World's First Military Railroad
During the Civil War, two railroads—the Manassas Gap and the Orange and Alexandria—intersected here. Manassas Junction was strategically important to both the Union and Confederacy as a supply depot and for military transportation. Two of the war's great battles were fought nearby. Diaries, letters, and newspaper articles documented the war's effects on civilians as well as the thousands of soldiers who passed through the junction.
Just in front of you ran the world's first military railroad, which connected Manassas Junction and Centerville.
In October 1861, after the First Battle of Manassas, the 40,000-man-strong combined Confederate force of Gens. P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston established winter quarters at Centerville, closer to Washington. The army needed more than 120,000 pounds of provisions for the men and 26 pounds of forage per animal daily. Supplies came here on trains to Manassas Junction, then were transferred to wagons and hauled to Centreville on the Manassas-Centreville Road. Despite efforts to "corduroy" the road ("pave" it by laying hewed logs side by side), heavy autumn rains made it a red-clay quagmire. The exhausted horse and mule teams ate as much forage as they carried, and many animals sank so deeply in the mud they could not be extracted and were shot. As a result, the much-needed supplies accumulated on the sidings here. Johnston and his quartermaster, Maj. Alfred Barbour, began in November to build a railroad connecting Manassas Junction and Centreville.
Soldiers did the work at first, but Johnston decided that "those duties are injurious to us by reducing our numbers" of troops from necessary patrols, drills, and equipment maintenance. He ordered Quartermaster Barbour to advertise in Richmond for railroad workers, and by mid-December, Barbour had hired slaves to cut ties while awaiting the rails that Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson had "appropriated" from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. To speed the work, they laid ties at twice the standard interval, directly on mounded earth with no gravel underneath to stabilize them. The small bridge over Bull Run barely rose above the water. The six-mile-long railroad was completed on February 17, 1862. Ironically, just six days later, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to withdraw from northern Virginia to defend Richmond.