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Rebel raiders severely damaged the Northern Central Railway during the Gettysburg Campaign: Part 1

The Northern Central Railway‘s southern terminus was at the Calvert Street Station in Baltimore, Maryland (built in 1849; shown above in this 1936 photograph). From there, the road ran northerly through rural Maryland and southern York County, PA, to Hanover Junction, where it intersected with the east-west Hanover Branch Railroad / Gettysburg Railroad. From Hanover Junction, the NCR ran up to York and then farther north to Harrisburg. A side route ran east-west from York to Wrightsville, where it connected with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Other Northern Central routes ran to Shamokin, PA, and Elmira, NY. The PRR had a controlling interest in the stock of the NCR.
The Board of Directors of the Northern Central filed annual reports to the shareholders every year. Over the next few posts, we will examine the 1863 report, which delineates the damages caused to the railroad’s infrastructure by Major General Jubal A. Early’s cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign in late June.

Despite the ensuing loss of almost all of July’s normal summer revenues from passengers and freight, the Northern Central posted a profit every month in 1863, although with the cost of repairs, normal operating capital for improvements and maintenance, and the lost month of revenues, the NCR did not generate a stock dividend for its investors that year.
Here is the first entry in this planned series of posts on the impact the Civil War, and the Gettysburg Campaign, had on the Northern Central Railway.

I will be focusing on the Civil War history of the Northern Central, as defined in the company’s annual reports from 1861-1865. For those Cannonball readers wishing to learn more of this defunct railroad’s rich history, I would refer you to Robert L. Gunnarsson’s 1991 book, The Story of the Northern Central Railway. Long out of print, this book often can be found via inter-library loans.

First some background on the Northern Central from Gunnarsson’s work. The railroad had its origins in the Baltimore & Susquehanna
Railroad Company, which the commonwealth of Maryland chartered on February 12, 1828, to connect the Monumental City with the broad river up in Pennsylvania. However, wanting to protect its own railroads from Philadelphia and other points, Pennsylvania initially refused to grant permission for the B&S to enter the Keystone State.

That opposition finally waned and in March 1832, authorized the York and Maryland Railroad, which would connect with the B&S and complete the original project goals. By 1838, the railroad ran from Baltimore to York. Among the highlights for passengers was the Howard Tunnel, one of the earliest railroad tunnels still in existence today.

In April 1840, the side route from York to Wrightsville opened for business, with trains being moved by mule power across the mile-and-a-quarter-long wooden covered bridge that led into Columbia in Lancaster County. There it connected initially with the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad (and by the time of the Civil War, also to the newer Pennsylvania Railroad).

In 1853, the Baltimore & Susquehanna merged with the Susquehanna Railroad to form the Northern Central Railway. Expansion continued northward past Harrisburg to Sunbury, but by 1859 there was a significant lack of rolling stock and capital became stretched. Railroad officials later admitted, “The finances of the Company, too, were in deplorable condition.”

The PRR obtained controlling interest in 1861.

During the Civil War, the NCR received several important contracts to haul military supplies and troops across its route down to Baltimore. This provided a cash influx to help fund further expansion. Thanks to the war contracts and added revenues from recently completed sections of the route, officials wrote at the end of 1861, “Since then the affairs of the company have been steadily improving” and the “financial embarrassments” of the past (a debt of almost $5 million) were being addressed.

1861 proved to be a tough year for the NCR. While the government business proved lucrative, the frequent military usage of the railroad made it a strong target for Confederate raiding parties.

The 1861 Annual Report commented on the setback to regaining financial health:

“Although the Board has felicitated Stockholders upon the improved condition of the Company, it is with regret that they have to state that the Company in the past year encountered a serious disaster.

About the 20th of April, several of its bridges in Maryland were burned or otherwise made impassable. The secrecy and celerity with which the work of destruction was accomplished, made prevention impossible. The agents of mischief were directed by the Mayor and Police Commissioners of Baltimore, and, as said, with the sanction of the Governor of Maryland; and for twenty-eight days the business of the road was interrupted. A careful estimate by the late Superintendent shows the damages thus sustained to have amounted to $117,609.63.”

NCR officials added, “Soon after the bridges were destroyed, an armed force in the service of the State of Maryland, took possession of Calvert Station, where our principal offices were established, and the officers and employees of the Company could only have ingress and egress, by permission of the sentinels standing at the doors.”

Trying times, indeed, for the struggling Northern Central Railway.

The Federal government soon sent troops from York down into Maryland to guard the bridges and rails during repairs and then afterward when the NCR resumed operations. Confederate partisans dared not openly attack the line with so many Yankee infantry posted at key places. Company officials moved headquarters from Baltimore temporarily to Harrisburg for added protection.

Earnings for fiscal 1861 were $1,417,977.06, with a profit after expenses and interest payments of $175,011. The NCR was back in the black (barely), but the loss of the 28 days of revenue severely hampered investment opportunities.

Again in the late summer of1862, troops guarded the Maryland bridges and key depots as Rebels invaded the the central part of the state to the west of the NCR. This was the Maryland Campaign, which culminated in the bloody Battle of Antietam. Rebel raiding parties threatened the NCR and the Baltimore & Ohio, and J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalrymen in October entered southern Pennsylvania’s Franklin County. They burned much of the Cumberland Valley Railroad’s property at Chambersburg.

The NCR revenues recovered nicely in 1862 with few war-related interruptions. Gross earnings increased dramatically to $1,920,640.97, and profits jumped accordingly. The board authorized significant improvements to the dilapidated line between Baltimore and Harrisburg, and worked on expanding the routes into New York.

Things were looking up.

By the summer of 1863, however, few Federal troops guarded Pennsylvania’s railroads, and the Northern Central would face an even greater Confederate threat than the raids of April 1861.

Jubal Early was coming.

For more posts on the Confederate damage to the Northern Central Railway, see these posts:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Destruction of Fishel’s Bridge
Rebels destroy the Codorus Bridge (Black Bridge)
Fire on the Conewago