CIVIL WAR RAILROADS IN EAST TENNESSEE
In the midst of the American Civil War, Chattanooga, Tennessee, became the focal point of a silent yet decisive battle—a battle for control over the supply lines that the railroads represented. Two major railroads, the Western & Atlantic Railroad (W&A) and the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad (ET&G), converged here, forming a vital artery for the movement of troops and supplies.
This convergence was not just a geographical one but a strategic nexus that both the Union and the Confederate armies sought to control. The W&A, completed in 1850, stretched from Atlanta and met the ET&G, which had been laid from Dalton to Knoxville by 1859. These railroads were more than just tracks laid down; they were lifelines for the war efforts on both sides.
Nearby, spanning the Chickamauga Creek, stood bridges crucial to these railroads. In a daring act of sabotage, Union sympathizers plotted to destroy the ET&G bridge in November 1861 but were thwarted by the Confederacy’s vigilance. However, they did manage to set aflame two W&A bridges, demonstrating the vulnerability of these crucial supply lines.
The railroads were also the stage for one of the war’s most dramatic episodes: the Great Locomotive Chase. In April 1862, Union raiders, led by James Andrews and disguised in civilian attire, hijacked a train near Atlanta with a mission to sever the Confederacy’s supply lines by burning the bridges behind them. Their endeavor ended in capture and the execution of Andrews along with seven of his men.
The tides of war turned, and in November 1863, as Confederate forces retreated from Chattanooga, they set both the W&A and ET&G bridges aflame. Yet, this did not deter the Union army, led by General Ulysses S. Grant. When they discovered that only a temporary wooden replacement of the ET&G bridge had been destroyed, Grant’s engineers swiftly rebuilt it, and the Union’s advance persisted.
The aftermath of the war saw the strengthening of these structures with new stone piers to accommodate heavier trains—a testament to the railroads’ enduring importance. Today, the remaining bridges and tracks are not just historical landmarks but narrators of Tennessee’s Civil War legacy, reminding us of the crucial role that supply lines play in the outcomes of conflicts.
For further reading and exploration of the subject, delve into the National Archives’ Civil War records, or explore the Tennessee State Library & Archives for primary documents and detailed maps from the era. Additionally, the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History offers a wealth of information about the Great Locomotive Chase and the role of railroads in the Civil War.