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Color lithograph, “Manzanita,” U.S. Pacific Railroad Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

As part of the survey, Army engineers gathered information for Congress on the peoples, flora, fauna, and geology of the regions they covered. Such information expanded public knowledge of those regions and served Congress in narrowing options for the route defined by the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Color lithograph, “Manzanita,” U.S. Pacific Railroad Explorations and Surveys, ca. 1855

A Railroad to the Pacific - 2

Settlement of the western territories in the 1850s increased the need for efficient rail transport to the Pacific Coast, but members of Congress could not agree on what route it should follow. Northern members wanted a northern route; southern members sought one advantageous to their region's interests. To inform this debate, in 1853 Congress authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to survey four potential rail routes. Intense sectionalism blocked further legislation until southern states seceded. In 1862, a northern-controlled Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act.