NP, MAR 5/6/1864

From the Mobile Advertiser & Record
May 6, 1864
A Novel Case
   A novel and interesting case is to heard before His Honor Judge Jones at 10 o'clock this morning -- an application for an injunction in the matter of the {Mobile &} Spring Hill Railroad Company: not, as will probably strike the reader, for an injunction on their behalf to restrain the opposing parties from tearing up the road, but on behalf of the other parties to restrain the Company from making any opposition to the tearing up of the road! We rather think this is one of the coolest and most singular proceedings ever heard of in the annals of the law.
   We noticed, a month or six weeks ago, the fact that an attempt was being made by parties sheltering themselves under the wing of Government, to appropriate to their own use the iron of this road; but as proceedings were ordered to be suspended until the remonstrance of the Company and the military authorities could be heard, so much time had since elapsed, we had hoped that the affair was dropped. The first intelligence that the Company had that the design was still persisted in, was a notice a few days ago from the party claiming authority to impress the iron, and on being asked for his authority, all he could at first show was a dispatch from certain parties to the effect that they had got permission to take up the iron -- parties, too, who had been charged with having an interest in the transaction, and had disavowed it. The impressing agent, we understand, has since received a dispatch from some official, who says that there is an order from the Secretary of War to take up the iron; and how he has filed this curious bill before Judge Jones.
   We have no hesitation in pronouncing this impressment, or pretended or attempted impressment of the material of the Spring Hill Railroad one of the greatest outrages we have heard of since impressment came in vogue. It is not the Government that takes the road, but it authorized private parties to take it for their own use, on the plea that if they could only build a railroad to a certain point they could furnish the Government with a vast quantity of iron. A roving commission is granted them, to find iron where they can, and they discover in the Spring Hill road five miles of iron, which will go that far towards building their road, and give notice that they are about to appropriate it.
   Gen. Maury protests against the destruction of this road, which is not a mere public convenience to our community, but an important military route as regards the defenses of Mobile. If this city should be attacked it is of great importance, for more reasons than we will name at present, that we should hold Spring Hill, and that we could not well do without the present railroad communication. Gen. Maury pointed out to the Impressing Agent, as he designated himself, a lot of 3,000 rails {close to 8 miles, both rails} which he could get. These are quite as many as his Company needs: a portion of them have already been taken up, and they are better rails than those of the Spring Hill Company. When the objection was made that they were dangerously near the enemy's lines, he offered the services of a brigade to protect the parties engaged in removing the rails, but that would not suite. The important fact was, that the Spring Hill Railroad was a little more convenient to get at, and the Company were determined to have it. {The offered rails were almost certainly some of the Alabama & Florida (of Florida) RR rails still in place north of Pensacola. They were "better" because they were heavier and could, therefore, support heavier trains -- not an issue for a short mile railroad.}
   We are anxious to know what pretence has been urged, and what influence brought to bear for the accomplishment of this project. That there is some underhand work about it, is plain, from the fact that the War Department has never informed either the Spring Hill Railroad Company or General Maury of its decision in the matter, while private parties profess to have obtained an authorization to proceed with their work of destruction.
   This impressing for the benefit of private parties is a most iniquitous extension of the impressment power, of doubtful propriety, to say the least, and liable to all manner of abuse. In the present case, the only interest the Government can be alleged to have is an extremely remote one, unless the parties immediately interested pretend that the Government is in pressing need of the iron and coal which they propose to furnish, and that is notoriously contrary to fact.
   Two years ago there might have been a better show of apology for the course intended, but at the present time the iron works at Selma and elsewhere are turning out all the work the Government needs or can use, showing that the necessity for violating private rights in order to procure more, does not exist, and that the whole project is a plan to enrich a company of speculators.
{This is a clear example of the power of the press being used to spread one falsehood after another. Just because the editor does not know the true facts does not seem to bother him. First, the rails were ordered removed by the Secretary of War on March 3, 1864 (NA, ENG 3-1A-64, NA, ENG 3-3A-64), in agreement with a recommendation of the Iron Removal Commission. Second, the importance of this little road to the defense of Mobile is greatly overstated (the road did not connect with any other railroad, was only 8 miles long, and was probably horse-drawn). Third, the shortage of coal and iron to the Confederacy was extreme -- the necessity of removing rails for use elsewhere, rather than making new ones, is a clear sign that "the iron works at Selma and elsewhere are turning our all the work the Government needs or can use" is a false statement. Finally, if the government was going to remove the rails itself and then turn them over to a private firm (the Piedmont RR, the Columbia & Augusta RR, the Shelby Iron Works, etc), how is that different from authorizing that company remove the rails and then use them?

With the "support" of a press like this, it was more and more difficult to get the population to sacrifice and persevere in the war effort.}