Original Document
Original Document
The Civil War Prison Train Wreck, 1864.

Fifteen Union and Sixty Rebel Soldiers
Correspondence of the New York Tribune
PORT JARVIS [sic], N.Y., July 17 1864.

The collision reported as occurring on the Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad yesterday, took place on the main line of the Erie Railway, one and a half miles west of Shohola, and about twenty miles west of this place. The train of rebel prisoners (about 300) passed here about 12 o'clock M. of the 15th. It was running "extra" to another train, which carried signals for it. About 2 o'clock. P. M., the collision occurred at "King Fuller's Cut," a dangerous portion of the road. The wrecking force, under Mr. Cooper, was immediately forwarded to the spot, accompanied by physicians of this place and a number of citizens. It soon spread abroad that great damage and loss of life had occurred, and the anxiety to learn particulars was intense; but the telegraph office, as is usual in such cases, was a "sealed book."

At 9 P.M., a train was sent with provisions and by the kindness of the railroad official I was permitted to visit the scene of disaster. On reaching Shohola, at about 10 P.M., we found that most of the wounded had been sent to the village, and were occupying the freight and passenger rooms and the adjoining platforms. Over 60 wounded men lay in this locality, and several more in the "Shohola House." The citizens of Shohola and Barreville (a village just across the Delaware) were untiring in their efforts to alleviate the sufferings of the wounded. Men, women and children vied with each other in acts of kindness.

After viewing the wounded sufferers, and finding no occasion to remain longer, we passed out among the guard and prisoners who had come out unhurt, on our way to the spot on which the collision took place. Here the Delaware curves to the northward, and the railway follows its banks, the convexity of the curve being the same as that of the river. An intervening hill shut out the approaching trains from each other, so that it was impossible to discover one another until within a hundred yards of each other. Indeed, by mounting the wrecked engines, it could be easily seen that it is almost impossible for the westward-bound engineer to see an approaching train until the very moment of collision. The last of the dead had been removed from the wreck, and lay in ranks by the side of the road, in the edge of a rye-field.

The shock of collision was fearful. Two noble engines were almost entirely demolished, the "171" and "237." The tender of the "171" was heaved upon end, hurling its load of wood into the cab, effectually walling in both engineer and fireman against the hot boiler, and crushing them terribly. Both were found standing at their posts, dead. This was the train carrying the prisoners. The first two or three cars were box freight cars, and their frail frames were crushed like rushes. Only one man was saved from the forward

car. In the others very many were wounded, and scarcely a car escaped without being crushed. The most industrious endeavors were at once put in requisition to relieve the mangled beings in the wreck. But it was slow work, and their sufferings were intense. As fast as possible the wounded were carried to Shohola, and the dead placed beside the road. On the bank, near the engines, lay some twenty-five rebel dead–many mangled past recognition. Another squad, of as many more, lay further down the road; and still further, wrapped in blankets, lay fourteen of the guard–their duty done forever. Viewed by moonlight, and with lantern, it was a ghastly and horrible sight, although kindly hands had done much, by coverings of leaves, andc., to relieve the horror of the scene and the ghastliness of the dead. As we left, Mr. McCormick, wood agent and paymaster of the Delaware division, had arrived with pine boxes for the burial of our own dead. This morning all were buried on the spot, and the graves marked for future recognition. The rebel dead were also decently interred in pine boxes.

The best account I can get, and which is wholly trustworthy, may be summed up as follows: the coal train eastward, bound from Hawley, takes the mai[n] track from the branch at Lackawaxen. The conductor went to the telegraph office at Lackawaxen, as usual, and inquired if the way was clear to Shohola (distance about four miles.) The operator replied that it was clear, and the coal train proceeded at its usual rate, to meet the mail train at 8, at its usual passing place. The train which had carried the flag for the train of prisoners had passed Lackawaxen some hours before, and the operator was aware of the fact, and had not long before given a train notice of same, so I was told.

The coal train, consisting of fifty loaded coal cars, was proceeding at the rate of twelve miles per hour, thinking it all right, and the other train hurrying on its way in fancied security, dashed into the former at the rate of twenty miles per hour, and loss of life and property was the consequence. The tender of the coal engine was lifted several feet in the air by coal cars rushing beneath it. The engineer catching a glimpse of the approaching train in the cut, jumped for his life and saved himself.

The casualities [sic] are: the engineer of the "171," his fireman, the fireman of the "237," and a flagman, killed. At the hour of leaving the wreck, (1 A.M.,) sixteen Union soldiers and nearly fifty rebels were dead, nearly all taken from the wreck with life extinct. The wounded cannot, I think, fall far short of seventy-five to eighty men.

All the blame seems to be traced to the telegraph operator. It is said he was intoxicated the night before the accident, and it was nothing unusual for him to be in that condition when assuming his post of duty. It is said that he has disappeared.

Mr. Riddle, Superintendent of the Delaware division, went on the first train to the scene of the wreck, and was untiring in his efforts to relieve the suffering and get the road ready for trains again. The first train came through this morning about 9 o'clock, and all will be running regularly in a day or two.

Credit: New York Tribune, As reprinted in Janesville (Wis.) Daily Gazette
Friday, July 22, 1864.
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