One Hell of a Train Ride!
In the modern world, American citizens love to complain about the tax dollars politicians spend to travel first class to islands in the Caribbean, or spas in Mexico, and Europe. I discovered in the process of researching my book about John Brown and the Civil War that this was not always the case. Consider the governors of the loyal states who traveled by train to Gettysburg in November of 1863 to attend the dedication of the National Cemetery located on part of the battlefield where General George Meade defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee. One would think that their ride was very pleasant, but the following out-take from the book tells a different story:
Many governors from states loyal to the Union were gathering at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to take a special train to Gettysburg in preparation for the opening of a military cemetery at the site of the famous battle. Included in the party were Arthur I. Boreman, the first elected governor of the new state of West Virginia, and Governor Francis H. Pierpont, the man who had helped the western Virginia counties secede from Virginia when Virginia left the Union. Pierpont’s "Restored Government of Virginia," an alternative to the Confederate state government in Richmond, ruled Union controlled areas of Virginia from the relative safety of Alexandria, just outside Washington.
The governors, along with their aides and their contingency of newspaper reporters, anticipated being able to see the Gettysburg battlefield and to hear the brilliant oration of the principal speaker for the ceremony, Edward Everett of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, their train ride would be even more memorable than the cemetery dedication, and for all the wrong reasons.
From Harrisburg, they intended to travel south along a railway line currently owned by Simon Cameron, former secretary of war under Lincoln. During his term as secretary, Cameron had earned a reputation for the purchase of shoddy goods for the army at exorbitant prices under questionable conditions which seemed to increase the size of his personal bank accounts. U.S. Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania had been so angered by Cameron’s behavior that he announced that the secretary of war was so dishonest that the only thing in Washington he wouldn’t steal was a hot stove. Cameron went to Stevens and demanded an apology for the comment. The representative publicly apologized by stating that he had been wrong in saying that Cameron would not steal a hot stove.
Currently, Cameron owned the no-frills rail line that the governors intended to travel. No frills meant no light, no heat, and no food. It also meant that travel would be slower than the usually rapid 20 miles an hour that trains achieved. The only real compensation the state leader got was the knowledge that the narrow-faced, sharp-nosed Cameron would be traveling with them.
The party of governors arrived at the train depot precisely as they had been told at one p.m. to board the train, carpetbags in hand. But the train was a quarter of a mile up the track, so men quickly walked toward it and secured their seats, there being plenty of room. The train was supposed to leave shortly after one, but due to some delay, did not depart until after three p.m. The journey was a rough one requiring frequent stops. Nearly two hours and twenty miles later, the train wheezed into Goldsboro station. Any further travel was halted for the moment by a burst water pipe on the engine which took an hour to repair. This proved a great boon to the apple and cake sellers who frequented the station, the hungry governors and their entourage proving to be very grateful customers. A brigade band, also traveling aboard the cursed train, got off and performed a series of selections which included a dirge written especially for the Gettysburg ceremony.
Once the water line was repaired, the train lurched forward around six o’clock. It was now very dark, and the passenger cars were getting cold. During one of the train’s frequent stops, an enterprising gentleman in the party from Indiana got off and purchased a greasy tallow dip which he installed in an otherwise non-functional light fixture at the back of the car. The dip gave off a ghastly glow which barely penetrated the encroaching darkness. By this time, many of the assembled party, now shivering in their greatcoats and shawls, had decided to stave off the cold with cigars and black bottles of spirits. Governor Boreman and his party, teetotalers all, resisted the temptations of demon liquor for as long as they could in the increasing cold.
To make matters worse, a party of men and women traveling up from Baltimore attempted to board the specially chartered train in Hanover Junction. One lady, trying her best to make her way through the choking atmosphere of the smoke-filled car, pronounced the interior a "nasty, dirty place!" She and other ladies attempted to sit beside the smokers, but were soon ejected from the cars by Colonel Joseph Wright, an aide to Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania. The lady who had objected to the smoke now called her impending ejectment "real shabby" as she stomped out of the car.
The train was soon under way again at an even slower rate of speed than before. Added to this difficulty, the tallow dip burnt out, and the men were left with only the moon and their cigars to light their way to Gettysburg. Fortunately, a man traveling with Governor Pierpont cheered up his disgruntled fellow passengers with witty tales told in Irish, English, and Dutch accents.
To the relief of everyone aboard, the train finally squealed into Gettysburg some time around midnight. The party of governors and hangers-on disembarked and entered the busy train depot where they made inquiries about lodgings for the night. Many people they talked to said there were no lodgings to be had at any price, the town being filled to the brim with people intending to participate in or watch the cemetery dedication. There was nothing to be done but walk from house to house and inquire if any room could be made for at least some of the cold and weary travelers. Eventually, they all found places to stay in the homes of residents of the town.
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