March 15, 2009

Second Visit to National Archives

I found some more good stuff on my second visit including a complete set of employee timetables for the USMRR in Virginia including the O&A, Manassas Gap, Washington and Alexandria, AL&H, and the Falmouth line, though it was for 1864, not 1863.

But I have the train sheets for Falmouth in 1863, so I know what trains actually ran. I photographed all the of the time tables.

I now have copies of about 300 pages of original source text to study, and I only photographed a small fraction of what I saw. I cannot think of another 19th century RR that has as much documentation saved. I saw supply requisitions, telegraph traffic including many, many train orders, dispatchers log books, train sheets, timetables, conductor reports, engine mileage logs, pay slips, lists of materials on hand, depot reports and lots of misc letters about various issues including personal.

One disappointment was I did not have time to read through the all Alexandria Dispatcher logs to see what evidence they had on the car float traffic. And it was too much to photograph (at least on this trip) The handwriting on these was not very legible and it would take several hours to wade through every report looking for clues.

I did not find the dispatchers logs for Aquia. I did find some conductor's reports for trains from Aquia.

They were filed as loose documents, and were time consuming to go through. None of the conductor reports for trains on the Aquia line that I saw (only about 6) listed any foreign road cars, but they did note the road name as a column, so some may have been possible. These were hand written forms, so it was up to the conductor to make the columns when he wrote the report. Sometimes they omitted the column for road name, but usually they did include it, even if all the cars were listed USM. So the issue of foreign road names on the Aquia line is still up for grabs.

The Aquia train orders, in the form of telegraph traffic, I read (I read most of them and photographed about 20) indicated that there were passing sidings at Brooks and Potomac Creek as well as Stonemans and Aquia. May have to do some redesign on the layout to try to incorporate them. Falmouth had a water tank, but not at Stonemans, Potomac Run or Brooks.

There were several train orders that called for second sections (also sometimes they called them extras in the train orders) to display red flags. There were also several train orders rescinding the need to show red signals, for example this train order. The train sheets show annotations for extras as well as second or third sections. I need to study these more carefully to try to understand the how it worked. This message seems to imply that a train carrying red signals means an extra is following it. This is not in accordance with more modern practice where red signals marked the end of a train (for more on modern practices see here or here.)

All of the locos on the Aquia line were named, not numbered. I have been compiling a list of what locos were present based on what showed on the the train sheets or train orders.
Lots of cool details like these are coming to light thanks to this research.

The process the National Archive uses is a bit cumbersome. You can't just pop in and browse, but it is in the interest of protecting these rare documents. I'll summarize the process here so if you come to town to do research you will hopefully be more efficient.

I've been both to the downtown and College Park archives. The procedures are similar. The photos are at College Park while the text records seem to be downtown.

The first step is learn when they are open and plan around those hours. While you can look at materials during open hours, the researchers only make "pulls" from the archives every two hours starting at 10:30 and the last at 3:30PM (check their website for actual hours).

You will need a researcher's card to get access to docs. This is a 15 minute process as they make you read a powerpoint presentation about their rules and procedures. Then they take your picture and give you a card. Really not that big a deal, but if you are playing the clock close, you need to plan that in. The card is good for 1 year.

To find material you search through their indexes. For military records you go to the downtown bldg, first floor room G28 IRRC. The staff are very helpful. The USMRR records are in record group 92, part of the quartermaster records.

To get them to pull materials for you, you fill out a request. This is a paper slip that lists record groups and entry number. You'll get that info from the index. You submit your requests. The staff will help you cull the material requests to a manageable amount in case you ask for too much.

Then you wait for the pull to be made, which can take about an hour or a bit less. To see the documents at the downtown location, you go to the second floor viewing room. At College park, you can wait in the same room.

Once the pull is ready, they'll bring the documents to you. They have photocopiers available there, but some docs cannot be copied. The easiest technique is to use a camera to photograph them. If you use the copy stand you'll get excellent images.

Generally you can't bring papers and notebooks in with you. A laptop is
acceptable for taking note.


  1. The NA is not very research friendly when one considers the voluminous records of the USMRR. It would take literally years to go through all that is there....but what treasures there are! Thanks for sharing some of them. I am currently researching/writing a book on the O&A Railroad (see my website at if interested in contacting me).


  2. I have also conducted research at NARA regarding Alexandria during the Civil War including the USMRR. However, to date I have not been able to locate any measured drawings or dimensions for the Orange and Alexandria Roundhouse present at the time of USMRR operations.