The Iron Way Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America William G. Thomas

Publication date:
25 Oct 2011
Yale University Press
296 pages: 235 x 156 x 25mm
54 scattered b/w

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Beginning with Frederick Douglass' escape from slavery in 1838 on the railroad, and ending with the driving of the golden spike to link the transcontinental railroad in 1869, this book charts a critical period of American expansion and national formation, one largely dominated by the dynamic growth of railroads and telegraphs.

William Thomas brings new evidence to bear on railroads, the Confederate South, slavery, and the Civil War era, based on groundbreaking research in digitized sources never available before. One of the first works to appear in the field of digital history, "The Iron Way" revises our ideas about the emergence of modern America and the role of the railroads in shaping the sectional conflict. Both the North and the South invested in railroads to serve their larger purposes, Thomas contends. Though railroads are often cited as a major factor in the Union's victory, he shows that they were also essential to the formation of the 'South' as a unified region. He discusses the many - and sometimes unexpected - effects of railroad expansion and proposes that America's great railroads became an important symbolic touchstone for the nation's vision of itself.

William G. Thomas is professor of history and the John and Catherine Angle Chair in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He lives in Lincoln, NE.

"William Thomas has written a remarkably nuanced and brilliant interpretation of railroads and the Civil War... The Iron Way is truly path-breaking." -Vernon Burton, author of The Age of Lincoln