Since the Civil War, railroads have played an important role in national defense. Most frequently on the supply lines, but occasionally on the front lines, trains are a vital tool of war.
Railroad artillery first appeared during the Civil War, with large siege cannon placed on flatcars. artillery continued to grow in size and range through the World Wars. Even during the Cold War, mobile command centers and weapons were built for engagements that never came.
The rail weapons were dramatic, but the real impact of the railroads was behind the lines. Using boxcars, flatcars, gondolas and more railroads moved all of the supplies and munitions from America’s manufacturing centers to ports. Soldiers too moved by the thousands in special troop trains. Many too received care on board hospital trains upon their return. Military trains are still seen today using equipment owned by the Department of Defense and by private railroads and leasing companies.
Modeling a Troop Train
Sometimes troops and supplies were moved in the same train – a “mixed train” of freight and passenger equipment. Often, separate dedicated trains were used. Men and munitions could also be carried on regular trains as well.
For passenger trains, coaches were the most typical cars used. Pullmans, when available, were generally reserved for officers. Some sleeping cars were gutted during WWII, bedrooms replaced with benches, to provide more capacity. Then of course there were the “Troop Sleepers” which resembled boxcars hastily built to carry the armies. Railroads often pooled passenger equipment or relaxed interchange requirements for these trains, so a “rainbow” consist of cars from several railroads would be completely plausible.
For freight, boxcars are used for munitions, tools, tents, uniforms and most of the items needed on the front. Flatcars are used for vehicles and artillery. Smaller hardware and weaponry is usually removed for transit. Often these are loaded “circus style” with ramps. Tank cars of fuel oil and even reefers of rations were also used. Trains usually included armed escorts in the caboose, locomotive and sometimes a rider coach. Most importantly, these trains always moved on the fastest schedule possible.
More important than the trains however is the manpower that the railroads have provided. In every conflict there have been brave men and women who have put down a rivet gun for a rifle and marched to a higher call of duty. It is to all of them that we say thank you today!