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The Great Shohola Train Wreck – Official Report of Captain Morris H. Church

Posted By on May 4, 2014

OfficersQuartersElmira-001

Officer’s Quarters at Elmira Prison Camp

Today’s post is a continuation of the series in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Great Shohola Train Wreck, which occurred on 15 July 1864.  At the time it occurred, it was the worst recorded train accident in history.

The official report of the transport of prisoners to Elmira Prison Camp from Point Lookout, Maryland, including the train wreck near Shohola, Pennsylvania, was written by Captain Morris H. Church and submitted to camp commander, Col. S. Eastman on 22 July 1864.  It was printed in The War of the Rebellion, Series II (Prisoners), Volume 7, pages 489-450, and later reproduced by Clay W. Holmes in 1912 in The Elmira Prison Camp.

Barracks No. 3, Elmira, N.Y., 22 July 1864

[To:] Lieutenant Colonel Eastman, Commanding Depot.

Sir: As officer in command of guard in charge of prisoners of war from Point Lookout, Maryland, I have to report that we left on steamer Crescent with a guard of 125 men and three commissioned officers, and 833 prisoners on the eve of 12 July.  Arrived at New York at 3 P.M., 14 July, and disembarked at Jersey City at 4 A.M. on the 15 July. Left Jersey City via Erie Railway, and at 3 P.M. came in collision with a coal train near Shohola, Pennsylvania, causing a complete wreck of the train and killing fourteen of the guard and forty of the passengers instantly, mortally wounding three of the guard and eight prisoners, all of whom have since died, and wounding sixteen of the guard and ninety-three prisoners.  Neither all of the guards on duty were either killed or wounded and I immediately caused the reserve to be poste around the wreck and prisoners to prevent their escape.  The wounded were extricated as soon as possible and taken to Shohola, where every attention was rendered by the citizens and guard.  The wounded all being cared for, the dead were buried in the immediate vicinity of the accident, and each grave properly designated.  The prisoners were removed to Shohola, where we remained until 11 A.M., 16 July, when we proceeded on our way, arriving at Elmira at 9:30 P.M.  Many of the prisoners killed were so disfigured that it was impossible to recognize them, and five escaping whose names are unknown, I am unable to give you a correct list of killed.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

MORRIS H. CHURCH

Captain, 11th Veteran Reserve Corps, Commanding Guard

A summary of the Church report is presented in the table below:

U.S. Guards
       Killed Outright

14

       Wounded, Since Died

3

       Wounded, Sent On

16

Prisoners
       Killed Outright

40

       Wounded, Since Died

8

       Wounded, Left at Shohola

7

       Wounded, Sent On

86

       Escaped

5

       Delivered at Elmira

780

 

According to the Church report, the train left Jersey City with 125 veteran guards plus three commissioned officers.  There were 833 prisoners on board.

The reasons for not being able to make an accurate list of the dead were stated as follows:  “The five who escaped were unknown, and the bodies of the dead being mostly mutilated beyond recognition, it became a hard matter to prepare a list, with absolute accuracy.  The death roll, however, is fixed at 48 prisoners and 17 guards.  Of the wounded, 86 were moved at once and 7 later, making 93 as reported.”

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The report of Captain Church is found on pages 32-33 of The Elmira Prison Camp: A History of the Military Prison at Elmira New York, July 6, 1864 to July 10, 1865, by Clay W. Holmes, published in 1912 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.  It is available as a free download from the Internet Archive (click on title for access to free download).  The Brady photograph of the Officer’s Barracks is also from that volume.

For a listing of all other posts in this series, with direct links, click on ShoholaTrainWreck.

 


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