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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Civil War Decision Makers: John W. Garrett Commits the B&O

Executive decision-making has been much in the news.
John Work Garrett, 1820-1884
During the Civil War, John W. Garrett, President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, made a crucial business decision which affected the course of the war.  Despite being personally sympathetic to the Confederate cause, with Jubal Early’s men circling north toward Martinsburg and Cumberland and threatening the B&O, on February 1, 1864, Garrett wrote to Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, offering the services of his railroad to transport Union troops:

“…Immediate re-inforcements [sic] appear to be required. I have ordered vigorous preparations to be made for the transportation of troops from Washington and Baltimore…”

Letter from John Work Garrett to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Feb. 1, 1864.
From the Baltimore & Ohio Records, Misc. Correspondence, Box 2, Folder 10.
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Choosing the winning side facilitated the B & O’s post-war success in retrieving property stolen by Confederate troops.  As the Confederates circled north they were amazed to find fourteen locomotives in the B & O sheds in Martinsburg, West Virginia. A handwritten manuscript in our B & O Records entitled “The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad: Adventures of A Railroad During the Civil War” tells the story:

Locomotives Moved Over Turnpike Roads to Richmond
The Confederates had almost undisturbed possession of 100 miles of the [rail]road west of Harpers Ferry, during which time they destroyed all the bridges between that place and Cumberland, and took up and removed to Richmond the iron rails of 40 miles of the track. They also conveyed to Richmond 14 valuable locomotives, in perfect order, which they found in the company’s repair shops at Martinsburg. They accomplished this novel task with extraordinary perseverance and great mechanical skill, as they had to transport these heavy locomotives over the turnpike roads on their own wheels to Strasburg, a distance of fully 40 miles.

According to the B & O Engine Shop Records, the company got twelve of the fourteen locomotives back in 1865:

 “All 12 captured locos back in shop. 2 never returned 34 and 50.”

Christine Windheuser, Volunteer, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

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