Sample Book Review Paper on Railroads of the Civil War

Michael Leavy is a professional artist specializing in mural painting and the author of
nine books of history. His interest in the Civil War and railroads goes back over forty years, and
he regularly gives interviews and lectures on the subject (Richards). While not a "coffee table
book" this oversized illustrated book could work as one. The basic format of the six chapters is
ten to fifteen pages of an excellent narrative history of America's railroads and their role in the
war followed by an equal number of photographs and illustrations. Historical background of rail
development in the country is provided, as well as general surveys of the northern and southern
rail nets. Specific lines of critical importance, such as the Baltimore & Ohio, are singled out for
more detailed treatment. Materially, everything is covered from equipment (e.g. engines, tenders,
rolling stock) to the bridges, stations, and roundhouses essential to their operation. The
destruction visited upon the tracks, equipment, and supporting structures is another prominent
The photographs are both a revelation and a joy for anyone interested in machines,
buildings or dress. While the working photos are staged and this would be an event, they reflect
what is happening. They open a window on how muscle cleaned up after a wreck or a raid. The
engines and rolling stock pictures show us a time when workmanship and decorations were very
different. The photographs of the tracks, tunnels, bridges and depots convey the investment
railroads required. The books six chapters provide a balanced look at America's railroads and the

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war, and Leavy tells that story admirably. From Manassas Junction to the Lincoln funeral train,
organized in thematic chapters (Richards).
To a world moving by muscle, wind or river current steam changed everything, freeing
and speeding movement in ways we cannot image. Michael Leavy attempts to bring these tough
times into perspective. He illustrates how a savage civil war fought between 1861 and 1865
made the railroads and its expansion a necessity. The “iron horse” became a major weapon in the
first war fully dependent on railroads. Moreover railroads would escalate and prolong the war,
leading to its terrible carnage. He tells tales of how railroads were used to move troops rapidly
and over great distances, completely changing military strategy. Trains were also used as mobile
artillery, armed with large-caliber cannons that could pound cities and fortifications. To
illustrates how crucial trains were, he narrates how severing of the railway lines providing food
and munitions to the Army of Northern Virginia that led to Robert E. Lee’s surrender at
Appomattox Court House.
The chapter on Lincoln's funeral train is terrific. Leavy puts you in the crowds huddled
along the tracks awaiting the Lincoln Special as it was called. There were bands playing, people
weeping and praying. Those who stood in the spring twilight watched the funeral car pass
slowly. The interior was illuminated and Lincoln's open casket was elevated with a guard
standing at either end. He makes these memories vividly come to life. Within its stories of
bravery, adventure, humor, disaster and triumph, Leavy inserts powerful and often deeply
moving moments that make the whole thing quite real and image source.
Michael Leavy proceeds to use compelling period photographs and drawings and a rich
narrative to reevaluate and illuminate the role of railroads in the Civil War. In addition to
identifying details about the various trains and ancillary equipment and buildings in the

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illustrations, the author explains how trains influenced the outcome of battles and the war in
Railroads of the Civil War should have points of interest for many readers, regardless of
knowledge base. You have the option of either reading the book or just looking at the photos,
depending on your mood. You could easily spend more time looking than reading. The book is
very informative and I was compelled by the author's research and passion to give serious
consideration to aspects of the war that I may never have known about. I find myself often
misinformed on the causes of the war. Michael Leavy stretches the canvas to include not only
trains but a complete overview of the conflict that is so reasoned it is hard to disagree with,
especially since he uses quotes from historical figures such as Lee, Sherman and Lincoln
The book is not a historical slog with pages of unending data. I was taken by Leavy's
plain talking assessment of things and he convincingly backs up his assertion that railroads led to
the wars escalation, duration and horrible carnage. Moreover I found the book to be more than
just railroads, piston pressures and iron rail. Leavy encapsulates the war briefly and effectively.
The overall subject was clearly approached with passion but with a restraint that kept things "on
track." I could tell the author wanted to go off on subjects that he was interested in but pulled
back before it became foolish. It reads smoothly and the photos are fantastic.
Leavy's work truly shines is in his deft selection of accompanying images, many of which have
never been published before. The photographs have been carefully and meticulously selected to
illustrate how railroads worked and how they could be destroyed. Some of the pictures clearly
show how easily and completely railroads could be destroyed and how difficult it was to rebuild
them. A particularly moving image shows a young suffering soldier. The author describes the

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monumental tasks of moving tens of thousands of troops over numerous railroads to reach
important battles. His discussion of wounded soldiers returning home on trains during
demobilization cut to the soul. Members of Christian and benevolent societies awaited arriving
trains. They boarded the passenger car and sought returning soldiers. They provided water, re-
bandaged wounds–there were thousands of amputees–and helped soldiers across town to make
rail connections (Richards) . I had read some of this stuff before in other books but Leavy's book
seems to put it all together effectively using what was certainly updated research.
He explains the impact on the people who endured the horror and terrible grief of that
war. A chapter about destroyed Southern cities would seem unbelievable were it not for photos
showing the destruction. Some of it was the work of a massive rail borne mortar called the
"Dictator." Those who saw it would never forget. This is a worthwhile book, an unusual book. I
felt involved and not just an observer. Something about it sticks to my ribs. I know I will reach
for it many times in the years to come.

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Work Cited

Richards E. Railroads of the Civil War: An Illustrated History- An Overview. 14 Jan 2011. 15
Oct 2013 <
leavy/1113981476?ean=9871594161193 >