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The Great Shohola Train Wreck – Adam Wilkinson, Union Guard Killed

Posted By on June 5, 2014


Adam Wilkinson (1836-1864) was one of the Union soldiers who died near Shohola, Pennsylvania, in the train wreck on 15 July 1864.  Prior to serving in Company F of the Veteran Reserve Corps, he had served in the 121st Pennsylvania Infantry, Company H, as a Private.

Of the 128 members of the Union Guard on the prisoner train traveling from Jersey City, New Jersey to Elmira, New York, that was involved in the Great Shohola Train Wreck in Pennsylvania, a few were from Pennsylvania.  Research is still on-going to determine the names of all 128 of the Union Guard soldiers.  Those guard members who survived the wreck returned to Point Lookout, Maryland, via the Northern Central Railroad (Elmira to Williamsport, and then through Sunbury, Millersburg, Harrisburg and eventually to Baltimore), while those who were killed in the wreck were first buried near the site of the wreck and then were in 1911 re-interred at the Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira.  If a list of the 128 can be obtained, the individual genealogies and military records of each member of the guard can be researched.  At present, the names of those who died are known as well as the names of those who were injured.  Of those who died or who were injured, the residencies vary and include Ohio, New York, Illinois, Iowa, in addition to Pennsylvania.  All of the 128 men who were guarding the prisoners on the train had previously served in other regiments most likely for their state, and had either been injured at some point in their service or had chosen to transfer to or re-enlist in the Invalid Corps, later known as the Veteran Reserve Corps.  For the men who died near Shohola, if they had a surviving wife or children, a pension application file would usually be available.  For those surviving spouses who made application shortly after the train wreck, the supporting documentation is probably available on-line through Fold3.

On the 22 August 1864, the wife of Adam Wilkinson, Eliza [McEleney] Wilkinson applied for a widow’s pension (see Pension Index Card at the top of this post).

There are 38 pages from the pension application which are currently available on Fold3.

As part of the application, Eliza had to provide proof that she was married to Adam Wilkinson:


Document #8.

The proof submitted was an official copy of the record of the 9th Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, that the couple was joined in marriage on 4 July 1854 by Rev. William Blackwood, with the names of the witnesses given.

She also had to prove that that the surviving children were hers and Adam’s.


Document #24.

Several documents were submitted to verify the claim for the surviving children.  The portion of the document shown above notes the dates that each child would reach the age of 16 and therefore be ineligible for further benefits.  The surviving children named were:  Rebecca Wilkinson, born 12 July 1855;  Mary Ann Wilkinson, born 29 July 1861; and Addie Wilkinson, born 30 October 1864.  In the original pension application, Addie was not included as she had not yet been born when her father died.

The military service of Adam Wilkinson also had to be verified as well as confirmation and the circumstances of his death.  There is some confusion in the documents as to when he was transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps and the date in which the railroad accident took place, but there are some telling documents included in the file which directly relate to the Shohola Train Wreck:


Document #4.  Verification of service in the 121st Pennsylvania Infantry and wounds at Gettysburg, 1 July 1863.


Document #7.  Muster dates into service in the 121st Pennsylvania Infantry as confirmation that he was wounded at Gettysburg.


Document #5.  Further confirmation of service in the 121st Pennsylvania Infantry with no date of transfer to Veteran Reserve Corps and indication that Adam died in the railroad accident at Shohola.


Document #3. Information on “Detail” from Point Lookout, Maryland, to Elmira, New York, with death occurring near Shohola. Note that document states that only 15 soldiers were killed.


Document #11. Death occurred at Pike County, Pennsylvania, with wrong date given.


Document #21. Information on death occurring at Shohola, Pike County, Pennsylvania, with wrong date given.  Two living children survived at the time of death.  See above for third child, Addie Wilkinson, born later.


Document #32. Confirmation of death at Shohola as part of 1866 application to add Addie Wilkinson for survivor benefits.

The most telling document of all (Document #17) which gives an account of Adam’s death appears below:


Document #17. Transcribed below.

Headquarters, Det.[Detachment?], 11th V. R. C.

Readville, Dedham, Massachusetts

12 June 1865

I, Charles H. Drew, Captain Veteran Reserve Corps, commanding Company F, 11th V.R.C., on honor certify that Private Adam Wilkinson, Company F, 11th V. R. C. was killed by a railroad accident on the New York and Erie Rail Road at Shohola, Pennsylvania, on 15 July 1864, under the following circumstances:  Private Wilkinson was one of a guard detailed in charge of prisoners of war sent from Point Lookout, Maryland, to Elmira, New York.  The train on which the prisoners and guard, near Shohola, Pennsylvania came in collision with a coal train, and in consequence fifteen of the guard of which Private Wilkinson was on, was instantly killed, and many of the prisoners.  Private Wilkinson was crushed with the ruins of the cars, and his remains were afterward taken out in a frightfully [?] mangled condition.  He was in no way connected with the cause of the accident, and was at the time in the discharge of his duty.  My knowledge of the above facts is attained from an official report made by Capt. Morris C. Church, 11th V. R. C., commanding said guard to the General commanding at Point Lookout, Maryland. 

(signed) C. H. Drew

Captain, 11th V. R. C.

Commanding, Company F

There are 38 documents in the pension application file and portions of some are shown above.  The complete file is available on Fold3.  Other information available in these documents includes a notice of Eliza’s death and the termination of her benefits, a claim made by daughter Rebecca Wilkinson after her mother’s death, and Philadelphia addresses of the Wilkinson’s.

Some other information about Adam Wilkinson:


The above Veterans’ Index Card is from the Pennsylvania Archives.  It contains little information about Adam except that he was a member of the 121st Pennsylvania Infantry, Company H.  From the Bates reference of 4-49 (upper right on card), it can be determined that he was mustered into service on 6 August 1862, but there is no muster out record.  He was “absent in hospital” at the time his company was discharged.


An Adam Wilkinson appeared in the Special Philadelphia Census for 1863 (from Ancestry.com).  His occupation was given as painter and he was married.  This is possibly the same Adam Wilkinson who died in the train wreck.


Adam’s name appears on the Pennsylvania Memorial at Gettysburg, on the tablet (shown above) for the 121st Pennsylvania Infantry.


A “Report of Interment” for Woodlawn National Cemetery at Elmira, New York (from Ancestry.com), notes that Adam Wilkinson was one of 17 buried in a common grave at the Shohola Monument.


The plaque on the monument at Elmira which honors the dead Union guards also has the name of Adam Wilkinson.


Finally, the Record Book of Union soldiers whose unidentified remains were interred in a common grave with those of the Confederate soldiers who also died at Shohola, gives the name of Adam Wilkinson as buried there (this record is from Ancestry.com).

At this time not much more is known about Adam Wilkinson.  It is assumed from the records that he was born about 1836, although no actual record of his birth has been seen.  Also, nothing much has been discovered about his life before the war or why he enlisted when he had two young children at home and why he chose to go into the Veteran Reserve Corps when his wife was pregnant with a third child.  After Adam’s death, other than the pension files, not much has been seen about his survivors.  Did his daughters marry and have children?  Are there living descendants today?

Additional information is sought about Adam Wilkinson, his military service and his descendants.  Comments can be added to this blog post or sent by e-mail.


To see all the posts in this series, click on ShoholaTrainWreck.


One Response to “The Great Shohola Train Wreck – Adam Wilkinson, Union Guard Killed”

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