The Orange & Alexandria Railroad

Changes last made on: 4/20/12

The Orange & Alexandria was Chartered by the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia on March 27, 1848 and was authorized to run from Gordonsville through Orange Court House and Culpeper Court House to Alexandria. Construction on the mainline began in 1850. On May 6, 1851 the engine 'Pioneer' ran from the north end of Union Street to the Wilkes Street tunnel in the city and on May 7, 1851 the inaugural run extended from the western edge of downtown Alexandria to the waterfront, a total of under 2 miles. The railroad reached Tudor Hall (present day Manassas) in 1851, Culpeper Court House by 1853, and joined the Virginia Central Railroad at Gordonsville in 1854. Construction along much of its alignment followed the old Piedmont stage route. In 1854 the O & A was granted permission by the general assembly to build southward from Charlottesville to Lynchburg. The O&A railroad reached Lynchburg in 1860 where it accessed the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Between Gordonsville and Charlottesville the O & A paid the Virginia Central for use of its tracks.

The O&A's connections with the Manassas Gap, Virginia Central, and Virginia and Tennessee Railroads allowed piedmont farmers to ship their products, produce and goods much more cheaply than before and could transport goods by rail North, South, East and West. As a result of being the northern terminus of the railroad, Alexandria became a thriving seaport and manufacturing center. In addition to faster and cheaper delivery of freight, by 1860 passengers could go from Washington to Lynchburg in eight hours instead of the three-day travel before the railroad’s completion.

During the Civil War, the O&A was arguably the most fought over railroad in Virginia. The railroad provided the most direct all rail route from Washington to Richmond and the Orange and Alexandria would serve as a main highway for the troops to march on and be supplied. In moving down the O&A to the Virginia Central at Gordonsville, the Union Army would be taking the quickest land route to Richmond as well as cutting Southern communications with the Shenandoah Valley. The North almost relentlessly pursued this course of action for the first three years of the War.

The South vigorously defended the railroad against this invading force with the result that several major campaigns (First and Second Manassas, Bristoe) and dozens of battles and smaller engagements took place on or near the tracks of the O & A. The rail junction at Gordonsville would play a particularly prominent role in Robert E. Lee’s operations throughout the war. So important was this junction that it can probably be stated that nearly every soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia passed through it at one time or another.

Following the war, the railroad found itself in increasing financial difficulties. Repairs of the line were required and the company found itself caught in the middle of the struggle between the Baltimore & Ohio and the Pennsylvania Railroad in their quest for extension into the south.

By 1873 the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had gained controlling interest in the company. In time, it would become part of the Richmond & Danville, then the Southern Railway, and finally today's Norfolk Southern where it plays an important role in carrying freight through the eastern corridor.

This page seeks to provide those with an interest in the Orange and Alexandria Railroad with some of the information I have compiled in my ongoing research. I am hoping to publish a book in the near future. Please feel free to write me if you have any information to contribute concerning the road.


Chronology - A Calendar of important events 1848-1894. (5/22/06)

Location of Stations - List of stations with brief descriptions on locations. With links to maps and photos. (3/10/08)

Principle Bridges - List of bridges giving location and status of the 19th Century historic structure. (3/4/08)

What to See - A brief Guide to what there is to see along the old Main Line. (3/4/08)

A Photo Tour of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad - From Alexandria to Gordonsville (3/18/08)

Brief Summary of the Federal Military use of the O&A - A very brief summary of the Federal Military use of the O&A during the Civil War. (6/22/05)

USMRR Locomotives - A listing of the U.S. Military Railroad Locomotives used in Virginia. (8/10/06)

Locomotives of the O&A - A listing of the company's engines by year acquired 1851-1873 (8/10/06)

USMRR Officers 1862-1865 - A list of the US Military Railroad officers charged with running and repairing the railroads out of Alexandria. (12/10/04)

Links of Interest - Links with further information as well as tour guides I've written. (4/20/12)

Original Material on this site is © csiegel 2004-2012

For permission to use material from this site, email me at the address below.

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