South Tunnel Owed Its Life to Railroad
The News-Examiner

Special Edition: Celebrating Sumner County's Bicentennial and Tennessee Homecoming '86, "Main" Section, p. 8-A, Saturday, March 29, 1986.

Thanks to The News-Examiner for permission to reprint this article!

Note: All spelling, punctuation, and omissions are as they appeared in the article in the newspaper.

      Long ago story telling required the four W's, names who, what, when and where. Now the who might be the people living around South Tunnel. This could well be the tunnel that gave the place its name. Then about 1859, when railroad transportation began, this area was about half way between Gallatin and the Kentucky line.
      Beginning with the people then living in the community, we might start with the George Rodamore fajmily, who lived nearby. When the railroad was built, the South Tunnel area was very sparsely settled, Mr. Rodamore might hae been a man of vision who could forsee the future development of the community. He built a small store that became a store, post office, depot and general coming together place.
      The building was small and is still standing today as the west part of the present store building. It first stood right near the railroad track. But a few years later the railroad company wanted to build a depot to handle passengers, freight, express, etc., so they moved the small building back eastward to its present site and built a depot belonging to the railroad company.
      Rodamore's little building must have been pretty crowded. His advertisement was worded as follows: "Rodamore, George and Bro., Dealers in Dry Goods, Groceries, Boots, Medicine, Notions, Etc., P. O. South Tunnel, Tenn.
      As the population grew, another store was opened by a J. Clemmons, on what would now be called the Hamilton farm. Other nearby families were the Lancaster family, the H. T. Braswell family, the Lindsey family, the McCullough family, the C. D. Brasell family and others.
      About 1850 newspapers were beginning to have quite an influence on people and their opinions, and was keeping them informed as to world happenings. "Railroad Fever" was sweeping the nation. There arose quite a bit of agritation for the railroad connecting Louisville and Nashville.
      Trade and business in general would seem to be benefited by such a road. Perhaps one of the most important dates connected with South Tunnel was that of March 5, 1850, for on that date a Charter was granted for the beginning of the railroad. A careful survey of the resources of the territory involved seemed to show that it might prove to be a very profitable business venture.
      Surveying for the road began in July 1851 and was to be finished by the spring of 1853. Counties and cities along the line bought stock in the prospective line. Some of the stock was never paid for, disputes arose over the location of the line, but these troubles were settled, at least temporarily, and a work contract was signed on Aug. 13, 1863. The road was finished in two and a half years.
      The contractors were to be paid $35,000 per mile with certain specifications to be met. Actual work began on May 2, 1853. Financial difficulties soon stopped the work in May 1854.
      Another contract was made with another company and work was again started. The first of the line was finished and was tried out on Aug. 25, 1855, taking 27 minutes to make the eight niles. Work was soon being done on both ends of the line.
      About this time everything seemed to go wrong, Cholera epidemics, crop failures, war in Europe and political discord between the North and South.
      These things, plus natural obstacles, such as Muldraugh's Hill near Louisville, bridging the numerous rivers and the tunnel to be dug through "The Ridge" in Sumner County. Could these tremendous obstacles have been eliminated, the road would have perhaps been completed in the contracted time.
      The above mentioned "Ridge" caused the digging of the tunnel, that gtave South Tunnel its name. The North Tunnel was through Muldraught's Hill. Of course, without the railroad there would never have been a "South Tunnel".
      Before the railroad was completed it was bringing in a substantial income to farmers from rail being laid in July 1855. When eight miles on the northern end of line, farmers were furnishing cross ties, wood for firing engines and sub-contracting sections or railbed. Trestles were cheaper and earier to build than fills, for all earth moving was then a pick and shovel job with wheelbarrows for moving the dirt. This trestle timber was easily accessible from people along the line.
      The road was officially opened on Oct. 31, 1859. It took about nine hours for a passenger train and about 18 hours for a freight train to make the entire run, using the official time table. The first train had gone through on Aug. 10, 1859 and was celebrated by a barbecue in Nashville attended by 10,000 people.
      Soon the Civil War began. Tennessee was overrun by the Union forces. As the northern army advanced southward, the railroad became more and more a life-line for the Union Army. The South made every effort to close this supply route.
      Confederate General John Hunt Morgan made several raids destroying trestles, bridges, etc. The only way the Union Forces could keep the road operating was to guard every bridge and trestle. As we are only interested in South Tunnel, we will concentrate on that particular section of the road.
      On Aug. 12, 1862, General Morgan captured Gallatin, the Union force there, and destroyed a 29-car train along with the water tank and two bridges. Thinking the Rebel Raiders gone, workmen were sent to Gallatin. The Rebels retunred in force and the workmen and their guards were driven almost to Nashville. Morgan had captured the Union guard at Tunnel Hill which left 46 miles of railroad north of Nashville unguarded, with all bridges out and the telegraph wires destroyed.
      By this time, Gen. Braxton Bragg's Confederate forces had invaded Kentucky and were almost to Louisville. Now all the railroad, but 26 miles near Louisville were in Southern hands. Every bridge and trestle all the way to Nashville was closed. General Morgan had fired several freight cars and rolled them deep into the southernmost tunnel, where the supporting timbers burned and 800 feet of tunnel was filled to a depth of 12 feet with wreckage, rock, earth, etc. It took months to clear the tunnel and rebuild the track.
      To prevent this happening again, a Fort was built on top of each of the two tunnels and Union soldiers were garrisoned there the remainder of the war.
      No battles were ever fought at South Tunnel, but occasional skirmishes occured. The tunnels were patrolled by guards day and night. This blockage of the tunnel almost caused the evacuation of Nashville by Union forces.
      The most difficult problems that were encountered in building the railroad were the north tunnel through Mauldraugh's Hill near Louisville and the south tunnel between Fountain Head and Gallatin running through "The Ridge".
      It must be remembered that dynamite was not in use then and that all rock removal had to be done with hand drills and blasting powder. Then the problem removing the thousands of tons of rock after it was loosened immense piles of stone removed from the twin tunnels still remain today as a hugh monument to the stupendous task that was incurred by the men who accomplished this task.
      The northern one of the two tunnels is 945 feet long and is a long curve almost 100 feet below the summit of the hill. There is a space between the two tunnels about 390 feet long, then the southernmost tunnel is 600 feet long and some 165 feet below the summit.
      The two tunnels and their approaches through solid rock are more than three miles long and in those days of cheap labor cost the company more than $200,000.
      Most of the labor in cutting these two tunnels was done by Irish laborers who were brought there and maintained in a hugh labor camp just southward of the tunnels and on top of the hill involved.
      The labor camp included a hospital to care for the sick or injuried and a burial ground was located just north of the hills.
      Soldiers who died there during the war were later taken up and moved to the National Cemetery just north of Nashville. The open graves are still plainly visable.
      It will be recalled that farmers along the railroad sold wood for firing the engines to the railroad company. The wood was ricked along the roadside at almost every station and sometimes between stations.
      It will also be recalled that the road through the tunnels was constantly patrolled.
      Now we had a former Confederate soldier, with a Captain's Commission given him by General Morgan, whose orders were to interfere in any possible way with the operation of the railroad. This was the celebration Guerilla, Ellis Harper, a native of Richland, (now Portland). Harper, through his underground sources of information kept himself well informed. He had about 100 men in his command. Almost all of the having had military experience in some form of warfare in the Confederate Army.
      Now the following episode is from Official Records on the Union and Confederate Armies, and occured at South Tunnel on Oct. 10, 1864. It is official in every detail, Ellis Harper and his band attacked South Tunnel, tearing up tracks, burning cross ties and wood for the engines. They captured four of the six negro Union soldier who were walking their beat on the tracks through the tunnel. The other two escaped and ran to Gallatin to give the alarm.
      Knowing that it would not do to have gunfire because of alarming the men at the two forts, and having no means of caring for prisoners he had them to lay their heads on the log and had his men to split their heads with axes. Two section hands met the same fate as the negro soldiers.

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