Civil War Era (1861-1865) Transportation in New Jersey

Please send corrections and additions to Bill McKelvey at
Posted on LHRy website on 26 March 2018


1861 -  On 15 April President Lincoln issued a proclamation asking the states for 75,000 volunteers to combat an insurrection.  The Civil War began.


A flotilla of fourteen Delaware & Raritan Canal steam transports were employed to carry 3,000 New Jersey troops and equipment south to the defense of the Capital at Washington, during May, early in the Civil War.  The canal propellors which transported the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Regiments of the NJ Militia southward were: W. Woodward, Fannie Cadwalader, Delaware, Raritan, Trenton, Patroon, F. W. Brune, Elizabeth, Farmer, Franklin, J. B. Mollison, Eureka, Fanny Garner, and Octorara.  Most of these vessels were employed in the freighting business through the D & R Canal to and from NY Harbor.  Of the hundreds of vessels which aided the Civil War effort the following are other canalboats which have been identified as being from the NY Harbor area: M. W. Chapin, of the CT, NY & PA Transportation Co.  / U.S.S. Anacostia; New York, of the Philadelphia & NY Express Steamboat Co.; Utica, a steamboat built in NYC in 1836; Argo, a side-wheel steamboat built in NYC in 1844; Naugatuck; John T. Jenkins /USS Saffron / Clifton and the steam canalboats New Jersey & Parthenia. 


During the Civil War the government called on the railroads to carry troops between New York and Washington via an alternate inland route due to the pressure of war demands.  The route was via  Phillipsburg, Allentown, Reading and Harrisburg to Baltimore utilizing the Central RR of NJ, Lehigh Valley  RR, East Pennsylvania, Northern Central and Baltimore & Ohio railroads.  In this year over 26,000 troops plus a large amount of freight was carried south over this route.


The New Jersey RR and Transportation Co. reported that they had transported as many as 3,000 soldiers, with baggage, in one day and claimed they had the resources to carry 10,000 men in one day.


In November arrangements were made to run through trains between NY and Washington via the Camden and Amboy RR.  The necessity of changing cars at the Susquehanna River was eliminated by running the cars themselves onto the ferry.  This cut total travel times to 12 hours or less.


1862 -  Congress authorized President Lincoln to take possession of any or all US RR lines.


A small ironclad steamer (and the first), the Naugatuck, was presented to the national government for the war effort by E.A.Stevens.  She was rebuilt at Bordentown, received her armament at Hoboken, and traveled through the Delaware & Raritan Canal en route to Fort Monroe.


Paterson built locomotives, General (Rogers - 1855) and Texas (Danforth Cooke - 1856), were both involved in "the great locomotive chase" of the Civil War.


The first federal tax, to help pay for the Civil War, was imposed on railroads.


1863 -  A Mr. Lugar took a load of ship's knees to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in a Durham boat and sold them to the government.  He cut them in the Blue Mountains and along the Delaware River as far North as Columbia.  Lugar's boat floated down the river and at Lambertville he entered the Delaware & Raritan Canal Feeder and was towed by mules to Trenton and New Brunswick.  From there he was towed down the Raritan River, through Arthur Kill & Kill Van Kull, across NY Harbor and up the East River to the Navy Yard by steam tug.


The USS Saffron, on her way from Norfolk to New York, passed through the D&R Canal and stopped at Trenton.  She was under the command of Ensign Daniel Merrill and had a crew of two engineers - Samuel D. Edwards and James Boyd - and sixteen men.  She had been engaged in clearing the James River of torpedoes and carries a twelve pound howitzer.  This tug was the first that went up the Dutch Gap Canal and returned.  Daily True American, June 8, 1865.  Note: Saffron was built on the D&R Canal at New Brunswick in 1863 as the John T. Jenkins, a wood hull, steam powered, screw propelled, vessel of 73 gross tons.  After her Civil War service she was re-documented as the Clifton and worked around New York Harbor until she was lost in 1885.


1864 -  In early July, heavy Civil War fighting at the Battle of Cold Harbor, VA produced a large number of Confederate prisoners.  It was decided to move the prisoners to a new prisoner camp at Elmira, NY.  A special train of 17 cars departed the Erie RR Jersey City depot bound for Elmira.  The train was involved in a tragic head-on collision east of Lackawaxen, PA on 15 July, which killed 17 Union guards and 48 Confederate prisoners.  The Laurel Lines, Vol. 38, Issue 8, September 2011


1865 -  The funeral train of Abraham Lincoln traveled across New Jersey to Jersey City on April 24th  where his coffin was placed on a ferryboat to be carried to NYC.  However, by this time the new Camden and Amboy straight main line between Trenton and New Brunswick was in service and the train went under the D&R at Trenton and over it at New Brunswick.  Trains Magazine February, 2009.  Lincoln’s final journey was our nation’s first national funeral.  His casket as well as the remains of his son - little Willie Lincoln were carried in the elegant presidential car United States, also known as the Lincoln car, which had four 4-wheel trucks.  Interestingly, it was never used by Lincoln when he was alive, but was used to carry his remains in the funeral train.  “Last Sight of the Presidential Remains,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 22, 1865; reprinted in Civil War Railroads & Models, by Edwin P. Alexander (1989).  A throng again assembled in the same NJ RR & Transportation Co. terminal in Jersey City through which Lincoln passed on his was to his inaugural.  This time silence replaced the cheers.  They then saw his coffin carried through the terminal and onto the ferry on the way to lie in state at NY City Hall.


New Brunswick Boatyards and Boat Builders (there were at least four) built many vessels which operated on the D&R Canal and elsewhere.  New Brunswick-built steam vessels which served in the Civil War included the A.I. FITCH (as U.S.S. ROSE), ALFRED A. WOTKYNS (as U.S.S. ALTHEA), and JOHN T. JENKINS (as U.S.S. SAFFRON).


Edited by Capt. Bill McKelvey, Chairman, Liberty Historic Ry.