The War had caused great delay
to the development of the rails through the North East & South West Alabama grant. According to Nussbaum, on February 15, 1862, the Confederate Government of Richmond loaned the Alabama & Mississippi Rivers Railroad (A&MR) the funds the complete the rails between Selma, Alabama and Meridian and this was accomplished on December 10, 1862.
From 1861 to 1865, the railroads became another kind of prosperity to Lauderdale County.
The village of Meridian, because of the railroad, became an important center for Confederacy and a link between the South and the East.
Maintenance was a constant problem for the railroads during the war, having scarcely enough equipment to begin with. Plus, the roads suffered badly when enemy raids destroyed tracks, bridges and rolling stock. Roadbeds were in a dangerous condition as well. A History of Mississippi, Volume I, states that during the spring of 1864, both the Confederate and the Federal governments worked within their lines, and by the end of the war most roads had resumed as least partial operation.
However, because of the Civil War, as recorded by John Stover in Railroads of the South, in “the last Spring of 1865, Confederate railroads were in as crippled and defeated a condition as the armies they had vainly sought to support during the war years.” The War had wrecked well over half of the South’s railroads. Twisted rails, burnt ties, disintegrating right-of-ways, destroyed bridges, and dilapidated or lost rolling stock was the normal heritage for the typical southern line. Depots, shops, and other buildings were also war casualties. Some lines appeared to have vanished completely.
A report on Lauderdale County in an annual meeting of the Mobile & Ohio stated that:
“all of our bridges, trestle work, warehouses, and station buildings between Union City, Tennessee, and Okolona, Mississippi, a distance of 84 miles, were destroyed. General Sherman’s raid to Meridian destroyed north and south of that place bridges and trestle work on 48 miles, and on 28 miles of that distance all of the warehouses, water stations, and as far as possible destroyed the rails and fastenings. From the full supply of rolling stock of the finest quality, we were reduced to one-fourth of what was necessary, and that was in bad condition.”
After the War, many suffering railroads were merged with other railroads or bought out, such as the Selma & Meridian (S&M) which became the Alabama Central Railroad. However, it continued to connect to Meridian through the NE&SW line. NE&SW first merged with Wills Valley Railroad to become the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad (A&C) and later was reorganized as the Alabama Great Southern Railroad. This railroad would play an integral part in Meridian’s railroad future.
Born February 12, 1837 in Lowndes County, Alabama, W. H. Hardy arrived in Meridian in 1872, according to records from the Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History.
Hardy had an idea, a little influence and a big personality. He had passed the Mississippi State Bar in 1858 and practiced at Raleigh, Smith County, Mississippi until the beginning of the War. As Captain of the H Company (The Defenders) of the 16th Mississippi infantry, which he organized, Hardy served with distinction under a number of commanders including General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
In 1868 Hardy’s grand plan was a new railroad line between Meridian and New Orleans. After putting the plan into action by commissioning a survey and developing the proposed project’s business plan, in 1870, the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad was born. Hardy was named the company’s General Counsel.
Hardy moved to Meridian in 1872 where he promoted and raised funds for the effort. However, the 1873 financial crash forced the project onto the shelves for seven years. In 1880, Hardy again began his railroad funding efforts. Stopping for a lunch break on one of his survey trips, Hardy marked his map where he thought a city should be. This “mark” would become the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, named after Hardy’s wife, Hattie, founder of Meridian’s literary society, the Fortnightly Club. In 1883 W. H. Hardy’s dream became reality as rail traffic rolled along the line of the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad.
Between 1870 and 1890, Lauderdale County was one of the most populous in the state. The 1884 city directory stated:
“Twelve passenger trains and over twenty freight trains arrive at and leave Meridian daily.” The economic impact of the railroads on Lauderdale County during the early decades of the century affected greatly the era known as the Golden Years, contrasting drastically with the railroad years following the Civil War. Even the catastrophic tornado of 1906 did not impede Meridian’s growth as a railroad center. The reason this center evolved into the major source of Meridian’s economic success was its freight.”
Timber had been here for centuries, but in an overwhelmingly agricultural economy, forests were more of a nuisance that required clearing in order to gain access to fields. But by this time, timber provided the foundation for booming building trades in cities of the future taking shape from rising European immigration. Demand for timber was nationwide and railroads fed that demand. In addition to the transport of timber, the railroad transported the off-shoots of timber, such as turpentine, resin, and other wood-processing industries.
The Meridian rails, which were first vital to cotton merchants in Mississippi, became a center for shipping and compressing cotton. Organized in 1873, The Meridian Cotton Exchange and Board of Trade was the predecessor of the Chamber of Commerce. Dozens of manufacturers, packers, compressors, dealers and buyers flocked to Meridian and by 1883 approximately 50 firms engaged in cotton storage here. In only a few years over 5,000 workers would be employed in the shops. Like the timber industry which had its many off-shoots, cotton also produced a range of subsidiary industries: cottonseed products, yarn, batting, and twine, are just a few.
Timber and cotton were crucial in the rejuvenation of the railroad.
By 1912, forty passenger trains passed through Meridian every day and thirteen lumber companies operated in Lauderdale County due to its piney woods. Between 1911 and 1920, the Southern Railroad increased its ton miles–a measure used to calculate freight transport–by over ninety percent. The increase in passenger mileage, though considerably less, was also impressive. Incorporated in 1911, the M&M (Meridian and Memphis) Railroad also became known and Mud & Misery by the ones who laid the track through the muddy swamps. In 1929 the M&M merged with the Gulf, Mobile & Northern (GM&N), as did the Mobile and Ohio (M&O).
However, as man has been known to do, the harvesting of timber caused the near-extinction of the forests. This coupled with the boll weevil that caused great devastation the cotton harvest, which normally boasted 1-½ million bales of the “white gold,” brought Lauderdale County into another period of poverty and helplessness. The Great Depression.
From the research of Lauderdale County, Mississippi: A Brief History
RESOURCES FOR PART 1, PART 2 AND PART 3
Fike, Claude E. “William H. Hardy: An Extraordinary Life,” The Hattiesburg Story: 100 years of Growth. Hattiesburg: Hattiesburg American, 1982.
Hardy, Toney. No Compromise With Principle. New York: American Book-Stratford Press, Inc., 1946.
Hardy, W. H. “Recollections of Reconstruction in East and Southeast Mississippi.” Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society Volume 4 (1902): 105-132 (See biographical sketch footed on 105 and 106)
“Other Fortnightly Clubs in U.S.” Redlands Fortnightly Club Web Site. 9 Feb 1998.
United States Census Bureau: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1910 U.S. Federal Census.
The Impact of the Railroad on Meridian and Lauderdale County, Mississippi by Dr. Lloyd B. Lewis, Sponsored by the Mississippi Humanities Council Scholar in Residence Program and the Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History.
Complete Guide to the Railroads of Meridian, Mississippi, Past and Present, compiled and written by M. S. (Mick) Nussbaum, August 1, 2010.
Newton County, Mississippi Historical and Genealogical Society: The History of the Alabama and Vicksburg Railroad http://www.nchgs.org/html/history_of_a_v_r_r.html