February 1, 2009

History of Fredericksburg-Aquia Line

I have decided to model the Fredericksburg-Aquia Line during the winter of 1862-63.

The US Military Railroad used the former right of way of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac from Falmouth to Aquia to rebuild the US Military Railroad Fredericksburg-Aquia Line, called Aquia Line for short. This was actually the second time Herman Haupt, the Union officer in charge of the USMRR in Virginia, and his construction corps rebuilt the line. When the Confederates abandoned this line in late 1861, they destroyed the RF&P docks and right of way. In early 1862 General McDowell, in command of the Army of the Rappahannock, moved south toward Richmond through Fredericksburg to support General McCellan's Penninsula Campaign, Haupt and his men moved in and rebuilt the line for the first time. They rebuilt the railroad from Aquia to Fredericksbnurg, including the famous beanpole and corn stalk bridge over the Potomac Creek (not River) and another large trestle over the Rappahannock to Fredericksburg.

When McCellan's campaign stalled outside of Richmond, Confederate Commander Robert E. Lee moved north. McDowell fell back and then was relieved by General Pope, but left a garrison on the Aquia line to prepare for an eventual return move to Richmond. The line remained intact until just before the Second Battle of Bull Run. General Burnside Corps was guarding the area. As the withdrew north, he ordered the line's destruction around July 1862. The Union troops burned the rolling stock, ties, wharves and buildings as they withdrew. This annoyed General Haupt no end, because he believed the railroad and wharf were needlessly destroyed.

After the Battle Of Antietam, Burnside took command of the Army of the Potomac. The photo shows the general with his famous slouch hat, long whiskers - the origin of the term sideburns, and what appear to be leather pants!

He decided to move on Fredericksburg. He ordered the Aquia line to be reinstated in November 1862. Haupt assigned his trusted assistant, William Wright, to oversee the reconstruction of the Aquia line.


Brunside's Wharf

From my study of photos, I believe it was relocated slightly or a second pier was built further downstream. The new pier was enlarged with several warehouses constructed right on the pier. These two photos are labeled "Burnside's Wharf" and show the added wharf. Note how the tracks curve sharply on a trestle to the right under a bluff. Other photos show a larger harbor complex built at the promatory of a swampy area.

Burnside's Wharf

Original Wharf

This photo is the best evidence that ties the two sets of photos together. Combined with the map, I believe it describes the arrangement at Aquia Harbor.
I have annotated this photo with the items of interest.
The map is dated June 1862, which leads me to believe that Burnside's Wharf was added later. The original wharf is listed in some sources as "Yuba Dam" or in other places as "Youbeedam.'

After the Battle of Fredericksburg, General Hooker replaced General Burnside. The army went into winter quarters north of the Rappahannock. The Aquia line provided supplies brought in by ship and car ferries. This was one of the first times car floats were used to ship freight in cars without break of bulk. This photo shows an empty car float off the wharf at Aquia Harbor.
Note the rail cars on the pier in the background. Also notice the paddle wheel steamers and tugboats in the photo. There is no sign of the transfer bridge, such as the one in Alexandria, VA, in any of the photos. I can only assume at this point that there was some type of transfer bridge at the end of the pier.

This is the time period I am modeling.


  1. Bernie,
    That IS a cool flyer... I'll make sure I'M ON THE RIGHT ONE! *LOL* Thanks for giving us a history lesson as we follow this build.

  2. Hello! My front yard is the old Burnside Wharf! and I walk everyday to the original landing. Contact me at miken@datacity.com if you would like to know more about this site. Regards, Mike

  3. Mike,
    Thanks for the update. Are there any remains of the wharf today?

  4. I am a writer for the Stafford County Sun and am doing a story on Aquia Landing in regards to Black History Month.
    I would like to use the photo you have posted on the page for that story, but I need your permission.

    Jim Lawrence

    1. Jim,
      Yes, you may use the pictures. I would appreciate a link back to this blog.

      Bernard Kempinski