Civil War Voice from Hanover Junction, Pa. – A Doctor Headed for Gettysburg
In early July 1863 Assistant Army Surgeon William Fisher Norris received orders to proceed to Gettysburg and Frederick to help treat the massive number of wounded soldiers left behind when the Army of the Potomac departed in pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s retreating Confederate army. The Philadelphian was assigned to the Camp Douglas Hospital in Washington, D.C. He slowly made his way to Gettysburg, his way hampered by massive amounts of railroad traffic, congested roads, and the sheer amount of relief workers and curiosity seekers also headed for the battlefield.
Among his delays was a rather lengthy wait in southern York County at Hanover Junction, where he took time to write a letter back home to his father in Philadelphia. It illustrates just a little of the chaos and confusion at Hanover Junction as travelers awaited the track to clear so their trains could proceed westward to Gettysburg.
This letter and several others from Dr. Norris later appeared in a 19th century magazine, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle. More than 100 years later, author Silas Felton republished them in the January 2011 issue of Gettysburg Magazine.
Here is this long ago Civil War Voice from York County, Pa.
July 9th, 1 o’clock P.M.
I go with 6 cars of hospital stores which I got transportation for them and myself through Baltimore. Slept in one them last night and arrived here this morning, my bed was a bale of blankets. There was no excitement on the trip except that we ran off the track when about 9 miles from Baltimore. I washed in an adjacent creek and breakfasted on some buscuits which I bought in Baltimore and some milk which I got at a farm house.
We waited here [at Hanover Junction] for the trains of sick and wounded from Gettysburg. There is but a single track and we must wait for the down trains. At a station about [unknown] of a mile above here I found about 200 people waiting for the train to go up and had some difficulty in preventing our train [from] being taken by storm. I met here Dr. [John M.] Cuyler, Dr. [Thomas F.] Benton, Mr. Riley (medical cadre) and Mr. Chancellor, the latter is up to see after his son who lost a leg in the late battle. These together with myself at present occupy one of the cars (In a burden car partially fitted with bales of blankets) and we are waiting with what patience we can muster for the down train.
We have just dined at a neighboring farm house on fried ham, potatoes, bread and applet butter, considerably better I imagine than the 200 others who are waiting in cars and at the station above. There is little prospect of our leaving here before 6 o’clock today.
Yr. affectionate son,
William F. Norris