The Southside Railroad was formed in Virginia in 1846. Construction was begun in 1849 and completed in 1854. It connected City Point, a port on the James River with the farm country south and west of Petersburg, Virginia, to Lynchburg, Virginia, a distance of about 132 miles.
The Southside Railroad was important to the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War (1861-1865). Ravaged by the war, it was rebuilt and later became an important part of Norfolk and Western and Norfolk Southern's coal route from the mountains to port at Hampton Roads. In addition to coal, most of the route is in active use in the 20th century for intermodal container and automobile parts and completed vehicle shipments.
The charter for the new Southside Railroad was issued by the State of Virginia in 1846. Construction began from the eastern end in 1849, reaching Burkeville and a connection with the Richmond and Danville Railroad in 1852. (The latter was still also building east-to-west, but had been completed east to Richmond.)
Following a more circuitous route through Farmville in response to financial incentives from the community, the railroad constructed the famous 21 span High Bridge across the Appomattox River valley about 6 miles east of Farmville. The structure was 2,400 feet long and as high as 100 feet in the center, one of the largest in the world when built.
The Southside Railroad was completed to Percival Island across the James River from Lynchburg in 1854.
Also in 1854, the Southside Railroad acquired the 9-mile long City Point Railroad. It had been purchased by the City of Petersburg in 1847, and renamed Appomattox Railroad. Completed in 1838, and paralleling the Appomattox River from Petersburg to its confluence with the James River at City Point, the City Point Railroad provided an ideal link for the Southside Railroad to reach a deep water steamship connection on the navigable portion of the larger river.
By late 1860, the Southside Railroad provided connections with the following other transportation entities:
The Southside Railroad from Petersburg west was a vital resource for the Confederacy as a supply line for Richmond and Petersburg during the American Civil War (1861-1865). Beyond the lines of battle until the war's last year, the principal damage it suffered was the financial weakness caused by Confederate compensation policies and currency. During the last year of the war, considerable damage was inflicted by both sides until the conflict finally ended near Appomattox Station on the Southside Railroad at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865.
Ironically, the City Point Railroad portion of the Southside Railroad was of great value to the Union forces during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864-65. General Ulysses S. Grant used and extended it to move supplies and troops from the port at City Point to the area south and east of Petersburg, operating it as the U.S. Military Railroad.
In a meeting at Appomattox about the time of the surrender, defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee urged his generals to go home and start rebuilding. To the good fortune of the Southside Railroad, one of his more able young commanders, Major General William Mahone (1826-1895), did just that.
In the pre-war years, "Little Billy" Mahone of Southampton County had been educated at Virginia Military Institute as a civil engineer. A dynamic man of small stature, from 1853 to 1858, he headed the construction of the well-engineered Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, described by occupying Union forces during the Civil War as "decidedly the best road in Virginia." Mahone had been President of the N&P prior to the war, and was well aware of many aspects of the Southside Railroad, as his road connected with it at Petersburg. He was an able leader during the war, best-known as the hero of the Battle of the Crater in 1864 where he rallied troops and foiled an initial Union success during the Siege of Petersburg.
After the war, Mahone returned to his old job and quickly set about repairing the N&P. Meanwhile, the managers of the Southside Railroad also worked hard to restore service and rebuild bridges, stations, and rolling stock. The war had demonstrated the need to consolidate resources and connections, and the stockholders of the Southside Railroad elected Mahone as president of their road also before the end of 1865.
In the post-war years, William Mahone became the driving force in the linkage of N&P, Southside Railroad and the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. He was president of all three by the end of 1867. Mahone wanted to combine them into a single entity and expand westward. He worked diligently lobbying the Virginia General Assembly to gain the legislation necessary to form the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad (AM&O), a new line composed of the 3 railroads he headed, extending 408 miles from Norfolk to Bristol, Virginia in 1870. The letters A, M & O were said to stand for "All Mine and Otelia's." The Mahones lived in Lynchburg, Virginia during this time, but moved to Petersburg in or before 1880.
The former Southside Railroad was originally one of 3 A,M & O divisions, and was later consolidated with the former N&P into a single division. The A,M & O did well for several years, but fell on hard times in the financial panic of 1873 which negatively impacted almost all of the railroads. After several years of operating under receiverships, Mahone's role as a railroad builder ended in 1881 when northern interests purchased the A,M, & O and renamed it Norfolk and Western. Mahone was able to arrange for a portion of the State's proceeds of the sale to help found a school to prepare teachers to help educate black children and former slaves. The Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute near Petersburg was forerunner of Virginia State College, which expanded to become Virginia State University.
The Norfolk and Western itself grew into a great system, and the former Southside Railroad formed a major piece of the line used to transport bituminous coal from the mines in southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia to port at Norfolk, where a huge coal pier was built at Lambert's Point. The N&W merged with the smaller but also highly efficient Virginian Railway in 1959, facilitating a more favorable route for eastbound coal than offered by the former Southside Railroad west of Burkeville. However, from that point east, the combination brought an increase to the Southside Railroad alignment as former VGN traffic was rerouted through Crewe to connect with the former N & P on its way to Lambert;'s Point. Norfolk & Western Railway was combined with the Southern Railway, another profitable carrier, to form Norfolk Southern Railway (NS) in 1982.
Over 150 years after completion, much of the former Southside Railroad route remained in active use until 2005 when the corridor was abandoned and subsequently turned over to the Virginia DCR (Dept of Conservation and Recreation) for conversion to a rail trail linear park called High Bridge Trail State Park. An estimated $11 million will be spent on the development project, recently $2 million has been made available by federal economic recovery funds aimed at bettering the lifestyle of area residents. High Bridge will undergo its third major construction project and become the gem of the state park. Completion of the bridge is expected to be at the end of the summer of 2010.