Ambush

While the railroad batteries were intentionally sent into combat, the majority of battle-damaged rolling stock were ordinary engines and cars that wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time. The crews and passengers aboard non-combat vehicles inadvertently steaming into harm's way were routinely fired upon. Although trains hit by small-arms bullets, and even by shells from field batteries and the occasional gunboat, usually survived the ordeal, the same cannot be said for many of the people aboard. While Jackson held Bristoe Station during the Second Manassas campaign a USMRR engine, the Secretary, limped back into Federal hands after being attacked and riddled with bullets by 500 Confederate cavalrymen. A few weeks later, at Haupt's request, the Federals began their experiments with locomotive armor.

During the Peninsular campaign Heros von Borcke and the advance guard of the 19th Virginia Cavalry descended on a Federal station on the

19th Cavalry

York River Railroad and were about to wreck the place when they noticed a train coming. They placed obstructions on the track and scattered along both sides of the embankment in order to attack it when it stopped. The train, loaded with Union soldiers mostly in open cars, slowed but had not quite stopped when the first shots rang out. As the Virginia troopers began to fire in earnest the engineer opened the throttle; some of the Union soldiers jumped off, while the others fired back or crouched as low as they could. A captain rode up and shot the engineer with a blunderbuss; von Borcke emptied his revolver at the fleeing Federals while chasing the train, but the horses could not keep pace with it; it crashed through the barricade and got away with all of its cars.

As MajGen Philip Sheridan tore through the Shenandoah Valley in March 1865, a Virginia Central crew were ordered to take their engine, the Albemarle, into the Valley to deliver a barrel of whiskey to Waynesboro station, but by the time they reached it the Confederate cavalry were already in full retreat. On their return trip east they stopped at Greenwood Station to pick up some cars loaded with government supplies, but as they pulled through Greenwood Tunnel and into the clearing with the seven cars - three ahead of the engine and four behind - they spotted a sea of Federal cavalry. The conductor, fireman, and brakeman all jumped; the engineer was about to do the same when he decided to take his chances and try to save the train. He jerked on the throttle, but it was stuck and he couldn't pick up speed, so he lay flat on the footboard as the cavalry attacked. Since the train was traveling no faster than the horses, one trooper was able to ride alongside the Albemarle and empty his seven-shot carbine into the engine and tender; one bullet ripped through the seat cushion while another

This 0-8-0 camelback was one of many B & 0 locomotives and cars burned by "Stonewall" Jackson's forces at Martinsburg in 1861. The cab is burned away but most of the locomotive remains largely intact - which is why Jackson was able to put eight of these machines back into service for Confederate use further south. (Courtesy B & 0 Railroad Museum)

one punctured the tank. (It was a high shot - if it had been lower in the tank the water would have leaked out, and once the water level drops too low a hot boiler will explode.) Before the trooper could reload the engineer jumped up, managed to unstick the throttle, and sped away with a derisive pull on his whistle.

Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, who had assumed command of the remnants of the Army of Tennessee in January 1865, was busy funneling his railroad equipment out of central Alabama and into Mississippi as 10,000 Federal troopers descended on his position. Nathan Bedford Forrest rode up to him, with blood literally dripping from his clothes and horse, and told Taylor to leave immediately or be captured. As Forrest wheeled his mount and galloped off Taylor climbed aboard a small yard engine, which had an all-black crew. Federal cavalry rode into range before they could get full steam up and fired off an erratic fusillade without effect, but the little locomotive picked up speed and rushed the army commander to safety.

One of the most devastating attacks on a train did not involve cavalry. While mounted troops could briefly chase a train, a large body of infantry in line of battle along with their artillery support could deliver significantly more firepower. In October 1862 the Federals launched a combined Army/Navy attack designed to smash the Charleston & Savannah Railroad near Coosawhatchie, South Carolina. Three hundred men of the 48th New York Infantry, along with 50 from the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery and 50 Army engineers, hoped to destroy the Coosawhatchie Bridge, the telegraph network, and anything else they could find. They were about to begin the destruction when they heard a train whistle, and skirmishers soon discovered that it was a troop train loaded with Confederate soldiers. The commander of the expedition, Col William Barton, ordered his men into position to attack. The bulk of the Confederates on the train were from the I I th South Carolina Infantry, most of them packed onto flatcars where

CONFEDERATE "RAM" ON THE BALTIMORE & OHIO RAILROAD

This imagined scenario shows an attempt to block a tunnel on a stretch of Union-held track. Not only were bridges and stations fortified and guarded, but key tunnels needed protection as well. (In 1864, while trying to slow Gen Sherman's march through Georgia, Gen Joseph Johnston hoped to destroy an important railroad tunnel; hearing this, one Confederate joked sourly that it was pointless, since Sherman doubtless carried duplicate tunnels.)

In a desperate situation when a track was blocked at both ends and a locomotive could not be saved, the engines were sometimes turned into 20-ton missiles. An unmanned locomotive with the throttle jammed open would continue to pick up speed until it derailed, possibly destroying enemy property and personnel. Adding burning cars to the mix would increase the destruction, especially if they were loaded with ammunition like the ones at Savage's Station. Burning cars were also left on wooden bridges in order to eliminate the rolling stock and the bridge itself. (Inset 1) Captured locomotive with cotton-bale armor for the cab and steam dome, and "pitched roof house car" packed with inflammables and perhaps explosives and set ablaze as a rolling incendiary bomb.

(Inset 2) Timber blockhouse of the type designed to guard choke points on the B & O Railroad. Measuring about 30ft on a side and standing some 32ft tall to the roof peak, it is basically two box-shapes set one on top of the other at a 45-degree angle. The jutting corners of the second floor included trapdoors in the floor so that the men upstairs could shoot down at anyone getting too close to the building. Rifle slits on both floors were 12in deep on the inside but tapered down to 3in on the outside, for ease of aiming and protection. A trench was dug out around the entire building and the spoil piled high around the walls for added protection; a surrounding abatis or chevaux-de-frise, and angled earthworks at the entrance, prevented a direct rush at the door. This substantial little fortress is built and provisioned for long-term occupation, with a brick chimney stack and wooden ventilator trunks in the roof. (Inset 3) Surprised Union artillerymen in a two-gun sandbag battery protecting the track attempt to bring a 12-pdr Napoleon to bear on the runaway locomotive.

Gettysburg Locomotive Boiler Explosion

This small yard engine was badly burned during the fall of Richmond. The wooden section of the cab has been completely consumed, leaving only the iron uprights and bolts, but the boiler Itself may be salvageable. (LC)

they were completely exposed. When they came within range the Northerners ripped into them with musketry, canister and grape shot; some 25 or 30 men either fell or jumped from the train, which was not about to slow down long enough for them to climb back aboard. The fireman was killed outright and the engineer was either killed or disabled, so a third Charleston & Savannah employee, probably the conductor, had to step in and take the controls. The casualty returns for the Coosawhatchie engagement list the 11th SC as having 4 killed, 15 wounded, and 2 missing. Amidst the shooting, a black man -probably a brakeman - leapt from the train and dashed back to prevent a second train from meeting the same fate.

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