You are here. You are at Manassas National Battlefield. It was the site of the first major battle of the American Civil War and the only place during the war where two major battles took place. (Although the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina and the first skirmish happened in nearby Fairfax, Manassas was the site of the first major battle.) It was here where Confederate General Thomas Jackson led a defensive stand. As a soldier watched Jackson, he quoted, “There he stands like a stone wall.” Hence the name General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.
You take a walk on the battlefield. You walk by cannons. You walk on the ridges where soldiers stood in battle. You see the peaceful landscape, a peaceful landscape that was not peaceful during the two wars. You view the different monuments. Then you notice something. You see what looks like a railroad bed. Did a railroad run through here? Were trains rolling train here at the time of the battles? You see an interpretive sign that says, ‘The Unfinished Railroad’. What was the Unfinished Railroad?
Some of you are saying, “Well, it was a railroad that was not finished.”
So, that is what you think it is. Well, what if you were wrong? What if you got the wrong answer? Well, you are not wrong. You answered correctly. It is simply a railroad that was not finished. The next question is what happened? Why was this railroad unfinished?
This unfinished railroad was to be the Manassas Gap Railroad. When the Manassas Gap Railroad began, it went west of Manassas Junction from its connection with the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. (Manassas Junction is now Manassas.) The Orange and Alexandria Railroad had connections to the port of Alexandria, Virginia. For the Manassas Gap Railroad to access the Alexandria ports, they needed to use the Orange and Alexandria rail line. This required the Manassas Gap Railroad was required to pay the Orange and Alexandria Railroad for use of the line, and they were losing money. The way to remedy the problem was to build their own rail line to Alexandria. Construction began in 1850, but work was stopped in 1858 when the Manassas Gap Railroad ran out of money. The way it looked when construction ended is almost exactly what you will see when you walk along the old railroad bed today, but with a few trees grown on the railroad bed.
Some of you are saying, “Well. I guess this railroad served no purpose at all.”
Well, it did. It was a contributor in the Second Battle of Manassas. At one of the raised sections, there was a rock fight, a fight were the soldiers used rocks instead of cannons and guns, between the Confederate Army and the Union Army using rocks from the railroad bed. There was another section of the railroad bed where Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson where able to fend off a heavy attack from the Union Army.
Today, the old railroad bed is left in its original state as a reminder of what possibly could have been but never happened. The old Manassas Gap Line and Orange and Alexandria Line are now under the ownership of the Norfolk Southern Railroad. The trains no longer go to the ports of Alexandria but now connect to a line now owned by CSX. Although the railroad was never finished, it is finished in time of history.
The Manassas National Battlefield is owned and operated by the National Park Service. The Visitor Center is at 6511 Sudley Road (Virginia Route 234) one mile north of Interstate 66 and a half mile south of U.S. Route 29. The battlefield is open from dusk to dawn, but the Visitor Center is open from 8:30am to 5:00pm. Please note that the trails to the Unfinished Railroad are not wheelchair accessible with uneven paths.