Five, Maybe Six High Bridges At Appomattox

The Appomattox River is a rather twisty tributary of the James River in Virginia. Its name is well known in the US because it was the location of the end of the Civil War, but otherwise the river and its valley are a barrier to north-south movement. The picture above sort-of shows the High Bridge in 1865, when it played a small role in one of the last battles of the war.

The original bridge, below (sort of) was constructed in 1852 to a design by C. O. Sanford. It was a viaduct with 21 timber truss spans supported on brick piers, 2500 feet long and 130 feet high. The National Register Nomination form says that the spans were Burr-Arch trusses, which agrees with the 1865 photo above. but not the 1858 engraving below. I tend to believe that the description and photo show the bridge as built, and the artist who created the engraving omitted the arches, showing instead Howe trusses, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the wood arches were added to strengthen the bridge as traffic grew in the 1850s. The Burr-Arch truss is based on the idea that the wood arch is the main load-carrying element and the truss serves to provide local stiffening to the arch for concentrated wheel loads, but a Howe truss is reasonably strong in itself, particularly if the compression diagonals are stocky pieces of wood. Short of seeing an accurate written description or a photographs from the early 1850s, I’ll never know the answer.

During the brief battle at the bridge on April 6 and 7, 1865, the bridge was set on fire. The Union army repaired it in its usual manner:

The bridge was rebuilt in the same basic pattern in 1869 and 1886; the first time replacing the missing spans, and the second time installing entirely new trusses on the old piers. Then in 1914, the inevitable replacement for heavier traffic resulted in a similar viaduct immediately adjacent to the old. As od 2012, the high bridge is a pedestrian path over the valley, with a good view of the remaining original piers:

From Virginia State Parks, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

So, maybe an original bridge without arches, the Burr-Truss bridge, the temporary bridge, the rebuilt bridge, the replacement bridge on the old piers, and the complete replacement.

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