York #17, the Simpson. A modern replica pulls excursion trains along the route of the old Northern Central Railway from New Freedom to Hanover Junction (SLM photo)
Local railroad official’s reminiscences of the Gettysburg Campaign: Part 1
Joseph Leib enjoyed a long career with the Northern Central Railway, Hanover Branch Railroad, and the Western Maryland Railroad. As the NCRW’s ticket agent at the Hanover depot in the late-1850s, he was the centerpiece of a lawsuit filed by the state of Maryland against the railroad. The youthful Leib sold tickets to three black men to ride from Hanover through Hanover Junction to York, despite persistent claims from several bystanders that the would-be passengers in reality escaped slaves from Frederick County, Maryland.
Deliberately aiding them was a direct violation of the Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, but the determined Leib sold the tickets to them anyway and then made sure they were safely away on the train, headed north toward freedom. The ensuing legal case was just one of many bitter disputes between Maryland and Pennsylvania over the issue of fugitive slaves. Although the railroad lost on appeal and was fined, Leib kept his job (his well-connected older brother was the NCRW’s corporate treasurer).
Many years later, Joseph Leib sat down with historian/chronicler George Reeser Prowell to record his personal reminiscences of the Gettysburg Campaign.
Here is his account, augmented by Prowell’s supporting information, as transcribed from the July 15, 1904, York Daily.
Little Stories of the Civil War Related by a York Survivor
“Many were the thrilling incidents of the Civil War, which, when told, read like fairy tales to the young generation of the present day. A local story of the railroad and the telegraph was recently told by Joseph Leib, of the Western Maryland, whose long service in the railroad business began in Hanover in 1855. The telegraph line was completed from Hanover to the Junction in 1860, and then for the first time, the intelligent burghers could talk by electricity with the outside world. The [Hanover Branch] railroad had been in operation for several years before this event, and as soon as the late Capt. [A. W.] Eichelberger, its president, heard of the approach of the Confederate army in its approach northward in [June] 1863, he made preparations to ship all the engines and rolling stock of the railroad company from Hanover to the junction, as a temporary place of safety. He waited, however, until the enemy was within a few miles of town, then an engineer, Conductor John Eckert and Mr. Leib, left on the last train for the junction. The rolling stock did not remain there very long. It was soon sent to York, and from there to Columbia, where it remained about a month and was brought back by way of Harrisburg, for the bridge over the Susquehanna at Columbia had been burned during the invasion.”
The First Operator
“Daniel E. Trone was the first telegraph operator in Hanover, with the exception of W. H. Shock, of York, who spent six weeks here to give instructions to Mr. Trone, who was an apt pupil, and soon learned to manipulate the instrument with dexterity and skill. His office was in the present freight warehouse building of the Western Maryland. It was in a little corner of this building that Mr. Trone was communicating with the railroad officials at Hanover Junction when he heard the clanking of the hoofs of [Lt. Col Elijah V.] White’s Confederate cavalry, of [Maj. Gen. Jubal] Early’s division, on the public common to the east of him.
“‘The rebels are here and I guess I will pull up,’ was the last message he sent to the junction, and then he took his instrument and threw it up on the loft above his office just as a half-a-dozen soldiers in grey were about to enter. They found two or three instruments in a box in a box in a corner of the office which they dashed to pieces, but they did not find the one he threw upstairs. That little instrument was fortunately saved to communicate with the wings of lightning to the Philadelphia and New York papers the final triumphs of the battle of Gettysburg.”
“Mr. Trone well knew that telegraph operators were in demand, and when he found his native town in the hands of the enemy he quickly started afoot for Westminster [Maryland]. A few miles out the road he met a gentleman from that town coming to Hanover. ‘The town is fill of rebels,’ said Mr. Trone, ‘and as I am a telegraph operator I want to go to your town and then to Baltimore, if I can.’
“‘Everything was quiet when I left Westminster two hours ago,’ said the placid Marylander. ‘There are no armed rebels there now and I will give you my team to go there,’
“‘Better go with me,’ urged Mr. Trone and so they went to Westminster without interruption, for the other part of the army was still a distance to the southwest.
At Hanover Junction
“Mr. Blair, who was superintendent of the Northern Central railway, had telegraphed to Hanover for the officials of the local railroad [Hanover Branch RR] to keep one engine at Hanover Junction to await orders for any special purpose that might be needed. That order was obeyed until 4 p.m. [actually, 2 p.m.] on Saturday afternoon, when someone shouted, ‘The Johnnies are coming. Do you see them crossing over the hill yonder?’ and sure enough it was the same body of men that had disturbed Dan. Trone in his telegraphic communication with them a few hours before at Hanover.
‘Put on steam,’ said Conductor John Eckert to the engineer, ‘and we will hurry away as fast as we can. We need no more pressing orders to leave than the approach of the enemy. They shall not have this train if we can help it.'”
With that exclamation, the engineer and fireman hastily began preparations to steam out of Hanover Junction as Elijah White’s howling Southern saddle soldiers came into view.
Would they get enough steam pressure up to get the locomotive out of danger?
To be continued in part 2.