The Hanover Branch Railroad – part 3
Citizens and veteran Federal soldiers lounge on the front porch of the Hanover Junction train station in this photograph taken in the spring of 1865. Less than two years before, inexperienced recruits of the 20th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia may have also stood on the same porch in the days before the Confederate raiders arrived on June 27, 1863. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The Hanover Branch Railroad – Part 1 of a series
The Hanover Branch Railroad – Part 2
The third week of June brought excitement for the few residents of tiny Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania. A battalion of Union troops, clad in fresh, crisp new blue uniforms and carrying shiny Springfield rifles, marched through nearby Seven Valley and encamped on a hilltop near the camp. Some accounts suggest they had a small bronze cannon with them. Unfortunately, we have no contemporary records of the reception of the locals, nor any surviving letters from residents remarking on the Union occupancy of the Junction, or of the Howard Tunnel to the north. We do have some damage claims from a couple of farmers whose lands were used as campsites for the regiment in various places in the county.
The troops’ job was simple — protect Hanover Junction, the nearby railroad bridges, and the tunnel.
Hanover’s Daniel Trone, the Hanover Branch Railroad’s chief telegrapher in the borough, wired a hasty message to his counterpart at Hanover Junction, warning him that the Rebels were in town. Wayside marker photo by Beverly Pfingsten, 2008.
It is likely the 20th PVM sent our small patrols to watch for oncoming Rebels, because the station’s telegrapher had received a warning earlier in the afternoon frantically keyed from Hanover before that town’s lines went dead as the Rebels arrived and severed communications. Daniel Trone simply wired, “The Confederates are here and I guess I will pull up.”
Trone and his assistant left the Hanover stationhouse through the front door just before a few Confederate cavalrymen walked through the back door. The intruders, who were from Elijah V. White’s 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, failed to find the new transmitter, battery, and sounder that the quick-thinking Trone had hidden in a wooden box in a loft. They ransacked the office, smashing a pair of old transmitters lying on a table, not realizing they were inoperable. They cut nearby telegraph wires, as well as those from a second, private telegraph station in Grove’s store.
Meanwhile, Hanover Branch Railroad freight agent Joseph Leib and another man escaped, desperately pumping a handcar down the tracks toward Hanover Junction, while the Confederates fired after them. They escaped to warn others down the line that the Rebels were coming.
About an hour later, White’s men headed for Hanover Junction, pausing to steal horses from local farmers on the way. Rumors spread that “several hundred” Rebels were in Hanover, and many farmers hastened to hide their horses in hollows, thickets, woods, or other out-of-the way locations. Several headed to the southeast and east, in what proved to be the right directions to avoid the Confederates.
Modern day country store at Porters Sideling. In 1863, these rural businesses were the lifeblood of most small villages and hamlets, providing groceries and a focal point for community gatherings. Hanover Public School District photograph.
At Porters Sideling on the Hanover Branch, other Confederates stole more horses from a couple of farmers who had neglected or not heard the warnings from the refugees. Jonas Becker and Jacob Miller would later file claims with the government related to Lige White’s thievery. Other farmers undoubtedly also lost horses, but decided not to bother post-war with the necessary paperwork and attorneys.
Some “Johnnies” entered Abraham Rudisill‘s country store, making sport of the teenager who clerked the store in his father’s absence. Aaron Rudisill would long remember the Rebel raid on Porters Sideling. Some bridges in the vicinity were torched, as Rebels doused the wooden superstructures with coal oil (probably procured in Hanover or at Rudisill’s store) and set them on fire.
Rumors had been flying in the region for weeks that the Rebs would impress all the men of military age into the service (this was particularly true in Jackson Township for some reason, but was also spreading into neighboring townships). Several families along the route of the HBRR mistakenly believed the rumors. In one documented case, a father and his son took off. When they later returned, they found their remaining horses gone.
Near what later became Valley Junction, the Rebels struck again, finding another country farmer who had neglected to take his horses to safety. Another HBRR bridge went up in flames (more to come on this bridge, as well as photos in a future installment in this series on the HBRR). It is conceivable that every farm along the route of the railroad was visited by the Confederates, as they had no way of knowing which stables or barns contained horses, and which ones were empty.
Meanwhile, far down the tracks, the green 20th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia and Lt. Col. William Sickles and his captains and men awaited the inevitable collision when the veteran Confederates arrived. Surviving accounts from members of the regiment reveal some of their anxiety. No one knew how many Rebels were coming, and reports from Gettysburg received by telegraph the day before indicated there were more than 5,000 in that region heading for York County. Sickles had less than 300 men under his command, and the other companies in his regiment (and his commanding officer) were strung out at various spots between the Howard Tunnel and the Conewago Creek railroad bridges far, far to the north at York Haven. Help would not be forthcoming.
Instead, Elijah White was coming. The plumes of smoke from the southwest from the burning bridges may have been visible to Sickles’ men as they manned their defensive line, likely along a wooden fence in a field near Codorus Creek where they could defend the railroad intersection and the dirt road leading to the nearby railside village of Seven Valley. Other militiamen likely patrolled Junction Road and the road to Glen Rock. Nerves were on edge.
The Rebels would arrive soon enough…
Watch for my full-length article on “Lige” White’s Raid on Hanover Junction, which will appear in the July 2009 issue of the Gettysburg Magazine!