"Jackson Commandeers the Railroad" by Mort Kunstler

Martinsburg, Virginia, June 1861

"Jackson Commandeers the Railroad"

Image size: 13 1/2" x 29 1/2"

Edition size: 1100 S/N

Issue price: $200 (print price will change when sold out--call for price and availability--800-237-6077)

The Valley Train Series - First in a Series of Two Limited Edition Prints.

During the eleven years I have been painting Civil War scenes, I have never had more requests to paint an event than this one. The taking of railroad trains overland by Stonewall Jackson from Martinsburg to Strasburg, more than 38 miles, was one of the most difficult and daring events of the Civil War. Likewise this was the most difficult and daring painting I have ever done. It was a complicated subject with an enormous amount of details and required a tremendous amount of research.

Federal forces cut off the rail lines from Martinsburg, equipment could not be moved by the Confederates over tracks to the Southern rail system. A plan was devised to move as much rolling stock and equipment as possible overland from Martinsburg to the southern railhead at Strasburg.

General Stonewall Jackson, with the help of Capt. Thomas A. Sharp and Hugh Longust, both experienced railroad men, led the successful operation.

A newspaper report from Strasburg on September 7, 1861 stated: "Fourteen locomotives, a large number of railroad cars, nine miles of track, telegraph wires and about $40,000.00 worth of machinists' tools and materials, all belonging to the B&O Railroad, have been successfully hauled overland by the Confederates."

When analyzed, the task that Jackson faced was awesome. Considering the existing condition of the roads and the weight of the locomotives. Crews of teamsters, mechanics and laborers had to be assembled. So did an entire herd of horses. To lighten the load, every ounce of weight was taken off the engines - from bells and whistles to pistons, cow catchers, stacks and cabs. The tenders were detached. The front truck wheels were replaced with improvised, extra wide, wooden wheels. The front driver wheels were removed to lighten the load. The rear drivers had to be widened and the effect of the flange eliminated which was accomplished by putting on wide wooden wheels with iron banding.

Teams of forty horses were hitched together - including mules, thoroughbreds, and workhorses - and all sorts of harnesses were improvised. The feat of maneuvering turns and grades on the macadamized surface of the valley pike must have presented an incredible spectacle.

Stonewall Jackson, still in his blue VMI instructors' uniform, sits on horseback in the center of the painting, viewing the path the 40-horse team will take. Capt. Sharp points out the route. I was able to see Jackson's coat and kepi at the VMI Museum with the kind cooperation of Col. Keith Gibson. Accompanying Jackson are his mounted staff members - Second Lt. Sandy Pendleton, in the red kepi and Dr. Hunter McGuire, both seen to the left of Jackson, and Maj. John Harmon, seen to the right of Jackson. Once again, Dr. James Robertson Jr. of Virginia Tech was able to help me with the crucial details. It is early in the morning of June 20, 1861. The sun is rising in the east and starts to catch the higher parts of the roundhouse and the Berkeley Hotel. The city of Martinsburg recently restored the hotel to its 19th Century condition, with minor changes. It is used today as an Amtrak Station. I chose to paint it the way it was during the 19th Century with the Berkeley Hotel sign on the building as it was during the Civil War.

President of the Martinsburg Historical Society, Don Wood, was extremely helpful in answering questions. We walked the tracks together in Martinsburg until I could find the exact spot where I could capture all the excitement, the hotel and roundhouse in a single scene.

I visited the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore where Courtney Wilson, the chief curator, graciously supplied me with all sorts of information and photographs pertaining to the roundhouse and trains, including the types of locomotives and the correct numbers and colors of the engines that were in Martinsburg at the time. Harold Dorsey, Curatorial Assistant at the museum helped with answers to my numerous questions. Information on the manner and means of disassembly was also obtained from Chris Ahrens, Supervisory Exhibit Specialist at Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The last piece of information I needed was on the 40-horse hitch. Through the help of the Internet, we were able to track down Paul Sparrow of Zearing, Iowa, who's the only man in America capable of driving a 40-horse hitch. The information he gave me was invaluable.

Although this was the most difficult Civil War painting I have ever done, it was also one of my great favorites. I am thankful I had the opportunity to record and preserve this remarkable historical event. It has inspired me to do another painting that will be a companion to this one. It will show the team in action. Next - Winchester!


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