Western & Atlantic Railroad

This 137-mile line between Atlanta and Chattanooga was built in 1841–50 by the State of Georgia at a cost of almost five million dollars. Surveys for the line began in 1837, and the first train ran from Marthasville (Atlanta) to Marietta on December 23, 1842. The locomotive had to be hauled by wagon from Madison, which was at the time the western end of the Georgia Railroad. Regular service would not begin until 1845.

The Georgia Railroad finally reached Atlanta in September of 1845, followed by the Macon and Western the following year. In 1854, the Atlanta and West Point opened a fourth line into town, coming in from the southwest.

Favorable topography had given Georgia an advantage over the Carolinas and Virginia in building a railroad to the west. The Blue Ridge mountains, such a formidable barrier to the north, came to an end in northeastern Georgia, leaving only a few minor ridges and scattered monadnocks in the Piedmont. North of the Etowah River was a series of long, mostly parallel ridges lying across the W&A's intended route, but by following the streams that cut through them in key places, the railroad could avoid steep grades. Only one tunnel was needed, at Chetoogeta Mountain near Dalton.

A few miles southeast of Chattanooga, Missionary Ridge stood as a significant barrier, but it was bypassed by going around its north end. The result was that the W&A entered the city from the northeast rather than directly from the south.

Once complete, the W&A became a key link in the chain of Southern railroads connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River. It was the foundation for Atlanta’s emergence as a rail center.

W&A locomotive Acworth, a "ten-wheeler." (From Illustrated Catalogue of Locomotives, Baldwin Locomotive Works, 2nd Edition, 1881. Online at Internet Archive here).

By the time of the Civil War, the W&A had 46 woodburning locomotives, two of which were to become participants in the “Great Locomotive Chase” of April 1862. It played a major role in the Atlanta Campaign and its loss to the South in 1864 was a serious blow to the Confederacy’s hopes of ultimate victory. Like many Southern railroads, the W&A suffered extensive damage during the war.

In 1870, the road and rolling stock were leased for 20 years to a corporation headed by former Governor Joseph E. Brown and made up primarily of the officers of the W&A's connecting roads.

In the 1889 edition of The Official Railway List, the W&A reported operating 55 locomotives, 41 passenger cars, and 1,332 freight and miscellaneous cars.

In 1890, the W&A was leased to the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway.

Owned by the state since its construction, the line is currently under a long-term lease to NC&St.L successor CSX Transportation.

 

Maps, Timetables, and Other Information:

1837 map at Library of Congress

ca. 1850-55 map at North Carolina Maps

1859 timetable

1860 map (255K)

1862 locomotive roster (350K)

1863 timetable

1864 timetable, U.S. Military Railroads, at Duke University Libraries

1870 timetable

1870 map at University of Alabama Map Library

1883 map

1885 map of W&A from Atlanta to Marietta

1887 birds-eye map, The Great Kennesaw Route, at Library of Congress

1906 timetable

The General, famous W&A locomotive stolen by Andrews' Raiders in 1862. See Great Locomotive Chase. (From: Railway and Locomotive Engineering, December 1913).

W&A roundhouse and offices in Atlanta.
Photo cropped from larger image: 'Buildings of the Western & Atlantic (state) R.R. at Atlanta, Ga., Nov. 1864. These were all destroyed a few days afterwards.' Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Image available at LOC here.

Suggested Reading:

Ulrich Bonnell Phillips. "An American State-owned Railroad: The Western and Atlantic." Yale Review, Vol. XV, No. 3. November, 1906. Online at Google Books here.

Article on the W&A at About North Georgia.

Pamela J.W. Gore and William Witherspoon. Roadside Geology of Georgia. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press, 2013. Explains the role of geology in the building of the W&A as well as the later troop movements along the railroad corridor in the Civil War.


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