- Sep 2013
- Chattanooga, TN
How the Confederacy could have shipped supplies that originated in the Trans-Mississippi from Vicksburg to VA is to use a system of using the railroads when they could, and then using covered wagons for the land between the railroads. You make it sound like the land between Vicksburg and VA is a desert. The wagons could carry both fodder and payload. It doesn't have to be one or the other. The transporters could have the horses eat fodder along the way as much as possible. If the wagons went through an area where there was not enough grass on the ground, then the transporters could feed the horses with fodder on the wagon until they reached grassy areas again. It was doable.It's slightly apt that you compare covered wagons to semi-trucks. Then, as now, railroads were much more efficient at moving heavier loads greater distances. This source on page 172 says that an army wagon could carry 10 days of human rations and 10 days of horse rations: https://transportation.army.mil/History/PDF/Peninsula Campaign/Rodney Lackey Article_1.pdf
Actually, the army found mules more efficient than horses. Since the animals ate more than a person, the wagons had to be more than half filled with fodder rather than payload. Maximum speed for an army wagon was about 20 miles per day in flat terrain, less in hilly country. Since the wagons had to carry fodder for a round trip, out and back, that meant that supplies could only be hauled about 100 miles.
The alternative is that the wagons only carry payload and find fodder along the way. That would be a complex system to manage over a thousand miles. Each station along the way, every 20 miles or so, would have to have fodder or the horses would go hungry. If any station along the way ran out of feed the transportation system could break down. I know wagon trains grazed their way across the Great Plains, but they used oxen, not horses or mules. Oxen are slower, only about 10 miles per day, and are not as strong, so they hauled lighter loads. One could be confident of finding grass on the Great Plains. One does not always find a lot of grass in the forests of the east. Armies don't ship supplies in single wagons. They send out trains of dozens, if not hundreds, of wagons. That's a lot of grass to find by the side of the road. I've never read of wagons hauling army supplies much more than 100 miles - usually less.
I have no problem with a plantation sending cotton to market by wagon. The plantation was only a few miles or a few dozen miles from market. It much more difficult to move large bulk cargos over longer distances.