O Shenandoah! A Rustic Refrain

O Shenandoah! A Rustic Refraineagle




Don Silvius works as a computer programmer, has been involved in genealogical and historical research for about five years. He has written approximately 150 songs, including all of the music for his wedding. Don's great-great grandfather (Martin Silvius) fought under Stonewall Jackson in the Civil War - 33rd Virginia Infantry - so he may have been a part of these events. A descendant of three families (Silvius, Campbell and Mowery) who have been in the Valley since at least the early 1800's, Don lives with his wife and two children near Inwood, WV on part of the property once owned by his great-grandparents. He's a graduate of Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, WV, and is active in his local Little League Baseball organization. Don can be reached by e-mail at DSilvius@bibfile.com .

It was April of 1861 and one of the most troubled regions of our troubled nation was the lower Shenandoah Valley. In the border community of Martinsburg, petty persecution alienated many who were not strongly committed for or against the secession of Virginia from the Union. Many young men were gone with either the Confederate army or the Federal army.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad spanned the region, crossing the Potomac River at nearby Harpers Ferry, cutting a great arc across the lower Valley, and re-entering Maryland to the west at Cumberland. Since the 1830ís the economy of the lower Valley had become increasingly linked to the railroad. Virginiaís attempt to integrate its own rail system with the B&O - the Winchester and Potomac Railroad - was a mere feeder line, unconnected with any other railroad. Many residents of the lower Valley were willling to let the fate of the railroad determine their allegiance.

At this same time, the 1200 Virginians and 400 Kentuckians who occupied Harpers Ferry received a new commander, Colonel Thomas Jonathan Jackson, who had been a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. Old Jack, as he was known, was sent to Harpers Ferry to take charge of these raw volunteers, construct some sort of defense, observe the B&O Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and to assess the morale in the northwestern part of Virginia.

Colonel Jackson wore a bad-fitting, single-breasted blue coat of VMI, and high boots which covered his very large feet. He had the gait and mannerisms of an inept professor, but had a stern military competence, for he was an expert in organizing and molding troops. Old Jack never spoke unless spoken to, never seemed to sleep, and had his headquarters under a tree. He was said to have a mean streak about little things, and believed that if something was important, it ought to be done well. Yet, he was as courteous to the humblest private as he was to the highest officer in his command. Jackson was a deeply religious man and stood very high in the estimation of all for his rigid moral conduct and the absolute faith he displayed in both word and deed.

When he took command at Harpers Ferry, Jackson noticed that the B&O was still running. An exaggerated politeness existed between the forces facing each other across the Potomac. Richmond wanted the arsenal machinery moved from Harpers Ferry, but at this time the only wagon transportation available was that which could be commandeered.

The trains ran both day and night through Harpers Ferry, mostly carrying coal from Cumberland to the eastern shore for the Federal Navy stockpiles. Since the railroad was double-tracked from Point of Rocks, east of Harpers Ferry, to Cherry Run, west of Martinsburg, trains could travel both eastward (when loaded) and westward (when empty). To keep an eye on the railroad, Jackson sent John D. Imbodenís force to Point of Rocks, and Col. Kenton Harper with the 5th Virginia Infantry to Martinsburg.

Under the pretext that his troops were having their rest interrupted by the trains passing at all hours of the night, Col. Jackson complained to B&O Railroad president J. W. Garrett, and requested that all the night trains, eastward bound, be scheduled to pass Harpers Ferry between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Garrett had no choice but to comply, and for several days thereafter was heard the constant roar of passing trains for one hour before and after noon.

Since the empties were sent westward at night, Jackson again complained to Garrett that the nuisance was as great as ever, and insisted that westbound trains pass during the same two hours as the eastbound trains. Again, Garrett complied, thus creating, for two hours every day, the liveliest railroad in America.

As soon as the schedule was working at its best, Old Jack sprung his trap. On May 22, Jackson ordered Imboden to let all westbound traffic pass until noon, but to permit no eastbound trains to pass, and at noon to obstruct the road so that it would take several days to repair it. He ordered Harper at Martinsburg to do the reverse. Thus, he caught all the trains going east or west between those pints. Various accounts state that as many as 42 locomotives were captured, and over 300 cars.

Some of the smaller engines were taken to Winchester via the Winchester and Potomac Line. A tough problem was encountered, though, for at Winchester, the branch line ended. But the Valley pike lay between Winchester and Strasburg, where the rails of the Manassas Gap Railroad were waiting. With these small locomotives, it was possible for horses to haul them 20 miles down the Pike to Strasburg.

On May 24, 1861, General Joseph E. Johnston took command at Harpers Ferry, with Colonel Jackson being his second in command. Since General Johnston did not see the railroad as being as valuable to the Confederacy as did Colonel Jackson, and since Federal forces under General Robert Patterson approached from Chambersburg to the north, and forces under General George B. McClellan approached Romney to the west, Jackson was ordered to destroy any B&O Railroad property he could not take with him.

He torched the roundhouse in Martinsburg, and other buildings there. The bridge at Shepherdstown followed the one at Harpers Ferry into the river. Three hundred five cars, mostly coal-carrying gondolas were set afire, many with the coal still in them, so that for weeks along miles of track, their twisted & warped frames burned red-hot. Jackson took his time with the locomotives, however, knowing how badly the Confederacy needed such machines.

He wondered if there could be any way to put them to use for the South. As he thought, he remembered the little locomotives he moved overland from Winchester to Strasburg. He made his own calculations, consulted, sought expert advice, brought in Hugh Longust, a veteran Richmond railroad man, and put Captain Thomas Sharp, acting quartermaster general, to work. Thirty-five mechanics, teamsters, and laborers were organized into a unit. They collected powerful horses from the surrounding area, then went to work on a 50-ton locomotive. They stripped it - bells, piston rods, valves, pumps, lamps, anything that could be removed to make it lighter, including the forward wheels, was removed. They swung the frame off the rails onto an emergency truck fitted with thick, iron-shod wooden wheels. The locomotive was drawn by forty horses - four abreast, and ten deep, connected to the locomotive by a heavy chain.

As the whips cracked, and the horses strained, the iron horse lumbered southward. Along the macadam turnpike, all bridges had been examined and strengthened or repaired as necessary. Holes were filld in, and when hills were too much for the horses, the army came to their aid. Two hundred men added their muscles, their shouts, their curses, and their wild singing to the racket. Often the engine would break the crust of the road, sinking to its axles, but it could be pulled out again, and sent on its way southward. The great iron locomotive traveled eighteen miles to Winchester the first day, and the twenty miles to Strasburg in the next two days.

The whole countryside turned out to see the hilarious spectacle. The spectators roared with laughter, but they admired Jacksonís inventiveness. Through June and early July, the slow procession of the engines moved on and on, as the army attended to other business. As late as the next summer, Valley men were struggling to drag the engines to Strasburg. The last was No. 199, a Ross Winans camel- back. It could not make the Manassas Gap before the Federal Army closed it in 1862, so the determined crew dragged it up the valley to Staunton, where it broke loose on a hill and careened through the streets. It was a fitting end to the hilarious and fantastic series of events.

As for the old professor, while attending to business, Colonel Thomas Jonathan Jackson became General Stonewall Jackson, earning his nickname at the Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) on July 21, of that same summer. Jackson went on to play a major role in the war until his death.


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"The Crafty Professor" © Don Silvius, 1997. All rights reserved.