A few weeks ago I provided a program for the General Horace Randal Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This camp is based in Carthage, where I have lived and worked since 1970, so I've delivered quite a number of programs to this chapter through the years.
There are 71 chapters in the Texas Division of the SCV. Members are men who are descended from Confederate soldiers, and they are proud of the courage and the battlefield exploits of their Southern forefathers. Three of my great-grandfathers as teenagers served with CSA units late in the Civil War, trying to defend their home states of Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama from invasion. Texas made a major manpower commitment to the war, and alone of the Confederate states, Texas had a frontier to defend. There are numerous Civil War program possibilities available to the Texas State Historian, and during my five-year tenure I've made presentations to SCV chapters in Carthage, Tyler, Center, Lufkin, Athens, and Marshall. As State Historian I gave multiple Civil War programs in Tyler and Carthage, and each of these two chapters also requested a talk on the Regulator-Moderator War of early East Texas. The United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter in Henderson twice invited me to a meeting, and the UDC chapter of Longview asked me to provide a banquet program.
For the SCV program on Thursday evening, April 27, I decided not to talk about some Civil War battle or campaign. I had presented many such programs to the Carthage chapter, so I spoke instead about the highly significant political actions taken by the federal government during the Civil War. Throughout the 1850s the government was virtually deadlocked as northern and southern politicians were adamantly opposed to policies that would not benefit their particular section. For example, after the 1849 discovery of gold in California, instead of making provision to construct a transcontinental railroad, congressmen squabbled endlessly over whether the route should originate in the North or the South.
But with the start of the Civil War, southern congressmen returned to the South, and northern politicians now could pass a backlog of legislation with little opposition. The import tariff was raised significantly and would remain high into the 20th century, as America industrialized. The Homestead Act made available to farmers free 160-acre parcels of land throughout the West, and during the next three decades more than one million homestead farms were established throughout the American frontier. The National Banking Act stabilized the nation's banks and the American economy. The Morrill Land Grant Act made it possible for states to establish "Land Grant colleges," publicly-funded teachers colleges and agricultural and mechanical colleges, which would offer less expensive alternatives to the private colleges of America. The Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves of the South to be free. And legislation passed in 1862 and 1864 finally launched a transcontinental railroad, with the Union Pacific RR headed west out of the existing northern network of tracks, while the Central Pacific RR built eastward from California.
Routes were surveyed and construction began while combat raged across the South. With the end of the war a host of veterans, mostly young men made restless by combat and with a new sense of teamwork, found employment with the Union Pacific. The U.P. employed more than 10,000 men, the largest work force in the nation's history, but soon matched by the Central Pacific. The Union Pacific was headed by former Union general Grenville Dodge, while other high-ranking officers assumed key leadership roles. The logistics of supplying such vast work forces had been mastered during the war. Former sergeants led work crews. The completion of America's first transcontinental railroad was very much a Civil War story, and I was pleased to share it with an SCV group.