Civil War Trains

Authentic scale model Civil War railroad display in 3D terrain.

Civil War trains were incredibly important. Moving troops and supplies by rail was far better than by foot and wagons on muddy, unpaved roads.

The United States Military Railroad was created and operated during the war years 1861–1865. Railroads were used to carry coal, artillery, horses, mules, cattle, troops and baggage.

Rail conditions were not ideal. Wooden water towers, needed to supply coal burning steam engines, were easy targets for destruction by raiding troops. Bridges had to be defended. Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s capture of 56 Union locomotives and 300+ railcars on the B&O Railroad between Harper’s Ferry and Martinsburg, W. Va., with the blowing up of the bridge at Harper’s Ferry, was an attempt to stop B&O strategic traffic.

Alan Hedges, designer of the exhibit states, “People are unaware that railroads were begun only 20 years before the war and the technology was very new. There were 200 local railroads that ran 20 or 30 miles with limited boundaries from town to town. There was no regulation of the railway rails that needed to hold the 25 ton engines and breakdowns were frequent.”

From the arrival in Baltimore of a Union regiment of Massachusetts troops by train in April 1861 to the end of the war in 1865, when troops used the railroad to return home, railroads played an important role in the Civil War.