The Iron Way (Hardcover)

Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America

By William G. Thomas

Yale University Press, 9780300141078, 281pp.

Publication Date: October 25, 2011

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (1/8/2013)

List Price: 30.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Beginning with Frederick Douglass's escape from slavery in 1838 on the railroad, and ending with the driving of the golden spike to link the transcontinental railroad in 1869, this book charts a critical period of American expansion and national formation, one largely dominated by the dynamic growth of railroads and telegraphs. William G. Thomas brings new evidence to bear on railroads, the Confederate South, slavery, and the Civil War era, based on groundbreaking research in digitized sources never available before. The Iron Way revises our ideas about the emergence of modern America and the role of the railroads in shaping the sectional conflict.

Both the North and the South invested in railroads to serve their larger purposes, Thomas contends. Though railroads are often cited as a major factor in the Union's victory, he shows that they were also essential to the formation of "the South" as a unified region. He discusses the many and sometimes unexpected effects of railroad expansion and proposes that America's great railroads became an important symbolic touchstone for the nation's vision of itself.

Please visit the Railroads and the Making of Modern America website at http: //

About the Author

William G. Thomas is professor of history and the John and Catherine Angle Chair in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He lives in Lincoln, NE.

Praise For The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America

"A tour-de-force, and offers a series of bracing insights about the origins, shape and outcome of the Civil War...Because it integrates military and social history so imaginatively, The Iron Way is a must-read for students, scholars and enthusiasts alike."—Civil War Monitor

“William Thomas has written a remarkably nuanced and brilliant interpretation of railroads and the Civil War. . . . The Iron Way is truly path-breaking.”—Vernon Burton, author of The Age of Lincoln
-Vernon Burton

"In this provocative and deeply researched book, William G. Thomas follows the railroad into virtually every aspect of Civil War history, showing how it influenced everything from slavery's antebellum expansion to emancipation and segregation—from guerrilla warfare to grand strategy. At every step, Thomas challenges old assumptions and finds new connections on this much-traveled historical landscape."—T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
-T.J. Stiles

“At once bold and elegant, this powerful book sweeps across slavery and secession, the Civil War and its aftermath. Thomas masterfully integrates one of the most complicated eras in American history, making familiar subjects new and compelling.”—Edward Ayers, Bancroft Prize-winning author of In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Civil War in the Heart of America
-Edward Ayers

Winner of the 2012 New York Book Festival History category, sponsored by the New York Book Festival
-History Winner