“In today’s world of tanks, bombers and submarines, it’s perhaps hard to believe that the train was once an amazingly mobile weapons platform. They might be locked to their rails, but for over a century trains were the fastest means of hauling troops and artillery to front lines across the world. The invention of the railway shaped warfare for a century. Rails allowed force projection across immense distances — and at speeds which were impossible on foot or by horse.”
Indeed, the Battle of Fort Sanders might never have happened without the steam train. The trains had brought Longstreet’s troops from Richmond, Virginia to Ringgold, Georgia where they marched northwest into Tennessee.
After battles at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, they boarded more trains at Tyner’s Station northeast of Chattanooga and rode (when they weren’t frequently stopping to cut wood and fetch water for the laboring steam engines) to Sweetwater. They had to leave the trains behind there—because the Yankees had burned a railroad bridge spanning the Tennessee River—and lay pontoon across the river and then march the rest of the way to Knoxville.