The Civil War: Scarce Firewood Forced Grandma to Use Railroad Ties

An unfinished rail line allowed Grandma to collect railroad ties to use for firewood while Grandpa served in the Civil War.

Abandoned railroad tracks in the woods

Sometimes you have to do what you have to do - including 'borrow' railroad ties for fire wood.


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During the Civil War, my great-grandparents lived in the mountains of Virginia. Grandpa was called to serve in the Army, leaving Grandma almost alone, except for a small son. Times were hard for Grandma. She had to do her own work, including getting her own firewood. A railroad was built through the countryside and was left unfinished. Railroad ties were plentiful, so Grandma took advantage of unused ties, rolling them down the mountain to use for firewood. An old man, who was too old for Army service, helped her get wood when it was snowy.

Soldiers came through the countryside, raiding homes and taking anything they wanted. Grandma's parents lived on a crossroads, operating a tavern. It had been ransacked by soldiers before Grandma visited them, so Grandma knew they were without food, and she carried a bag of cornmeal along.

On arriving she found soldiers there. As Grandma wore a full-skirted dress, she proceeded to sit on the meal and remained there until the soldiers left. They also went upstairs and came down with fresh white shirts, which had been stored away.

Frances Gump
Clarksburg, Missouri

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.