Manassas Gap Railroad

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The Manassas Gap Railroad (MGRR) ran from Mount Jackson, Virginia, to the Orange and Alexandria Railroad's Manassas Junction, which later became the city of Manassas, Virginia. Chartered by the Virginia General Assembly in 1850, it was used to move Confederate troops and to raid the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad during the American Civil War.

Founding and early history[edit]

With financial assistance from the Virginia Board of Public Works, construction was started westward in 1851 from a junction with the Orange and Alexandria Railroad (O&A) at Tudor Hall in Prince William County, a location the railroads called Manassas Junction. The tracks ran toward Front Royal and through Manassas Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Shenandoah Valley. It was completed to Strasburg in 1854. Building south up the Shenandoah Valley, the railroad reached Mount Jackson in Shenandoah County in 1859.

The original plan included a branch through Loudoun County to connect to Harpers Ferry and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Financial troubles and the American Civil War scuttled those plans. Similarly, efforts began in 1854 on the "Independent Line," 35 miles of track from Alexandria to Gainesville intended to bypass the O&A. The way was graded but never completed because of financial difficulties and the Civil War. In 1867, the Manassas Gap Railroad merged with the O&A, rendering the unfinished line redundant.

Today, several portions of the abandoned roadbed remain in Fairfax County.[1]

The MGRR was a 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm) narrow gauge line with 38 miles (61 km) of 60 pounds-per-yard T-rail and 52 miles (84 km) of 52 pounds-per-yard T-rail, comprising 90 total miles of track. A total of nine locomotives and 232 cars were operated on the line, serving 20 stations.

Stations on the Manassas Gap Railroad (MGRR)
Station Distance
Manassas Junction 0 miles (0 km)
Gainesville, Virginia 8 miles (13 km)
Thoroughfare, Virginia 14 miles (23 km)
Broad Run, Virginia 17 miles (27 km)
The Plains, Virginia 20 miles (32 km)
Rectortown, Virginia 30 miles (48 km)
Piedmont, Virginia 34 miles (55 km)
Markham, Virginia 38 miles (61 km)
Linden, Virginia 43 miles (69 km)
Happy Creek, Virginia  ? miles
Front Royal, Virginia 51 miles (82 km)
Riverton, Virginia  ? miles
Buckton, Virginia 56 miles (90 km)
Waterlick, Virginia  ? miles
Strasburg, Virginia 61 miles (98 km)
Toms Brook, Virginia 68 miles (109 km)
Woodstock, Virginia 75 miles (121 km)
Edinburg, Virginia 81 miles (130 km)
Mount Jackson, Virginia 87 miles (140 km)

American Civil War[edit]

The beginning of the American Civil War ended construction, and conflicts during the war destroyed much of the railroad.


The Manassas Gap Railroad was used during the Great Train Raid of 1861, in which Colonel Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson of the Virginia militia raided the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and removed, captured or burned 67 locomotives[2] and 386 railway cars, and taking 19[3] of those locomotives and at least 80 railroad cars onto Confederate railroads. After initially trapping this rolling stock on the Virginia-controlled portion of the Baltimore & Ohio, Jackson immediately "helped himself to four small locomotives not too heavy for the flimsy flat-bar rails of the Winchester & Potomac, and had them sent to Winchester"[4] where they were disassembled near Fort Collier, mounted onto special dollies and wagons, and hauled by 40-horse teams "down the Valley turnpike to the [Manassas Gap] railroad at Strasburg".[5] Eventually almost all of the B&O locomotives and most of the railroad cars were taken to the Manassas Gap Railroad.

During the summer of 1861, the Manassas Gap Railroad became the first railroad in history to move troops to battle. Brigadier General Stonewall Jackson's brigade marched from Winchester, Virginia, through Ashby Gap and boarded trains at the Piedmont Station at Delaplane, Virginia. From there they were transported to the O&A's Manassas Junction and debarked to join the fight at the First Battle of Manassas.


In the opening months of 1862 most of the Baltimore & Ohio rolling stock and rail ties that had been captured and stored in Winchester, with the help of W&P Railroaders, were evacuated and used in various other Confederate railroads, such as the Centreville Military Railroad.

Both the western portion of the Manassas Gap Railroad and the Winchester and Potomac Railroad were under Union control by the spring, and were going to be used to support Union operations in that area as part of a plan developed by Major General George B. McClellan. McClellan's plan was to connect the Manassas Gap Railroad and the W&P Railroad with a line between Winchester and Strasburg, creating a "complete circle of rails" from the Union capital at Washington, D.C., to the Shenandoah Valley by either the B&O or O&A.[6]

On May 23, 1862, Colonel Turner Ashby and the 7th Virginia Cavalry, during the Valley Campaign of 1862, tore up rails in the direction of Strasburg, while Colonel Thomas T. Munford's 2nd Virginia Cavalry "wrecked track and bridges as far east as Thoroughfare Gap".[7]

Post Bellum[edit]

After the war ended in 1865, the B&O gained control of the O&A, and in 1867, the Manassas Gap Railroad as well, merging them to form the Orange, Alexandria and Manassas Railroad. The damaged portions of each were repaired, and new construction resumed up the Shenandoah Valley from Mt. Jackson, reaching Harrisonburg in 1868. (Tudor Hall was renamed Manassas and became an incorporated town in 1873).

The B&O also acquired or built track to connect its east-west main line at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, with Winchester and Strasburg, and south past Harrisonburg to eventually reach Lexington. However, financial difficulties prevented the B&O from its ultimate goal of reaching Salem, where it could connect with the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad (V&T), which became part of William Mahone's Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad (AM&O) in 1870. The AM&O extended about 400 miles (640 km) across the southern tier of Virginia from Norfolk, to Bristol.

In 1881, the B&O's plan to reach all the way south to Salem effectively became moot. In that year, the AM&O, in receivership since the mid-1870s, was acquired by Philadelphia-based interests competing with the B&O who also controlled the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, a parallel line also building up the Shenandoah Valley from the Potomac River which thereby achieved the connection with the original V&T near Salem the B&O had sought. At the junction, the new Norfolk and Western Railway turned a tiny flag stop named Big Lick into the new railroad city of Roanoke, Virginia, a few miles northeast of Salem.

Modern times[edit]

In 1896, most of the original Manassas Gap Railroad became part of the Southern Railway system, and eventually became an important part of the modern-day Norfolk Southern Railway system.


  1. ^ The Unfinished Manassas Gap Railroad
  2. ^ Johnston, p.24
  3. ^ Shriver
  4. ^ Johnston, p.23
  5. ^ Johnston, p.24
  6. ^ Johnston, p. 50; "McClellan's idea was expressed in a letter to Secretary of War Stanton on March 28, 1862."
  7. ^ Johnston, p.53


  • Black, Robert C. The Railroads of the Confederacy. The University of North Carolina Press, originally 1952.
  • Johnston II, Angus James, Virginia Railroads in the Civil War, University of North Carolina Press for the Virginia Historical Society, 1961.
  • Shriver, Ernest, Stealing Railroad Engines, from Tales from McClure's War: Being True Stories of Camp and Battlefield, New York, Doubleday & McClure Co., 1898.

External links[edit]