The Civil War was the first conflict in which railroads played a major role. Although much has been written about their role in general, little has been written about specific lines. The Cumberland Valley Railroad, for example, played an important strategic role by connecting Hagerstown, Maryland to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Its location enhanced its importance during some of the Civil War’s most critical campaigns. Despite the line’s significance to the Union war effort, its remarkable story remains little known. The publication of Targeted Tracks: The Cumberland Valley Railroad in the Civil War, 1861-1865, by Scott L. Mingus Sr. and Cooper H. Wingert, rectifies that oversight.
Because of its proximity to major cities in the Eastern Theater, the Cumberland Valley Railroad was an enticing target for Confederate leaders. As invading armies jostled for position, the CVRR’s valuable rolling stock was never far from their minds. Northern military and railway officials, who knew the line was a prized target, coordinated—and just as often butted heads—in a series of efforts to ensure the railroad’s prized resources remained out of enemy hands. When they failed to protect the line, as they sometimes did, Southern horsemen wrought havoc on the Northern war effort by tearing up its tracks, seizing or torching Union supplies, and laying waste to warehouses, engine houses, and passenger depots.
In October 1859, Abolitionist John Brown used the CVRR in his fateful Harpers Ferry raid. The line was under direct threat by invading Confederates during the Antietam Campaign, and the following summer suffered serious damage during the Gettysburg Campaign. In 1864, Rebel raiders burned much of its headquarters town, Chambersburg, including the homes of many CVRR employees. The railroad was as vital to residents of the bustling and fertile Cumberland Valley as it was to the Union war effort.
Targeted Tracks is grounded on the railway’s voluminous reports, the letters and diaries of local residents and Union and Confederate soldiers, official reports, and newspaper accounts. The primary sources, combined with the expertise of the authors, bring this largely untold story to life.