At Ease: I've been Fighting Along the Railroad
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
Coming Down The Tracks
"Engine, engine, number nine, comin' down the railroad line..." Well, until the cavalry wrecked the tracks? During the Civil War, railroad lines influenced campaigns, battles, supply routes, medical evacuations, and civilian refugeeing. Several railroads passed through Central Virginia by the 1860s, and both Union and Confederate infantry and cavalry battled over the tracks. This week we've collected some railroad-related accounts related to Central Virginia (and a link to the all-time favorite locomotive story). We hope you'll enjoy the new video and stories. Don't forget to vote in the new survey since we're "building bridges" or "preparing to splash" at the river fords with military significance next week!
Thank you for sharing your favorite stories about Civil War Railroads. "The Great Locomotive Chase" definitely won the votes this week! Also called Andrew's Raid, this escapade took place in April 1862 and involved Union raiders led by James J. Andrews stealing a locomotive and racing toward Chattanooga, tearing up track and surprising the Confederates with the operation in the deep South. (More details here) Other stories that made the list included "Stonewall" Jackson moving by rail to Manassas, raids and campaigns around the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, attacks along the tracks during the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the "creative destructive methods" when both sides destroyed rails and ties.
Located on the right flank of the Confederate line at Fredericksburg in December 1862, this railroad hub became vitally important for supplies and civilian evacuation. Check out our new short video about this location!
The Unfinished Railroad
Before the war, construction had begun on a rail link between Fredericksburg and Orange Court House. Work crews had cleared a right-of-way. Low spots had been filled and elevations leveled to produce an even roadbed. The outbreak of hostilities, however, had stopped progress. No crossties or rails had been laid. Proceeding west from Fredericksburg, the graded right-of-way ran about two miles below Chancellorsville. It passed near Catharine Furnace, crossed Brock Road for a short distance. As it near Orange Plank Road, the unfinished railroad curved broadly to the left until it again pointed west. From there, the grade continued more or less even with Orange Plank Road and less than a quarter of a mile below it. The railroad bed offered an excellent route...for moving troops through the Wilderness. (Except from Gordon C. Rhea's Battle of the Wilderness, page 351) Both the Unfinished Railroad and the Richmond-Fredericksburg-Potomac Railroad are visible in this map.
David Rumsey Map Collection.
This is NOT a train station...but it is a historic structure from the Civil War era still standing near Guinea Station. Even now, modern trains rush by the Chandler Office Building, officially called "The Stonewall Jackson Death Site" and preserved by the National Park Service.
Guinea Station was a small depot along the Richmond-Fredericksburg-Potomac Railroad. It became an important supply point for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the winter of 1862-1863 and a vital link to Richmond.
Just a year after General Jackson's remains were sent by rail from Guinea Station to the Confederate capital, the armies converged in the area during the Overland Campaign. On May 21, 1864, the advance of the Federal II Corps advanced on the depot, taking over the area used for supplies and medical relief in the previous weeks.
The 5th New York Cavalry drove back Confederates of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, who evaded capture and raced back to the important Matta River bridge, setting up an ambush. After a brief, sharp fight, the 9th Virginia cavalrymen laid low for a few hours, let the enemy infantry move out, and then slipped back to Guinea Station where they unknowingly missed a moment to dash out and potentially capture General U.S. Grant.
By the end of the day, more Union infantry from the V Corps arrived and the conflict for the railroad station ended with the former Confederate supply point captured.
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.