The Great Shohola Train
Submitted by Thomas K. Gibson
Originally from "Between the Ocean and the Lakes"
The Story of the ERIEby Edward Harold Mott1899
On July 15, 1864 a locomotive pulling
17 passenger and freight cars moved along the Erie Railroad in
southeast New York state. Aboard were 833 Confederate prisoners
of war and 128 Union guards. The guards were members of the 11th
and 20th Regiments of the United States Veteran Reserve Corps
under the command of Captain Morris L. Church. Most of the guards
rode in the last three cars, others stood atop boxcars and inside
the boxcars. The Confederates were the fourth bunch of prisoners
to be sent from Point Lookout, Maryland, to Elmira, New York.
Locomotive Engine 171 moved along the
tracks averaging 20 miles per hour. Engine 171 was classified
as an "extra" indicating it ran behind a scheduled train.
The scheduled train, West 23, displayed warning flags giving the
right-of-way to Engine 171. However, Engine 171 was delayed in
leaving Jersey City to Elmira while the guards located several
missing prisoners and again waiting for a drawbridge. Engine 171
arrived at Port Jervis four hours behind schedule.
The next leg of the trip ran along a
single track. This run of track contained sharp curves and ran
along the Delaware River. Ahead at Lackawaxen was a junction with
the Hawley Branch, a rail spur connection to Honesdale, Pa. At
the junction station a telegraph operator Douglas "Duff"
Kent was on duty. Kent saw the West 23 pass by during the morning
with flags warning of a special "extra" following. Kent
was responsible for holding all eastbound traffic at Lackawaxen
until the "extra" had gone through. At approximately
2:30 P.M. a coal train Erie Engine 237 with 50 cars stop at Lackawaxen
Junction. At the junction John Martin descended from his post
in the caboose and entered Lackawaxen Station asking if the track
clear to Shohola. His question was answered by Kent, indicating
that the track was clear. With this mistake the two locomotives
fates were sealed. Martin relayed the information to the Engineer
Samuel Hoitt who manned the throttle. Hoitt sent G. M. Boyden
the brakeman ahead to open the main switch. The Erie Engine 237
moved onto the mainline and headed east. At 2:45 Engine 171 passed
Shohola heading west, only four miles of track between them remained.
Both trains meet at "King and Fuller's
Cut". This section of track followed a blind curve where
only 50 feet of forward visibility was possible. When the two
trains meet only Engineer Hoitt had time to jump clear. When the
two trains impacted the troop train's woodtender jolted forward
and buckled upright throwing its load of firewood into the engine
cab killing Tuttle instantly. Ingram was pinned against the split
boilerplate and scalding steam, where he was reported slowly scalded
to death in sight of all present. It was said the "With his
last breath he warned away all who went near to try to aid him,
declaring that there was danger of the boiler exploding and killing
them." Inside the cab of Engine 237, Boyden and Pretiss also
died in a crush of cordwood and stell. Hoitt and Martin survived.
In 1964, the 100th anniversary of the
Shohola wreak, historian Joseph C. Boyd wrote: "...the wooden
coaches telescoped into one another, some splitting open and strewing
their human contents onto the berm...where flying glass, splintered
wood, and jagged metal killed or injured them as they rolled.
Other occupants were hurled through windows or pitched to the
track as the car floors buckled and opened. The two ruptured engine
tenders towered over the wreckage, their massive floor timbers
snapped like matchsticks. Driving rods were bent like wire. Wheels
and axles lay broken." The troop train's forward boxcar had
been compacted and within the remaining mass were the remains
fo 37 men. Even's saw "headless trunks...mangled between
the telescoped cars" and "bodies impaled on iron rods
and splintered beams."
At least 51 Confederate prisoners and
an official total of 17 Union guards died either on the spot or
within a day of the wreak. Thirteen soldiers of the 51st North
Carolina Infantry lost their lives in a few seconds. Confederate
corpses were laid in rows, the most hideously mangled among them
were covered with grass and leaves. The Union dead were wrapped
in blankets and set apart from the Confederate. Five Confederate
prisoners escaped in the chaos before a cordon of Veteran Reserves
could be deployed around the site. Two relief trains were dispatched
from Port Jervis by Erie Superintendent Hugh Riddle with railway
workers and doctors. Over 100 badly hurt men were moved to Shohola
and quartered in the railroad station or the Shohola Glen Hotel.
Physicians worked through the night. North Carolina infantryman
Albert G. Smith wrote to his wife, "I got heart [hurt] in
comeing up hear by the cars runing together but I am not confined.
We are fareing very well and are treated very kind, more so then
I thought we would be."
Two Confederate soldiers, John and Michael
Johnson, died overnight at Shohola. They were taken across the
Delaware to a small congregational church in Barryville, New York,
and buried there. In 1995 the graves were marked by single stone
and a small wooden cross. The dead at King and Fuller's Cut continued
to be buried throughout the night until the dawn of the 16th.
Not all the bodies could be identified. Confederates were placed
four at a time in crude boxes nailed together from the wreckage.
The boxes were then lowered into a 75 foot long trench. Toward
midnight conventional pine coffins arrived for the Union dead,
who were laid in individual graves. By 9:00 A.M. on July 16 four
more men had died and were taken to the common grave at King and
Fuller's Cut. Within a week of the wreck all surviving prisoners
were delivered to Elmira Prison.
Church's official account, dated July
22, 1864, contains a final tally of 787 Confederates delivered
to Elmira of the fourth contingent from Point Lookout. An official
inquest jury in Pike County was impaneled and found Kent negligent.
However, Kent had left at 9:00 A.M. on the 16th and was never
heard from again.
On June 11, 1911, the Shohola dead were
disinterred and brought to Elmira's Woodlawn National Cemetery
were they were laid in another common grave. Their names were
inscribed on two bronze plaques affixed to a single stone monument.
Names of the Union dead face the cemetery's northern lawn. The
Confederate names face south. A completely satisfactory account
of men killed in the collision is not available. Estimates range
from 60 to 72, not including the two Johnsons from North Carolina
who remain in the churchyard at Barryville. The five Confederates
who are said to have escaped also can not be accounted for.
From "Brass Buttons
and Leather Boots: Sullivan County and the Civil War"
Here is a first-person account of the
Great Shohola train wreck, in which 52 Confederate prisoners of
war died in Shohola, Pennsylvania. It was written by Frank Evans,
a Union Guard.
"It was about the middle of July
in 1864. I was in the Union Army, and was one of the guards of
125 soldiers who were detailed to take a lot of Confederate prisoners
from Point Lookout, Virginia (ed note: It was really Point Lookout,
Maryland) to the prison camp at Elmira, New York, which had just
been made ready to receive them. There were ten thousand prisoners
in all to be transferred, and this lot was the first installment
to be moved. There were about 800 of them.
Two guards were stationed on the platform
at each end of each car. We got started from Jersey City about
5 o'clock in the morning. I was one of the guards stationed well
back on the train, and a lucky thing it was for me that I was
We passed through the little village
of Shohola in the after noon, going something like twenty-five
miles an hour. We had a run a mile or so beyond Shohola, when
the train came to a stop with a suddenness that hurled me to the
ground, and instantly a crash arose, that rivaled the shock of
battle, filled that quiet valley. This lasted a moment. It was
followed by a second or two of awful silence, and then the air
was filled by the most appalling shrieks and wails and cries of
I hurried forward. ON a curve in a deep
cut we had met a heavily laden coal train, traveling nearly as
fast as we were. The trains had come together with that deadly
crash. The two locomotives were raised high in the air, face-to-face
against each other, like giants grappling. The tender of our locomotive
stood erect on one end.
The engineer and firemen, poor fellows,
were buried beneath the wood it carried. Perched on the reared-up
end of the tender, high above the wreck, was one of our guards,
sitting with his gun clutched in his hands, dead!
The front of our train was jammed into
a space less than six feet. The two cars behind it were almost
as badly wrecked. Several cars in the rear of these were also
There were bodies impaled on iron rods
and splintered beams. Headless trunks were mangled between the
telescoped cars. From the wreck of the head-car, thirty-seven
prisoners were taken out dead. The engineer of our train was caught
in the awful wreck of his engine, where he was held in plain sight,
with his back against the boiler, and slowly roasted to death.
That frightful accident occurred about
2 p.m., Friday, July 15, 1864. The cause of the accident was a
drunken telegraph operator at Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, four miles
west of the scene of the disaster. The official report of the
killed that were buried, places the number at fifty-one Confederate
and nineteen Union soldiers.
At 9 p.m., a train was sent from Port
Jervis with provisions and due to the kindness of the railroad
officials, a New York Tribune reporter was permitted to visit
the scene. Upon their arrival at Shohola around 10 p.m., they
found most of the wounded had been brought to the village and
were occupying the freight and passenger rooms and adjoining platforms.
Over sixty injured lay in this locality and several more in the
Shohola House [hotel].
The citizens of Shohola and Barryville
[New York; across the Delaware River from Shohola] were untiring
in their efforts to alleviate the sufferings of the wounded. Men,
women and children vied with each other in their acts of kindness.
"After viewing the wounded and suffering victims, and having
no reason to remain," the Tribune writer, "we passed
out among the guard and prisoners who had come through this unhurt.
We were now on our way to the actual spot where the collision
had taken place."
A trench 76 feet long and 8 feet wide
was dug, in which to bury the bodies and, according to the Elmira
Advertiser, there were 48 Confederate and 17 Unionists buried
there. But there are a variety of estimates as to the exact number
of casualties, depending on the source.
During an inquest held at Shohola, everyone
connected with the wreck was exonerated, including Duff Kent,
who gave the coal train the right-of-way. He should have known
the train carrying the prisoners was on the track. Persistent
reports say that he was a drinker and could have been under the
influence of alcohol. He did not take the wreck very seriously
and according to a story which circulated, he went to Hawly to
attend a dance. The next day the public became so incensed with
his actions that Kent left for parts unknown and was never heard
The following day the track was cleared
and a new train made up to take the prisoners and some of the
injured to Elmira. During the night, a heavy guard was placed
around the Southerners. Despite this, however, five managed to
According to Art Meyers of Narrowsburg,
who personally interviewed an old woman many years ago who lived
in Yulan at the time and recalled going to Shohola to view the
wreckage when she was a very young girl. On the way she and a
girl companion encountered two strange men who apparently were
The dead from the wreck rested in their
common grave located between the tracks and the river for 47 years.
They were then exhumed in 1911 and taken to Elmira and reburied
in the Woodlawn National Cemetery with others from the prison
camp. Captain Charles W. Fento, 2nd Cavalry, A.D.C. was in charge.
He contacted C.E.Terwilliger, a Port Jervis undertaker. Fred I.
Terwilliger, prominent Port Jervis businessman, recalls furnishing
boxes for the bodies. Captain Fenton reported to Chief Quartermaster
at Governor's Island that 60 bodies were removed. It is apparent
that five of the bodies were washed out by the Delaware River
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