Wounded Ohio soldier boards the governor’s special train at Hanover Junction
Dignitaries, politicians, reporters, and soldiers all appear in this November 1863 photograph (courtesy of the Library of Congress). Taken facing north at Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania, it shows a part of the crowd that have arrived with Governor Andrew Curtin (R-PA) as the delegation changed trains at Hanover Junction to head west for Gettysburg and the dedication ceremonies for the new National Cemetery.
Among the people at Hanover Junction that day was a northern Ohio infantry captain named Azor H. Nickerson. Badly wounded on Cemetery Ridge during the Battle of Gettysburg, the 8th Ohio officer had spent four months in various field hospitals and Camp Letterman before being allowed to travel back home to recuperate. November found him in Washington D.C. awaiting a medical decision on when he could return to active duty. Nickerson decided to go to Gettysburg for the dedication of the cemetery, so he took a train to Baltimore, switched there to the Northern Central Railway, and then rode up to Hanover Junction, where he managed to get onto Governor Curtin’s train and kibbitz with him and other leading politicians of the day.
The future Wild West Indian fighter left one of the few descriptions of his brief time at Hanover Junction and the ensuing train ride through Hanover to Gettysburg. Here is a portion of his out-of-print account from the popular 19th century magazine, Scribner’s.
“In the November succeeding my first visit to Gettysburg, I was in the National capital, partly convalescent but still not permitted to rejoin my regiment. While awaiting a decision of the surgeons in my case, the ceremonies that were to take place on the occasion of the dedication of the proposed monument were announced, and I resolved to be present.
On my way over, a friend of mine serving on the staff of General [Erastus] Tyler, at Baltimore, Lieutenant McDowell, joined me, and just at dusk we reached Hanover Junction, the station where we were to change for the train that would take us to Gettysburg. When our train stopped we immediately boarded another that was standing on the Gettysburg track. We had barely gotten inside when a guard was placed at the entrance to each car to prevent outsiders from crowding into it, as it was a special train carrying the governors of the several States who were the guests of Governor Curtin, of Pennsylvania.
Being locked in, as it were, we concluded not to try to break out, and proceeded to find the delegation from our native State, Ohio. McDowell went toward the head of the train and I toward the rear. In the first car I entered I saw Governor [David] Todd, while near him were ex-Governor [William] Dennison and the Governor-elect, [John] Brough.
Thinking, perhaps, I might know some of his staff or retinue, I asked where the other members of the delegation were. He pointed to a group on the opposite side of the car, which upon joining, I found to contain several old acquaintances and one general officer, whom I had known as colonel of the Fourth Ohio, and who, when promoted, had afterward commanded our brigade, General John S. Mason, now a retired officer of the regular army. He knew the circumstances attending my former visit to Gettysburg, and insisted upon presenting me to the governor, although I said I had just spoken with him.
In introducing me, the general told the governor that I had a better right to be there than any of them, with many other equally flattering things which a soldier most likes to bear of himself. The governor then told me that he would like to arrange it so that I could see and hear everything that transpired at the dedication ceremonies, and that he could best insure that if I and my friend were to accept the positions of aides-de-camp on his staff which he then tendered. Of course we gratefully accepted the proffered honor.
The governor further informed us that although he had sent an agent ahead to secure accommodations for himself and staff the latter had so increased in numbers since he started that he did not know whether all would have downy pillows to rest upon, but as we were soldiers he presumed we would not be troubled on that score.
Remembering my hosts on the occasion of my former visit, and relying somewhat upon their hospitality, I assured the governor that we should not only be able to take care of ourselves, but possibly, if his quarters were overcrowded, we might be able to find shelter for some of the other members of his party.
When we arrived at the [Gettysburg] station, though it was nearly eleven o’clock at night, I took McDowell and sought out the residence of my hosts of the previous July. Nearly everyone in the village was up, their houses illuminated and open in anticipation of their being called upon to entertain the immense crowds of incoming visitors.We found the house of my former hostesses open like the rest, and upon my making myself known (for it must be remembered they had never seen me except for a few minutes, as I had laid upon the stretcher in front of their house) we were most cordially received.
They could accommodate us, and if we chose, two more; an offer we accepted, and going back to the hotel we relieved the Governor of two of his party, George A. Benedict, editor and proprietor of the Cleveland Herald, and Mr. [Almon M.] Clapp, of the Buffalo Express. Both of these gentlemen gave interesting accounts in their papers of their hostesses and their historic home, which bore the bullet marks of the strife that had raged around it.”
The next day, Nickerson attended the ceremonies and left a detailed account of the proceeedings, including Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
More to come…