Local railroad official’s reminiscences of the Gettysburg Campaign: Part 2
Let’s go back in our minds to Saturday afternoon, June 27, 1863, in scenic southern York County, Pennsylvania. Ticket agent Joseph Leib, Hanover Branch Railroad Conductor John Eckert, and their engineer and fireman are scrambling to get the steam up on their locomotive, the “Heidelberg,” so they could escape oncoming Confederate cavalrymen, who were rapidly approaching Hanover Junction with an intent to destroy the railroad infrastructure and telegraph lines. Telegrapher Daniel Trone in Hanover had wired a warning, so Leib and company had plenty of foreknowledge the Rebels were coming. Some other period accounts suggest the aged telegrapher at Hanover Junction joined the railroad men on the southbound train.
Would they escape? Or, would the Rebels raiders torch the train?
Here, like Paul Harvey of old, is the rest of the story.
“Just then, the Confederates caught sight of the train and they galloped ahead with all possible speed, expecting to catch it before it rounded the curve below the junction, but they did not succeed.
“The engine was called the ‘Heidelberg’ and was long ago cast aside, but the coach, which, with the engine, completed the train that escaped being captured at the junction is still in existence. Mr. Leib and the party went on to Baltimore that night and the next day they met Daniel Trone there. He had gone to the city from Westminster, as the road to that place was still open.
The Return to Hanover
“Mr. Trone and Mr. Leib remained in Baltimore from Sunday morning until the following Wednesday, for it was impossible for them to get permits to leave the city at that time. They finally got as far as Parkton, and there slept in a car one night and the next day drove to Shrewsbury [PA]. At the station they mounted a four wheeled lime car, which on account of the down grade, moved by gravity nearly to Hanover Junction. They frequently had to draw the brakes to answer questions, for everyone wanted to hear the latest news. There were no trains running on account of the bridges being burned over the Conewago [Codorus] creek and at Seven Valley.
“From Hanover Junction, they started on foot to Hanover, inspecting the telegraph lines along the way. It was badly damaged by the Confederates when they passed through Jefferson a few days before. At Valley Junction, a government engine overtook them and they were asked to ride on it to Hanover. The engine went as far as New Oxford [where another bridge had been burned, rendering further westward rail movement impossible until it was repaired] and then returned to Baltimore with dispatches from the battle of Gettysburg, which was then taking place. By the next day at noon, government telegraphic operators has the telegraph line repaired to Baltimore, and Daniel Trone climbed up to the loft above his office and there found his instrument, which was fortunately still in good condition. He put it into operation at once and that evening on the third day’s battle at Gettysburg, sent off thousands of words to the New York and Philadelphia papers. Mr. Trone was sent several times to the scene of the battle to convey special messages to the military authorities there.
Conductor Eckert’s Experience
“John Eckert’s experience during the week following the battle of Gettysburg was remarkable. The military railway service, then under the management of Col. Thomas A. Scott, of the Pennsylvania railroad, took charge of the Northern Central and the Hanover Branch road, leading to the battlefield. Thousands and tens of thousands of people arrived at the junction to be conveyed to Gettysburg. The engines and cars of the local railroad were all beyond the Susquehanna and could not be obtained. In this emergency the government got any kind of cars that could be procured from the Pennsylvania railroad. Box cars, stock cars, old worn-out passenger coaches, were sent to Hanover Junction to make up trains, and on these the eager people rode to Gettysburg. John Eckert was the conductor and it was quite difficult for him to pass from one car to the other to collect the fares, for no tickets were sold in those exciting days. Mr. Eckert had charge of one train of 23 cars, on the last of which was the governor of Maryland [Augustus W. Bradford]. For three days and three nights after the battle, Mr. Eckert did not sleep a minute for he was managing the trains conveying people to Gettysburg all that time without cessation, and he was faithful to his trust.
“The government controlled these roads for one month after the battle and during that time, thousands of wounded soldiers were taken away to the hospitals or to the homes of their friends.”