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":
No state suffered more than Virginia in the Civil War and this railroad was no
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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