Is this the railcar used by Abraham Lincoln during his trip to Gettysburg?
This old photograph is courtesy of theunfinishedwork.com, a website for a recent fictional book on the Gettysburg Campaign by Hanover native Frank Meredith. His well crafted novel includes the Battle of Hanover on June 30, 1863, and other York and Adams county venues.
The picture from the Hanover Historical Society shows an old, deteriorating rail car of the long defunct Hanover Branch Railroad, which was operational through the latter half of the 19th century into the early part of the 20th. Tradition suggests this is the exact car that Hanover Branch Railroad president A. W. Eichelberger deployed as the private car for President Abraham Lincoln and his traveling party during their trip to and from Baltimore to Gettysburg for the dedication ceremony of the National Cemetery in mid-November 1863. The director’s car was eventually scrapped, according to some local sources.
Lincoln’s party included members of his staff, including his private secretary John G. Nicolay, adviser John Hay, and a bevy of reporters and politicians, including Secretary of State William H. Seward.
At Hanover Junction, Lincoln’s train was coupled to an HBRR locomotive similar to this one shown in another old photograph that was republished by the city of Hanover during the Civil War centennial in 1963. At least two separate trains carried dignitaries to the battle-scarred town of Gettysburg – Lincoln’s train and an earlier one carrying the governors of Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, and Ohio and other politicians and newspaper reporters.
None of the eyewitnesses on the train mention that Lincoln left the car during the required locomotive swap at Hanover Junction, but one report suggests that an eyewitness peered through a window on the rail car and saw the president doing paperwork, “the top of his high hat serving as a makeshift desk.” An on-board reporter wrote, “At Baltimore General [Robert] Schenck, who then commanded that district, and his staff joined us, and soon after the President went forward in the car and seated himself with a party of choice spirits, among whom was Mayor Frederick W. Lincoln of Boston, not a kinsman. They told stories for an hour or so, Mr. Lincoln taking his turn and enjoying it very much. Then, when approaching Hanover Junction, he arose and said : ‘Gentlemen, this is all very pleasant, but the people will expect me to say something to them tomorrow, and I must give the matter some thought.’ He then returned to the rear room of the car.”
The same reporter later noted, “At Hanover Junction, 46 miles from Baltimore, we were to meet a special train which left Harrisburg at 1.30 P. M., containing Governors Curtin of Pennsylvania, Seymour of New York, Tod of Ohio, Governor-elect Brough and Ex-Governor Dennison of Ohio, Governor Boreman and Ex-Governor Pierpont of West Virginia, Simon Cameron, Clement C. Barclay, Generals Doubleday, Stoneman and Stahl and others, but it was detained by an accident and we continued on to Gettysburg, where we arrived about sundown and were surprised to find some of the wounded of the battle still in hospital.”
That second train of dignitaries, according to passenger and U.S. Congressman Cornelius Cole of California, was “delayed for hours at Hanover Junction and only arrived at Gettysburg towards evening.” Photos exist of that delegation while it waited at the small depot. At times, it is mistakenly reported that Lincoln is shown in those old photos, but he is not as he never left the train according to all accounts that I have read.
Another eyewitness, famed portrait painter Francis B. Carpenter, was blunt in his assessment of Lincoln’s brief stay at Hanover Junction: “when the Presidential party reached Hanover Junction they found a large concourse of people assembled to greet them. Mr. Lincoln and Secretary Seward, an hour previous, had gone into the sleeping-car attached to the train, for some rest. In response to the clamor of the crowd, a friend intruded upon them, saving to the President that he was “expected to make a speech.’ ” “No!’ he rejoined, very emphatically; ‘I had enough of that sort of thing all the way from Springfield to Washington. Seward,’ said he, turning over in his berth, ‘you go out and repeat some of your ‘poetry’ to the people !’
Lincoln’s special train departed Hanover Junction (being pushed by a locomotive attached to the rear) and steamed backwards the few miles over to Hanover, Pennsylvania. Several reporters later remarked about the less than desirable quality of the roadbed, and one believed it a result of “poor management.”
Bronze plaque on the wall of the old Hanover, Pennsylvania, train station. The current building is on the site of the even older depot that existed when Abe Lincoln’s train paused in the town at the request of railroad president A. W. Eichelberger.
At the Carlisle Street depot in Hanover, the president paused to deliver a brief speech to a crowd assembled at the train station. At the request of a local preacher who called out to him, the president emerged from the back of the rail car shown earlier and stood on the rear platform to view the citizens who had come out to see the leader of the Union war effort.
Lincoln joked with the laughing throng: “Well, you have seen me, and according to general experience you have seen less than you expected to see,” before turning serious and thanking the citizens for their service to their country, “I trust that when the enemy was here the citizens of Hanover were loyal to our country and the Stars and Stripes”. Perhaps taking a thinly veiled swipe at southwestern York County’s reputation for having a decent number of pro-South “Copperheads,” “If you are not all true patriots in support of the Union, you should be.”
Lincoln did trip over his own words at one point, casually asking, “You had Rebels here last summer, didn’t you?” The reply was yes, but Lincoln leaned forward from the railing and tried another joke, “Well, did you fight them any?” This one did not play well, and the previously enthusiastic crowd grew quiet. The president must have been embarrassed by the awkward silence. Hanover had experienced considerable fighting in its streets, and some residents had suffered substantial financial loss from the battle and from Confederate (and Union) foragers and thieves.
About that time, the mood changed again when some local girls presented him with flowers and little Jackie Melsheimer, being raised up by his dad so he could reach the president, handed him a York County apple that he had picked earlier that day from his family’s orchard.
Finally, it was time to leave. One reporter accompanying the presidential party noted, “The whistle screamed, the brakes loosened, the assemblage gave one. long hearty cheer, and the car rattled up the Gettysburg Road… through a bright valley, studded with substantial homesteads.”
Some old accounts suggest Lincoln was working on the Gettysburg Address on the train ride up from Washington to Hanover Junction, having “half finished” it at the White House before departing that morning (other people claim he worked on the speech at the Wills House in Gettysburg, or wrote it on the back of an envelope on the train between Hanover Junction and Gettysburg). Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin is said to have at one point possessed some scraps of paper used by Lincoln to craft the final draft, but “to use the somewhat emphatic language of Governor Curtin, ‘Instead of keeping the slips, which would be of priceless interest and value now, I, like a blasted fool, tore them up and threw them away.'” However, John Nicolay remembered that Lincoln did no writing, but instead bantered with the other passengers and told several of his characteristic humorous anecdotes and stories.
For much more on President Lincoln’s journey to and from Gettysburg, including his stops at Hanover Junction and Hanover, see Professor Gabor S. Boritt’s excellent book, The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech Nobody Knows and Louis A. Warren’s Lincoln’s Gettysburg Declaration: “A New Birth of Freedom.”