The Civil War saw many recent inventions used in war for the first time. Probably the most significant was the railroad. The Union army seized the local railroads which enabled them to move troops and supplies quickly and easily throughout the state. The railroad tracks were the iron shackles that held Missouri within the Federal embrace. It follows that the South’s primary strategic goal was to break these railroads, and the Union’s constant need was to protect them. It is not surprising that the summer of 1861 saw an epidemic of bridge-burning of the railroads of Missouri.
A single Confederate arsonist with a box of matches in his pocket could immobilize thousands of Federal soldiers simply by burning a single wooden railroad bridge. There were thirteen such wooden railroad bridges in Jefferson County. The Iron Mountain Railroad was a vital link between the iron ore supplies of southeastern Missouri which ran from Pilot Knob to the St. Louis foundries. Brigadier General M. Jeff “Swamp Fox” Thompson with his troops of the 2nd and 3rd Dragoons, Missouri State Guard dedicated their efforts to burn the great bridge at Blackwell, and then follow the tracks south, destroying the lesser bridges and gobbling up the Yankee guard detachments on the way.