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Shelandra Y. Ford
Historical Markers of Shelby County

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Memphis Charleston Railroad - Collierville

The Federal troops quickly understood the importance of taking control of railroads and by May 1862 the US Government held the Memphis & Charleston Railroad with few exceptions until the end of the Civil War. Note that there were up to 15,000 Union troops stationed in camps along the railroad between LaGrange and Memphis to protect the rails, bridges, telegraph depots, and intersecting roads according to The Official Records of the Rebellion. One of the earliest campaigns to seize the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was mounted by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1862. He was ordered to cut the line between Corinth and Iuka, MS. Uncharacteristically, Sherman backed down from the effort, saying, "I am satisfied we cannot reach the Memphis and Charleston Railroad without a considerable engagement, which is prohibited by General Halleck's instructions." However, concurrent with Sherman's failed attempts to disrupt the railroad, Confederate General Braxton Bragg wrote that the fall of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was eminent. "The disorganized and demoralized condition of our forces . . . gives me great concern. The unrestrained habits of pillage and plunder [by Confederate troops] have done much to produce this state of affairs and to reconcile the people of the country to the approach of the enemy, who certainly do them less harm than our own troops. The whole railroad system is utterly deranged and confused. Wood and water stations are abandoned; employees there and elsewhere, for want of pay, refuse to work: engineers and conductors are either worn down, or, being Northern men, abandon their positions, or manage to retard and obstruct our operations." At the war's end, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad rebuilt surprisingly quickly. By November of 1865, the entire road was passable with the exception of one bridge crossing the Tennessee River at Decatur. That bridge was rebuilt and opened to traffic in July of 1866. However, financial recovery for the Memphis and Charleston Railroad came too slowly, and the railroad entered receivership and was taken over by the Southern Railway in 1897. The Memphis and Charleston Railroad line owned 50 locomotives, 41 passenger cars, and 13 baggage cars. From the outset, the Confederate military had acknowledged the importance of the line. Jefferson Davis told Robert E. Lee, Brig. Gen. in the Regular Confederate States, "The Memphis and Charleston Road is the vertebrae of the Confederacy and must be defended at all hazards." The Memphis and Charleston Railroad fell into Union hands early in the war and was held by the Union Forces until the end of the war in 1865. Collierville was a thriving community located along the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Holly Springs Mount Pleasant Road connected Collierville to north Mississippi and into Corinth, Mississippi. Corinth was important because it was located at the intersection of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad and the Mobile and Ohio line. Control of Corinth meant control of railroads from Columbus and Memphis, as well as those running south into Mississippi and eastward to connect with Nashville and Chattanooga.[1] Many Union leaders thought that Union occupation of two strategic locations within the confederacy could end the war. The first was Richmond, VA, and the other was Corinth, MS.[2] Ulysses S. Grant called Corinth "the great strategic position at the West between the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers and between Nashville and Vicksburg." [1]Archer Jones, Civil War Command & Strategy: The Process of Victory and Defeat (NY: The Free Press, 1992) 57-58 [2]Robert Doughty, American Military History and the Evolution of Western Warfare (Lexington, MA: D.C. Health and Company, 1996) 123