William Ashe, Railroad Proponent, Handcar Crash Victim

On September 14, 1862, William Ashe, railroad president and commander of the Confederate government’s transportation network between New Orleans and Richmond, died after being struck by a train.

Born in 1814 in what is now Pender County, Ashe was a lawyer and rice planter before entering politics. He was elected to the state senate in 1846, and in that chamber, worked to secure appropriations for railroads, particularly for ones that would connect the western part of the state with the port in Wilmington. He was re-elected to the state senate in 1848 before entering Congress in 1849, where he continued to focus on internal improvements. He became president of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad in 1854.

An outspoken supporter of secession, Ashe was asked by President Jefferson Davis to take control of the Confederate government’s rail transportation in 1861. In 1862, when he heard that one of his sons had been captured, he commandeered a hand car to make a trip home. As he traveled, an unlighted train struck him during the night.

Ironically, the very thing that Ashe had worked so hard to bring to life took his own.

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