The raid on the Shenandoah Valley town of Harpers Ferry, Virginia, by the radical abolitionist John Brown in October 1859 was not only a marker of the first hostilities of the Civil War, but also of those against the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. An express train manned by A. J. Phelps was stopped at Harpers Ferry by Brown and his approximately 150 men. They gained control of the Harpers Ferry bridge and the local United States armory. During the seizure of the train, shots were exchanged and an African American porter was fatally wounded before the rebellion was quelled.
Throughout the war the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad suffered periods in which it was attacked and its service was stalled. In 1861, Confederate colonel Thomas J. Jackson attacked the portion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that crossed the Valley of Virginia. He devastated the line, sequestering locomotives, burning freight cars, and destroying rails. The historian James I. Robertson, however, has argued that accounts of Jackson's raid are "totally fictional" and rely too heavily on unreliable sources.
Throughout the war the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad changed hands repeatedly, creating an unstable and destructive environment for the company. The war damaged one of the nation's great railways, creating an inability to provide continuous service to its patrons until after the Civil War. In the postwar period, however, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad relished in a golden age of growth and prosperity as lines expanded west to Chicago and Saint Louis, and advances in railroad technology enabled greater speed and safety for trains.
July 4, 1828 - Construction on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad begins. It will eventually expand into thirteen states and include 188 miles of track in Virginia.
April 18, 1861 - The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad is severed at Harpers Ferry. U.S. soldiers burn the surrounding buildings and rifle factory before withdrawing.
May 23, 1861 - Confederate colonel Thomas J. Jackson attacks the portion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that crosses the Valley of Virginia.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Bocian, M. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad during the Civil War. (2015, October 27). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Baltimore_and_Ohio_Railroad_During_the_Civil_War.
- MLA Citation:
Bocian, Meredith. "Baltimore and Ohio Railroad during the Civil War." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 27 Oct. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: April 16, 2009 | Last modified: October 27, 2015
Contributed by Meredith Bocian, a doctoral student at Auburn University, pursuing a degree in nineteenth-century United States history.