The Fire Fly on Union Mills Bridge, 1863

Roger Hudson expands on a photograph of a locomotive taken during the American Civil War by one of Mathew Brady’s team.

The American Civil War is entering its third year and so far the South has had the best of it. There have been two battles close to this spot, called First and Second Bull Run, or Manassas, as both sides fought to control the strategically vital junction of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, running north to south in Virginia, with the Manassas Gap Railroad running east to west through the Shenandoah Range. First Bull Run, the opening battle of the war in July 1861, saw the Union forces routed; in the second encounter, in August 1862, they were again beaten but were able to retreat, in better order, back to the defensive lines round Washington DC. It must have been shortly after that this bridge at Union Mills, a little to the north of the junction, across a creek flowing into the Bull Run, was destroyed by the Confederate forces, maybe as General Robert E. Lee led them northwards three weeks later to fight the bloodiest one-day battle in US history, at Antietam. Now, in 1863, it has been temporarily repaired with wooden trestles and the North’s Fire Fly locomotive poses for a photograph by one of the pioneering US photographer Mathew Brady’s team.

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