“The Iron Horse in Civil War Martinsburg”
by Tricia Lynn Strader
On June 19, 1861, Colonel Thomas J. Jackson was given an order by Brigadier General Joseph Johnston to destroy the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad tracks and roundhouse at Martinsburg. Union troops were advancing from Williamsport, Md., and Johnston did not want them to have the benefit of a working rail line or machines shops.
“Our troops are very anxious for engagement,” Jackson wrote his wife. He and his troops had not seen much in this early stage of the Civil War. He did not want to disrupt rail service so vital to the civilian population and Confederate forces. He thought the equipment could be saved and transported on the Winchester and Potomac line to safer ground. But, orders were orders. To keep the Union troops from advancing easily, Johnston’s troops destroyed the “Colonnade Bridge” from East Burke Street at the B&O crossing on May 23, 1861, and details lit torches to approximately 56 locomotives and tenders, and 305 coal cars. They were set afire, thrown into the Opequon River, or dismantled. Tracks were torn up from Point of Rocks to Cherry Run.
Jackson continued in his letter, “By order of General Johnston I have destroyed a large number of locomotives and cars on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.” Eventually, Jackson devised a plan to accomplish both military destruction and military confiscation.
Thirteen least damaged locomotives were dismantled and the pieces sent by horse-drawn teams to Strasburg, Va. The machine shops and roundhouse were stripped of all tools, and the turntable was removed from the roundhouse. This was in anticipation of General Patterson recrossing the Potomac., which he did on July the 2nd where he engaged Jackson in the Battle of Falling Waters.
Hence, the beginning of Martinsburg’s Civil War railroad history. The railroad remained inoperative until April 1862. Eventually, all machinist tools and engines except one were returned to Martinsburg.
History used to say Jackson burned the buildings. Now, that theory is being challenged as false. But it was destroyed and rebuilt, only to be damaged again years later.
On July 25, 1864, Martinsburg was ground zero for a fight between two well-known war generals as part of a bigger picture, the famous raid on Chambersburg made by Confederates. General William Averell, the Union general who met General John McCausland on the field of battle in Martinsburg’s streets.
Apparently in retaliation of the raid on Chambersburg, Pa., which was in itself a retaliation by Confederates for Union troops burning the Shenandoah Valley, Union General William Averell staged a surprise attack on the Confederate cavalry posted at the roundhouse. The Union cavalry came in from the west, and the fight was all through the rail yard. The Confederates started to retreat through town.
There was pure confusion and lots of wild action.
Confederate cavalry under McCausland, Vaughn, and “Mudwall” Jackson out through Boydville, Jubal
Early and his whole army were on the Valley Pike and headed toward Martinsburg. General George Crook, commander of the 8th Corps, was with his infantry and artillery on the high ground north of town. He ordered Averell to break off the attack when he saw the Confederate cavalry take up a position with artillery on the hill outside Boydville, knowing Early was on the way. With no support Crook pulled the Union 8th Corps across the Potomac. Averell’s cavalry division provided a rear guard.
Early had control of the Valley at that point and had McCausland head off on the Chambersburg Raid that ended in his loss of his cavalry at Moorefield. Averell would later defeat McCausland.
Casualties from both sides numbered 1,000, including wounded and dead.
To learn more about the Roundhouse and it’s part of the modern day labor movement click here.