• Civil War Trainwreck

  • Discussion pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Discussion pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Moderator: therock

  by Jason W

I am attempting to locate the site of a small but important train wreck which occured on the former Southern Railway line between Manassas and Front Royal at the time of the Civil War.

The wreck was apparently caused by the failure of one troop train to send out a flagman to protect itself from a following train. That following troop train collided with the former in the vicinity of The Plains (White Plains, VA) at 3 o'clock in the morning on June 1st 1862.

The line is currently operated by Norfolk Southern and I can not find a source which names the railroad at the time of the Civil War. What I do have are three original sources of information about the wreck:
The Adjutant General's Annual Report pg 106 said"We arrived at Catlett Station May 31st, and there we took cars for Front Royal,Va., via Manassas Junction. When near White Plains, about 3 o'clock on the morning of June 1st, 1862, the train in our rear by some mismanagement came into collision with ours, nearly demolishing several cars, killing one man and wounding twenty-two others, some severely,(all in our company)
From the Diary of Wyman White (Co. F, 2nd USSS):
"At Catlett's the troops were ordered aboard frieght cars on the railroad and started toward Manassas Gap. There were several trains loaded with troops. The trains got started during the afternoon and the train our regiment was on was the first to move out.

All went well until after dark. I was in the box car and it was crowded as full as possible. Some time along in the night I was sitting down on the floor of the car with my back against the side of the car, sound asleep. All of a sudden there came a terrible crash, piling me up against the end of the car among many of the other men, and in the pile there was a mixture of men, rifles, knapsacks, and other equipment. I got up and out of the car as soon as possible and found that the train we were on had stopped on the track and the next train following it had not been signaled and had run into the rear of our train.

The trains were all freight cars, some of them box cars and some of them flat cars. The force of the collison was so strong it drove the flat or platform cars right through the box cars, and every car being packed with soldiers, it was a miracle that so few were killed or wounded, there being one killed, and forty hurt."
And from the diary of James Matthews (Co. D, 2nd USSS):
Sunday June 1
Were awakened this morning by the collision of the 14th N.Y.S.M. train with our train. At first it was thought only the cars had unshackled, but soon a more serious accident had occurred. Bartlett was the first to be found. He was killed instantly. The car wheel ran over his breast and arm making it looked more like a string then flesh and bone. Nearly everyone of our Co. in the box car were more or less injured. Corporals Hamlin, Morse, & Scowfield, and Private Morey, Robberts, three Tuckers, Chandler, Rufus Hall, Davis, Jordan, (unreadable), (unreadable), W.A. Smith, Boynton, Mann, Bird, Allen & H. Coffin were taken with the wounded, but I think their injuries are not serious. Chandler is about the most injured of any, Rufus has a bad looking head. Co E. suffered about the same as our company. Co. A but slightly. The wounded were immediately taken to the Rector Train Station, about 8 or 9 miles distant. The remainder of the regiment remained upon the ground near the place of the accident til P.M. Sanford Bartlett was buried on a slight eminence near the track. He was sewed up in blankets. This place is called the Plains, or White Plains. In the afternoon the remainder of the regiment were conveyed to the station."
I know that is not much to go by. I am hoping that some fellow railfan from that area of Virginia has heard old stories of such an event and can help us locate the exact position, down to the precise milepost. It is our understanding that the soldier killed, Sanford Bartlett, may never of been removed from his anonymous grave, so finding a position at least nearby becomes important for recognition.

As a recap, we are looking for:

1.) The name this ex-Southern Railway, currently NS line had at the time of the Civil War.

2.) The place where the wreck occurred as close as possible down to the exact milepost.

3.) Any other information which may survive surrounding this accident.

I know that it is unlikely that anyone out there knows much about this, but any help would be greatly appreciated.

  by CarterB
The route was the Manassas Gap RR.
White Plains was/is about half way along the route between Manassas Jct and Front Royal.

See Civil War era map:

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/map_item. ... 0Lynchburg.

Current day map:

http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?z=18&n= ... atum=nad83

Perhaps also info in: VIRGINIA RAILROADS IN THE CIVIL WAR by Angus James Johnston III(Univ. of N.C. Press, Chapel Hill, N.C., 1961)
  by nscalerail
In case you go looking for the exact site, note that the Norfolk Southern right-of-way has been shifted slightly over the years. When walking East to West along the NS right-of-way, look into the woods just south of the tracks about 50 to 100 feet and look for a slight, less "natural" looking rise in the terrain. That's the old Manassas Gap rail right-of-way.

CAUTION... That stretch of NS track is active so watch out for trains as you walk! Be aware of your surroundings and don't walk on the tracks; especially in areas of blind curves. Stay on the South side of the tracks as that is the area you will be looking for.