Railroads During the Civil War

Columbia’s strategic position would have made it a fine prize for an invading Southern army bent on disrupting vital communications and supply lines in the North. Railroads connected Columbia with Philadelphia, York, and Harrisburg, and canal transportation linked the community with both the Chesapeake Bay and the interior of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Railroad had three routes radiating from Columbia during the Civil War. The first (East-West) came from Lancaster after originating in Philadelphia and has been designated a national Network to Freedom site along the National Park Service trail. William Goodridge ran his false bottom trains with human cargo from here to help freedom seekers reach Philadelphia’s Belmont Mansion in Fairmont Park.

This was part of a combined railroad-canal system running from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The second route crossed East to West along the mile-long covered bridge across the Susquehanna River to Wrightsville on its way to York. The bridge was torched on June 28, 1863 to prevent the Confederates from crossing into Lancaster County and on to Harrisburg and possibly Philadelphia. The last branch ran North to South, adjacent to the Susquehanna River from Middletown and reached Columbia in 1850.