Stranded at Hanover Junction – a Civil War “SNAFU”
As the Civil War unfolded in the spring of 1861, neither the U.S. government or the fledgling Confederate States of America were fully prepared to go to war. One of the early problems that plagued both sides was keeping track of troop movements and creating a reliable supply and logistics network that fully functioned.The latter proved quite difficult at times, even for the established U.S. War Department.
In those early days of the Rebellion, the town of York, Pennsylvania, was a fairly significant training grounds and military depot for many new regiments, not just those from the Commonwealth. Major Fitz John Porter was the assistant adjutant general at Harrisburg, and his name is prominent in a long string of telegrams and dispatches from Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Washington, and other military bases as he tried to ensure that the new troops in his jurisdiction were properly armed, clothed, and fed. In York, a 57-year-old citizen, Alexander Small, was trying to raise a regiment of men from York County.
Sometimes, men fell through the cracks, as happened to a group of volunteers who were “lost” at the Hanover Junction train station in early April 1861.
Contingents of volunteers organized themselves into informal companies, often electing officers and making the journey together to formal mustering stations where they could officially join the army. One such station was planned for York, but at the time, there was no central authority figure in command there.
Meanwhile, the military commander at the cavalry school at the Carlisle Barracks, Major George H. “Pap” Thomas, sent a series of telegrams to various officials trying to obtain arms and equipment for his cavalry. At the same time, companies of volunteers from Hanover and York were also trying to procure their own arms, and telegrams were flying between Thomas, Porter, erstwhile regimental commander and recruiter Alexander Small in York, and even the governor, Andrew G. Curtin.
Finally, Governor Curtin, a man of initiative and decision who would become one of President Lincoln’s strongest allies among Northern governors, took charge. He sent off a message to Major Porter ordering him to “Send an officer to York to muster companies into service. Major Thomas informs [me] he is ordered to Carlisle and cannot do it.” He also wired, “Send 700 cavalry arms and equipments and munitions immediately to commanding officer Carlisle Barracks. I sent you a requisition yesterday. Do not wait for it.”
In York, Alexander Small, a wealthy doctor and businessman who had twice run for a seat in the U.S. Congress, received word of a group of volunteers who were stranded at Hanover Junction. No train had been sent for them, nor did they have any provisions. They were scrounging food from the neighborhood.
Somewhat frustrated, Small wrote,
There is a company of 130 men at the Hanover Junction waiting for conveyance to this place. The junction is twelve miles from York, on the railway. They are out of provisions. The officer now here wishes to know what shall be done.
Later, he wired again…
“Maj. F. J. PORTER:
If the troops from below will not remain in York we can supply them with bread and meat at the cars. It will be difficult to have coffee there for the whole number. Let me know whether any will remain here, and how the Hanover troops are to be provided for.
Finally, the decision was made to pull all the widely scattered recruits back to Harrisburg. Small’s persistent efforts resulted in the procurement of 15,400 rations. Some of those provisions finally arrived at Hanover Junction for the 130 hungry Hanover volunteers, and they were eventually conveyed to Harrisburg to be mustered into Federal service.
Hurry up and wait, even then, was a typical protocol for the armies of both sides.