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I Kept the RRs Going during Civil War- Who Am I?

 Herman Haupt

Herman Haupt was one of the leaders of the civil engineering profession in the last half of the 19th century. He was born on March 26, 1817 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After his father’s death at a young age, he worked to support his family until he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point at the age of 14. He graduated in the class of 1835 at the age of 18, along with future General George Meade, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the infantry. He never served however, resigning on September 30, 1835 to accept an appointment as assistant engineer to work on the Norristown Railroad. On August 30, 1838, he married there and he and his wife eventually had 11 children. From 1840 to 1847, he became a professor of mathematics and engineering at Pennsylvania College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He left there to work on the Pennsylvania Railroad for four years followed by the Southern Railroad of Mississippi. He returned to the Pennsylvania Railroad between 1852 and 1854. In this role he replaced many of the wooden lattice trusses with iron trusses of his design and upgraded the roadbed. For the next six years he worked as engineer and contractor on the digging of the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachusetts taking over from Edward W. Serrell. In 1849, he wrote General Theory of Bridge Construction, the second book on bridge engineering after Squire Whipple’s 1847 book.

In the Civil War he was placed in charge of the U. S. military railroads by the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and ran them between May 1862 and September 1863. He did not want a rank, nor to wear a uniform, but he relented and was given the rank of Colonel. Later he was given the rank of Brig. General by Lincoln and was sometimes called Lincoln’s Railroad Man. He was responsible for keeping the tracks and bridges open and moving men and materials where they were needed. One of his most famous bridge repairs was across the Potomac Run (Creek) of which Lincoln said, “that man Haupt has built a bridge four hundred feet long and one hundred feet high, across Potomac Creek, on which loaded trains are passing every hour, and upon my word, gentlemen, there is nothing in it but cornstalks and beanpoles.” Haupt described this work as follows:

The next and most serious obstruction was the deep chasm of Potomac Creek nearly 400 feet wide, which had been crossed by a deck bridge of about 80 feet elevation above the water. No work was done until the 3d of May, except cutting some logs in the woods at a point so distant that but few of them could be used. On Saturday, May 3d, some of the logs were laid for crib foundations, but it was not until Tuesday of the following week that any proper organization could be effected. Three companies of the 6th and 7th Wisconsin and of the 19th Indiana Regiments, under Lieutenants Harker, Pond and Ford, had been detailed as a construction force, but many of the men were sickly and inefficient, others were required for guard duty, and it was seldom that more than 100 to 120 men could be found fit for service, of whom a still smaller number were really efficient, and very few were able or willing to climb about on ropes and poles at an elevation of 80 feet. With soldiers unaccustomed to such work, with an insufficient supply of tools, with occasional scarcity of food and with several days of wet weather, the work was nevertheless advanced so rapidly that in nine days the bridge was crossed on foot, and in less than two weeks an engine was passed over, to the great delight of the soldiers whose labors had constructed it. 

Beanpole and Cornstalk's Bridge
Beanpole and Cornstalk’s Bridge, Potomac Run

He resigned once again, after refusing the rank of Brig. General, when he was not given the complete control of the railroads he demanded. He then went to back to Massachusetts to continue his battle over payments for his work with Gov. Andrew on the Hoosac Tunnel that he generally lost. After the War he worked on the Piedmont Air Line Railroad between Richmond and Atlanta, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Seaboard Pipe Line, The Northern Pacific Railroad and the Great Southern Railroad. Throughout the rest of his life he was referred to as General Haupt.

He died on December 14, 1905 at age 88 in Jersey City, NJ. The Railroad Gazette wrote, “As a man General Haupt was unostentatious, domestic, loving, tender hearted, upright in all his dealings with his fellow-men, having a keen sense of justice, righteousness and obligation to duty regardless of appearances, faithful to ever trust, and in every act inspired by his strong faith in the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God. His life has been an honor to his profession and a blessing to humanity. He was an instance of a man whom the Lord delighted to honor.”

You can learn more about Haupt and his career in Lincoln’s Railroad Man: Herman Haupt by Francis Alfred Lord written in 1969 and Haupt’s own 1901 book, Reminiscences of General Herman Haupt 

Read this document for more on his contribution to the military railroads of the Civil War.