It was about 3:30 p.m. on July 6, 1862, ostensibly a typical Sunday during the early years of the Civil War, when two trains collided near Ringgold, Georgia, on the Western & Atlantic Railroad.
One train was a “heavy train of empty freight cars,” while the other carrying Confederate troops from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The wreck killed a pair of Western & Atlantic employees — an engineer and a fireman. Also killed were seven soldiers, seven civilians and 14 horses, though different accounts offer different casualty figures.
The railroad wasted little time in laying blame for the wreck, which also destroyed two Western & Atlantic locomotives. In their eyes, it was the fault of the military in the Confederate government should be held financially accountable for the wreck.
The crash came at a challenging time for the Western & Atlantic. It was not quite three months since Union soldiers made their way behind enemy lines and stole a locomotive at Big Shanty, Georgia, an episode famously remembered as the Great Locomotive Chase.
But the wreck illustrated the real problem railroads had during the Civil War. Military trains caused havoc on normal day-to-day operations of civilian railroads.
Said the Southern Confederacy newspaper of Atlanta, “There is no class of men in the Confederate States whose property has been so much called into requisition to serve the country, or whose plans and interests have been more interfered with. In all these demands they have yielded a cheerful acquiescence, as far as possible. — Occasionally military officials have made demands upon the roads to comply with which was either (a) physical impossibility, or would result in the certain destruction of life and property. On no road in this portion of the Confederate States have greater demands been made then on the State Road.”
Killed in the wreck were Privates L.A. Bullard, W.R. Lane, W.V. Martin, and Z. Phillips, all of the 12th Georgia Battalion, Company B. A private named Giles, a member of the 12th Georgia Battalion, Company D, also died in the wreck.