The Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad In The Civil War

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The O&A was the sister railroad of the A,L&H. The USMRR also took over the O&A. It joined the two railroads at the hip in Alexandria by constructing a short piece of track. The Union and the Confederacy fought hard over the Orange and Alexandria, because it connected Washington, D.C. to central Virginia and to points south. More on the Orange & Alexandria





In the picture above, Mosby is the on the left. Credit: Library of Congress

Excerpts from Melville's poem, "The Scout Toward Aldie":

Meanwhile the mounted captives near
Jested; and yet they anxious showed;
Virginians; some of family-pride,
And young, and full of fire, and fine
In open feature and cheek that glowed;
And here thralled vagabonds now they ride --
But list! one speaks for Mosby's side.
"Why, three to one -- your horses strong --
Revolvers, rifles and a surprise
Surrender we account no shame!
We live, are gay, and life is hope;
We'll fight again when fight is wise.
There are plenty more from where we came;
But go find Mosby -- start the game!"




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The Yankees Seize It | Mosby Raids It | Links | Sites On Trail

No state suffered more than Virginia in the Civil War and this railroad was no
Twisted rails could not be straightened. Damage done by Lee's army retreating from Gettysburg, in Virginia on the O&A. Photographer: Timothy O'Sullivan. Library of Congress.  
exception. The AL&H saw some fighting, because it was in the cockpit of the Civil War. But neither side regarded it as very strategic. By contrast, the Confederacy and the Union fought fiercely over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which ran parallel to the AL&H a few miles to the north. Whereas the B&O connected Washington to the Midwest, the AL&H extended only thirty miles, stopping in Leesburg, when the War began. (The A,L&H was a predecessor of the W&OD.)

A Railroad Controlled By The North

The Confederates and the Union fought several skirmishes and one battle along the railroad during the first year of the war. Gradually, through their sheer numbers, the Yankees pushed the Rebels away from Washington, D.C., and hence away from the railroad. The fighting shifted both southwards (to Fredericksburg and Richmond) and westwards (to the Shenandoah Valley.) There were exceptions to this. Lee's two invasions of the North crossed through the region formerly served by the Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad. A third invasion of the North, the raid by Confederate General Early to the outskirts of Washington at Fort Stephens, ended in a retreat through Loudoun County, Virginia. Also Confederate John Mosby's partisan cavalry harassed the Yankee occupiers of the railroad, from 1863 until the end of the war. But in general the North controlled this railroad for most of the war.

The railroad had three engines when the War started. After Virginia seceeded from the United States, the Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire railroad operated under the Confederates for one month. In May, 1861, the United States invaded Alexandria. On that day Union troops captured the train coming from Leesburg.
The Manning
This USMRR engine is believed to be one of the three engines originally belonging to the A,L&H. Source: Civil War railroads : a pictorial story of the War Between the States, 1861-1865 by George B. Abdill.  
Using oxen and wooden sledges, the Confederates moved the other two engines over dirt roads from Leesburg to the Manassas Gap Railroad. From there the engines went South to serve the Confederacy, although one of the two was destroyed by a drunken engineer in a wreck near Richmond in the Spring of 1862. Moving engines over dirt roads sounds impossible, but the next year, after the Confederates captured Martinsburg, they moved more engines on dirt roads to rail lines in the Shenandoah Valley, again to be used by the Confederacy.
A map of the railroad on the eve of the Civil War, 1859. Source: Library of Congress  


In June, 1861, outside of Vienna, (Mile 11.4) the Confederates ambushed a troop train being pushed by an engine but the engineer shifted the engine into reverse, saving the engine. He left the soldiers to retreat on foot. The tracks suffered a worse fate. The Confederates burned the bridge over Difficult Run (Mile 14.5) in 1861.

In 1861 the United States Military Railroad took over what was left of the Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad. In 1862 the president of the AL&H, a Union sympathizer, urged Secretary of War Stanton to rebuild it to Leesburg and beyond, but the government refused.
rails in Alexandria storage yard
In its storage yards in Alexandria, the USMRR kept the rails from the western portions of the A,L&H. Source: Civil War railroads : a pictorial story of the War Between the States, 1861-1865 by George B. Abdill.  

The government used the stub of the railroad to supply the garrisons which defended Washington. The Union constructed a ring of seventy forts around Washington, making it the most heavily-fortified city in the world. The railroad passed through this ring of forts at Mile 0.5, Walter Reed Drive. Text of historical markers about these two forts. Beyond these forts the Union built a ring of cavalry camps, including Fairfax Court House, Occoquan, Vienna, and later, Centreville. Because it was on the railroad, Vienna was one of the most important of these camps.
A U.S. Military Railroad train pulls into Vienna station, 1864. The station looks different than it does today because Southern Railroad remodeled the station in 1876. Photo credit: U.S. Army Military History, Carlisle Barracks  
In particular, the government shipped supplies to Fairfax Court House via Vienna. At Vienna the supplies were transferred to wagons. Vienna became the railhead during the War. A visitor would have seen not so much a town, but a fortress. A stockade surrounded the camp, which occupied both sides of the tracks west of the station. Also Vienna was the headquarters in the fight against Mosby's Confederate Rangers.

John S. Mosby Raids The Area Served By the Railroad

Mosby commanded the most famous of the partisan units operating behind Union lines. The Confederate Congress authorized these units in April, 1862, but Mosby's unit did not begin operations until January, 1863. These units tended to spin out of control. In a time of war fought according to rules, guerrilla units did not fit in. Forced to find their own supplies, they tended to prey on not only the enemy but also the friendly civilians. In other words they became outlaws. In February, 1864 the Confederate Congress reversed itself, revoking the authority of these units. Mosby's unit was one of two which were allowed to continue to operate behind enemy lines.

As a commander, Mosby's first action was to attack pickets outside of Herndon Station. He captured horses and prisoners, but he did not take Herndon itself. Mosby could not conquer territory; instead he could only attack and retreat with prisoners and supplies.
General Haupt
General Haupt, director of the USMRR, watches his employees cleaning up after a train wreck on the former A,L&H. Source: Civil War railroads : a pictorial story of the War Between the States, 1861-1865 by George B. Abdill.  
For most of 1863 and 1864, the commander of the fight against Mosby was Col. Charles Lowell, one of the famous Lowells from Boston. Although they were enemies, Mosby and Lowell treated each other with respect as gentlemen would have. The later Union commanders were not so respectful of Mosby.

Herman Melville, a civilian, stayed at Vienna. As the guest of Lowell, on April 18, 1864, Melville rode with Lowell's troopers looking for Mosby. Riding west from Vienna, the Yankees followed the bed of the destroyed railroad to Sterling. In Sterling they left the railroad, turning left onto Church Road. They spent the first night on Goose Creek. On the next day they almost captured a few of Mosby's men at a wedding in what is today called, "The Laurel Brigade Inn" in Leesburg. Excerpts from Melville's poem about this ride are to the left.

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This page was last modified May 30, 2009.

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