Rebels severely damaged the Northern Central Railway during the Gettysburg Campaign: Part 2
Confederate Lt. Colonel Elijah V. White led the 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, on a raid of Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, on the afternoon of June 26, 1863, during the Gettysburg Campaign. His men burned bridges on the Northern Central Railway and the intersecting Hanover Branch Railroad. Painting by J.P. Walker. The original is in the collection of the Virginia Historical Society.
Background post: Part 1
White’s cavalry raid is described in detail in a chapter in the recently released book, Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Confederate Expedition to the Susquehanna River, June 1862 (available at the York Emporium and the gift shop of the York County Heritage Trust). Some 250 cavalrymen from Virginia and Maryland chased off elements of the 20th Pennsylvania militia and rode into Hanover Junction. They burned many of the bridges near Hanover Junction and Seven Valleys, as well as the rolling stock and other railroad property. They spared, however, the depot and the telegraph equipment, which was soon back operational.
In their 1863 Annual Report, officials of the Northern Central Railway delineated the damages caused by the Rebels. Not only did White destroy bridges near Hanover Junction, his “Comanches” as they were later termed, burned every bridge on the NCR’s spur from York to Wrightsville. Another Confederate cavalry unit, the 17th Virginia under Col. William Henderson French, burned additional NCR bridges between York Haven and Seven Valleys.
White and French’s commanding officer, Maj. General Jubal A. Early, had ordered the destruction of the railroads and associated telegraph lines. He would threaten to burn NCR buildings in downtown York, but refrained when York officials raised concerns that the ensuing fire might spread to nearby private businesses and dwellings.
As such, Early’s two cavalry units did enough damage on their own.
Here are excerpts from the NCR’s report.
Workers presumed to be from the U.S. Military Railroad pose after repairing bridge #81 on the Northern Central. White’s men burned the previous bridge, also known as Riley’s Bridge, on June 26, 1863. The destroyed girder bridge over a branch of Codorus Creek had been built in 1855, replacing an earlier worn out structure. The fence-lined dirt road in the background leads to the nearby village of Seven Valleys, which was White’s next stop after sacking Hanover Junction.
NCR officials were pleased that operating revenues in 1863 had shown a dramatic increase prior to the Confederate raids. By the end of the year, things were humming again.Passenger traffic in December was up 20% over 1862, and multiple military contracts accounted for a significant boost in non-routine revenues.
However, there was the interruption of service back in the summer by Jubal Early’s boys.
The NCR superintendent reported that a stock dividend was impossible for 1863 because “But our expectations were frustrated by the Rebel invasion in June and July last, when the actual loss of trade in those two months amounted to $108,792.83, sufficient to have made a dividend such as you [the board of directors] recommended, independent of the loss sustained by the destruction of the bridges on the main line and the Wrightsville Branch, thirty-three in number.”
Yes, Early’s cavalry had been busy – they destroyed those 33 bridges. Yet, feverish repair work by the USMRR and the NCR had fully restored the railroad’s capabilities by August. Additional work would be needed when some of the temporary bridges failed, but by the end of the year, the NCR had permanent replacement bridges in effect for most of the thirty-three. The only exception at year’s end was the heavy bridge at New Cumberland. All the track between York and Bridgeport had been replaced with new rail and ballast.
NCR President J. D. Cameron reported that despite the loss of June and July revenues, gross sales were a record $2,307,448.30 for 1863, earning a profit of $620,580.89. That amounted to more than a 20% increase in net earnings, despite Jubal Early’s fiery efforts (which accounted for 11% of all of the railroad’s yearly expenses).
One expense noted in the report was “A new Passenger Station of brick has been erected at York, at a cost of $5,000 dollars.” This appears to have been a planned normal capital expense, as the cost does not show up in a later delineation of repairs caused by the Rebel raiders, and there is no evidence in the NCR’s report (or in many other contemporary civilian and military reports and period newspaper articles) that the Confederates burned the old wooden depot in downtown York.
The entry continues, “A frame Paint Shop, and a building for the use of the Maintenance of Way Department, have been put up at York, and are a great assistance in our work, a frame Car Repair Shop 120 feet by 45 feet will be completed by March 1st , and will relieve us very much, and be a great comfort to our men, who are now compelled to make all car repairs in the open air, subject to the inclemencies of the weather.”
In the next entry in this series, we will post more snippets from the NCR’s annual report, including their lengthy passage specific to the impact of the Confederate raiding parties.
For more posts on the Confederate damage to the Northern Central Railway, see these posts:
Destruction of Fishel’s Bridge
Rebels destroy the Codorus Bridge (Black Bridge)
Fire on the Conewago