Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869
Stephen E. Ambrose
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Nothing Like It in the World gives the account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage. It is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad—the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives; and the Irish and Chinese immigrants, the defeated Confederate soldiers, and the other laborers who did the backbreaking and dangerous work on the tracks.
The U.S. government pitted two companies—the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads—against each other in a race for funding, encouraging speed over caution. Locomotives, rails, and spikes were shipped from the East through Panama or around South America to the West or lugged across the country to the Plains. In Ambrose's hands, this enterprise, with its huge expenditure of brainpower, muscle, and sweat, comes vibrantly to life.
the true line of the Pacific railroad, and the only one on which subsidy bonds could be issued. Huntington intended to snatch them. He had filed in Washington for $2.4 million in subsidy bonds, two-thirds of the amount due for that portion of the line. Dodge and the Ames brothers had hurried to Washington to block Huntington. They were successful, at least to the degree of persuading Browning to hold up issuing the bonds until a special commission had reported to him on the best route through
fireworks. George Francis Train was the orator, wearing the only white suit west of the Mississippi. He was described as “visionary to the verge of insanity.” His speech put to shame any previous hyperbole. “America possesses the biggest head and the finest quantity of brain in the phrenology of nations,” was one of his opening stretchers. He was said to be “a man who might have built the pyramids.” He read congratulations from Lincoln and other dignitaries. Secretary of State William Seward, a
a five-day battle at Spotsylvania in which he lost about ten thousand men, and he still continued after Lee. On June 1-3, he fought the Battle of Cold Harbor, losing about seven thousand men in one hour. But he continued to attack, and by June 18 he was besieging Petersburg, south of Richmond. General Sherman, meanwhile, started from Chattanooga into Georgia and by July was besieging Atlanta. On September 1, he captured and later burned the city. This victory raised Northern morale, as did the
separate parties to find a passage. On April 25, 1864, Dey wrote to Reed instructing him to run a line from Salt Lake City up to where the Weber River broke through the mountains, then east up the Weber Canyon to Echo Creek, and then on to Wyoming. Dey wanted Reed and Evans to examine other routes, but he thought the Weber-Echo would be best, although he admitted “that is rugged country and there is not enough known of that region to give you more than a general outline,” Dey concluded, “As a
Then he got a job with the railroad that lasted three years and he saved enough money to open his own laundry. Many years later, when Theodore Roosevelt was president, Lee Chew gave it as his opinion that the Chinese in America “were persecuted not for their vices but for their virtues. No one would hire an Irishman, German, Englishman or Italian when he could get a Chinese, because our countrymen are so much more honest, industrious, steady, sober and painstaking.”18 A Chinaman who came back to