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The fall of Wilmington, denying access to the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, was a major factor leading up to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
"Longest railroad in the world when completed in 1840. Length 161 1/2 miles"

Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Map
Wilmington and Weldon railroad map.jpg
"The most critical railroad in the United States"

     In 1840 the longest railroad in the world opened in North Carolina, running from Wilmington in New Hanover County to Weldon in Halifax County via Goldsboro and Rocky Mount. The Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad Company designed and built the railroad which, at 161 miles, was longer than track. The Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad was originally chartered to connect the state’s largest port city, Wilmington, with the capitol city, Raleigh, but the track was rerouted to Weldon instead of Raleigh. The Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad was officially renamed the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad in 1855.
     On December 30, 1833, the North Carolina General Assembly approved the charter which was amended in 1835 to change the terminus to Weldon. In addition to the lack of financial support for the project from Raleigh citizens, the founders of the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad hoped to capitalize on the plentiful industry and agriculture of the Roanoke River valley and points north. In 1836, the Wilmington and Raleigh incorporated into their company the interests of the Halifax and Weldon Railroad, a short road track connecting the two cities in Halifax County. Weldon became a railroad hub for eastern North Carolina, providing access to areas throughout North Carolina and Virginia.

Wilmington and Weldon Railroad History
Wilmington and Weldon Railroad.jpg
Historical Marker

     Construction began on the Wilmington and Weldon line, as it had become popularly known, in 1836. The company remained private, under the leadership of its first president, Edward B. Dudley. The state provided the private railroad company with extensive financial support, owning forty percent of the stock interest in the company, and assisting with the railroad line’s maintenance until it became profitable after 1850.
     The Wilmington and Weldon line opened in May 1840, with the first trip conducted by William Hall. The company grew and by 1860 it boasted a 15 % profit on its capital stock. The Wilmington and Weldon line was also essential to the Confederacy during the Civil War, becoming known as the “lifeline of the Confederacy.” The line moved goods and supplies from the single open Confederate port of Wilmington to Robert E. Lee’s Army in Virginia and throughout the Confederacy. The fall of Wilmington, denying access to the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, was a major factor leading up to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. (See Siege of Petersburg.)

References: Cecil K. Brown, A State Movement in Railroad Development (1928); Allen W. Trelease, The North Carolina Railroad, 1849-1871, and the Modernization of North Carolina (1991); W. C. Allen., History of Halifax County (1918); Charles Clinton Weaver, Internal Improvements in North Carolina Previous to 1860 (1903); William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006).

Recommended Reading: Civil War Railroads: A Pictorial Story of the War Between the States, 1861-1865 (Hardcover: 192 pages) (Publisher: Indiana University Press). Description: With more than 220 black and white photographs from the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and private collections across the country, this is the essential pictorial guide for all those interested in the role of the Iron Horse in the American Civil War. Like all wars, the Civil War was not all gunfire and panic. It was supply and transport, trains and trouble on the line, men in Blue and Gray fighting against almost unbelievable odds with lumbering, woodburning engines. Continued below...

About the Author: George B. Abdill, Civil War Railroads: A Pictorial Story of the War Between the States, 1861-1865, before his death, was a railroader's writer--A working hoghead on the Southern Pacific's Portland Division and historian of the great days of steam. His special gift was as a collector of truly remarkable photographs illustrating the pioneering days of the railroads. And he had a special place in his heart for military railroaders since he, himself, served with the 744th Railway Operation Battalion during World War II, running his engine in France, Belgium, and Germany. He had first-hand knowledge of railroading under fire.

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Recommended Reading: The Railroads of the Confederacy (400 pages) (The University of North Carolina Press: April 15, 1998). Description: Originally published by UNC Press in 1952, The Railroads of the Confederacy tells the story of the first use of railroads on a major scale in a major war. Robert Black presents a complex and fascinating tale, with the railroads of the American South playing the part of tragic hero in the Civil War: at first vigorous though immature; then overloaded, driven unmercifully, starved for iron; and eventually worn out—struggling on to inevitable destruction in the wake of Sherman's army, carrying the Confederacy down with them. Continued below...

With maps of all the Confederate railroads and contemporary photographs and facsimiles of such documents as railroad tickets, timetables, and soldiers' passes, the book will captivate railroad enthusiasts as well as readers interested in the Civil War.


Recommended Reading: The Wilmington Campaign: Last Departing Rays of Hope. Description: While prior books on the battle to capture Wilmington, North Carolina, have focused solely on the epic struggles for Fort Fisher, in many respects this was just the beginning of the campaign. In addition to complete coverage (with significant new information) of both battles for Fort Fisher, "The Wilmington Campaign" includes the first detailed examination of the attack and defense of Fort Anderson. It also features blow-by-blow accounts of the defense of the Sugar Loaf Line and of the operations of Federal warships on the Cape Fear River. This masterpiece of military history proves yet again that there is still much to be learned about the American Civil War. Continued below…

"The Wilmington Campaign is a splendid achievement. This gripping chronicle of the five-weeks' campaign up the Cape Fear River adds a crucial dimension to our understanding of the Confederacy's collapse." -James McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom


Recommended Reading: The Civil War in the Carolinas (Hardcover). Description: Dan Morrill relates the experience of two quite different states bound together in the defense of the Confederacy, using letters, diaries, memoirs, and reports. He shows how the innovative operations of the Union army and navy along the coast and in the bays and rivers of the Carolinas affected the general course of the war as well as the daily lives of all Carolinians. He demonstrates the "total war" for North Carolina's vital coastal railroads and ports. In the latter part of the war, he describes how Sherman's operation cut out the heart of the last stronghold of the South. Continued below...

The author offers fascinating sketches of major and minor personalities, including the new president and state governors, Generals Lee, Beauregard, Pickett, Sherman, D.H. Hill, and Joseph E. Johnston. Rebels and abolitionists, pacifists and unionists, slaves and freed men and women, all influential, all placed in their context with clear-eyed precision. If he were wielding a needle instead of a pen, his tapestry would offer us a complete picture of a people at war. Midwest Book Review: The Civil War in the Carolinas by civil war expert and historian Dan Morrill (History Department, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historical Society) is a dramatically presented and extensively researched survey and analysis of the impact the American Civil War had upon the states of North Carolina and South Carolina, and the people who called these states their home. A meticulous, scholarly, and thoroughly engaging examination of the details of history and the sweeping change that the war wrought for everyone, The Civil War In The Carolinas is a welcome and informative addition to American Civil War Studies reference collections.


Recommended Reading: The Civil War in North Carolina. Description: Numerous battles and skirmishes were fought in North Carolina during the Civil War, and the campaigns and battles themselves were crucial in the grand strategy of the conflict and involved some of the most famous generals of the war. John Barrett presents the complete story of military engagements across the state, including the classical pitched battle of Bentonville--involving Generals Joe Johnston and William Sherman--the siege of Fort Fisher, the amphibious campaigns on the coast, and cavalry sweeps such as General George Stoneman's Raid.

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