Battle for the Rails


2701 Meadow Road
Sandston, VA 23150

Geo Coordinates



Richmond and York River Railroad

On May 10th 1862, McClellan’s Army of the Potomac landed at White House landing, where the Richmond and York River Railroad crossed the Pamunkey River, some 20 miles east of Richmond. Meeting no resistance from the Confederate Army, McClellan set up headquarters and made immediate use of the railroad, shipping 6 engines and 20 railcars down from Baltimore. Using the rail, McClellan’s army could transport troops, supplies and heavy artillery to the front as they marched towards the Confederate capital.

At the Battle of Savage’s Station, the two armies clashed head on along the Richmond and York River Railroad. Robert E. Lee, the newly appointed General of the Army of Northern Virginia, fearing that McClellan was planning an artillery attack from behind the safety of the Union depot at Savage’s Station, ordered General John Magruder to attack. Lee also took advantage of the rail, ordering a 32-pounder naval gun affixed to a railcar, protected by iron plating, to assist in Magruder’s offensive.

With neither army gaining a tactical advantage after the battle, McClellan abandoned the rail and continued his retreat towards the James River. In an attempt to destroy the bridge over the Chickahominy during the retreat, Union troops set ablaze a railcar and engine full of munitions and sent it barreling down the tracks. While the bridge did suffer damage, the Confederate Army was able to salvage much of what the Union left behind. These actions marked one of the first uses of railways in warfare in the United States.


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