Railroads were significant in the transportation of supplies and men during the Civil War. The railroad bridges were important to keeping the railroads operational. Blowing up and destroying the railroad bridges was certainly fair game for forces of both the South and the North.
The Baltimore and Ohio railroad bridge at Harpers Ferry was one of the more important bridges in the entire war. It connected the South and the North on the border. It was destroyed four times during the war and rebuilt. Five other times it was destroyed by natural forces of floods. The original Harpers Ferry Bridge was a wooden covered bridge that was Y-shaped. It stood for twenty-three years. The second bridge, constructed after the Confederates burned all bridges crossing the Potomac River at the beginning of the war to slow down the advance of the Union army, was an iron trestle bridge. It lasted only from February 1862 to September 18, 1862 when the Confederates destroyed it. The Union’s Military Railroads’ Construction Corps rebuilt it again in October 1862. That bridge lasted until the Confederates marched to Gettysburg in June 1863. Actually the Union destroyed the bridge this time, so the Confederates could not use it to support their invasion of the North. The bridge was rebuilt again only to be destroyed when General Juba Early invaded Maryland enroute to Washington.
The Union did their part in destroying railroad bridges particularly as part of General Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to take away General Robert E. Lee’s supplies and troops. Many of those bridges were old and wooden, making them easier to destroy. Sometimes railroads lost trains when the telegraph lines were down and the railroad crew was not able to communicate the loss of the bridge to the crew.
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