Harper’s Weekly woodcut of an 1865 train wreck in Connecticut.
On July 18, 1863, the 23rd New York Militia passed through York, enroute from Baltimore to Harrisburg, where they would catch another series of trains to take them home to Brooklyn. In a previous post, I mentioned their relaxing train ride through scenic southern York County, and their impression of the somewhat greedy street vendors of the borough of York. A little adventure lay ahead of the big city boys as their train steamed through the farmland of northeastern York County.
Private John Lockwood and his comrades were late in arriving in Harrisburg, but they felt very fortunate they left York when they did. A little earlier, and the results might have been tragic.
The young soldier recalled, “Between York and Harrisburg, we had a narrow escape of an appalling calamity. A new bridge over a considerable confluent of the Susquehanna River gave way under a freight and cattle train only a few hours before we reached the spot—the whole now presenting a frightful spectacle of wreck. We crossed the stream—some by a light pontoon bridge, and some clamoring over the broken timbers and wrecked cars, and took a train on the other side which brought us safely to Harrisburg by dark.”
Now, the question for you local history buffs and railroad fans is: Where exactly was this train wreck? Would this have been one of the temporary bridges over the Conewago Creek near York Haven, hastily erected after the previous structures were destroyed by the 17th Virginia Cavalry a few weeks before during Jubal Early’s visit to York County? Or, was this actually farther north, perhaps in Cumberland County? The fact that Lockwood mentions it as being a new bridge over a “considerable confluent” leads me to believe this is the location. If so, then Colonel French’s Virginia cavaliers caused much more damage than they could have ever realized when they were merely burning the twin spans.
If anyone has any records or insight into the specific circumstances surrounding the freight and cattle train wreck, please post comments on this blogsite so that our readers will know more details about what the Union soldiers witnessed.