Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
Reconstruction Unit

Lesson 3: Alabama Railroads: Maps as Historic Documents

1. Background Information for Teachers:


At the end of the Civil War, the transportation network of Alabama was bankrupt. In 1860, there had been fewer than 800 miles of railroads in the state. The war had taken a heavy toll from the existing lines, and during the war little or no additions were made. Lack of adequate transportation during the war made it difficult to ferry men and supplies where they needed.


The need to increase railroad milage was evident after the war if Alabama was to recover economically. Railroad expansion became a contoversial issue during Reconstruction, fueled as it was by state-guaranteed bonds to oft-times unscrupulous entrepreneurs less interested in laying new track than in manufacturing wealth for themselves. The state ran up obligations on defaulted bond payments of some $30 million by 1875 (which the legislatve committee set up to deal with the crisis negotiated to less than $13 million), with relatively little additional milage resulting.


By 1880, Alabama only had about 1,800 miles of completed track. The railroad building boom did come, but in later decades. Some 1,400 miles were built in the 1880s alone, with about 2,000 additional miles added between 1890 and 1910.


General Guidelines for Analyzing a Map.


2. Learning Objectives:


The 1866 map selected for this activity, published less than a year after the surrender, shows railroads lines, but leaves many questions unanswered. Compare the 1866 map with the 1910 map.

Upon completion of this activity, students should be able to:


1. Identify components of a map.
2. Identify changes from the 1866 map to 1910 map.
3. Draw conclusions by observations.


3. Suggested Lesson:


1. Make a transparency of the maps for use on an overhead projector or make a classroom set.
2. Ask students to identify the type of maps.
3. Ask students to identify the physical qualities of the maps, i.e., title, date, scale, etc.
4. When were the maps made?
5. Where were the maps produced?
6. What does the picture at top of the 1866 map tell about Alabama?
7. List three things in the 1866 map that you think are important?
8. Why do you think these maps were drawn?
9. What evidence in the maps suggests why they were drawn?
10. What information does the 1866 map add to the textbook's account of Alabama at this time?
11. Write a question to the mapmaker that is left unanswered by these maps.
12. Compare the 1866 map with the 1910 map to see what changes occurred, i.e., number of counties, highways, railroads, cities.


Document 1: HARPER'S Weekly, January 13, 1866


Document 2: 1910 Rand McNally Handy Railroad Map


Document 3: 1883 Map of Alabama, The Eclectic Complete Geography