Richmond and Danville Railroad during the Civil War


The Richmond and Danville Railroad, which connected the Confederate capital at Richmond with Southside Virginia, was an instrumental supply route for the Confederacy during the American Civil War (1861–1865). The railroad began construction in 1848 and maintained 140 miles in Virginia, holding one of the largest rolling stocks. The line moved southwest from Richmond to the city of Danville, Virginia, near the North Carolina border. While this railroad’s tracks did not exceed the state’s boundaries, it did provide connections to various sections of Virginia, particularly Southwest Virginia, through the Richmond and Petersburg and South Side railroads. Though the Richmond and Danville suffered immense damage during the Civil War, the Confederacy continuously used the railroad until Confederate general Robert E. Lee‘s surrender at Appomattox in April 1865.

The Richmond and Danville Railroad was one of the most traveled railroads in Virginia, its stock of locomotives and passenger cars only surpassed by the Virginia Central and the Virginia and Tennessee railroads. By 1861 the Richmond and Danville Railroad contained twenty-three locomotives, eighteen passenger cars, six mail and baggage cars, and 328 box and flat cars. The rail’s extensive stock was often used to convey large freights, particularly coal, into and out of the Confederate capital.

The Richmond and Danville, an instrumental Confederate transportation tool, accommodated the government’s daunting tasks, which included the movement of large numbers of supplies and troops. The Confederacy quickly recognized the importance of this rail line, and in 1861 the government sought to replace its thirteen-year-old iron tracks. These improvements provided a more efficient means of travel for the railroads’ patrons, chiefly the military.

Confederate Rail Lines

The security of the Richmond and Danville, particularly its ability to provide efficient Confederate transportation to the region, was paramount in the defense of Petersburg. For ten months, in 1864 and 1865, Union armies under general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant lay siege to the city, located just south of Richmond, and in the process attempted to disable the railway. Lee’s defense was critical in preserving Confederate supply lines. Throughout the long Petersburg Campaign, the Richmond and Danville line remained protected, yet the Confederates lost the Weldon Railroad and the Virginia Central as a result of a number of breaks in their lines. At the close of the war, the Richmond and Danville line remained one of the few available rails still in use by the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Before surrendering at Appomattox, Lee ordered supplies to be sequestered and transported to his troops on the Richmond and Danville line. Union troops cut the rail’s lines on both sides of Lee and terminated any further transportation of supplies.

  • Johnston, Angus J., II. “Virginia Railroads in April 1861.” The Journal of Southern History 23 (August 1957): 307–330.
  • Majewski, John. A House Dividing: Economic Development in Pennsylvania and Virginia before the Civil War. Cambridge, U.K. and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Turner, George Edgar. Victory Rode the Rails: The Strategic Place of the Railroads in the Civil War. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1953.
APA Citation:
Bocian, Meredith. Richmond and Danville Railroad during the Civil War. (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/richmond-and-danville-railroad-during-the-civil-war.
MLA Citation:
Bocian, Meredith. "Richmond and Danville Railroad during the Civil War" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 28 May. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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