Civil War time trains organization

I was listening to a civil war tiem song "He's coming to us dead", about an old man who gets the body of his KIA son transported to him by railroad, and I wonder what do some moments mean there.

For example, the line
"He's not a-coming as a passenger
But by express instead "
Were the express trains only used for cargo back then?

And also those lines:
"A man quite old in years
Entered the express office
This is the telegraph office, Sir
And not a town depot "
I always thought telegraph offices were separate ones, and from the song it seems they were somehow together with cargo railroad infrastructure, but not with passenger one?

So I'm really confused about how it all was organzied back in 1860s and probably earlier, maybe somebody can explain it? :)


Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
The railroads used telegraph to keep track of their trains which is why telegraph lines ran along the tracks. Maybe you've seen in westerns the cowboy goes up to the train station and asks the depot agent if the train is on time. The depot agent only knows because the next station down the line sent a telegram when the train left that station saying that the train left on time or was x number of minutes late. Because the railroads used telegraph for their own purposes, they would also sell telegram service as an additional way to make money. If the telegraph office is not at the depot, it sounds like the railroad processed so many telegrams that the local depots could not handle all of that traffic. Is the song set in a big city? At a small town depot one agent could do all of the railroad business himself - the mail, passenger traffic, freight, telegrams, etc. It does sound like express trains were used only for cargo. Passengers may have preferred frequent stops so they could get up, stretch their legs, eat in a restaurant, sleep in a hotel overnight instead in a train seat. Pullman cars had not yet been invented. Dining cars might still be in the future, too.
Thank you, Chlodio! Yes, it makes a lot of sense. I remember watching such scenes in westerns. so likely that's what is meant here that telegraph office and cargo office are together, while passenger station is aside of those. It's not said if the town is big, but I can easily imagine such a separation of cargo and passenger services; in Europe it was common too even in 19th century.
And I agree about comfortable traveling - no Pullman cars till the end of 1864 (and obviously very few at all during the civil war), and no dining cars till 1867 (again, by Pullman company) so passegers definitely might not like express that much.
I was also thinking maybe civilian passenger transportation was prohibited by express trains during the civil war, as obviously supplying armies and cities was a top priority - from the song it's clear that the war is still going.
May 2017
I took it to mean that the body was traveling as " freight " and not as a passenger , as you said . Casual freight was called Railroad Express . UPS and their like spelled the end to small railroad shipments .