| From the very beginning of
mobilization, in the spring of 1861, is was clear that the
Confederacy was short of rolling stock of all types.
Throughout the war, there are telegrams, letters and
reports indicating large quantities of goods that were
waiting for railroad transportation.
| With such a press of goods to
be moved, someone had to decide what would get moved and
what would have to wait for a later train. This decision
was made by the station agent, often under the orders of
the local Quartermaster. How these two men decided what to
forward and what to delay is subject to speculation only.
We do know that there are many reports of goods not being
forwarded to their destination in a timely manner.
| As the war progressed, it
became clear that to get goods through without unnecessary
delay, it was necessary to send a messenger along with the
goods to ensure the station agents were pressured enough
to keep the goods moving. Small shippers, who could not
afford to send a messenger with their goods, could get a
messenger by hiring the Southern Express Company. This
company maintained good relations with the various
railroads and frequently rented cars from the roads for
its exclusive use. With a separate car, a messenger, and
good relations with the railroad, it is easy to see why
the Express Company was so widely used for small,
important or expensive shipments.
| Everyone made use of the
Express Company in the later years. There are records of
the various Confederate departments and bureaus shipping a
great variety of supplies by the Express Company. Private
citizens, aid groups and manufacturing companies all came
to rely on the Express Company to get their goods through.
| With a near-monopoly on
reliable movement of goods, the Express Company raised its
prices again and again. Eventually, at least one newspaper
made a crusade against the increasing costs of shipping by
the Express Company and took the railroads to task for
failing to provide this service as part of its status as a
common carrier. Some railroads took the criticism to heart
and established their own express service (at much lower
| The crusading newspaper
claimed that the rates were too high. Yet the Southern
Express Company was a rational business and raised its
prices to the level that the market would bear. There was
only so much space for moving goods and someone had to
allocate that space among the people who wanted to use it.
Price was the method used -- as it is always used unless
the government takes over and allocates based on
governmental priorities (a fatally flawed system for
running an economy for the long term, as proven by the
| There were claims that the
station agents and Quartermasters were working with
speculators to create high prices for the speculators'
goods. These charges are easy to make, but I have seen
nothing that could be used as proof that such happened. Of
course, there would have been little put on paper for us
to find 150 years later. Common sense would say that human
nature would cause at least a few of the agents to have
worked with speculators at least a few times.
| Could the Express Company's
high rates have been avoided? Could the railroads have
moved this freight in a timely manner? Of course, by
charging different rates for different speeds of handling,
as we do today. But doing so would have required a level
of business skill that was not evident in the railroads of