Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Monday, September 26, 2011

"Dreadful Collision on the Cumberland Valley Railroad"

By September 26, 1862, the threat of General Lee invading Pennsylvania was over, most of the Emergency Militamen had been mustered out of state service, and were on their way home.  For the militiamen, Lee's Maryland Campaign of 1862, had been a relatively bloodless adventure [one militiaman had been accidentally shot and wounded by a nervous comrade while on picket duty near Williamsport, MD].  However, on this day 149 years ago, men of Co. I, "the Halleck Infantry" [aka "Spruce Ward Guards"], of the 20th PA Emergency Militia, from Reading, would become the first casualties of the Emergency Militia of 1862, while in the service of their state.*  Surprisingly, the carnage occurred far from any battlefield.  An account of the tragedy appeared in the Carlisle Herald, the following week:

     On Friday morning last, about 7 o'clock, a horrible railroad accident took place on the Cumberland Valley Railroad at Bridgeport [now Lemoyne, PA] in this county [Cumberland].  
     A troop train of some twenty freight cars, containing the 20th Regiment Pennsylvania Militia, including the Corn Exchange Company [Cos. A, D, & F] and Revenue Guards of Philadelphia [Co. K], was on the way from Greencastle [Franklin County], where they had been encamped for few days.
     The train was behind time, and had been waiting for a train at this place, but none coming, the train proceeded.
     The weather was very foggy, and it was with the utmost difficulty that objects could be described along the track, but everything went on smoothly until within about a mile of the [Susquehanna River] bridge, when the train came suddenly on an engine stationed on the track. 
     The engineer of the troop train immediately reversed his engine, but too late to prevent the collision, and the engines came together with terrific force.
     The car immediately behind the tender of the troop train [which carried Co. I] was crushed into fragments, and nearly all of its occupants either killed or wounded.
     The second car was driven into the first and completely destroyed, and a number of persons badly hurt.  The third car was thrown on top of the second, the wheels crushing through the top.
     The most horrifying portion of the scene was the cries of the wounded, some thirty in number, and the sight of the dead.  They were all carried to a house close by, and surgeons sent for from Harrisburg.
     It should be remembered that the Cumberland Valley Railroad was not managed by its own officers, but by persons appointed by the government.  The Company therefore is not responsible for any mismanagement, though it has been censured by many who are ignorant of the circumstances.  The three months troops, nearly 80,000 in number, who were sent to the Upper Potomac, were all carried over the road without a single accident, but it was then controlled by its own Superintendent, and the trains run by engineers and conductors who were well acquainted with the route.
     Since writing the above, two more of the wounded have died, and several others are lingering in their last agonies.

CVRR locomotive Utility, was stationed on the track the morning of September 26th, as the troop train, carrying the 20th PA EM, approached Harrisburg, colliding with the Utility

The 20th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia had been organized in Harrisburg on September 18th, too late to play any significant role in the Campaign, but were still sent south to the state border, traveling on the Cumberland Valley Railroad.  As the article points out, the CVRR, and all state military mobilization, was placed under the control of Thomas Alexander Scott, by Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin.  Despite being clear of blame, the CVRR was constantly blamed for the accident in the Philadelphia press, which was where the majority of the 20th Regiment was from.  Ultimately, the CVRR was willing to pay $25,000 to the survivors who had been injured in the accident, which had been the worst in all of the Cumberland Valley Railroad's history. 

Casualties from Co. I, 20th PA Emergency Militia

2nd Sgt. Henry Fleck
Pvt. Augustus Keller
Pvt. Daniel Seiders
Pvt. Albert B. Werner

1st Sgt. Samuel Hamilton (collar bone & lower jaw broken)
Cpl. Zeno Hoffmaster (left leg broken)
Cpl. Alex Werner (legs & chest bruised)
Cpl. William R. Williams (head bruised)
Cpl. Nelson Bell (right arm broken)
Drummer, Henry Redmond (wrist dislocated)
Drummer, Jacob Hamilton (bruised in the hips)
Pvt. Jacob Crow (head cut & legs badly bruised)
Pvt. Adam Deem (right shoulder dislocated, arms & legs badly bruised)
Pvt. Richard Eagle (ankle sprained & injured)
Pvt. William Eisenbise (legs injured)
Pvt. Henry Fix (chest badly crushed, shoulder joint injured)
Pvt. Henry Goodman (bruised about the head)
Pvt. Jacob Herst (right arm crushed & amputated at the shoulder socket)
Pvt. John Herm (head & shoulder bruised)
Pvt. Evan James (bruised at the back & chest)
Pvt. William Keller (badly cut about head, right collar bone broken, left breast crushed)
Pvt. John Killian (left fore arm bone splintered)
Pvt. Daniel Lausch (ankle injured)
Pvt. Isaac Moore (internally injured)
Pvt. Lewis Newdorfer (shoulder dislocated & injured about head)
Pvt. Bernard Omacht [or O'Macht] (bruised about the head & body)
Pvt. James O'Neil [or O'Neel] (injured about head, back & chest)
Pvt. Mark O'Neil [or O'Neel] (head severely cut and body injured)
Pvt. William Schuler (bruised in chest, arm injured)
Pvt. William Statt (body bruised)
Pvt. Michael Smith (left breast badly bruised)
Pvt. Ely Williams (legs bruised)

*It is worth pointing out that many of the men of Co. I had been among the first to answer President Lincoln's call for troops at the outbreak of war in 1861.  Many of the wounded, including Sgt. Henry Fleck, who was killed, were members of the Ringgold Light Artillery.  To learn more about the Ringgold Light Artillery, and the rest of the 'First Defenders', please click here and here, to read posts by friend and 'First Defender' historian, John Hoptak.

**Additional newspaper accounts obtained after the publishing of this post note deaths in other companies of the 20th PA EM; between 8 - 11 deaths total.

Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania volunteers, 1861-5 : prepared in compliance with acts of the legislature. Harrisburg: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

Civil War Muster Roll and Related Records, 1861-1866, 20th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia, Records Group (RG) 19, Series# 19.11, Carton 127, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA.

"Dreadful Collision on the Cumberland Valley Railroad", Carlisle Herald, October 3, 1862.

Westhaeffer, Paul J. History of the Cumberland Valley Railroad: 1835-1919. Washington, D.C. Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, 1979.  

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