Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Petersburg's Railroads - Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad

Petersburg's last antebellum rail line was the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, which traversed that route's 85 miles. It received its charter in 1851, started construction two years later, and began operating in 1858. Like the Southside Railroad, the Norfolk line med a number of natural obstacles that required conquering, primarily bridging the Elizabeth River and crossing part of the Great Dismal Swamp. Virginia Military Institute graduate, railroad engineer, line president, and future Confederate general, William Mahone, designed ingenious ways to circumvent these problems. He developed drawbridges to cross the river and a log railroad bed to help traverse the swamp.

As with Petersburg's other antebellum railroads, primarily enslaved individuals provided the majority of the labor required to do such large projects. The advertisement above that ran in the Petersburg Daily Express in 1855, called for leased slaves to work on the Norfolk and Petersburg and offered "liberal prices and good treatment."

The station depot for the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad ran just a couple of city blocks behind the Bollingbrook Hotel (shown above) on Bollingbrook Street. Travelers on this line, as well as the nearby Southside Railroad, preferred the accommodations of the Bollingbrook due to its convenient location. Those who traveled the Petersburg Railroad most often stayed at Jarrett's Hotel on Washington Street, just across that thoroughfare from that line's depot. These hotels offered guests all types of services in addition to lodging. Travelers could have their laundry cleaned and pressed by hotel laundresses, and they could have their hair cut or beards shaved by hotel barbers. Lodgers could dine at the hotel's restaurants where enslaved and free people of color cooked and waited on their guests. With such services bringing in an additional steady revenue, it is easy to see the hotel's interest in not connecting the various rail lines.

Early in the war the Norfolk and Petersburg line was extremely important. Since Norfolk and its ship industry was an early target of the Union navy and army, the railroad was used to remove heavy coastal artillery to safer in-land locations. When federal forces captured Norfolk in the spring of 1862, the Norfolk and Petersburg line was forced to reduce its travel distance to about 35 miles to the depot at Ivor. Interestingly, this rail line ran directly through much of the June and July 1864 fighting of the Petersburg Campaign. In fact, the line ran just a stone's throw away from the entrance to the mine shaft dug under the Confederate fortifications that resulted in the Battle of the Crater. One has to wonder if when making his famous counterattack on the afternoon on July 30, 1864, Gen. Mahone pondered about the unusual turn of events occurring near his railroad line.

No comments:

Post a Comment