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Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
No railroad played a more important roll in The Civil War than the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. From John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry to the post-war celebrations, the Baltimore and Ohio was involved in much of the action.
History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Frequently billed as America's first railroad, construction on the Baltimore and Ohio began on July 4, 1828. The road pushed west from Baltimore, reaching Harper's Ferry, Cumberland, Piedmont, Grafton, and Wheeling in that order. The first battle of the Civil War occurred south of Grafton at Philippi when Confederates were being organized in Western Virginia, in part to attack the Union lifeline to the west. Over the next four years the track, locomotives, rolling stock and people became embroiled in the war in a way that no other railroad would.
Description of the B&O
Heading west from Baltimore, the B&O reached a relay stop southwest of the city,
where two elegant hotels would be built. Wealthy passengers from Washington D. C. and Baltimore would travel here, spend the night and catch the morning train. On the outskirts of Frederick, Maryland the railbed turned south, reaching Point of Rocks where it joined the Potomac River. After traveling west 12 miles through the river valley, it passed Maryland Heights and crossed the Potomac River to Harpers Ferry, where it entered Virginia (enemy territory until West Virginia became a state in 1863).
From Harpers Ferry the Baltimore and Ohio left the Potomac and traveled northwest to Martinsburg, then north to Cumberland, Maryland. Between Cumberland and Piedmont the B&O followed river valleys through the rugged mountains, crossing briefly into Virginia after leaving Piedmont. It would return to Maryland, crossing the North Branch of the Potomac River, and leave the state for good at the western end of the Maryland panhandle. From here, once again in enemy territory, the B&O went west to Grafton where it split in two, the B&O reaching the Ohio River at Wheeling and a southern spur, technically the Northwest Virginia Railroad, reaching the Ohio at Parkersburg.
Before the Civil War
The Baltimore and Ohio had a preview to coming events on October 17, 1859. A. J. Phelps wired W. P. Smith the following:
Express train bound east under my charge was stopped this morning at Harpers Ferry by armed abolitionists. The have possession of the bridges and of the arms and armory of the United States. Myself and the baggage master have been fired at and Hayward, the colored porter, is wounded very severely...the doctor says he cannot survive. They are headed by a man named Anderson and number about 150 strong. They say they have come to free the slaves, and intend to do it at all hazards...The telegraph wires are cut east and west of Harpers Ferry and this the first station I could send a despatch [sic] from.
Colonel Robert E. Lee, Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart and a group of Marines from the Washington Navy Yard boarded a B&O train and returned to Harpers Ferry to confront the members of John Brown's Raid, ending it successfully the next day.
Early on the morning of February 23, 1861, a train carrying President Lincoln, Allen Pinkerton and others arrived in Baltimore from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and switched to the Baltimore and Ohio tracks at Camden Station (now known as Camden Yard). Lincoln's train, pulled by horses from the President Street Station to Camden Station, made it safely through the city. Pinkerton operatives felt the President's life was threatened.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad during the Civil War
In Winchester, Virginia, men were joining a Confederate camp under the command of Captain John Imboden. On April 18, 1861 they advanced to the outskirts of the city and Union forces fell back into Pennsylvania. During this time the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad continued moving goods from the west to Washington D. C., especially coal, which the federal government was stockpiling.
During the Baltimore riots a week after the attack on Fort Sumter, a troop train being transferred from the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad (later the Pennsylvania Railroad) at President Street Station to Camden Station on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was attacked by a mob of Southern sympathizers. At President Street Station the locomotives were detached from the train (which held munitions and weapons) and was pulled by horse through the city. Soldiers, who marched alongside the train, were ordered to only return fire if fired upon.
Seven companies reached the Baltimore and Ohio depot at Camden Station when the crowd became more agitated. Officers ordered the men to double-time which only seemed to increase the crowd's anxiety. As the objects hurled from the crowd increased and the Union soldiers just continued along a rumor spread through the crowd that the men had no ammunition. When the first handgun went off, officers gave the order to fire. The Baltimore Riot ensued, resulting in 16 deaths, 12 civilians and four soldiers.
Colonel Thomas Jackson of the Virginia militia took command of the men at Harpers Ferry on April 30 and began removing weapons and machines from the arsenal on May 2. He also stationed men along the B&O at Martinsburg, Shepherdstown, and Berlin. The B&O moved supplies for both northern and southern troops along its line, so Jackson permitted the trains to go about their business, but realized the coal shipments, locomotives and rolling stock of the B&O Railroad could be important to a Southern victory.
First, he told the railroad that the trains were too noisy and they would have to run between 11:00am and 1:00pm between Martinsburg and Point of Rocks. The B&O had double tracks between these two points so they began delaying east-bound trains at Martinsburg and west-bound trains at Point of Rocks, then rushing them through the city during the established times. For two hours Harpers Ferry was the busiest city in railroad traffic in the U. S.
Then Jackson struck. On May 23, 1861, he ordered eastbound traffic halted at Point of Rocks and westbound traffic halted at Martinsburg. Quickly the tracks filled with 400 cars including locomotives and rolling stock filled with coal and other war essentials on 40 miles of track. Jackson began moving these south into the Shenandoah Valley in an episode known as the Great Train Robbery.
Further west, George McClellan struggled with Rebels destroying bridges as well, although these were mostly along spur lines feeding the main Baltimore and Ohio line. Colonel George Porterfield occupied Grafton on May 16, so McClellan dispatched recruits under Old Ben Kelley to push the Rebel raiders back. Porterfield ordered two bridges burned, but the men did not do a good job - within a day the trains were running again.
Joe Johnston assumed command of Harpers Ferry when Virginia turned its troops over to the Confederacy and he blew up the B&O Bridge over the Potomac as he withdrew on the night of June 14 as well as other railroad infrastructure. Finally, on June 23, 1861, Jackson struck the rail yard at Martinsburg, destroying 42 locomotives and hundreds of rail cars.
Crews worked for months repairing the destroyed track, telegraph lines, depots and bridges. According to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's Annual Report, it lost 26 bridges, 120 miles of track, 102 miles of telegraph wires, rolling stock and locomotives. In the second half of 1861 most of the action against the Baltimore and Ohio was in the form of short-lived raids. Work went slowly on the railroad repairs, perhaps because Secretary of War Simon Cameron was a major investor in the Pennsylvania Railroad, the line most likely to benefit financially from the B&O's problems.
Stonewall Jackson's Romney Expedition was the next major attack on the Baltimore and Ohio. On New Year's Day, Jackson's Army of the Valley left Winchester and headed for Western Virginia. The B&O track and telegraph lines were damaged by artillery fire at Hancock, Maryland, on the Virginia border.
In early 1862 Nathaniel Banks pushed into the Shenandoah Valley in part to relieve the pressure on the B & O Railroad. With this push, and McClellan's Peninsula Campaign drawing Southern forces away from the area, the B&O saw a long period of quiet, only occasionally disturbed by Rebel raiders. On March 30, 1862 the railroad officially reopened its line from Baltimore to the Ohio River The end of the summer, however, had Robert E. Lee looking north. After Second Manassas Lee swept west, capturing Harpers Ferry and once again splitting the railroad. As the Army of Northern Virginia withdrew from Maryland in late September, it once again destroyed track and telegraph lines.
The following year Lee sought a single, final blow to the Yankees. Destiny drew the armies to a small town in Pennsylvania known as Gettysburg. On July 13, 1863, Lee returned south of the Potomac and destroyed 27 miles of B&O track. On August 10, 1863, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad opened for business again. Lessons learned by the engineers during the previous breaks gave them the ability to more quickly rebuild the destroyed railroad.
After the Battle of Chickamauga, Edwin Stanton worked with the B&O and the Pennsylvania Railroad to move more than 23,000 men from Virginia to Chattanooga, Tennessee to support the Army of the Cumberland, then stranded beneath Lookout Mountain. This roundabout route devised by B&O Operations Manager William Prescott Smith took troops to Wheeling where they crossed the Ohio River on a hastily constructed pontoon bridge. From here the troops went west to Columbus then on to Louisville. From here they journeyed to Bridgeport via Nashville.
Salmon Chase contacted Smith in October, 1863, seeking a special car to Ohio. Smith joined Chase and Whitelaw Reid on the journey west. It seemed that reaction to the federal moves against Clement Vallandigham had necessitated a political journey west for Chase.
The final large-scale attack against the B&O is sometimes called the Raid on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad but it is better known as Jubal Early's Raid on Washington D. C.. Early's first stop was once again Harper's Ferry and his men struck the railroad in several places to the west before turn east and striking the B&O east of Frederick as the battle of Monocacy.
About halfway between Harper's Ferry and Martinsburg, West Virginia, John Mosby and his raiders lifted a rail on October 14, 1864 and began what is known as the Greenback Raid.
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Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was last changed on - April 7, 2008
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