National Geographic : 1945 Jul
Potomac, River of Destiny Stonewall Jackson Made Such Iron Horses Travel a Highway This old photograph shows the Martinsburg, West Virginia, railway yard and original roundhouse before the Confederates captured them in 1861. The orders were, "Destroy all railroad property," but General Jackson saved 14 B & O locomotives. Forty horses hitched four abreast dragged each engine 38 rail-less miles up the Shenandoah Valley Pike to the Confederate railhead at Strasburg, Virginia. Engines are "camel backs" with cabs perched atop the boilers. Old-type hopper cars, with three "ash cans," held 20 tons of coal. Getting temporary control of this vital borderline railroad, the Confederates would tear up rails, melt them in bonfires made from the ties, and wrap them around the nearest tree. The Choice of Our Nation's Capital Two little towns on the river, Shepherds town, oldest continuously settled community in West Virginia, and Williamsport, 12 miles beyond on the Maryland side, each had eager hopes a century and a half ago of becoming the Nation's Capital. After the Constitution was adopted, Con gress debated long and bitterly the location of a capital for the new Nation. Finally Hamilton and Jefferson reached a compromise, Hamilton getting reluctant Southern support for certain of his financial measures, and the South getting the Poto mac capital site, "at some place between the mouths of the Eastern Branch and the Cono cocheague." The Eastern Branch is the Anacostia River, which flows through the present Capital and into the Potomac, and Williamsport was and is at the junction of the Potomac and Conoco cheague Creek.* President Washington was given authority to choose the exact site be tween the two rivers. He viewed the whole area and chose the most southerly site possible under the law. In so doing, he favored his home town of Alexan dria, which the Northern States regarded as too far south. But his motives were by no means selfish; he logically selected the head of deep-water navigation. * See map supplement of "Historic and Scenic Reaches of the Nation's Capital," with the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July, 1938. Separate copies in paper, 50¢; in linen, $1.00.