Yankee Freight Service to Guiney’s Station in 1862 …and Other Novelties along the Early War RF&P Railroad


from: Harrison

Northeast Virginia’s railroads showcased Civil War creativity that was both constructive and destructive, and originated with soldiers and civilians as well as with generals and other top officials. Prototype, customized, or infrequently seen structures, equipment, extensions, alternatives, and practices appeared along or were proposed for the region’s iron arteries. Those often offered previews, with technical or procedural novelty that had appeared along one line reappearing along another.  What follows is a sampler of the lesser-known, novel developments during the first year of wartime operations along the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (RF&P).

The RF&P’s railyard and its approaches from the Rappahannock River bridge in 1856.   This area, extending several blocks from river’s edge to the station buildings, was the scene of nerve-wracking but creative moments for Southern forces in 1861 and, a year later, for Northerners.  Looking west.  Detail from Edward Sachse chromolithograph, copy in collection of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP.

The RF&P’s Fredericksburg railyard and its approaches from the Rappahannock River bridge in 1856. This area, extending several blocks from river’s edge to the station buildings, was the scene of nerve-wracking but creative moments for Southern forces in 1861 and, a year later, for Northerners. Looking west. Detail from Edward Sachse chromolithograph, copy in collection of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP.

At the time of Fort Sumter’s bombardment, the RF&P’s uppermost segment extended 14 miles north of Fredericksburg and the Rappahannock River.  The railroad then lacked a trackside telegraph-line, and its managers feared surprise by Federals coming ashore at Acquia Creek landing. That place marked the RF&P’s northern depot, at the mouth of the creek on the Potomac River.  Acquia boasted a hotel; an engine house; fishery buildings; and a long, shed-roofed railroad wharf where in peacetime passengers and freight had transferred between trains and steamboats.

The Acquia Landing-Fredericksburg and Fredericksburg-Guiney’s Station segments of the RF&P Railroad, 1860’s.  North at top.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

The Acquia Landing-Fredericksburg and Fredericksburg-Guiney’s Station segments of the RF&P Railroad, 1860’s. North at top. Courtesy Library of Congress.

On April 18, 1861, three days after President Abraham Lincoln called for armed suppression of the lower South’s rebellion, the RF&P’s Superintendent of Road instructed his representative in Fredericksburg to implement an early-warning system in the event of threatening moves by Union forces:

If any of the citizens exhibit any alarm [emphasis original] you can tell them that we will keep the Engine at [Acquia] Creek fired up all the time so that in case…any vessel come[s] in sight that looks suspicious or anything else[,] we will run the train direct to Freds’burg to give the alarm to the citizens….

Detail from an undated, rarely seen Alfred Waud sketch of Acquia Landing and environs, showing the cluster of huge buildings that probably housed the salting; drying; and storage operations of Walter Finnall’s Fishery. The Fishery complex was one of the most prominent but also the shortest-lived of the wartime Acquia landmarks, surviving the ship-to-shore fighting of May 31/June 1, 1861 but removed before or during the first Union occupation in the spring of 1862.  (The wharf and hotel are just outside this view, to the right; the railroad extended from left to right and a short distance behind the Fishery buildings in this perspective.) Courtesy Library of Congress.

Detail from an undated, rarely seen Alfred Waud sketch of Acquia Landing and environs, showing the cluster of huge buildings that probably housed the salting, drying, and storage operations of Walter Finnall’s Fishery. The Fishery complex was one of the most prominent but also the shortest-lived of the wartime Acquia landmarks, surviving the ship-to-shore fighting of May 31/June 1, 1861 but removed before or during the first Union occupation in the spring of 1862. (The wharf and hotel are just outside this view, to the right; the railroad extended from left to right and a short distance behind the Fishery buildings in this perspective.) Courtesy Library of Congress.

On May 14-15, 1861, either a train-borne alert or its horseback equivalent triggered the dispatch from Fredericksburg of a hastily organized, armed reconnaissance by railroad, as recalled by an officer in the Virginia State Forces: 

[T]he enemy sent down an old passenger steamboat, the Mt . Vernon, which had formerly been used to carry the mail between Aquia and Washington City, no doubt to see what we were about. [A] messenger was dispatched with the news. Ample time was allowed, during a ride of sixteen miles, for him to imagine all kinds of wonderful things; and by the time he reached head-quarters [at Fredericksburg] it was asserted that a fabulous number of vessels of war of the largest class were landing untold hosts of Yankees at the Creek; that they had already captured the works, and were advancing rapidly by way of the railroad on Fredericksburg. [The town] was thrown into alarm and excitement. Trains were ordered to be fired up. All the troops…turned out under arms, while staff officers dashed about in a manner truly wonderful to behold. General Ruggles’s forces had by this time been increased to five or six companies of infantry.
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A balm to a wounded South: honoring Jackson and the dead at Guinea Station, 1866


From John Hennessy:

"Fairfield," the Chandler Plantation at Guinea Station, before the removal of the big house (left), early 1900s. The farm office where Jackson died is at right, and survives.

The great risks that attended secession did not become obvious to many Southerners until the experiment failed, until the South was vanquished. In diaries and letters written during the months following Appomattox, the people in and around Fredericksburg struggled to reconcile defeat with the immense losses the community, state, and South had suffered. In May 1865, Lizzie Alsop of Princess Anne Street wailed,”Each day increases the weight upon our hearts; & we feel more accutely the loss we have sustained; our country, our cause, our all.”  A other great example can be found in this letter from Hannah Rawlings of Spotsylvania County.

As witness to more Southern sacrifice than any other place in the nation, the Fredericksburg region symbolized the cost of war acutely. A few residents seem to have been much aware of the immense investment the Confederacy had made here, and sought to justify that sacrifice with honor.  Here is a letter from Guinea Station, written in 1866 (it appeared in the Fredericksburg Ledger  on June 29). The letters speaks to the nexus between wartime and postwar suffering and the need to honor the sacrifices embodied at the failed attempt to create the Confederate States of America.

The farm office at Jackson Shrine today.

Guiney’s Depot,  Caroline County, Va.

Editor of the Ledger:

            DEAR SIR:–I suppose you can, in some degree, appreciate the condition of the people at present;  we are without money and nothing to see to get it; there is a complete failure in the wheat crops in my neighborhood.

            I have intended for some time to give you some account of the way in which the anniversary of the death of our much lamented Jackson was spent in the neighborhood of Guiney’s depot, by the patriotic young ladies and gentlemen in that vicinity.  They turned out on that day and made up and decorated with flowers, over one hundred greaves of the Confederate soldiers, mostly from the Southern States.  I think such things should be published to let the friends of those who fell in our country’s cause know that they are not forgotten by the people of Virginia; that their husbands and sons, though filling soldier’s graves, are alive in the hearts of those who were engaged in a common cause.  Much credit is due, especially to the ladies, for this manifestation of their respect to the soldiers; much has been done, and I hope much more will be done in honor of the soldiers who lost their lives in behalf of our beloved, though unfortunate country.

            With my best wishes for your prosperity, I subscribe myself yours with respect.

                                                                            J. M. B. 

A theoretical conundrum: should the name of Jackson Shrine be changed?


From Hennessy,  something to ponder over the weekend:

As the park moves through its General Management Planning  process, a couple of people have suggested that we consider changing the name of Jackson Shrine–the farm office on the Chandler Plantation where Stonewall Jackson died on May 10, 1863. The question arises from the simple fact that most people driving along I-95 who see the sign, “Stonewall Jackson Shrine,” have no idea what it we’re talking about.  A grotto in a garden?  A statue?  Is it really a shrine?   Some have suggested something more literal and descriptive–something more useful.  That raises a whole new question.  If it were to be renamed, what should it be called? Fairfield–The House where Jackson Died? (Though what survives is a farm office, not a house.)  The Last Days of Jackson Historic Site?

The name Stonewall Jackson Shrine dates to the the early 1900s, when the land was owned by the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad.  The RR removed all other surviving structures from Chandler’s Fairfield Plantation (including the Big House–on the left in the photo below; the farm office is the building nearest the camera), but retained the farm office where Jackson died and, in an era of intense affection for Jackson and the Confederacy, called it the Stonewall Jackson Shrine.  The site passed to the NPS in the 1930s; as far as I know, there has never been serious thought given to changing the name.

So, what say you?  Change it or abide tradition and leave it?  If you were inclined to change it, what would you call it?

Would the public welcome something that makes more clear what the site actually is as you zoom by on I-95, or would the public rebel at a change to the site’s traditional name?

Bear in mind that by some measures, the Jackson Shrine is our most popular site.  A survey a few years back revealed that while more visitors go to Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Chatham, visitors to the Jackson Shrine spent about 50% more time there compared to other sites around the park.  This is surely due to the excellent, often one-on-one interpretation they get from the staff there.  It can be a powerful place.

Here, by the way, is a our web site and a short video on Jackson Shrine done by Chris Mackowski, author of the Last Days of Jackson.