As early as 1848 a bill was introduced in the state legislature to construct a rail line northward into Virginia. Again and again it failed for lack of support, many lawmakers fearing that such a route would shift commerce bound for western North Carolina out of state. In the meantime the North Carolina Railroad connection between Greensboro and Charlotte opened in 1856. At the outset of the Civil War it was apparent that completion of the forty-mile gap between Danville and Greensboro was a vital military need. In a message to the Confederate Congress on November 19, 1861, President Jefferson Davis stressed the importance of the connection.
In 1862 the route was surveyed and stock offered in the Piedmont Railroad, with a Virginia line, the Richmond and Danville, acquiring ninety-nine per cent of the interest. The work proceeded slowly. Engineers needed a labor force of 2,500, but had only a fraction of the number. Included in the force were a small group of slaves, a number which would have been larger had Governor Zebulon B. Vance not refused to impress them into service. Iron was difficult to come by. Eventually rails were ripped up from other lines to build the Piedmont. Even before it was finished, it was already a primary supply route, its gaps bridged by wagons. On completion in May 1864, its value to the Confederacy was incalculable. One writer has estimated that it “added months to the length of the Civil War.”
Ironically President Davis, who had argued for its completion in 1861, used the Piedmont route in 1865 in his flight south. The actual connection with the North Carolina Railroad at Greensboro was made only after the war, in the winter of 1866-1867. Difference in the gauges of the two lines was the holdup. In time the Piedmont Railroad became part of the Southern Railway (later Norfolk Southern) system.
According to one historian, John R. Edmunds of Halifax County, Virginia built the railroad connection between Danville and Greensboro:
"The Edmunds family came from the Eastern Shore [of Virginia] to Charlotte county, and from Charlotte county to Halifax, where we find Henry Edmunds, of 'ElmHill,' now the home of a Mr. Morris, from Philadelphia. His son is John R. Edmunds of 'Redfield,' a grand old home built before the War Between the States by the slaves on the plantation with brick made by them and wood from the surrounding forest. . . . John R. Edmunds married Mildred Coles, daughter of Isaac Coles, Sr., and his wife, Lightfoot Carrington, of 'Springwood' near Meadsville. . . . John R. Edmunds was a wealthy man before the Civil War, a staunch sympathizer with the South, and among the many conspicuous services that he did was the building for the Confederate government that section of the Southern Railway lying between Danville and Greensboro. He owned many slaves and other property and was also a large land owner."
Carrington, Wirt Johnson. A History of Halifax County (Virginia). Baltimore: Regional Publishing, 1975 (Reprint Edition); Originally Published Richmond, 1924. Pages 171-172. Print.
Cecil Kenneth Brown, “A History of the Piedmont Railroad Company,” North Carolina Historical Review (April 1926): 198-222.
Allen W. Trelease, The North Carolina Railroad, 1849-1971, and the Modernization of North Carolina (1991).
Cecil Kenneth Brown, A State Movement in Railroad Development (1928)
Robert C. Black III, The Railroads of the Confederacy (1952)
George E. Turner, Victory Rode the Rails (1953)
Blackwell P. Robinson, History of Guilford County, North Carolina, U.S.A. to 1840 A.D. (1971).
Source: Essay that accompanies the Piedmont Railroad Marker on the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program Website.
The Richmond and Danville Railroad was chartered 1847 in Virginia. The portion between Richmond and Danville, Virginia was completed in 1856. The railroad was only 140 miles long during the American Civil War but it played a vital role in linking Richmond to the rest of the Confederacy. After the war, it grew to become the Richmond and Danville Railroad System, eventually covering 3,300 miles in nine states. In 1894, the R&D became part of the Southern Railway. In 1990, it became part of today's Norfolk Southern Railway.
During the Civil War, the Confederate Army was handicapped by a lack of supplies when there often were plenty of supplies in the depots, but the quartermaster corps of the southern army was unable to deliver the goods efficiently. In one case, however, the war finally forced the states-rights Confederate government to over-rule objections by North Carolina. That state had blocked construction of a rail connection from Greensboro to Danville, fearing that after the war trade from North Carolina's Piedmont would continue to flow to Richmond via the R&D.
Year Chartered or Incorporated: 1862
Year Line Operational: 1863
Year Service Ended: 1894 (merged into Southern Railway)
Original Starting Point: Danville, Virginia
Original Ending Point: Greensboro, North Carolina
Built and owned by the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Retained its line name until merged into Southern.
The road, long desired by many in western North Carolina and the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company, was built at the insistence of the Confederate government soon after the Civil War began in 1861. The Richmond & Danville Railroad bought almost all the stock issued, and built and operated the railroad. It was chartered and building started in 1862. Construction was completed very late in 1863.
The State of North Carolina strongly resisted construction of the Piedmont Railroad. North Carolina legislators wanted the trade from its Piedmont region to go through Wilmington, NC rather than to a Virginia port. The states-rights-oriented Confederacy ultimately forced construction of the Piedmont Railroad, over North Carolina's objections, as a military necessity.
The road was poorly built - ties too far apart, grading minimal, and ballasting, depots, platforms, water stations, firewood supplies, and sidings were far below standards of the time. The rolling stock was mostly provided by the Richmond & Danville Railroad and modified to the new road's North Carolina gauge. The rail was taken up from at least five less-used Virginia and North Carolina railroads.
The railroad's worth was proven when the Petersburg Railroad was cut by the Union Army in August 1864, leaving only the Piedmont Railroad-Richmond & Danville Railroad line to bring in supplies from the states south of Virginia. Considering how poorly this road was able to supply Virginia after the Petersburg Railroad was cut, it is impossible to believe that Lee could have been well-enough supplied to have been able to remain in Virginia through 1865, even if Grant had not pressured him.
From a June 29, 1862 article in the New York Times:
Office of the Piedmont Railroad Company June 17, 1862 - Mules and Carts Wanted. Five hundred mules, and a proportionate number of carts, are wanted immediately, for the construction of the Piedmont Railroad from Danville, Va., to Greensborough, N.C. The highest market rates will be paid for those which pass our inspection, if delivered at an early day. Apply at the office of the Richmond and Danville Railroad Company, either at Richmond or at the town of Danville. Edmund T.D. Myers, Captain Engineers and Chief-Engineer.
The effort to secure a railroad between Greensboro, North Carolina and Danville, Virginia, dates from November 27, 1848, when John W. Ellis of Rowan County introduced in the House of Commons of North Carolina a bill to incorporate the Charlotte & Danville Railroad Company, with a capital stock of $2,000,000 and empowered to build a railroad from Charlotte via Salisbury to Danville.
Although not a single rail had at that time been laid on the recently-chartered Richmond & Danville Railroad (a Virginia company), the fact that the projectors of that road were thinking of the possibility of extending it into North Carolina is evidenced by the fact that W. P. Tunstall of Danville, its president, addressed an internal improvements meeting in Raleigh in January of 1849, while the fight over the charter of the Charlotte & Danville Railroad was going on within the North Carolina General Assembly. However, it was stated that he "abstained from any remarks calculated to excite sectional jealousies."
When the Charlotte & Danville Railroad, known as the Danville Connection, failed to receive the support of the legislators from the eastern section of the state, the westerners were forced to accept, as a compromise measure, the bill to charter the North Carolina Railroad. That bill promised to provide a rail line over approximately two-thirds of the distance between Charlotte and Danville, and that in a very direct line, leaving only a short distance of approximately fifty (50) miles between Greensboro and Danville to be provided later. The people of the west believed that it would only be a matter of time until a charter for the construction of this link would be secured.
For a number of years, however, after passage of the bill incorporating the North Carolina Railroad Company, the energies of the people of the Piedmont were so absorbed in the task of raising the capital for and constructing that road that no active steps were taken toward building the connection from Greensboro to Danville. They probably reasoned, as well, that it was best not to antagonize the hostile east by seeking favors in too rapid succession.
In the General Assembly of 1858-1859, the fire was renewed when Francis L. Simpson of Rockingham County introduced in the House of Commons a bill to charter the Greensboro & Danville Railroad Company. The bill was referred to the Committee on Internal Improvements, which later reported back with its recommendation that it do not pass. A majority of the members of this committee were opposed to the passage of this bill, but a minority, consisting of John M. Morehead of Guilford County, Newberry F. Hall of Rowan County, and Ambrose Costner of Lincoln County, handed in a minority report setting forth figures to show that the state would be aided by the building of this railroad, because almost all traffic in the Greensboro section was incoming; hence, they argued, there was nothing to be feared in the possibility that the road would divert trade to Virginia, as was maintained by the majority.
The western, or Piedmont, route to the South was under great disadvantage of distance as compared with routes farther east by way of Raleigh or Wilmington. The Danville Connection would remove that handicap. There were also great possibilities of through trade with the South by way of Danville, Greensboro, and Charlotte.
The old warfare between the eastern counties and the western counties broke out again. The westerners were enthusiastically in favor of the bill, while the easterners did everything in their power to prevent its passage. The latter claimed that such a road would be an insult to state pride, and charged its sponsors with the intent of carrying off North Carolina trade to Virginia. The westerners, however, could not see that it was any more heinous to build a railroad from Greensboro to Virginia than to build one from Raleigh to Virginia, or from Chatham to Cheraw, South Carolina, projects which had already received the sanction of the law makers.
After several weeks of warm discussions, the bill was finally defeated on its second reading in the House of Commons by a vote of 65 to 37.
Immediately after this loss, a substitute bill was introduced to fix the northern terminus at or near Leaksville, just south of the NC/VA state line. After an amendment was put in declaring that the charter would be forfeited if the road should ever be connected with the Richmond & Danville Railroad, this new bill passed its second reading. However, the bill did not pass through the Legislature, but was finally changed into the Dan River & Coalfields Railroad bill, which provided for the charter of a railroad from Danville to Leaskville by a somewhat indirect route - and in this form passed on February 16, 1859. This left only the link from Greensboro to Leaksville to be provided for, and at this point the matter rested until the next Legislature convened.
This half-way measure did not satisfy the people who wanted a direct rail line between Danville and Greensboro, so the matter came up again in the House of Commons on November 26, 1860. But, that proposal did not receive sufficient support and accordingly, on February 7, 1861, the bill was amended to changed the northern terminus from Danville to Leaksville, and in that form it was finally passed.
Thus, after many years of straggle, the citizens of the western counties had finally secured the right - in two separate charters - to build an indirect line of railroad between Greensboro and Danville. This was not entirely satisfactory to them, but it is probable that both roads would have been constructed, had not the attention of the people been drawn just at that point in time to the vastly more pressing demands of the US Civil War, which broke out after the second charter was secured.
All thought of sectional differences was suppressed in the zeal of the people for the greater common cause and no mention of the Danville Connection was again made until late in 1861, when the project received attention from a new and rather unexpected source.
The Provisional Congress of the Confederate State of America convened in Richmond on November 18, 1861, and on the following day President Jefferson Davis in his message to the Congress called attention to the importance to the Confederacy of means of transportation. He pointed out that there existed only two main railroad systems from north to south - one from Richmond along the Atlantic seaboard, and the other through western Virginia to New Orleans. A third could be had by building the fifty miles between Danville and Greensboro - the Danville Connection.
This third line would greatly increase the safety and capacity of the existing lines, besides giving access to population and military resources from which the Confederate Army needed. Jefferson thought the construction of this line indispensable to the best prosecution of the war effort, and he urged Congress to encourage its speedy completion by lending the needful finances to a company to be organized for this purpose.
A double fight was now impending. All the old antagonism and sectional feeling within North Carolina were to be aroused once again. And when the participation of the Confederate government in the undertaking was proposed, opposition was immediately incurred from the strong adherents to the principle of states' rights and delimitation of the powers of the central government.
In the Confederate Congress so much of the president's message as related to this road was, on November 25, 1861, referred to the Committee on Military Affairs. On December 9, this committee reported, "A bill to provide for connecting the Richmond and Danville and the North Carolina Railroads for military purposes." From then until February 10, 1862, a fierce contest was waged over the passage of the bill. Those opposed to the Confederate government having a hand in building the road used every means to prevent the bill from becoming law. It had been made the special order of the day for December 13, and the first victory of the opposition was gained when postponement of its consideration was secured.
In a second message to Congress on December 18, President Davis again urged the construction of this railroad because of the superior safety of its location, and because it would afford additional facilities for the transportation of troops and supplies. But, matters dragged along, and the bill did not come up for consideration until January 30, 1862. Those who stood strongest for constitutional limitations renewed their efforts to defeat it. After a number of amendment had been adopted, the question of ordering the bill to be engrossed for a third reading came up.
With Toombs of Georgia leading the opposition, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida voted against the bill. Six states voted in the affirmative, and four were divided. The yeas did not have a majority, and the bill failed to be engrossed for a third reading. Every member from Virginia voted for the bill, while the vote in the North Carolina delegation stood five for and three against.
The next day, Harris of Mississippi moved to reconsider this vote. But, he failed to get a response from his opponent, and February 6th arrived before a vote on his proposal to reconsider could be demanded. At that time, he secured a vote postponing the consideration for other business, but a great deal of opposition was met before the motion to reconsider prevailed. Toombs led Alabama, Georgia, and Florida against it again. These three states threw every obstruction possible in the way of passage of the bill. They demanded a vote on whether or not the House would consider the motion to reconsider, and then another vote on whether or not the House would reconsider. The motion to reconsider the bill to charter the railroad was passed by a vote of eight to three.
As soon a the bill came back up for reconsideration on February 7th, Chilton of Alabama tried to block it by moving indefinite postponement. Again, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida voted together. South Carolina was divided. All other state voted against postponement and Chilton's motion lost. Opponents of the measure then use every parliamentary device to effect its defeat. They failed, and the bill was ordered to be engrossed for a third reading.
The bill was finally read a third time and passed, nine states voting in the affirmative. Alabama, Georgia, and Florida voted against, while North Carolina was divided once again.
This act, signed by President Jefferson Davis on February 10, 1862, provided for the connecting the Richmond & Danville Railroad and the North Carolina Railroad, but it did not specify the terminal points. It authorized the president of the Confederacy to contract with any company or companies that were already incorporated or that might be incorporated to build the railroad, or to adopt any other course looking to the construction of the said road in the best interests of the Confederate States of America. For that purpose, $1,000,000 in Confederate bonds were appropriated.
Three days after the passage of the bill, Toombs moved to reconsider the vote, which had become law. When that failed, he had spread upon the page of the journal a protest signed by himself, Crawford, Bass, and Foreman of Georgia; by Smith and Currie of Alabama; by Oldham of Texas; by Morton and Owens of Florida; and by Rhett of South Carolina. The substance of the protest was that the Confederate government derived its power to acquired places for and construct arsenals, forts, dry docks, and so forth, only through the consent of the legislatures of the states in which such works were to be located; that even in the case of these military necessities Congress could not act without the consent of the states.
The advocates of the railroad bill had admitted that the constitution of the Confederate States of America did not give the Congress any express power to pass such an act as the railroad bill, but they had maintained that its passage was necessary and proper in the exercise of certain specifically granted powers. The protestants met this by contending that the road was not a military necessity because no portion of the country to be traversed was more than 25 miles from an existing railroad, and because existing means of transportation, in their opinion, afforded ample connections. They thought that the benefits of the new road would be purely local. They further declared that the road could not be completed within twelve months, and that by that time it might not be needed for military purposes at all.
A good part of this protest seems to have been somewhat out of place, for the state convention in North Carolina had, on February 8, 1862, passed an ordinance incorporating the Piedmont Railroad Company. Certain men in North Carolina and Virginia who had long favored the construction of the Danville Connection had been disposed from the first to attempt to secure the charter from the North Carolina General Assembly. They wished to avoid the difficulties that they felt sure would be met in the Confederate Congress. It appeared that President Davis's recommendation was all that was needed to turn the scales in favor of the road in North Carolina.
Thus it happened that while the fight over the charter was being waged in Richmond, a similar fight, waged on quite different issues, however, was taking place in the North Carolina Capital Building. As early as November 23, 1861, John M. Morehead, a member of the Confederate Congress and an ardent advocate of the Danville Connection, wrote to Judge Thomas Ruffin, a member of the North Carolina Secession Convention of 1861, calling his attention to the recommendation of President Davis relative to the Greensboro-Danville railroad, and pointing out the desirability of having only one company to construct its road.
But, even the military needs of the Confederacy were not powerful enough to kill all opposition to the Danville Connection in North Carolina. The easterners still opposed building the road, on the ground that its construction would be a violation of states' rights; that it would reduce the profits of the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad and the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad in the east; and that it would interfere with the state's system of public works. Against the third of these objections it was urged that there had never been any "system" in developing the public works within North Carolina. The other two objections seem not have been potent enough to have required refutation.
When the charter was up before the convention in January and February of 1862, efforts were made to make the southern terminus to be Lexington, or even Company Shops [Burlington], but both of these proposal were voted down. The ordinance incorporating the Piedmont Railroad Company was finally passed by a vote of 61 to 35. With three exceptions every delegate living west of Raleigh who was present when the final vote was taken voted for the bill.
As approved, the charter provided for $1,500,000 of stock and empowered the new company to construct a railroad on the best, cheapest, and most direct and practicable route from the Richmond & Danville Railroad to the North Carolina Railroad. It provided that the company should be organized by a meeting of stockholders as soon as $100,000 should be subscribed; that the company should have power to construct one or more tracks; and might construct said tracks within the state of Virginia.
Section 33 of the charter provided - "That any one or more of the solvent incorporate railroad companies of the said states and the Confederate States of America may subscribe for stock in said company, and should the Confederate States of America subscribe for and take the whole of such stock, or the larger part thereof, power and authority are given to said Confederate States of America to appoint for the time being the whole of said directors, anything in this ordinance to the contrary notwithstanding, and at once to locate and commence the construction of said road, and hold the stock so taken by them until individuals and corporations shall be prepared to receive an assignment of the same, or any part or parts thereof, as hereinafter provided."
The President of the Confederacy, or such person as should be determined by the Confederate authorities, was empowered to appoint four of the nine directors of the company as long as the stock held by the Confederate government should be over one-half of the total.
The grants of power and authority contained in this charter certainly seem to have been sweeping enough to have routed all opposition based upon the contention that the central government could not interfere in matters concerning the individual states without a grant of power from the states involved. Furthermore, inasmuch as a short portion of the proposed road would have to be constructed within the state of Virginia, the North Carolina act contained a provision that the charter should be submitted by the governor of the state through the governor of Virginia to the Virginia Legislature for approval. This was done, and on March 18, 1862, the Virginia General Assembly ratified the action of the North Carolina convention by an act which it was stipulated that connection with the Richmond & Danville Railroad should be made south of the Dan River at some point near Danville, unless military conditions should demand that it be made elsewhere.
However, despite these large grants of power, the Confederate government did not buy stock in the Piedmont Railroad Company, because of the prevailing opinion that it would be unconstitutional for that government to own the road after it should cease to be a military necessity. Instead, the Confederate government proposed to lend $1,000,000 in bonds to any company that would agree to build the road.
No terminal points were named in the charter. A number of men who before the war had opposed the Danville Connection now tried to defeat, as far as possible, the plans of the original promulgators, by having the road built between points other than Greensboro and Danville. Among these were William S. Ashe of New Hanover County and George W. Mordecai of Wake County. The latter was greatly interested in the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad, whose business it was thought the new road would damage. The situation at the time the surveys were being made is shown in the following excerpt from a letter of J.R. McLean, a member of the Confederate Congress, to Ralph Gorrell, of Greensboro:
"The whole matter was referred to Mr. Hunter, secretary of state, but before he took action upon it, the regular congress met, and Hunter being senator, of course, was no longer secretary of state, and the matter was referred back to the secretary of war. If Mr. Hunter had remained in office, I think we could have had fair appointments of directors and surveyors made. He is a very clever man. Sutherland, of Danville, and Harvey, the president of the Danville Road, had great influence with him. Benjamin, though a man of talents, is an unmitigated Jew, and anybody that has the name of Mordecai or Moses has unlimited influence with him. William S. Ashe has the ear of the president and the secretary of war. George Mordecai, Hawkins, Ashe, Swepson, and a host of others have been here; and the result, as might have been expected, was that a Jew, a nephew of Mordecai, was appointed chief surveyor. I understood that when he got to Danville before he had struck a blow at all he was expressing a preference for the lower route. I got Mr. Buford, the member from Danville in the Virginia legislature, to introduce an amendment to the charter, making Danville a terminus, and their grant of the right of way to the confederate government was passed with that amendment. What effect it will have I do not know."
The surveyor mentioned was Edmund T.P. Myers, a captain in the Engineers, Provisional Army of the Confederate State. After he completed the surveys, the first active step toward building the road was taken when he summoned its commissioners to meet in Richmond on April 29, 1862, for the purpose of conferring with the Secretary of War with regard to the construction. At the appointed time, the commissioners met at the Exchange and Ballard Hotel, and organize by electing W.T. Sutherlin, of Danville, the only Virginian among the commissioners and a high official of the Richmond & Danville Railroad, chairman. Thus it appeared that at last the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company was about to make good in its effort to gain control of a company which would enable it to extend its rail connections into the state of North Carolina - something it had been striving to achieve since it was first chartered in 1847.
At the Richmond meeting, Captain Myers read the surveys of the road from Danville to Greensboro and from Barksdale Depot on the Richmond & Danville Railroad to the town of Haw River on the North Carolina Railroad. The logic of Danville to Greensboro as terminal points finally prevailed, partly because these towns were obviously at the ends of the most direct route, and partly because the Richmond & Danville Railroad had been wise enough in the pursuit of its own interests to construct a bridge over the Dan River at Danville before the charter for the Piedmont Railroad was granted.
It was then decided that the books be opened to receive stock subscriptions after twenty days advertisement, and that a meeting for purposes of organization should be called a soon as $100,000 of capital stock should be subscribed for and five percent of it paid in. However, before a week had passed, the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company, on May 5, 1862, declared its intention of subscribing for 14,900 of the 15,000 shares of Piedmont Railroad stock. Three days later, the Secretary of War, on behalf of the President of the Confederacy entered into an agreement with that company to lend it the $1,000,000 worth of Confederate bonds, not to bear interest until eighteen months after the Piedmont Railroad should have been completed and put in running order. The Richmond & Danville Railroad Company at the same time agreed to give the Confederate government an equal amount of its bonds to bear interest from the same date.
Thus, the Richmond & Danville Railroad, realizing its long dream, came into absolute control of the Piedmont Railroad Company, and undertook the immediate construction of the new road. The work, however, proceeded under the direction of the War Department of the Confederacy, represented by Captain Myers as chief engineer. As early a May 22, 1862, President Harvie of the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company was advertising for laborers. In July, Captain Myers began to call for proposals for grading, masonry, bridge building, etc., advising bidders to apply either to his office or to the office of the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company.
Late in the year, the contract for building the road was let to Edmund Wilkes & Brother. This firm graded the entire line with the exception of five mile, built the masonry and trestle work, and laid about fifteen miles of track. By early October of 1862, a mile or more of the grading had been done, and with the number of hands employed on the work soon to be increased to 1,500 the grading of the entire roadbed was expected to be finished by May 1, 1863. Due to the demands of the war, it was very difficult to secure laborers.
Late in 1861, before the Piedmont Railroad was chartered, a member of the legislature of South Carolina declared that the sea island planters of that state would furnish slaves to grade the road in double quick time. It is probable that a number of such laborers were actually used, although there are no records of such.
Despite the handicaps under which the construction was carried out, the work proceeded with a fair degree of celerity under the directions of the contractors, who were termed enterprising and energetic men. However, nearly a year passed before any rails were laid. By the middle of September of 1863, rail had been laid on the fifteen miles of track south of Danville, and it was thought that within a month the road would be finished to Reidsville, North Carolina, when passenger trains would be put onto the track. Early in October, the Robert E. Lee, an engine reported to have been captured by Confederate forces from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, made a trial run over the track already finished south of Danville. The work was reported to have been well done and a tribute to the skill of Captain Myers.
On November 11, 1863, track laying from Greensboro northward began, and within a few weeks the entire road was opened from Greensboro to Danville.
It was to be expected that many visible evidences of hasty and faulty construction would be found. Not a few grades were too steep for heavy trains. Between Danville and Pelham, the survey had called for a high grade line that was necessary in order to obviate blasting, for which the proper explosives could not be had at any price. While the road was being built the engineers in charge could not get enough cross ties to lay the track between Danville and Reidsville, and consequently the ties available were laid at a greater distance than was desirable. It was estimated that 10,694 cross ties were needed to make up the deficiency.
One of the greatest difficulties encountered in the construction of the road was that of securing iron. The Southern states before 1860 had few iron mills. Before the war, practically all of the rails used on roads in the South came from England, Wales, or from the industrial states in the northeast. All of these avenues of supply were closed during the war, and the iron mills of the South were scarcely able to supply the needs of the fighting forces, not to mention the making of railroad iron.
Since the Piedmont Railroad was being built as a military necessity, the Confederate government procured the necessary iron by impressment from other less important railroads already built. The major part of it came from the Roanoke Valley Railroad, running from Clarksville, Virginia to the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad, and from the Atlantic, Tennessee & Ohio Railroad, running from Charlotte to Statesville, North Carolina. Other roads that were partially or wholly wrecked for this purpose were the Richmond & York River Railroad, the Seaboard & Roanoke Railroad, and the Manassas Gap Railroad.
During the war, all Southern railroads were nominally operated by the companies owning them, but they were more or less controlled by the Confederate authorities, who used them whenever military necessity demanded. In cases where certain roads were dismantled to secure iron for other roads the control amounted to duress or even to violence. It was under conditions of complete military control that the Piedmont Railroad was operated during the short period of fifteen months just preceding the close of the war.
It has already been noted that the construction of the Piedmont Railroad was in large measure due to the recommendation of President Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy. It is interesting to note at this point that it was over the Piedmont Railroad that President Davis made his escape from Richmond by way of Danville to the South after General Lee's surrender in April of 1865.
After General Lee's surrender and President Davis's escape, the United States Treasury authorities seized the Piedmont Railroad on the theory that it was the property of the Confederate government and hence subject to confiscation. This was taken because it was generally known that the road had been built during the war as a military necessity, and because certain iron taken by impressment from other roads had been used in its construction.
Of course, this seizure was resented by the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company, which owned 99% of the stock in the Piedmont Railroad Company. At their regular meeting on September 13, 1865, the stockholders made vehement protest against the action of the Federal government, and called upon the board of directors to take the proper steps to have the road restored to its rightful owner. Three days later, Hugh McCulloch, then Secretary of the Treasury, wrote letters to Governors Holden of North Carolina and Pierpont of Virginia, calling their attention to the situation and inviting suggestions.
This resulted in the appointment of John Minor Botts of Virginia, and Dr. T.J Powell of North Carolina, to be commissioners with instructions to lay before the US Treasury authorities the fact as to the material interest and concern that the citizens of the two states had in the Piedmont Railroad. These two gentlemen went to Washington, DC and presented documentary evidence showing that the Piedmont Railroad had been built by a private corporation with private funds, and that the Confederacy had had no more to do with the road than with any other road whose services it had conscripted during the war.
The outcome of the whole matter depended upon the ability of the claimants to prove absence of ownership on the part of the Confederate government. It is recalled that when the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company proposed to subscribe for practically all of the capital stock, the Confederate government had agreed to lend the company the sum of $1,000,000 in bonds. It had been the intention of both parties to put these bonds on the market, but when the time came to raise the money, Confederate bonds had depreciated so much in value that the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company, on May 13, 1863, decided to issue its own bonds instead. That course was pursued, and of the bonds so issued, $826,000 remained outstanding in January of 1866.
The installments of interest, aggregating $82,000, on the Confederate bonds were paid to the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company, but these amounts were passed to the credit of the Confederate government, which owned that company sums for transportation for in excess of the $82,000.
T.L. Giles, counsel for the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company from its organization, stated that the contract of May 8, 1862, "was virtually abrogated by the mutual consent of the parties before the evacuation of the city of Richmond," while an investigating committee in North Carolina stated without qualification that some time in 1864, the arrangement for the loan of bonds by the Confederate government was cancelled by mutual agreement of the parties.
These facts were sufficiently powerful to lead the Washington authorities to the conclusion that the government of the United States could not claim the Piedmont Railroad as captured property under the act of Congress. Accordingly, there was transmitted to H.A. Risley, Supervising Special Agent, an order signed by Hugh McCulloch, Secretary of the Treasury, an Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, directing him to release and turn over the Piedmont Railroad with its rolling stock, equipment, etc., to the Piedmont Railroad Company and the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company upon the following conditions:
1) That they assume and pay all expenses incurred by the Federal government during its control of said line, after deduction all receipts, so that the Federal government sustain no loss on account of its temporary possession of the property.
2) That they restore to all southern railroad companies having claims all iron, rolling stock, and other property taken by the Confederate government and placed on the Piedmont Railroad or else make satisfactory adjustment for the same.
3) That a good and sufficient bond be given to guarantee the discharge of these obligations and to indemnify the United States against any claims or suits that might grow out of the period of Federal control of the property.
Some delay followed, and the road was finally turned over to its rightful owners on December 9, 1865. On the day of the release, the officers and directors of the two companies involved were required to give personal bon to the United States government in the rather excessive amount of $500,000 as security for carrying out the conditions above.
During the period of Federal control, the receipts of the Piedmont Railroad had been sufficient to cover all expenditures, despite the fact that freedmen and disabled and indigent persons connected with the Federal army had been transported free of charge, as well a the US mail. Thus it happened that there were no obligations to be assumed under the first condition of release.
There were, however, numerous claims coming under the head of the second condition. Section 31 of the North Carolina act incorporating the Piedmont Railroad Company specified that the gauge of the road should be the same as that of the North Carolina Railroad, which was 4'-8-1/2". The gauge of the Richmond & Danville Railroad was five feet. Hence, it was impossible to use R&D equipment on the Piedmont. At the end of the war, there was nothing but temporary equipment on the Piedmont.
The Piedmont Railroad Company purchased from other roads one or two inferior locomotives, which, together with 30-40 cars, comprised all of the rolling stock given back by the Federal government in late 1865. The value of the entire list of rolling sock did not exceed $40,000. Some rolling stock had been rented from other roads, and some so rented had been destroyed or worn out while in the hands of the Piedmont. All such claims had to be met, in addition to those for rails, spikes, etc., secured from other roads and used in the construction and maintenance of the Piedmont Railroad. By November of 1866, the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company had paid or assumed a total of $386,404 in claims.
When received in December of 1865, the Piedmont Railroad was in very sad condition. Having been of necessity rather poorly built in the first place, the road had consistently deteriorated during the war due to the difficulty of acquiring supplies and materials for maintenance. The ditches had not been cleaned out, and mud and water actually covered the rails in many places. At the close of the war the running time of passenger trains over the fifty miles was five hours - because the track was so unsafe.
The Richmond & Danville Railroad Company thus found itself in possession of a more or less dilapidated and worn out property. But if the Piedmont Railroad possessed nothing more, it possessed a location which the R&D had been seeking for decades. To the company, its number one priority was to quickly get approval to change the gauge of this road to match the remainder of the company's assets in Virginia.
The Virginia lawmakers, always favorable to the plans of the R&D for extension into North Carolina, on December 15, 1865, passed an act authorizing the Piedmont Railroad, by and with the consent of the legislature of North Carolina, to change its gauge to correspond with that of the Virginia roads, and upon the submission to the legislature of a favorable report on the title and property of the Piedmont the way was opened for the passage of a similar law in North Carolina, which was done on February 1, 1866, directing the gauges. Four days later, the first trains ran through from Richmond to Greensboro.
Meanwhile, the stockholders of the Piedmont Railroad formally authorized a lease of the road to the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company, even though it was the majority stockholder. The line was henceforth operated by the Richmond & Danville Railroad Company.
The R&D now set out to make some important and much needed improvements to the Piedmont Railroad, which retained its line name. By September of 1866, more than 8,000 new cross ties had been placed on the road, and a committee on examination reported that the property was in excellent condition, having a solid roadbed with heavy rail. The only remaining visible evidence of hasty or faulty construction was the fact that some of the grades were a little too steep for heavy trains.
The North Carolina Railroad had always been hostile to the Richmond & Danville Railroad, but with the completion of a new joint facility in Greensboro, the interests of the two companies began to seem more and more identical. By 1871, the Richmond & Danville Railroad had divested itself of all Virginia state ownership and had itself come under control of the financially sound Pennsylvania Railroad through its Southern Railroad Security Company - a new concept of ownership that quickly grew after Reconstruction. Both companies now wanted the North Carolina Railroad at almost any cost, but the North Carolinians would only accept a leasing arrangement and not a buyout. This was good enough for the R&D.
Until this lease was obtained in 1871, the Piedmont Railroad was never profitable. An interesting note is that when the R&D leased the North Carolina Railroad in 1871, it also secured authorization to switch all of the NCRR's tracks to match the gauge of the R&D - to 5 foot broad gauge - and it replaced 233 miles of track. During May and June of 1886, all Southern railroads finally went to the 4'-8-1/2" gauge that NCRR started out with - and the R&D made the tough decision to finally follow suit. This was now the new national standard and the R&D virtually had no choice.
Eventually, both the Richmond & Danville Railroad and the Piedmont Railroad - almost one and the same, but not quite - were acquired by Southern Railway in 1894.
Excerpted with edits from "The North Carolina Historical Review, Volume III, Number 2" - April, 1926. "A History of the Piedmont Railroad Company" by C.K. Brown.
Towns on Route (in NC):
NC/VA State Line
Graves > Pelham (1865)
Stacyville > Ruffin (1869)
Browns Summit (1871)
Greensborough > Greensboro (1893)
© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved.
Source: Piedmont Railroad
Public Meeting in Danville
At a meeting of a portion of the citizens of Danville, Va., and of Caswell county, N. C., held in Danville, on the 30th November, 1861. Mayor William T. Clark was called to the chair, and C. W. Watkins appointed Secretary. The object of the meeting having been explained by George W. Read, Esq., R. W. Lyles, Esq., moved that a committee of ___ be appointed to draft suitable resolutions for the action of the body. The chairman appointed the following gentlemen to constitute said committee, viz: R. W. Lyles, B. G. Cobb, John W. Holland, Jas. C. Voss, Dan'l S. Price, G. T. Pace, William Rison, J. P. Atkinson, and E. J. Bell. The committee then retired for consignation. During the absence of the committee, the meeting was addressed by George W. Read, Wm. D. Coleman, Wm. W. Flood and others. The committee then returned, and reported, through their chairman, the following preamble and resolutions, viz:
Whereas, the President of the Confederate States has recommended in his late message to Congress the construction of a railroad from Danville, Virginia, to Greensboro, North Carolina, as indispensable for the successful prosecution of the present war, we feel it our duty to express our readiness to do all in our power to secure said connexion:
1. Resolved, That with our knowledge of the great advantage to be secured to the Government of the Confederate States in the prosecution of the war, by thus filling up the short gap between Danville and Greensboro, and in view of the cheapness with which it can be built, and seeing especially that, with this connexion, a continuous line of railroad will be secured through the middle of the Confederacy, so indispensable to the cause not only of Virginia and North Carolina, but of the entire South, we, the people of Danville, as well as a portion of the citizens of Caswell, pledge our undivided support to said connexion, and will contribute our substance as liberally as our means will allow.
2. Resolved, That Dan'l S. Price, A. G. Walters, B. G. Cobb, W. T. Sutherlin, W. B. Swann, A. S. Buford, William D. Coleman, Wm. W. Flood, Thomas B. Doe, and R. W. Lyles, be appointed a committee to memorialize the Legislature of Virginia, it need be, in order to obtain such amendments to existing charters, or to obtain a new charter, if necessary, to secure the early completion of the said connexion; and they are also requested to communicate with the authorities of North Carolina, and assure them of our readiness to do all in our power to further the great work in contemplation.
On motion, the preamble and resolutions were unanimously adopted.
On motion, Resolved, That the Danville, Richmond, (Va.,) Raleigh, and Greensboro, (N. C.) papers be requested to publish the proceedings of this meeting.
The meeting then adjourned.
Wm. T. Clark, Chm's
C. W. Wateine, Rec'y
Source: Richmond Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 4 December 1861.