Because of its unique position geographically, passing through Maryland, then Virginia, and then back into Maryland and having over 200 miles in what is today West Virginia (its rails going across 14 counties), the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was in a precarious yet valuable position during the Civil War. In essence, it was a Union railroad (owned by the state of Maryland and the City of Baltimore) with some of its track in Virginia, a state that had seceded.
Prior to the war, rail transportation in America was booming. In 1859, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had more locomotives in service (235) than any railroad in the country. They had carried over 334,000 passengers that year. The war certainly put a damper on that.
In June 1861, Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and his men destroyed 42 of those locomotives and 305 train cars belonging to the B & O RR on a raid at the Martinsburg Roundhouse and burned the roundhouse itself. Jackson’s men continued to wreak havoc on the railroad throughout the war, taking out the train bridge used by the B & O RR at Harpers Ferry several times and destroying other railroad property.
The railroad struggled to overcome those losses. Their passenger traffic virtually dried up on the leg from Baltimore to Wheeling due to passenger safety. The Union used the railroad through much of the war for movement of troops and supplies.
Not long after June 20, 1863, when West Virginia became a separate state from Virginia, the passage of the B & O RR through Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties (formerly in Virginia) became safer for B & O RR trains. Business picked up quite significantly.
A very good new book on the subject is the recent “Baltimore and Ohio” by Joseph J. Snyder, Juniper House Library Publications, 2012. Snyder lives in Shepherdstown, WV and has been a long-time supporter of both railroads and West Virginia.
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