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Federal military railroads

O. E. Hunt, Captain, United States Army

The locomotive “Fred leach,” after escaping from the Confederates--the holes in the smokestack show where the shots struck, August 1, 1863, while it was running on the Orange and Alexandria railroad near Union mills


Brides ovver the Potomac.

This famous “beanpole and cornstalk” bridge, so named by President Lincoln, amazed at its slim structure, was rushed up by totally inexpert labor; yet in spite of this incompetent assistance, an insufficient supply of tools, wet weather and a scarcity of food, the bridge was ready to carry trains in less than two weeks. First on this site had been the original railroad crossing — a solidly constructed affair, destroyed early in the war. After the destruction of the “beanpole and cornstalk” bridge by the Union troops when Burnside evacuated Fredericksburg, came a third of more solid construction, shown in the upper photograph on the right-hand page. The bridge below is the fourth to be built for the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad at this point. The United States Military Railroad Construction Corps by this time possessed both trained men and necessary tools. Work on this last bridge was begun Friday, May 20, 1864, at five A. M.; the first train passed over Sunday, May 22d, at four P. M. Its total length was 414 feet, and its height was eighty-two feet. It contained 204,000 feet of timber, board measure, but the actual time of construction was just forty hours. The photograph was taken by Captain A. J. Russell, chief of photographic corps, United States Military Railroads, for the Federal Government.


What Lincoln called the “Beanpole and cornstalk” bridge, built over Potomac creek

The Fourth bridge, built over Potomac creek, built in 1864.

The Third bridge, built over Potomac creek, photographed April 12, 1863


With miles of black and yellow mud between them and the base of supplies, and a short day's ration of bacon and hardtack in their haversacks, the hearts of the weary soldiers were gladdened many times by the musical screech of a locomotive, announcing that the railroad was at last up to the front, and that in a short time they would have full rations and mail from home. The armies that operated in Virginia and in Georgia greeted, very often, the whistle of the engine with shouts of joy. They knew the construction corps was doing its duty, and here was the evidence.

In the strict sense of the term, there were but few military railroads in the United States during the Civil War, and these few existed only in portions of the theater of war in Virginia, in Tennessee, and in Georgia. Roads owned by private corporations were seized, from time to time, and operated by the Governments of both sides as military necessities dictated, but, technically, these were not military roads, although for the intents and purposes to which they were all devoted, there should be no distinction drawn. The operation of a railroad under Government military supervision, while retaining its working personnel, made of it a military road in every sense.

Great railroad development in this country began during the second quarter of the nineteenth century. The United States Government, about 1837, adopted the policy of loaning to railroad companies officers of the army who had made a scientific study of this new means of communication, and the result was a benefit to the roads and the Government. [275]

“They knew the construction corps was doing its duty” : Camp of the corps at city Point in July, 1864 The construction corps of the United States Military Railroads had a comparatively easy time at City Point under General McCallum. There was plenty of hard work, but it was not under fire, and so expert had they become that the laying of track and repairing of bridges was figured merely as a sort of game against time. The highest excitement was the striving to make new records. It had been otherwise the year before. General Herman Haupt, then General Superintendent of all the military railroads, had applied for and received authority to arm, drill and make the military railroad organization to some extent self-protective. This was on account of the numerous depredations committed along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. Bridges were destroyed and reconstructed (that over Bull Run for the seventh time), trains troubled by marauders, and miles of track destroyed by the armies. These men in their Camp at City Point look alert and self-sufficient. The investment of Petersburg had begun, and their troubles were practically over.


Constructing companies were assisted in carrying out their ambitious projects, and the Government profited greatly by the experience gained by the officers so detailed. “In this manner army officers became the educators of an able body of civil engineers, who, to this day, have continued the inherited traditions, methods, discipline, esprit de corps, and the high bearing of their distinguished predecessors.”

General Grant spoke very enthusiastically of the work of the railroads and wagon roads operated for him during the Virginia campaign of 1864, when his army had to be supplied by wagons over the extremely difficult roads, from the termini of railroad lines that were pushed into the Wilderness as far as possible, and from ever-shifting bases on the rivers, where the lack of dockage facilities made the work of handling freight very arduous. He particularly complimented the officers in charge of the trains on the fact that very little special protection had to be given them.

General Sherman, in his memoirs, notes that his base of supplies during the campaign of 1864 was Nashville, supplied by railroads and the Cumberland River, thence by rail to Chattanooga, a secondary base, and by a single-track railroad to his army. The stores came forward daily, but an endeavor was made to have a constant twenty days supply on hand. These stores were habitually in the wagon trains, distributed to the corps, divisions, and regiments, and under the orders of the generals commanding brigades and divisions. Sherman calculated that, for this supply, he needed three hundred wagons for the provision train of a corps and three hundred for the forage, ammunition, clothing, and other necessary stores — a total of six hundred wagons per corps. It was recognized as impossible for the wagons to go a great distance from the terminus of the railroad and still maintain their maximum efficiency of operation, and hence the efforts made to keep his railroad construction up to the rear of his army.

The construction, operation, and repair of the railroads [277]

General Haupt inspecting the military railroad--1863: the scene is near Bull Run--General Haupt stands at the right — the engine has been named after him On the embankment stands General Haupt overseeing the actual work on the railroad. This photograph gives an indication of the secret of his success — no detail was too small for him to inspect. He was a graduate of the United States Military Academy in the class of 1835. He resigned his commission soon after graduation, and entered the railroad service in the State of Pennsylvania. His especial forte, was bridge-building. In 1846 he became identified with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and in 1865 he became interested in the Hoosac Tunnel project in Massachusetts, which he carried to successful completion. In April, 1862, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton summoned him to Washington and put him in charge of rescuing the railways and transportation service from the chaos into which they had fallen. At first employed as a civilian, he was given later the rank of colonel, and at the second battle of Bull Run was commissioned brigadier-general of volunteers. His work was magnificent, and he soon had the railroads running smoothly. On account of differences with General Pope, he retired to his home in Massachusetts in July, 1862. A few days later he received from the War Department the following telegram: “Come back immediately; cannot get along without you; not a wheel moving on any of the roads.” General Haupt returned, and the wheels began to move. On September 14, 1863, D. C. McCallum succeeded Haupt.

[278] of the Federal Army of Virginia and the Army of the Potomac were, until September 9, 1863, largely in the hands of Herman Haupt, who, for a time, also held general superintendence over all the military roads of the United States.

In April, 1862, the great war secretary, Edwin M. Stanton, sent an urgent telegram to Mr. Haupt, requesting him to come to Washington. Knowing that Congress would probably exercise a certain amount of supervision over his work if he entered the Government service, and having had a discouraging experience already with legislative bodies, he hesitated to undertake the work which Secretary Stanton pressed upon him. However, having been assured by the joint committee of Congress having such matters in charge that his interests would not be sacrificed, he immediately began the task of rescuing the railway and transportation service of the Federal armies from the apparently irreparable chaos into which it had fallen. Secretary Stanton knew his ground when he confided this work to Haupt. He also knew his man, and the absolute integrity and fearless energy that he was capable of putting into any enterprise he undertook.

At first, Haupt was employed as a civilian. On April 27, 1862, however, he was appointed aide-de-Camp on the staff of General McDowell, whom he had known at West Point, and with whom he was soon on the closest terms, both personally and officially. On May 28th, he was given the rank of colonel, which he held until the second battle of Bull Run, when he was commissioned a brigadier-general.

The first important work under Haupt's direction was the reconstruction of the railroad from Aquia Creek to Fredericksburg. This became, on reopening, the first strictly military road in the United States during the war. At Aquia Creek, the large wharf had been completely destroyed and the railroad track torn up for a distance of about three miles, the rails having been carried away and the ties burned. All the bridges in the vicinity had been destroyed by burning and their [279]

A problem solved by the engineers It was a long step from Caesar's wooden bridges to the difficulties which confronted the United States Construction Corps in the Civil War. Here is an example of its work. Time and again, during 1862-63, the bridges on the line of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad were destroyed by both sides in advance and in retreat. It remained for the army engineers to reconstruct them. It was a work requiring patience and unceasing activity, for speed was of prime importance. These structures, capable of supporting the passage of heavy railroad trains, and built in a few hours, were conspicuous triumphs which the American engineers added to the annals of war.

[280] abutments blown up. The road-bed had been used by wagons and cavalry and was badly cut up.

The first bridge to be constructed on the line was at Accakeek Creek. This was built complete, with a span of about one hundred and fifty feet and an elevation of thirty feet, in a little more than fifteen hours on May 3 and 4, 1862. The next and most serious obstruction was the deep crossing of Potomac Creek. Here was built what is known as a deck bridge, of crib and trestle-work, four hundred feet long and eighty feet high. As before, totally inexpert labor was employed, and only a very few officers who had any knowledge of that kind of work were available. With this incompetent assistance, with an insufficient supply of tools, with occasional scarcity of food, and several days of wet weather, the work was nevertheless advanced so rapidly that in nine days the bridge was crossed by foot passengers, and in less than two weeks an engine was passed over, to the intense delight of the soldiers, by whose labor the structure had been erected. It was completed on May 13th. After President Lincoln first saw this bridge he remarked: “I have seen the most remarkable structure that human eyes ever rested upon. That man, Haupt, has built a bridge across Potomac Creek, about four hundred feet long and nearly a hundred feet high, over which loaded trains are running every hour, and, upon my word, . . . there is nothing in it but bean-poles and corn-stalks.”

The railroad bridge across the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg was constructed next in about the same time as that across Potomac Creek, and was six hundred feet long and forty-three feet above the water, with a depth of water of ten feet. This structure was built under the immediate supervision of Daniel Stone.

The excitement created by General Jackson's invasion of the Shenandoah, in 1862, caused orders to be issued to McDowell to intercept him. The railroads were unserviceable, and it became Haupt's duty to make such repairs as would [281]

Construction companies.

Early in 1863, after Burnside was relieved and while the Army of the Potomac was lying at Fredericksburg under Hooker, the construction corps experimented busily with portable trusses and torpedoes. Records of the experiments were made by photographs, and these views served for the education of other Federal armies. Above are some of the very photographs that instructed the Federal armies in “bridge-building while you wait.” Hooker's first plan of operations, given in confidence to General Haupt, required large preparations of railroad-bridge material. Although the plans were subsequently changed, use was found for all of this material.

Building portable bridge-trusses

At work in the carpenter-shop

Experiments with board trusses

Loading a bridge to test it

Testing a “shad-belly” bridge

Trial of a “shad-belly” bridge: bridges while you wait, by the construction corps

[282] enable McDowell's forces to reach the Valley, at Front Royal, in time, if possible, to get in rear of the Confederates. McDowell was then in command of the Department of the Rappahannock, and Haupt was his chief of construction and transportation.

The road to be repaired was the Manassas Gap Railroad. It was promptly put in order from Rectortown to Piedmont, but the equipment was insufficient to enable it to sustain the amount of work suddenly thrown upon it. Besides, the operation of military railroads was not understood, and the difficulties were constantly increased by military interference with the running of trains and by the neglect and, at times, absolute refusal of subordinates in the supply departments to unload and return cars. The telegraph was, at this period, so uncertain an instrument that it was considered impracticable to rely on it for the operation of trains. Consequently, a schedule was arranged. But here again there was trouble. Even the War Department consented to having this schedule broken up by unwarranted interference, and the operators were compelled to return to the uncertain telegraph for train despatching.

Colonel Haupt stated, in a report of these difficulties to the War Department on June 6th, that the road had theretofore been operated exclusively by the use of the telegraph, without the aid of any schedule or time-table for running the trains; that such a system might answer if the telegraph were always in order, operators always at their posts, and the line exclusively operated by the railroad employees; but when in operation it was frequently appropriated to military purposes. In consequence, he had, on one occasion, been compelled to go eighteen miles to get in telegraphic communication with the superintendent to learn the cause of the detention of trains, and had been compelled, after waiting for hours, to leave without an answer, the telegraph line being in use for military messages.

As a further evidence of the unreliability of the telegraph [283]

Guarding the “O. & A.” near Union mills Jackson's raid around Pope's army on Bristoe and Manassas stations in August, 1862, taught the Federal generals that both railroad and base of supplies must be guarded. Pope's army was out of subsistence and forage, and the single-track railroad was inadequate.

Debris from Jackson's raid on the Orange and Alexandria railroad This scrap-heap at Alexandria was composed of the remains of cars and engines destroyed by Jackson at Bristoe and Manassas stations. The Confederate leader marched fifty miles in thirty-six hours through Thoroughfare Gap, which Pope had neglected to guard.

[284] for railroad use, Colonel Haupt stated that, even if a wire and operators were provided for the exclusive use of the road, the line would be so liable to derangement from storms and other causes that it could be considered only as a convenience or an auxiliary. As a principal or sole means of operation it was highly unreliable, and was not a necessity.

In order, then, to get some kind of service, the use of the telegraph had again to be abandoned, and even a schedule was dispensed with. Trains received orders to proceed to Front Royal with all speed consistent with safety, returning trains to give the right of way, and all trains to send flagmen in advance. These flagmen were relieved as soon as exhausted. The trains were run in sections, and after considerable experience in this method of operation, a certain measure of success was obtained.

McDowell's orders had been to intercept Jackson; he had personally hurried through Manassas Gap with the troops in advance, and was at Front Royal when, on May 31st, an engineer officer reported to him that there was a bad break in the railroad just west of the summit of the gap, with the track torn up and rails and ties thrown down the mountainside. McDowell sent a hurried note to Haupt, who was east of the gap, and he replied by the same messenger that the general need feel no uneasiness, for, if the rails were within reach, the break could be repaired in a few hours. On June 1st, soon after daylight, the men of the construction corps reached the scene of the wreck and found it in bad shape, but set to work immediately. The broken cars were tumbled over the bank in short order. The track gang was divided into two parties, working toward each other from the ends of the break. The rails and ties were hauled up from the side of the mountain below, and by ten o'clock an engine passed over and was sent to report to General McDowell. Notwithstanding the quick work done throughout, Jackson escaped up the Valley, and the pursuit was fruitless. [285]

Before the freshet of April, 1863 the bridge over Bull Run that kept the construction corps busy The United States Military Railroad Construction Corps got much of its training at this point. The bridge over Bull Run near Union Mills was one of the most frequently reconstructed of the war. This photograph, taken from upstream, shows its appearance before it was carried away by the freshet of April, 1863. On the pages following it appears in several stages of destruction and reconstruction after that event. This neigh-borhood was the scene of numerous guerrilla raids after the battle of Chancellorsville, May 2, 1863. It was visited with fire and sword again and again by both the Federals and Confederates, as the fortunes of war gave temporary possession of this debatable bit of ground, first to one side and then to the other.


After the withdrawal of McDowell from the Valley, there was a lull in the active operations, and the construction corps was reorganized. Up to this time it had been composed of details of soldiers. It was now made up of a permanent personnel, assisted by details when necessary. Under date of June 11, 1862, a set of regulations was promulgated by Colonel Haupt for the guidance of the corps, and on June 20th, Haupt, believing that he had accomplished the purpose for which he was brought to Washington by the Secretary of War, sent in a letter of resignation, stating that the communications were then all open, the roads in good condition, the trains running according to schedule, abundant supplies of stores for a week or more in advance already transported, and no probability of any new work for the construction corps for several weeks. As characteristic of Secretary Stanton, it may be noted that this letter was never answered.

On June 26th, General Pope assumed command and persistently declined to notice Haupt or the duties he had been performing. McDowell tried to persuade him to do so, but Pope declared that all such matters should be run by the Quartermaster's Department. Consequently, Colonel Haupt went to Washington, reported the state of affairs to an assistant secretary of war, and proceeded to his home in Massachusetts. The understanding was that he was to return if needed. Soon after his arrival home he received from the War Department the following telegram, “Come back immediately; cannot get along without you; not a wheel moving on any of the roads.” He reported to General Pope at Cedar Mountain, and received orders to dictate such directions as he deemed necessary to the chief of staff. Orders were thereupon issued, placing Haupt in entire charge of all transportation by railroad within the lines of operation of Pope's army. This was August 18th. On August 19th, the Secretary of War confirmed the order issued by General Pope on the previous day.

During the retreat of General Pope, the railroads under [287]

Lifting the 59,000-pound engine “Vibbard” from the draw of long Bridge This scene of March, 1864, suggests some of the difficulties which confronted the superintendent of military railroads during the war. Long Bridge, from the railroad-man's viewpoint, was not a very substantial structure. J. J. Moore, chief engineer and general superintendent of military railroads of Virginia, reported to Brigadier-General D. C. McCallum, under the date of July 1, 1865, that he experienced great difficulty in keeping it secure for the passage of trains. On August 22, 1864, the draw at the south end of the bridge was nearly destroyed by a tug, with a schooner in tow, running into it, and February 18, 1865, an engine broke through the south span of the bridge, the entire span being wrecked. The rescue of the “Vibbard,” which weighed 59,000 pounds and cost $11,845, was apparently effectual; the same report states that it ran 5,709 miles at a total cost of $4,318.78 in the fiscal year ending June, 1865.

[288] the direction of the chief of construction and transportation rendered great aid in the transportation of troops and in the removal of the wounded from the front. The supply of the army was kept up at the same time. This would have been entirely impossible in the early days of the war, yet the necessity of having one head for this service had not yet impressed itself on all the general officers of Pope's army, for we find interference with the operation of trains from officers who would not have done so if they had realized the importance of non-interference. There has been some controversy regarding the non-arrival of troops at the front during this campaign, and the point has been made that it was impossible to secure rail transportation. It appears that the railroad was a single-track one, with a limited equipment of cars and engines, and necessarily it was impossible to forward troops with the rapidity that could have been desired, but under the circumstances the operation of the trains was as successful as could have been hoped for.

In consequence of the interference by subordinates with the running of trains, a positive order was issued by General Halleck to all concerned, directing that no military officer should give any orders, except through the chief of the construction corps, that would affect the operation of the road, and that all orders must come from either General Pope or General Halleck, except in case of attack on the road, in which case the officials of the road were to consult the commander of the nearest body of troops.

By August 26th, it was evident that the railroad could be relied on for nothing more than the necessary supplies for Pope's army, except in cases where the trains should happen to be unemployed, in which case troops could be forwarded. A schedule for use in such event was provided. Transportation was to be furnished in the following order: First, subsistence for men in the field; second, forage; third, ammunition; fourth, hospital stores; fifth, infantry regiments that had seen [289]

Major-General D. C. McCallum: an officer praised by General Grant

On September 14, 1863, General Haupt was relieved from further duty in the War Department, and turned over his duties to Colonel (later Major-General) D. C. McCallum, who was appointed Superintendent of Military Railroads. The efficient operation of the roads with the Army of the Potomac continued, and received the enthusiastic praise of General Grant. Engines for the military railroad at City Point had to be transported by water. In the lower photograph the “General Dix” is seen being landed at City Point. This engine weighed 59,000 pounds and cost $9,500. It was credited with a record of 16,776 miles at the comparatively low cost of $6,136.62 during the fiscal year ending June, 1865. Behind it is the tender piled up with the wood which was used for fuel in those days. This is what necessitated the gigantic stacks of the wood-burning engines. The “General Dix” has evidently been put into perfect condition for its trips over the uneven track of the railway from City Point to the army lines at Petersburg.

Major-General D. C. McCallum

Landing the military engine “General Dix” at city Point, 1864-5

[290] service, and staff horses; sixth, infantry regiments that had not seen service; and the following were ordinarily refused transportation, although the positive rule was laid down that nothing necessary for military service was to be refused transportation if such was available-batteries, except in cases of emergency, were to march; cavalry was to march; mules and wagon-horses were to be driven; wagons, ambulances, and other vehicles were to be hauled over the common roads.

In addition to the regular duties of construction, repair, and operation of the railroads, the construction corps did valiant service in securing information of the Confederates and also of Pope's army, which for a time was cut off from communication with the Federal capital. Their telegraph operators would go as far forward as possible, climb trees, reconnoiter the country, and send back by wire all the information they could gather. As soon as the Confederates had withdrawn from the vicinity of Manassas, the corps promptly began repairing road-beds, tracks, and bridges. Pope's army was soon resupplied and the intense feeling of apprehension allayed.

In the latter part of 1862, W. W. Wright, an assistant in the work of the corps, was placed in charge of the Cumberland Valley Railroad, which was wholly under military supervision. Later in the war, Wright was in charge of Sherman's railroads during the great Atlanta campaign in 1864. For his guidance with the Cumberland road the instructions were: First, not to allow supplies to be forwarded to the advanced terminus until they were actually required; second, only such quantities were to be forwarded as could be promptly removed; third, cars must be promptly unloaded and returned; fourth, to permit no delay of trains beyond the time of starting, but to furnish extras when necessary.

When Burnside's corps evacuated Fredericksburg upon the withdrawal of the Federal forces from the Rappahannock line before the second Bull Run campaign, all the reconstructed work at Aquia Creek and some of the bridges on the [291]

City Point.

The construction corps of the United States Military Railroads was as versatile in its attainments as the British marines according to Kipling-“Soldier and Sailor, too.” This busy scene shows construction men at work on the wharves which formed the City Point terminal to Grant's military railroad, connecting it with the army in front of Petersburg. This hastily constructed road was about thirteen miles long, measured in a straight line and not counting the undulations, which, if added together, would have made it several miles in height.

The construction corps turns to wharf-building

Troops at city Point ready to be taken to the front by rail


The supply route when the railroads were wrecked When the Army of the Cumberland under Rosecrans retreated from the field of Chickamauga, with 16,000 of its 62,000 effectives killed and wounded, it concentrated at Chattanooga. The Confederates under Bragg held the south bank of the Tennessee, and from the end of the railroad at Bridgeport there was a haul of sixty miles to Chattanooga. Twenty-six miles of railroad, including the long truss bridge across the Tennessee River and the trestle at Whiteside, a quarter of a mile long and one hundred and thirteen feet high, had been destroyed. Rosecrans' only route to supply his army was the river. It was Lieutenant-Colonel (later Brigadier-General) William G. Le Duc who saved from a freshet the first flat-bottomed boat, the Chattanooga, which carried 45,000 rations up to Kelley's Ferry, whence the haul was only eight miles to the Army of the Cumberland-instead of sixty. Later more boats were built, and the railroad repaired, but it was Le Due's ingenuity in rescuing the nondescript craft, built by Captain Edwards, from the oaks along the river and an old boiler as raw material, that saved the army many pangs of hunger, if not general starvation. The sixty-mile haul over the rough mountain-roads from Bridgeport to Chattanooga was no longer whitened with the bones of the suffering draft animals who were being killed by thousands in the desperate effort to bring food to the army. In the photograph opposite the other end of the line-Bridgeport, Alabamais shown as it appeared April 2, 1863. Prince Felix Salm-Salm, a German soldier of fortune, was the Commander of this post. He served on the staff of General Louis Blenker and later was commissioned Colonel of the Eighth New York Volunteers, a German regiment. His final rank was Brigadier-General.


Army boats on the Tennessee--1864

Army boats on the Tennessee--1864

[294] railroad, including the “bean-pole and corn-stalk” bridge, had been again destroyed, this time by Federal troops. General Haupt had protested against it, but without avail. On October 26th, after the memorable battle of Antietam, McClellan requested that the Aquia Creek and Fredericksburg railroad wharves and road be reconstructed. Haupt reported that the task was now much more formidable than before; that he had protested against the destruction of the wharves and the tearing up of the road, and especially against the burning of the “bean-pole and corn-stalk” bridge over Potomac Creek; that this work was a piece of vandalism on the part of Federal troops that could have been prevented, and that it was entirely unnecessary. Nothing was done immediately toward this reconstruction, but strict orders were issued to prevent further depredations of similar character.

On the replacing of McClellan by Burnside, in 1862, the rebuilding of these structures was carried to completion, and again they were in serviceable condition for the campaign which ended so disastrously to the Federals at Fredericksburg.

W. W. Wright was instructed, on December 11, 1862, to prepare for the construction of a bridge over the Rappahannock for the passage of Burnside's army. The rebuilding of the railroad bridge was again commenced, but the battle began and forced suspension of the work, and it was not finished. The battle resulted in a check to the Federal forces, and the forward movement of the Army of the Potomac was stopped. Nothing more of importance occurred in connection with military railroad operations while Burnside was in command. After he was removed, and while the army was lying near Fredericksburg under Hooker, the construction corps was experimenting with trusses and torpedoes; and the U-shaped iron for the destruction of rails was perfected.

The battle of Chancellorsville was fought; Hooker was repulsed, and the same annoyances of guerrilla raids were experienced on the Orange and Alexandria road as had been [295]

Bridge at Bridgeport, Alabama.

This bridge of 1864 over the Tennessee, on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad at Bridgeport, Alabama, was the fourth in succession. Three previous bridges had been destroyed by the Confederates. But the United States Military Railroad Construction Corps, then under the command of Colonel D. C. McCallum, seemed like the mythical giant Antaeus to rise twice as strong after each upset. So it was only for a short time that supplies were kept out of Chattanooga. So confident did Sherman become during his great Atlanta campaign of their ability to accomplish wonders, that he frequently based his plans upon the rapidity of their railroad work. They never failed him. Colonel W. W. Wright directed the transportation, and General Adna Anderson directed repairs to the road, including the reconstruction of the bridges, but this latter work was under the immediate direction of Colonel E. C. Smeed. How well it was done is evidenced by these two photographs. In the lower one the broad wagon-way below the railroad trestles can be examined.

The structure that stayed-three times had the Confederates destroyed the bridge at this point-bridgeport, Alabama

The structure that stayed-three times had the Confederates destroyed the bridge at this point-bridgeport, Alabama

[296] previously felt elsewhere. On June 28, 1863, Hooker was relieved by General Meade. The crucial period of the war came at Gettysburg. The construction corps, under the personal direction of General Haupt, rendered invaluable service. Haupt had made Gettysburg his home for part of the time he was a resident of the State of Pennsylvania, and knew every road in the vicinity. He gave great assistance in divining Lee's direction of march, and by the great exertions of the corps the railroad communications were kept open, the wounded handled with celerity, and after the battle there was a sufficient supply on hand of nearly all kinds of provisions.

On September 14, 1863, General Haupt was relieved from further duty in the War Department, and turned over his work to Colonel D. C. McCallum, who was appointed superintendent of military railroads. The efficient operation of the roads with the Army of the Potomac continued, and received the enthusiastic praise from General Grant which already has been noted.

Extensions aggregating nearly twenty-two miles in length were built to the railroad from City Point, in order to supply Grant's forces in the lines before Petersburg. After the repulse of General Rosecrans at Chickamauga, in September, 1863, it was deemed necessary to send reenforcements from the Eastern armies, and the military-railroad officials were called upon to know if the movement of the number of troops designated was practicable. Colonel McCallum soon gave an affirmative answer, and the result was the transfer of Hooker, with two corps, about twenty-two thousand men, over twelve hundred miles in eleven and one-half days. For this service Colonel McCallum was appointed brevet brigadier-general.

The Knoxville-Chattanooga road was the next to be opened, and then the Nashville-Johnsonville line. In all of this work the corps introduced new methods to replace the older ones. All of this was preparatory to the advance on Atlanta, in 1864. [297]

A mill wrecked to build a bridge: Cumberland ravine trestle This trestle across the Cumberland Ravine was rushed up from trees and other materials ready to hand. One source of supply was the mill by the mountain torrent. Few boards remain on the structure as the soldiers lounge about it. While Sherman's army advanced on Atlanta, again and again a long high bridge would be destroyed, and miles of track totally obliterated, by the retiring Confederates. But close upon their heels would come the construction corps: the bridge and track would be restored as if by magic, and the screech of an approaching locomotive would bring delight to the Federals and disappointment to the Confederates. With any materials they found ready to hand the construction corps worked at marvellous speed.


In the great Atlanta campaign, the railroad work of every kind was probably the best of the war. The hard schools of Virginia and around Chattanooga had prepared the railroad corps to initiate greater exhibitions of skill and efficiency. General Sherman had such confidence in the abilities of the construction corps to keep pace with him that he frequently risked advances which depended entirely on rapid railroad work behind the corps of his army, feeling assured that the rail communications would keep up with his movements. They did, and the moral effect of a screaming locomotive constantly close in the rear of his army, notwithstanding the tremendous destructive efforts of the Confederates in their retreat, was very great on both armies. A long, high bridge would be destroyed, miles of track totally obliterated, and the Confederates would retire; the Federals would advance, cross the stream in the face of opposition, and no sooner across than, to the consternation of the Confederates and the delight of the Federals, an “iron devil” would immediately set up its heartrending (delightful) screech, announcing that, march as hard and as fast as they might, neither army could get away from the end of the railroad.

The marvelous celerity with which bridges were repaired or rebuilt, new mileage of track opened, and the operation of the road carried on, notwithstanding the numerous breaks by raiding parties, will always remain a bright page in the history of the Civil War. Colonel W. W. Wright directed the transportation and remained most of the time with Sherman; General Adna Anderson directed repairs to the road, including the reconstruction of the bridges, but this latter work was under the immediate direction of Colonel E. C. Smeed. All of these officers had had previous experience in military and civil railroading that fitted them admirably for the work. General Sherman says the operation of his railroads was brilliant; that the campaign could not have been prosecuted without the efficient service which he received; that altogether there were [299]

Railroad bridges.

Underneath this picture of the army trestle (seen from down-stream on the second page preceding) is reproduced a panoramic view of the Chattahoochie Bridge — the most marvelous feat of military engineering to date (July, 1864). It was 800 feet long, nearly 100 feet high, and contained about twice as much timber as was required for the “beanpole and cornstalk bridge,” shown on page 272. It was completed in four and a half days, from the material in the tree to the finished product. This would be record time even now.

Military train on the Cumberland ravine trestle-below, the Chattahoochie bridge

An 800-foot railroad bridge built in four and one-half days


Repair work by the military railroad corps.

It was not only the daring Confederates with which the United States military construction corps had to contend, but the elements as well. In April, 1864, a freshet swept away this much abused structure. The standard size parts, ready prepared, were stackedintherailroad yards awaiting calls from the front. Cars were held always ready, and the parts ordered by wire were hurried away to the broken bridge as soon as a competent engineer had inspected the break and decided what was needed. The remainder of the work of the corps after this material reached the spot was a matter of minutes, or at the most of a few hours. The lower photograph shows the Bull Run bridge being repaired.

Swift repair work by the military railroad corps: dismantled by a freshet construction corps to the rescue

The track over Bull Run clear again — Constuction corps at work



The parts of this railroad-crossing over Bull Run near Union Mills, were of the standard size found most suitable for emergencies. This was fortunate, because the bridge was destroyed seven times. A work of this character could be put up in a very few hours. Repairing the masonry abutments, of course, consumed the greatest length of time, but even these grew like magic under the efforts of the construction corps. The lower photograph shows the same bridge reenforced with trusses. These standard size trusses and other parts of bridges were carefully made by the skilled engineers of the construction corps, and tested under weights greater than any they would conceivably be called upon to bear. These parts were kept constantly on hand so that repairs could be rushed at short notice.

The Bridge over Bull Run near Union Mills that was destroyed seven times

Reenforced with trusses-transformed into a standard bridge

[302] 473 miles of road from Louisville, through Nashville and Chattanooga, to Atlanta, 288 miles of which were constantly subject to raids from the foe — the portion from Nashville to Atlanta; that this single-stem road supplied one hundred thousand men and thirty-five thousand animals for one hundred and ninety-six days; and that to have delivered as much food by wagon would have been entirely impossible, since even to have hauled as much a short distance would have taken thirty-six thousand eight hundred six-mule wagons, and, when the state of the roads was considered, an attempt to supply by these means would have been an absurdity. Whereupon he reiterated that the Atlanta campaign would have been an impossibility without the railroads.

When Sherman evacuated Atlanta, preparatory to his march to the sea, he destroyed the railroad in his rear, blew up the railroad buildings in the city, sent back his surplus stores and all the railroad machinery that had been accumulated by his army, and, as far as possible, left the country barren to the Confederates. The stores and railroad stock were safely withdrawn to Nashville, and after the dispersion of Hood's army the construction corps again took the field, reconstructed the road to Chattanooga, then to Atlanta, and later extended it to Decatur, Macon, and Augusta.

At one time, just prior to the close of the war, there were 1,769 miles of military railroads under the direction of General McCallum, general manager of the military railroads of the United States. These roads required about three hundred and sixty-five engines and forty-two hundred cars. In April, 1865, over twenty-three thousand five hundred men were employed. The results of the work of the corps were recognized throughout the world as remarkable triumphs of military and engineering skill, highly creditable to the officers and men.

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