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  • | Photograph

    African American wood choppers’ hut on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad

    African American wood choppers’ hut on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. Black men, many of them formerly enslaved on the South’s railroads, chopped timber for railroad ties, bridges, and fuel for the U.S. Military Railroads. Stationed at remote camps, such as this, they also faced the constant danger of Confederate partisan and guerrilla raids.

  • | Time Table

    Orange and Alexandria Line "Irregular" Timetable

    This "irregular" timetable, published by the United States Military Railroads department, shows arrival and departure times on the Orange and Alexandria Line for "The Government of Operatives Only."

  • | Map

    Railroads and war zone counties, 1861–1865

    If the presence of the Union army and/or a battle constituted a war zone, then only in Virginia did the Civil War’s destruction touch the majority of counties. Vast sections of the South remained out of the war zone, but over the course of the war destruction tended to follow closely along the pathways of the major lines of communication and transportation. From Paul F. Paskoff, “Measures of War: A Quantitative Examination of the Civil War’s Destructiveness in the Confederacy,” Civil War History, Vol. 54, No. 1 (March 2008). (Reproduced with permission of Paul F. Paskoff)

  • Letter from Marion K. McMurphy to Erastus H. Reed, February 26, 1860

    In this letter from February 26, 1860, Marion K. McMurphy writes to her brother, Erastus H. Reed, from Pontoosuc, Iowa discussing family news and the prospect of a railroad being built "from Appanoose to the junction or Burlington the coming summer." She states that she hopes the railroad will "make business a little more lively here as it is very dull on account of hard times in getting money."

  • | Illustration

    New York Militia En Route to Washington, D.C.

    This image from the March 3, 1860 issue of Harper's Weekly depicts soldiers from the New York state militia on their way to Washington, D.C. to attend the inauguration of a statue of George Washingon.

  • Letter from Samuel B. Reed to Jennie Reed, October 3, 1860

    In this letter from October 3, 1860, Samuel Reed writes to his wife informing her that he has returned from his trip into the South. He tells her the engineer who promised him and John R. Boyle work was mistaken about the time it would be available and they do not know yet whether they will get it. He describes the wealth present in Vicksburg, Mississippi and states that he found it "very comfortable to have all the help wanted about a place and to feel that they are stationary and will not leave if any fault is found with them." He describes the slaves as "contented and happy," noting that they are better dressed than the laboring classes of the North. He also notes that Stephen A. Douglas is to speak in Chicago "and there will be a gathering of the people that will make the black Republicans quil in their shoes."

  • | Photograph

    Barricades at Alexandria, Virginia.

  • | Photograph

    Cars of U.S. Military Rail Road, and bridge built by soldiers

  • | Photograph

    Confederate guns, Pensacola Bay, 1861

    Columbiad guns of the Confederate water battery at Warrington, Fla., near Pensacola, February 1861. With the railroad to Pensacola under construction and finally completed in May, the Confederates could move large guns and troops more quickly to the coast.

  • | Photograph

    Military railroad bridge over Potomac Creek on the Richmond, Frederickburg & Potomac Railroad

    A trestle railroad bridge built by the United States Military Railroad Construction Corps.

  • | Photograph

    Rails for military railroad, Alexandria, Virginia.

  • | Photograph

    U.S. Military Railroad Construction Corps at work on the Aquia Creek and Fredericksburg Railroad

    Construction corps at work on the Aquia Creek and Fredericksburg Railroad.

  • | Illustration

    Harper's Ferry, as Evacuated by the Confederate Troops

    This image from the July 6, 1861 issue of Harper's Weekly depicts Harper's Ferry after its evacuation by Confederate troops.

  • | Photograph

    Eastern view of round house and depot, Orange & Alexandria Railroad

  • | Illustration

    "Repairing Railroad, etc"

    The U.S. Military Railroads rebuilt the South’s railroads in the closing months of the war. African American railroad workers cut timber, broke rock, and hauled gravel for the grading. Their experience on the railroads as trackmen and laborers, as well as firemen and brakemen, continued after the war. In 1880 over 50 percent of all railroad workers in Virginia were black; in Pennsylvania, by contrast, railroad workers were almost uniformly white.

  • | Photograph

    'The ruse of the whistles - the guarded track, Corinth, Mississippi, 1862'

  • | Photograph

    African American Laborers on the U.S. Military Railroad in Northern Virginia, c. 1862 or 1863

    From the beginning of the Civil War, African Americans worked on the railroads, transferring their labor to the Union cause.

  • | Illustration

    Alfred R. Waud, "A Guerrilla", 1862

    When guerrillas attacked Union forces, the northern public was outraged. Confederate guerrillas and partisan rangers attacked the railroad and telegraph systems, opening up the war to civilians and exposing the remorseless nature of the national conflict. Their activities played a central role in the war.

  • | Photograph

    Contrabands at Cumberland Landing, Virginia, May 1862

    In the Peninsular Campaign, Federal forces encountered thousands former slaves who sought freedom and work in the Union army camps. Even if slaves fled slavery, their status was unclear in the first year of the war. In July 1862 Congress declared such refugees from slavery “forever and henceforth free.”

  • | Photograph

    Harper's Ferry and The Maryland Heights

    Harper's Ferry, an important railroad terminus at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, changed hands eight times during the Civil War. In this photograph, the landscape and the significance of the river valleys are particularly obvious.