample of the telling of the Battle of Corinth…

“[Brigadier General Martin] Green ordered the men forward. ‘With a wild shout,’ the Mississippians leaped across a railroad cut with the rest of the brigade. A command came to charge at the the ‘double-quick.’

It was the last order that could be heard, as at least fifty Federal guns opened fire on them. the trembling thunder of artillery was joined by the shrieking, concussive outbursts of shells and the short, almost muffled spat-spat-spat of Springfield rifles, hammers hitting soft gunpowder, followed by the metallic raking of ramrods. ‘The very atmosphere seemed filled with shot, shell, grape and canister,’ General Green reported.

Suddenly it seemed as if they were in a rainstorm of blood. Horses plunged and caterwauled, and men screamed incoherently. There was something about such a charge that forced the breath from men’s throats, almost reflexively, without their even knowing it. As one Mississippi soldier recorded in his diary, ‘I always said, if I ever went into a charge, I wouldn’t holler. But the very first time I fired off my gun, I hollered as loud as I could, and I hollered every breath until I stopped!” (p. 33)

Brig. Gen. Martin E. Green

Brig. Gen. Martin E. Green

Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn (Army of West Tennessee) was later court-marshaled for his neglect in taking care of logistical details and forcing his army to march and fight the Battle of Corinth with insufficient water and food. The charges were dropped.

Earl_Van_Dorn

Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn