VICKSBURG FACTS: Vicksburg’s history on the rails

Published 9:00 am Friday, September 23, 2022

Did you know that the Vicksburg and Meridian Railroad was once the only east-west railroad between Memphis and New Orleans?

Vicksburg’s railroad history began with the Vicksburg and Clinton route companies, which the State of Mississippi incorporated in 1831 to get the project started, according to George M. Crowson’s “History of Alabama and Vicksburg Railroad.” During this time, Vicksburg was using oxen to transport goods such as cotton to the Clinton area. However, the oxen were much slower and more likely to perish under extreme weather conditions.

So, it was decided that Vicksburg would have a steam locomotive that traveled eastward for these goods and supplies. 

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While the railroad from Vicksburg to Clinton was under construction, the lines from Edwards and Jackson were slowly in the works. By 1840, Jackson and Vicksburg were connected. In 1850, the name was officially changed to Vicksburg and Jackson Railroad Company and run by Morris Emanuel, who was an enterprising merchant and land owner from Vicksburg, according to Crowson. 

Vicksburg’s railroad lines were soon bound to be connected with other railroad lines from Brandon to Merdian, which would eventually connect with railroads in Alabama. In 1846, the Southern Railroad Company was chartered in Mississippi to start on the Vicksburg and Meridian Railroad; however, it lapsed but was reincorporated in 1850 as a Mississippi Corporation, stated in Crowson’s history.

Two members in the corporation were some of Vicksburg’s own, William C. Smedes, the first president of the company, and Morris Emanuel. 

In 1852, The Southern Railroad Company obtained the Jackson and Brandon Railroad and Bridge Company then by 1858 the lines were finished from Brandon to Morton and finally in 1860, the lines were completed in Newton County, declared in Crowson’s “History of Alabama and Vicksburg Railroad.” Just a few months after the start of the Civil War, the Vicksburg and Meridian Railroad line was in full operation in 1861.

During the Civil War, the railroad lines dealt with all the tragedies that come with war.

The tracks were found either torn up, burned, rails bent, cars destroyed or locomotives and other machinery destroyed. All the damaged property put the company in serious debt, which was nearly $1,500,000 unpaid debts with $500,000 interest, finally adding up to a total of $2,000,000, according to Crowson. 

After the destruction of the Civil War, the Vicksburg and Meridian line had to make a few changes to accommodate for the new standards of railways. Originally, the gauge width was laid 5 feet apart but was then changed to 4 feet, 8 inches.

As stated in Crowson’s “History of Alabama and Vicksburg Railroad,” the entire Vicksburg and Meridian line was officially updated in 1885, allowing the railroad to be back in business.