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)
Officer pushed soldier from a train to his death
During the Civil War, the Northern Central Railway was a major transportation route between upstate New York and Baltimore. In between, its standard-gauge tracks ran through Selinsgrove, Harrisburg, Mount Wolf, York, and Hanover Junction. The U. S. Army contracted with the NCRW management to transport soldiers between posts and to take wounded men to Northern hospitals. They also routinely used the NCRW to take Confederate prisoners of war up to the Elmira prison camp in Elmira, New York. Over the course of the war, thousands of Southern captives rolled through York County on their way north to the Empire State. Guard details accompanied each shipment of prisoners to make sure there was no mischief or escape attempts.
At least on one occasion, the guards had more to fear from their comrades than from the Rebels.
Especially from their officers when excessive alcohol was involved.
Here is one incident, taken from the August 18, 1864, edition of John W. Forney’s influential Philadelphia Press.
Outrage on a Soldier by his Superior
“On Friday morning last, as the mail train on the N. C. R. W. was passing near Shrewsbury station (now known as Railroad), a soldier, one of the guard of some Confederate prisoners going North, was pushed from the cars by the officer in command of the squad. As the cars were running at full speed at the time, he was terribly injured by the fall. He was taken to Shrewsbury, where Doctors [Henry G.] Bussey and [James Geary] Gerry amputated one of his legs and attended to his other injuries. In the evening he was brought to the York army hospital, where he now lies. His name was William Dunn, of the 20th Pennsylvania Regiment. The perpetrator of this outrage, whose name we have not been able to learn, is said to have been under the influence of liquor at this time. If the story as related to us is correct, no punishment can be too severe for the wretch who could be guilty of such a diabolical act. What makes the occurrence still more sad, is the fact that the term of service of the injured man will expire in a few days. — York Gazette.”
The Harrisburg Evening Telegraph on Saturday, August 13, mentioned the same incident, adding a few details:
“Railroad Accident — Yesterday as the mail train coming north on the Northern Central Railroad was near Shrewsbury station, a soldier named William Dunn, of Capt. M’Quid’s Company, 20th Pennsylvania Regiment, fell from the train and had one of his legs cut off below the knee. His head was bruised and cut in a fearful manner. Dunn was brought to Shrewsbury, where amputation was performed by Drs. Buzzy [sic] and Geary, of that place, and the injured man was removed to York hospital on the accommodation train last evening. Dunn belonged to a squad of soldiers who were escorting a lot of rebel prisoners to Elmira, and he alleges that he was thrown from the train by one of the officers connected with his party. His term of service will expire in ten days, at the end of which time he intended to return home. His physicians assert that he may recover if the amputation does not prove fatal.”
Private Dunn died within hours of his admission to the army hospital. On Sunday afternoon, August 14, a military detail solemnly escorted the body to Prospect Hill Cemetery, where the Reverend James A. Allen, the hospital’s chaplain, officiated Dunn’s burial.