Iron Confederacies

Southern Railways, Klan Violence, and Reconstruction

By Scott Reynolds Nelson

272 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 17 illus., 3 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4803-6
    Published: May 1999
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7610-7
    Published: October 2005
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6800-8
    Published: October 2005

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During Reconstruction, an alliance of southern planters and northern capitalists rebuilt the southern railway system using remnants of the Confederate railroads that had been built and destroyed during the Civil War. In the process of linking Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia by rail, this alliance created one of the largest corporations in the world, engendered bitter political struggles, and transformed the South in lasting ways, says Scott Nelson.

Iron Confederacies uses the history of southern railways to explore linkages among the themes of states' rights, racial violence, labor strife, and big business in the nineteenth-century South. By 1868, Ku Klux Klan leaders had begun mobilizing white resentment against rapid economic change by asserting that railroad consolidation led to political corruption and black economic success. As Nelson notes, some of the Klan's most violent activity was concentrated along the Richmond-Atlanta rail corridor. But conflicts over railroads were eventually resolved, he argues, in agreements between northern railroad barons and Klan leaders that allowed white terrorism against black voters while surrendering states' control over the southern economy.

About the Author

Scott Reynolds Nelson is assistant professor of history at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
For more information about Scott Reynolds Nelson, visit the Author Page.


"The story is captivatingly written, briskly paced, and contains a wealth of detail."--Journal of Southern History

"Nelson's truly innovative insights, solid research, and narrative skill make his book a significant and welcome contribution that will stimulate years of important discussion on the nature of Reconstruction."--American Historical Review

"Iron Confederacies leaps immediately to the top of the pile of books written about nineteenth-century southern railroads. Scott Nelson has imaginatively run his train of thought over the trunk lines of other scholars, and laid new tracks of his own as well. The result is a volume that does not merely challenge long-held notions about railroads, development, and southern politics, but also offers a new perspective on North-South relations during the era of Redemption."--Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

"Iron Confederacies weaves disparate strands together into a seamless whole. A concise summary cannot do justice to this pithy and polished book, which displays exceptional wit. Suffice it to note that it is a sparkling example of scholarship that moves effortlessly across the boundaries of business, social, and political history."--Journal of American History

"An outstanding work in social history. . . . Nelson writes in a simple and lively style."--Southern Historian

"[A] fine study, which offers new and fresh interpretations and does so by integrating a range of disciplines."--Civil War Book Review