The B&O’s early days by “Jack” Snyder prepared by Jim Surkamp Pt. 1

My name is Jack Snyder. I am a writer and historian living in West Virginia. The year is 2012. I’m going to talk today about the history of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from 1827, when it began to the end of the Civil War in 1865 and we’re going to cover the area between Baltimore, Maryland and the Midwest, including some of the events of the Civil War. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was the first common carrier railroad of the United States – “common carrier” means that it was designed to carry both freight and passengers. It was inaugurated in Baltimore, given legal existence in the year 1827. This was done in imitation of a railroad in England called the Stockton and Darlington, which was a 25-mile long railroad in western England, designed to carry coal from inland coal mines to the seacoast, where it could be exported. The Baltimore & Ohio, however, was designed for much more than that, it was designed to carry both freight and passengers and it was intended from the very beginning to travel the distance from Baltimore to the Ohio River, a distance of 379 miles and it finally reached the Ohio River twenty-five years after it began in the year 1852.

The importance of the Baltimore Ohio Railroad is greater than it would first appear to be. It was one of many railroads being initiated in that era but it adopted from the very beginning the standard gauge of the English railroads, which was four feet, eight-and-a-half inches. That may sound like an arbitrary number, but that number actually has deep historical roots. It was derived from the distance between the wheels on standard Roman wagons and carts from the heyday of the Roman empire 2000 years ago and it proved to be very effective and successful and is still widely in use today, not only in the United States but in other countries as well. The railroad, as I said, began in 1827 and by 1831 it began its first regular passenger train service to the small industrial city Ellicott Mills – Ellicott’s Mills, I should say – just outside Baltimore to the west on the Patapsco River. By 1832, the railroad had reached Frederick, Maryland. Frederick, of course, is a good deal inland, and was the second city in Maryland – still is – after Baltimore. By 1836 the Baltimore Ohio railroad had progressed to Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. This of course was before the state of West Virginia which only came into existence during the Civil War. And by 1842, the B&O had reached Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of about 200 miles from its origin point in Baltimore.

Another form of transportation which had been inaugurated by George Washington – the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal – which eventually reached Cumberland about five years after the B&O Railroad got there. Throughout most the 19th century, the two forms of transportation were in deep competition until eventually the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad won out and took over the canal. The railroad proved to be an extremely important form of transportation, not just for passengers who were the dominant money-maker part of the railroad in the early days. They were quickly supplanted by the importance of freight transportation. B&O Railroad hauled agricultural produce from inland points to the Port of Baltimore and the wheat, being grown in this area the mid-Atlantic was particularly prized in international commerce in those days. It held up very well in transportation and, so it commanded premium prices and the wealth generated by huge exports of wheat provided a great deal of money for the improvement of the areas that provided the wheat. That was particularly true here in Jefferson County, which is the focus of what we’re going to talk about today. Many in fact, of the fine houses and plantations that were built in this area were a direct result of the wealth pouring in from the transport of wheat, during that period which is a period when a great deal of wheat was being demanded in Europe, as a result of population growth and economic growth. The passenger side of it was very important too, to enable people to move quickly between the coast and inland points and this in itself resulted in tremendous economic growth when the B&O Railroad reached Wheeling, Virginia in 1852 to the transport of commodities had been very expensive hmm everything was done by Road up to that point and the cost of transporting a ton of goods of any kind whether it was agricultural commodities or finished products was a hundred dollars a ton using wagons and teamsters over the National Road. Well, when the B&O got to Wheeling, Virginia in 1852, the price of shipping a ton of goods or commodities dropped from a hundred dollars a ton to five dollars a ton. You can readily imagine what a tremendous effect this had on commerce between the Ohio River area and the East Coast, and similarly it was possible, then, for passengers to travel from Wheeling to Baltimore, Baltimore to Wheeling overnight. In those days, an express train left Wheeling Virginia about five o’clock in the evening and arrived in Baltimore about nine o’clock the next morning. By 1857, the Baltimore and Ohio was able to offer through transportation across Ohio and Indiana using connecting railroads in those states – all the way to St. Louis and commerce really began to pick up because, until that point, most of the major transportation routes were based on rivers and roads and the railroad was able to offer faster, cheaper, more efficient transport to everybody for both freight and passengers.

Made possible by the generous, community mind support of American Public University System. (apus.edu) Sentiments and views portrayed in this series do not in any way reflect the modern-day 21st century policies of the University, but are offered to encourage  fact-based discussion on the evolution of the foundational values of the United States. 1,001 words

‘Jack’ Snyder explains the early B&O railroad Pt. 2

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https://web.archive.org/web/20130519070859/https://civilwarscholars.com/2012/03/jack-snyder-explains-the-early-bo-railroad-pt-2/

VIDEO: ‘Jack’ Snyder explains the early B&O railroad Pt. 2 TRT: 4:13

Joseph P. “Jack” Snyder

Another form of transportation which had been inaugurated by George Washington – the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal – which eventually reached Cumberland about five years after the B&O Railroad got there and throughout most the 19th century the two forms of transportation were in deep competition until eventually the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad won out and took over the canal. The railroad proved to be an extremely important form of transportation not just for passengers who were the dominant money- maker part of the railroad in the early days. They were quickly supplanted by the importance of freight transportation. The B&O railroad hauled agricultural produce from inland points to the Port of Baltimore and the wheat being grown in this area – the mid-Atlantic – wheat was particularly prized in international commerce in those days. It held up very well in transportation and so it commanded premium prices and the wealth generated by huge exports of wheat provided a great deal of money for the improvement of the areas that provided the wheat. That was particularly true here in Jefferson County, which is the focus of what we’re going to talk about today. In fact, many of the fine houses and plantations that were built in this area were a direct result of the wealth pouring in from the transport of wheat during that period which is a period when a great deal of wheat was being demanded in Europe as a result of population growth and economic growth. The passenger side of it was very important to enable people to move quickly between the coast and inland points and this in itself resulted in tremendous economic growth. When the B&O Railroad reached Wheeling, Virginia in 1852, the transport of commodities had been very expensive. Everything was done by Road up to that point and the cost of transporting a ton of goods of any kind, whether it was agricultural commodities or finished products was a hundred dollars a ton using wagons and teamsters over the National Road. Well. when the B&O got to Wheeling, Virginia in 1852, the price of shipping a ton of goods or commodities dropped from a hundred dollars a ton to five dollars a ton. You can readily imagine what a tremendous effect this had on commerce between the Ohio River area and the East Coast and similarly it was possible then for passengers to travel from Wheeling to Baltimore and Baltimore to Wheeling overnight. In those days, an express train left Wheeling, Virginia about five o’clock in the evening and arrived in Baltimore about nine o’clock the next morning. By 1857 the Baltimore and Ohio was able to offer through transportation across Ohio and Indiana using connecting railroads in those states all the way to St. Louis and commerce really began to pick up because until that point most of the major transportation routes were based on rivers and roads and the railroad was able to offer faster, cheaper, more efficient transport to everybody for both freight and passengers. Made possible by the generous, community mind support of American Public University System. (apus.edu) Sentiments and views portrayed in this series do not in any way reflect the modern-day 21st century policies of the University, but are offered to encourage  fact-based discussion on the evolution of the foundational values of the United States. 514 words

‘Jack’ Snyder on the B&O and Lincoln’s Overlooked Role as the Railroad Visionary. Pt. 3

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https://web.archive.org/web/20130519070849/https://civilwarscholars.com/2012/03/jack-snyder-on-the-bo-and-lincolns-overlooked-role-as-the-railroad-visionary/

VIDEO:: ‘Jack’ Snyder on the B&O and Lincoln’s Overlooked Role as the Railroad Visionary. – TRT: 4:30.

Joseph P. “Jack” Snyder

During the Civil War, the railroad was the effective lifeline for federal operations between Baltimore and Washington and the Midwest. As it happened, it went through part of rebel territory in Virginia which caused enormous problems operationally and politically and militarily, not only for the railroad but also for the federal government. There were many raids on the railroad during the Civil War. One of the famous raiders was John Singleton Mosby who was a Confederate colonel. But he was not the only one, there was another man by the name of Harry Gilmor who operated in the area around Jefferson County and the West Virginia Panhandle; and these raids had the tendency to upset and interdict the operations of the railroad itself, and in some cases, the railroad was out of operation for a fairly hefty period of time.

One of the things that happened was that one of J.E.B. Stuart’s lieutenants, a man by the name of Thomas R. Sharp, carried off Baltimore and Ohio locomotives from the city of Martinsburg and took them on wagons partly disassembled into the South where they were used on Southern railroads, about eighteen of them, I think, during the war. The B&O eventually got all of those locomotives back minus one at the end of the war, which had been destroyed. And, Thomas R. Sharp, who by then was a colonel, was actually hired by the B&O railroad to be its Master of Transportation at the end of the war. So, I guess that was a case of “If they can beat you, hire them.”

In any case, the railroad system of the United States had developed quite substantially before the war. By the time the Civil War started in 1861, the United States had more miles of railroad than all the other countries of the world combined, including those in Europe, and building railroads was the key to economic progress and improvement in the United States all during that period and subsequently.

The great planner of railroads during the Civil War was none other than the president, Abraham Lincoln, who had been a railroad lawyer in Springfield, Illinois before the war and had a grand vision for what needed to be done with the railroad in the United States. In 1862, he caused to be passed by Congress, the Pacific Railroad Act, which was later amended in 1864 and 1866. This act essentially authorized the extension of the railroad system of the United States throughout the western part of the United States which at that time had no railroads. So that, I think you could fairly say, that Abraham Lincoln was the chief planner and chief railroad visionary of his time. We’ve all heard a great deal about Lincoln’s Administration and the freeing of the slaves and the conduct of the Civil War which was tremendously important; but few people seem to know how important Lincoln’s vision for the expansion of the railroad system was and his vision included using the B&O railroad as the model – with its standard gauge of four-feet, eight-and-a-half inches – which was adopted in the Pacific Railroad Act. And, in fact, after the Civil War, all the railroads of the United States were re-gauged to that standard gauge even though many of them had begun as small local operations with very different gauges. So, in a sense, the B&O railroad was not only the major lifeline for the Union forces during the Civil War, operating between the East coast and the Midwest, but it was also the crucial model for the subsequent development of the national railroad system.

Made possible by the generous, community mind support of American Public University System. (apus.edu) Sentiments and views portrayed in this series do not in any way reflect the modern-day 21st century policies of the University, but are offered to encourage  fact-based discussion on the evolution of the foundational values of the United States. 670 words

‘Jack’ Snyder and John Brown’s Mistake with the B&O at Harper’s Ferry, Va. 1859 – Pt. 4

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https://web.archive.org/web/20130519070854/https://civilwarscholars.com/2012/03/jack-snyder-and-john-browns-mistake-with-the-bo-at-harpers-ferry-va-1859/

VIDEO: ‘Jack’ Snyder and John Brown’s Mistake with the B&O at Harper’s Ferry, Va 1859. – TRT: 4:41.

Joseph P. “Jack” Snyder

The seminal event that occurred on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad in 1859 was the raid by abolitionist John Brown on Harper’s Ferry where the federal armory – one of two federal armories the other was in Springfield, Massachusetts – was located. What happened on this occasion was that Brown and his men moved from their farmstead in Maryland across the river from Harper’s Ferry into Harper’s Ferry during the night October 16, 1859, and they attempted to take control of the town of Harper’s Ferry and the federal armory.

The B&O train from Wheeling to Baltimore made a brief stop in Martinsburg for crew change, replenishment of water and fuel and then it came on to Harper’s Ferry in the middle of the night. It was stopped in Harper’s Ferry about two o’clock in the morning of October 17, 1859. One of the things that happened very quickly is that one of the B&O railroad employees, a porter by the name of Heyward Shepherd, was shot by one of Brown’s men and died several hours later. As many of you will know, the raid was aimed at upsetting the plantation aristocracy and causing revolt of black slaves. And momentarily, it looked like it might succeed. However, the train was released the next morning by Brown and his men about six o’clock in the morning men October 17, 1859 and the conductor of the train, a man by the name of Andrew Phelps, boarded his train and got to the next station where there was a telegraph office and he alerted the managers of the B&O railroad in Baltimore what was happening. They at first did not believe him. And when he got to the next station, there was a message waiting for him and he replied to that that the situation was even more serious than what he had told them in his first message. When he got to Baltimore, he took one of the passengers who had been held hostage at Harper’s Ferry, temporarily, and he reported to the Master of Transportation on the railroad, a man by the name of William Prescott Smith and the president of the railroad at the time, John W. Garrett, was also present. He had been elected president in 1858. Once they understood the nature of the situation at Harper’s Ferry, they immediately contacted federal authorities and the secretary of war, John B. Floyd, summoned Robert E. Lee and one of his lieutenants, J.E.B. Stuart, who put together a group of soldiers, including a detachment of Marines under the command of Israel Green and took the train to Baltimore, and then over to Harper’s Ferry as quickly as they could. They very quickly defeated John Brown and his men and took them prisoner. And as you know Brown was later tried and hanged in Charlestown, Virginia on December 2, 1859. This turned out to be a rather minor incident in terms affecting the railroad and affecting military operations and policy of the United States. But it had a much wider effect in that it was widely reported nationally and internationally and caused a great outburst of feeling and indignation. And it really was effectively the kick-off – the curtain raiser you might say – to the Civil War itself which began in the spring of 1861.

Made possible by the generous, community mind support of American Public University System. (apus.edu) Sentiments and views portrayed in this series do not in any way reflect the modern-day 21st century policies of the University, but are offered to encourage  fact-based discussion on the evolution of the foundational values of the United States. 621 words