Another railroad pilgrim to Gettysburg writes of his experiences: Part 1
Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, is shown in this 1863 photograph believed to have been taken while dignitaries awaited a westbound train to attend the dedication ceremonies of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. This would have been mid-November.
A few months earlier, in July, hundreds of relief workers, ministers, doctors, nurses, and site-seers flocked through this same nondescript country railroad junction en route to Adams County following the Battle of Gettysburg.
The weather, muddy dirt roads, destroyed railroad bridges, and other impediments hampered the travels of these battlefield visitors.
However, within a few short years, the tourist trade was flourishing, and Hanover Junction became an important place for making the side trip to Gettysburg. Folks using the Northern Central Railway between Baltimore and Harrisburg at times decided to take the side trip on the Hanover and Gettysburg line to visit the battlefield.
Here is one such story from the decade following the Battle of Gettysburg, as described by a correspondent for the Scribner’s Monthly magazine, who is journeying from Washington, D.C. to Niagara Falls, NY by rail in 1872. The party has just left northern Maryland as we pick up the account:
“As we speed along the down grade into the fertile County of York, Pennsylvania, churches and school-houses become more frequent and of a less doubtful aspect.
On every side are evidences of our passage into a new State, with a different population, different history, different modes of life. One who had never heard of the famous line of Mason and Dixon, might discover it by the sudden contrast in the appearance of things on either side. In physical characteristics the better portions of the Counties of Baltimore and York are not much unlike; in all that shows the hand of man they are strikingly different.
The well-to-do old-time farmer of Maryland sprang from a high-bred, aristocratic, race. The very location of his residence shows it. The first requisite seems to have been a commanding prospect. He shunned the valley, choosing rather the highest point accessible, away from the highway, and overlooking a wide reach of country. Here he built a cream-colored Grecian temple, and surrounded it with trees. The barns and outhouses are n the background, secondary, and concealed, if possible, from general view.
The Pennsylvania settler nestled in a hollow on the sunny side of a hill, and as near the highway as possible. He built him a small house of stones or logs, surrounded it with sheds and cattle-yards, cut away all the trees, and spent the rest of his life improving his little farm and erecting an immense barn, which he painted red, and ornamented with as many windows as the frame-work would admit of. What purpose he had in lighting up his hay-mows like a five-story cotton-mill it is impossible to conjecture…
Close bv, sometimes attached to, the old homestead, the thrifty descendants of the original settlers have erected a more pretentious, yet comparatively small red-brick house. In some cases the front yard is fenced in and planted with shrubbery, or a few flowers, but as a rule the aesthetics of life appear to be but little regarded. The farms, however, show admirable care and culture, while solid wealth and homely comfort are visible on every side…
The English Captain and one or two others purpose leaving us at Hanover Junction, to visit Gettysburg, and the question is whether the whole party shall not go with them, special train and all.
‘Can it be done?’
‘Oh, yes; it can be managed easily enough,–take another cigar,–that is, if the Superintendent’s at home. It’s off our line, you know.’
‘Only thirty miles,–an hour’s run. We can see all there is to be seen and get back to the Junction by three o’clock, — time enough to reach Harrisburg before sunset.’
The guests are eager to go, and the hosts obliging. The telegraph must decide.
The Captain goes on with his stories of life and adventure in India, and we wait patiently the result of the correspondence over the wires.
‘All right!’ our chief executive exclaims, coming in with a slip of paper. ‘But we shall have to wait ten or fifteen minutes for a freight-train which has the track.’
Soon the way is clear, and we are speeding over the level country toward the little town, so unexpectedly, so terribly raised to historic eminence.
‘Whew! what a dust!’
‘Dirt ballast, you see.’
‘So I do; but I can’t see much else. Let us go in.’
All the morning we have been riding outside, undisturbed by dust, amusing ourselves at times with watching the dead leaves spring after us, snatched up by the whirl of wind that follows the car. Like so many dogs, they would take up ‘the chase with sudden impetuosity, follow in hot pursuit for a rod or two, then slacken their speed and whirl off to one side, giving up the race with seeming despair. But here the road-bed itself seems whipped into the air.
‘I have noticed the absence of dust all the way, but supposed it had been raining here lately.’
‘On the contrary, it has been very dry; but that makes no difference with a road well ballasted with stone.’
At Hanover we are joined by the courteous Superintendent of the Hanover and Gettysburg Road. The railroad men fall to talking business. The rest of us talk over the incidents and issues of the terrible struggle that made Gettysburg one of the focal points of our country’s history.
Every part of the country–East, West, North, South–is represented in our small company; but there is no partisan feeling, no recrimination, no exultation. The conversation turns rather upon the gallantry, the heroic courage of the opposing forces,–upon personal reminiscences, and those personal amenities which, even on fields of slaughter, are frequent enough to demonstrate the inherent grandeur of pure humanity.
Carriages are in waiting at the end of the line, and as our time is short, we are soon climbing the hill toward Cemetery Ridge, passing along the main street of the village,– a thriftless, torpid-looking place, seemingly oppressed with the burden of an honor unto which it was not bom.
We go straight to the central position so opportunely fortified after the disastrous retreat of the shattered Eleventh Corps on the afternoon of the first day’s fight,–the sharp curve of the ridge on the edge of the town, to the left of the cemetery. From this low mound, against which the tide of war . broke so furiously and so vainly, we survey the battle-field. Whip in hand, our intelligent driver traces the approach and disposition of the opposing forces, and with amazing graphicness describes the progress of the battle. The peaceful valley and quiet town swarm again with invading hosts, drawn on by a power they knew not of, to decide the fate of the nation here. Beyond the town, to the westward, Seminary Ridge smokes again, and the cheer of victory is raised. The re-enforcing host pours through the mountain gap, and the victors of the morning are hurled in disastrous retreat through the village. At our feet the pursuit is strangely stayed. By morning the ridge is blue with fresh troops, and the line that could not have been held at sunset is impregnable at sunrise.
‘This is the Union line, gentlemen, on the morning of the second day. The butt of the whip is Round Top,–you see the crest of the hill beyond the monument. [Union Maj. Gen. Daniel E.] Sickles holds the low ridge there by the peach orchard. We stand at the sharpest point of the curve. To our right is Culp’s Hill, the end of the lash.”‘
More to come in the next installment, as our intrepid travelers return to York County and describe the terrain and geological features.
Source: Scribner’s Monthly, Vol. 4, No. 1, May 1872