Excerpt from Nothing Like It In The World by Stephen Ambrose, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Nothing Like It In The World

The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1865-1869

by Stephen Ambrose

Nothing Like It In The World by Stephen Ambrose X
Nothing Like It In The World by Stephen Ambrose
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    Aug 2000, 432 pages

    Nov 2001, 432 pages


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It is unknown whether Lincoln knew Lewis and Clark had been there. Certainly he knew that they were the first Americans to cross the continent, east to west, and that they had reported there was no all-water route.

To his friend Pusey, Lincoln said, "Not one, but many railroads will center here." The next day, in answer to his question, he learned from Dodge how right he had been. He thus began an association with Dodge that would make the two of them the great figures of the Union Pacific Railroad.

In 1859, one of the most prominent newspaper editors in America, Horace Greeley -- founder and editor of the New York Tribune -- made a famous trip west to California. He published his account of the trip in his 1860 book An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859. "Let us resolve to have a railroad to the Pacific -- to have it soon," he wrote. "It will add more to the strength and wealth of our country than would the acquisition of a dozen Cubas." He said he had made the long, fatiguing journey in order to "do something toward the early construction of the Pacific Rail road; and I trust that it has not been made wholly in vain." But he also said that part of the route he covered, the part over the Humboldt Valley in Nevada and in the desert beyond, was unfit for human life. "I thought I had seen barrenness before," he wrote, but in that territory "famine sits enthroned, and waves his scepter over a dominion expressly made for him."

Dodge returned to Council Bluffs, but not to his businesses. He wanted to build the railroad to the Pacific; he loved doing surveys through virgin country; he loved the life of the camp. He continued to roam up the Platte. Lincoln went into the race for the Republican nomination for president. Norman Judd, who was working for him, wrote to Dodge in May 1860, "I want you to come to the Republican convention at Chicago and do what you can to help nominate Lincoln." Dodge did, along with a strong group of Iowa delegates who were connected with the Rock Island line, including H. M. Hoxie of Des Moines, who later received the contract to construct the first one hundred miles of the Union Pacific; John Kasson of Des Moines, attorney for the railroad and a prominent Republican; J. B. Grinnell, who founded the town and college of Grinnell along the route of the M&M; and others.

In Chicago, Dodge and most of the Iowa delegates joined with other railroad men who considered Lincoln's nomination and election as vital to their plans to build the Pacific road west from Council Bluffs along the forty-second parallel. They included John Dix, president of the Rock Island, Durant, Farnam, Judd, and others. Together, they were able to get John Kasson to write the railroad plank for the Republican platform, calling for the government to support a transcontinental railroad. Along with all the railroad men from Illinois, they worked where and how they could for Lincoln -- who was appreciative, of course, but who had bigger things on his mind than even the transcontinental railroad, starting with slavery. Dodge, Judd, and the others used every opportunity to let the Iowa and Illinois delegates know that with Lincoln the nation would have a president whose program was bound to include the building of the Pacific railroad along the line of the forty-second parallel.

On issues that had nothing directly to do with the transcontinental railroad, Lincoln was elected. In all the excitement that followed, the railroad men stayed at work. Peter Reed, a friend of Dodge from Moline, went to Springfield, Illinois, and on December 14, 1860, wrote to Dodge. He said he had had a private audience with Lincoln and "I called his attention to the needs of the people of Nebraska and the western slope of Iowa. I said to him that our interest had been badly neglected. I told him that I expected to see some men from Council Bluffs in regard to this matter and that you were one of them. He said that his sympathies were with the border people, as he was a border man himself. I think that we are all right with Mr. Lincoln, especially as we have N. B. Judd with us."

Copyright © 2000 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.

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