Mar 5, 2021
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When the Civil War drew to a close, the United States’ railway networks, particularly those in the Southern states, were in shambles. During the Reconstruction era, the rehabilitation of the southern rails and expansion of transcontinental railroads became a major undertaking, and as the importance of the railroad rose.
In the three decades after the Civil War over 170,000 miles of track were added to America’s railway system; it opened the western states for further settlement and reestablished the accessibility of the southern states. The accomplishment required a considerable workforce, and railway companies became a significant employers of thousands of men finally freed from enslavement.
The work was dangerous, physically intensive, and time consuming. It’s unknown exactly how many men lost their lives to injury or illness while expanding the nation’s railroad system during Reconstruction, but the legacy of these men lives on in one of the most enduring folk heroes in American history…the ballad of John Henry, the steel-driving man.
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