The train ride
During the weeks following the Battle of Gettysburg, thousands of wounded soldiers passed through tiny Hanover Junction in southern York County, passing through the railroad intersection eastward on the Hanover Branch RR en route to Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Washington and other towns where they could receive medical care. A temporary medical facility at the junction provided assistance for soldiers in need of treatment before they could be reloaded onto cars of the Northern Central Railway. In addition, a few cars contained coffins of soldiers killed in the battle, men whose families had arranged for transport home for burial.
Hundreds of civilians also passed through Hanover Junction. Most were sightseers on an excursion to visit the now famous battlefield. Others were relief agents, medical personnel, nurses and aides, and newspaper correspondents seeking a story. Cars were overcrowded and unsanitary, with people often crowding into freight cars. Here’s one story of how some clever sorts made a little extra room on one train from Hanover Junction as it passed through York County.
A crowded train from Baltimore had just arrived at Hanover Junction, and scores of passengers had disembarked. Soon, the platform around the depot was piled high with trunks, bags, boxes, and other cargo. The shadows of twilight were descending from the western hills, and the day had been long for the riders, many of whom were headed for Gettysburg. They had a two-hour wait for the westbound Hanover Branch train that would them to Hanover, and then onto the tracks of the Gettysburg Railroad through New Oxford. Comfort was out of the question. Seating was filled, food vendors nearly sold out, and darkness was nearing.
The passengers heading for the battlefield were herded onto freight cars with extemporaneously improvised seating. “Crowded, weary, and hungry,” the travelers sat down for the westward leg of their journey. In the excitement of the departure, many of them had not properly eaten and were famished. Some of the nurses had brought picnic baskets filled with sandwiches and other goodies, and they began to share freely with their fellow passengers.
Among the travelers was a party of young ladies. On the opposite side of the car were a group of young gentlemen who knew the girls, and wanted to sit beside them for the trip to Gettysburg. A strange odor was emanating from near the ladies’ seat, and one of the young men casually mentioned that an amputated limb was in the vicinity. The coveted seats were soon vacated and the lads had the girls to themselves. The women were shocked and stunned, and the young men were congratulating each other for their ingenuity in clearing the seats.
It turned out the odor came from one of the girls’ lunch baskets, which contained a box of foul-smelling Dutch cheese.