During the Civil War, African American laborers chopped wood and conveyed it to Burke’s Station, a major Federal timber transportation station located here on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. To supply the Union army and engineers with timber for railroad ties, bridge trusses, stockades, and firewood, wood choppers cut down thousands of acres of woodland along the railroad in Fairfax County. The wood was then transported by rail to Alexandria.
In 1863, the U.S. Military Railroad Construction Corps built an additional siding here to facilitate the loading of wood onto railroad cars. Wood choppers removed up to 1,000 cords of lumber a month in the Burke area alone. Army teamsters hauled the wood here in mule-drawn wagons. There were as many as 100 wagons in the wagon master’s brigade at Burke’s Station. Many of the wood choppers and teamsters were escaped slaves called “contrabands” who had fled to Alexandria. Because they risked capture and reenslavement by working here outside Union lines, Federal cavalry and infantry camped nearby to protect both the contrabands and the wood stockpiles.
On October 28, 1863, Confederate guerillas captured about 25 mules, a wagon master, and several contrabands at work near here. When the Confederates ordered the wagon master to lead them to the station guard, one of the contrabands escaped to warn the garrison. They fired a volley when the Confederates approached and drove them off. The wagon master, contrabands, and mules were all rescued.