Herman Haupt


Within two weeks Haupt was ready to test the finished span by pulling a locomotive across it with ropes: “If it goes into the creek,” he said, “it will cease to trouble us for a while. If it reaches the other side, it will have a good road.…” The engine passed over with majestic ease; soon the bridge was carrying twenty heavy trains daily. President Lincoln stopped by a few days later and pronounced it the “most remarkable structure that human eyes ever rested upon. This man Haupt has built a bridge across Potomac Creek, about 400 feet long and nearly 100 high, over which loaded trains are running every hour, and, upon my word, gentlemen, there is nothing in it but beanpoles and cornstalks.”

Haupt hammered the Union roads into shape and somehow kept the trains rolling during the catastrophic second Bull Run. In September he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. As before, he refused to take any pay. When, early the next summer, Lee came north again, Haupt saw how things were shaping up, and he was in the right place and ready to move when the armies met at Gettysburg. The only line he could use was the wretched little Western Maryland, a twenty-nine-mile route bare of sidings, turntables, telegraphs, and water towers. It could handle four trains on a good day. Haupt needed to be able to run thirty. On July 2, with the battle in its second day, he had four hundred men of the Railroad Construction Corps splitting lumber and hauling water while he worked out the logistics of moving trains up and down a blind single track. By July 3, as Lee made his final thrust at the Union line, Haupt had all the problems licked and was shoveling fifteen hundred tons of supplies a day into the cauldron. By the time the battle ended, there was enough material on hand at the railhead to supply the victorious Union army for a week. Haupt hurried to the field and begged the Union commander, his old classmate George Gordon Meade, to pursue the retreating Lee. Meade refused; his troops were exhausted. To the end of his life, Haupt rankled under the conviction that the war could easily have been ended then and there.

Two months later the mounting pressure of his Hoosac Tunnel dispute forced him to leave the army. But by that time the Union had learned how to keep its trains running.

Haupt finally got his tunnel pay—to the tune of eight cents on the dollar—in 1884. By then he had been chief engineer of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, general manager of the Richmond & Danville and the Northern Pacific, and the builder, over the Standard Oil Company’s vigorous opposition, of a pipeline that carried petroleum from the Allegheny valley to tidewater Maryland. He served as President of the Dakota & Great Southern and also found time to publish three more books, one of them a study of the coming form of transportation, Street Railway Motors .

He outlived every one of his West Point classmates and kept on working hard until December 14, 1905, when a heart attack killed him. He was aboard a train at the time.