Hanover telegrapher narrowly escaped the Rebel raiders
Hanover, Pennsylvania telegraph operator Daniel Trone heard on Saturday June 27, 1863 that Confederate cavalry was in the neighborhood, so he hid his equipment in a loft and left two broken sets on a table in his office as decoys before fleeing. He made it out the back door of his office just as members of the 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry (later famed as “White’s Comanches”) entered the front door.
Trone finally returned home after the Battle of Hanover. Upon visiting his office, he discovered that Rebel cavalrymen had smashed his decoy telegraph equipment, but they did not find the good set in the loft. Trone retrieved his hidden equipment, and for the next two days telegraphed information about the Gettysburg battle in an exclusive arrangement with the New York Tribune and its reporter A. H. Byington. Abraham Lincoln received his first news of the battle from reports that Trone sent to New York through Washington. Much of the news telegraphed to the major northeastern cities concerning the Battle of Gettysburg was done by Trone.
The nicely preserved and well maintained Daniel Trone house is at 233 Frederick Street in Hanover, Pennsylvania.
One contemporary description of Daniel E. Trone (b. 1834; d. January 26, 1882) states that “although very delicate physically, [he] was a keen business man with gentle manners and loving heart. He was for years a telegraph operator…” He never married. He was the eighth of nine children of Louisa Eichelberger Trone and George Trone, a well known Hanover politician. Some accounts suggest he was small in stature and had a somewhat hunched back. Trone also served as the ticket agent; his name appears in several newspaper advertisements for the Hanover Branch Railroad starting in 1859, replacing Joseph Leib who moved to other assignments within the railroad.
For Dan Trone, it was to be an eventful week. On Friday, June 26, he received a message from fellow telegrapher Hugh Scott in Gettysburg that Rebels were overrunning that town and that he was pulling out (Scott threw his equipment in a spring wagon and outraced a few Rebels out of town as bullets whizzed past). That evening, Union defenders fleeing from Gettysburg in the wake of the arrival of thousands of Confederate veterans rode into Hanover. At their head was Major Granville Owen Haller of the 7th U.S. Infantry, the local commander of the forces assigned to Adams and York counties. He rode over to the railroad station, entered Trone’s telegraph office, and had him wire his commander, Major General Darius N. Couch in Harrisburg, the disappointing news that the Confederate advance guard had driven the 26th Pennsylvania Militia from “a good position” along the ridges three miles west of Gettysburg. The town was now under Southern control.
Haller had Trone send out a second message, this one to telegrapher Peter Bentz of American Telegraph at the train station in downtown York. It was a message to the town’s Committee of Safety that the Rebels had occupied Gettysburg with infantry, cavalry, and artillery. York’s citizens should arm themselves, and perhaps the town could be saved.
At 8:00 p.m., Daniel Trone wired another terse message from Haller to Couch.
Major Knox and Captain Bell have arrived. Rebels in Gettysburg. Ran our cavalry through town; fired on them; no casualties. Horses worn out. Ordered all troops to York, to rendezvous at Camp Franklin. Will be in York at midnight. Cavalry, officers and men, did well. Major Knox specially mentions Corpl. J. R. Wood, Private William A. Davis, and Private George W. Colket.
His actions finally done for the day, Dan Trone wearily trudged home. Little did he know what the morrow would bring…
The next day, it was Hanover’s turn to see the Confederate flag wave in its street. As Rebel cavalrymen began riding around the rail yard and fired their pistols into the air, Trone wired John Shearer at Hanover Junction that “The Confederates are here and I guess I will pull up.” With that, he started dismantling his equipment. Trone and his assistant left the stationhouse through the front door just before a few cavalrymen walked through the back. The intruders failed to find the new transmitter, battery, and sounder that the quick-thinking Trone had hidden in a wooden box in a loft. They ransacked the office, smashing a pair of old transmitters lying on a table, not realizing they were inoperable.
Trone made it to Hanover Junction without further incident. He spent most of a cloudy Sunday in the company of telegraph apprentice John Shearer, New York Tribune reporter Homer Byington, an unnamed Hanover Branch Railroad engineer, and Joseph Leib, the freight and passenger agent at the Hanover depot. The quintet inspected the broken track, ruined bridges, and downed telegraph wires in the direction of Hanover. They found that White’s Confederates had destroyed two small bridges on the Hanover Branch Railroad and damaged another one.
By Monday night, Shearer and other railroaders sent to assist him had repaired downed telegraph wires and poles. Trone returned to Hanover, went home, and pulled out the telegraph battery from under his bed. He and the Connecticut-born Byington went to the train station and had the telegraph operational again by late afternoon. Dispatching news stories from Hanover with Daniel Trone’s help on July 2, A. H. Byington became one of the first correspondents to report on the battle at Gettysburg. The Tribune would sell 65,000 copies of a special edition within just a few hours of publication of the first news of the fighting.
The historical marker in front of Daniel Trone’s old house outlines the fighting that occurred there during the June 30, 1863, Battle of Hanover: “Fragments of several Union and Confederate cavalry regiments continued to fight a running battle as they galloped on horseback along Frederick Street. Other Confederate bands had retreated down the intersecting alleys and streets. This action quickly weakened their defense.
Besides Major John Hammond, other officers of the 5th New York Cavalry Regiment were noted for bravery that day. Major Amos White and Adjutant Alexander Gall were involved in the thick of the fighting as the New Yorkers gave chase to the Confederates past this point.
In this proximal region, Adjutant Gall was felled from his horse and instantly killed as a bullet pierced his left eye. Major White continued on with the charge and received a severe bullet wound in the foot, from which he eventually recovered.”
Trone’s Civil War tale does not end there. During Abraham Lincoln‘s November 18 brief stopover in Hanover en route to Gettysburg to deliver what became famed as the Gettysburg Address, Daniel was introduced to the president.
Trone’s telegraph was later donated to the Pennsylvania Library by his nephew, Maurice N. Trone.