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The Hanover Branch Railroad – Part 1 of a series

Jefferson Station was located west of Jefferson, Pennsylvania, near the intersection of Krafts Mill Road and Jefferson Road (today’s State Route 516). It was a railstop on the Hanover Branch Railroad serving the farmers of the Codorus region. The embankment in the right center marks the old track bed. Photo taken from the top of a hill along Jefferson Road / 516 looking to the southeast.
Click to enlarge the photos.

A Cannonball reader has asked me to do a series of posts on the Hanover Branch Railroad during the Gettysburg Campaign. In the first of these, we will look at the little known Confederate cavalry raid on Jefferson Station, an event not marked by any kind of commemorative historical wayside marker, unlike so many other incidents during “the Late Unpleasantness.”

This map gives a brief look at the Confederate route to Jefferson Station, overlaid on today’s road structure. Most of these existed in 1863 when the Confederate cavalry came calling. The railroad’s location is approximate; I have not trespassed on private property to follow its exact route north of Route 516.
On June 27, 1863, the 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, conducted a raid through southwestern York County. Under the command of Lt. Col. Elijah V. White, the unit would later receive the nickname “the Comanches” for their warlike battle cries and noted ferocity in combat. White was operating under the overall command of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon, whose column was marching along the turnpike (today’s U.S. 30) through western York County to a camping site selected at Farmers.
White had several goals in mind, including the destruction of railroad bridges along the Hanover Branch, severing of telegraph wires, putting the railyard at Hanover Junction out of commission, and seizing fresh horses and supplies along the way. He succeeded in most of his goals, failing only to damage the Howard Tunnel and burn a few bridges in its vicinity.

Despite the passage of time, the old built-up embankment of the HBRR is still quite evident in the Jefferson Station region. Photo taken from Krafts Mill Road in December 2008.
Following White’s successful raid on Hanover Junction, his jubilant men rode down Green Valley Road into Jefferson/Codorus Post Office, pausing to burn the railroad bridge near Cold Springs Station and raid a few farms along the way, as well as the grist mill. Entering Jefferson, one trooper spotted a little girl on the sidewalk and handed her a brooch, part of a large haul of jewelry taken earlier that day from a fleeing Hanover merchant. As far as is known, White did not spend much time in Jefferson, instead choosing to head to Spring Forge and Nashville, where he would camp at the intersection of Roths Church Road and today’s S. R. 116.

Companion view to the above photograph, this was taken a little farther south on Krafts Mill Road looking northeasterly toward the old railroad embankment and the remaining buildings at Jefferson Station. President Abraham Lincoln rode through here on November 18, 1863, en route to Gettysburg and passed through a second time heading back to Washington, D.C. He would have surely seen the buildings that made up Jefferson Station.
White sent a part of his command (perhaps an entire company) down Krafts Mill Road to raid the station and visit farms in the vicinity to grab horses and mules. Troopers broke into the locked store of Jacob Rebert, which also served as the Jefferson Station Post Office. They cracked open a couple of barrels of York County rye whiskey and guzzled the contents before an officer put a stop to the festivities.
Outside in the rail siding, a few Rebels torched a rail car owned by Henry Rebert. It was full of tanbark destined for his tannery.

View taken at Jefferson Station itself, standing in the middle of what in 1863 were the tracks of the Hanover Branch Railroad and looking south along the embankment. Somewhere in this vicinity gleeful Rebel soldiers burned a privately owned, non-military railcar, one of several that would be destroyed during the Gettysburg Campaign.
A lonely dog walks along the route where thousands of wounded soldiers were transported to Eastern city hospitals from the Gettysburg battlefield.

Their merriment completed, the Rebels rode on to a few more farms before rejoining the main column. White’s command included a company raised in Maryland. One of the Marylanders, Joe Trundle, later wrote of the raid through the region, “”We gave the old dutch in Penn. fits. Our army left a mark everywhere it went. Horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens, spring houses suffered alike. They cried peace, peace most beautifully everywhere we went.”
In a few future posts, we will look at other aspects of “Lige” White’s raid on the Hanover Branch Railroad, and also take a brief look at the history of this long defunct railroad line.
If you have stories or photographs to share concerning this old railroad and its connection to the Civil War, please send me an e-mail.