The Great Shohola Train Wreck
Shohola, PA

Photos/text courtesy of Scott J. Payne, NY
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On July 15, 1864 a locomotive pulling 17 passenger and freight cars moved along the Erie Railroad in Southern 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 Capt. Morris L. Church. Most of the guards rode in the last three cars, others stood atop and inside boxcars. The Confederates were the fourth group 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 leaving Jersey City to Elmira while the guards located several missing prisoners and 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 the track contained sharp curves and ran along the Delaware River dividing New York and Pennsylvania. Ahead at Lackawaxen was a junction with the Hawley Branch, a rail spur connection to Honesdale Pennsylvania. 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 around 2:30 PM a coal train , Engine 237 with 50 cars stopped at Lackawaxen Junction. At the junction John Martin descended from his post and entered Lackawaxen Station and asked if the track was clear to Shohola. Kent answered that the track was indeed clear. With that mistake the fates of the two trains was sealed. Erie Engine 237 moved onto the mainline and headed east. At 2:45 PM Engine 171 passed Shohola heading west, only four miles of track remained between the two trains.

Both trains met at "King and Fullers Cut". This section of track followed a blind curve where only 50 feet of forward visibility was possible. When the two trains met only Engineer Hoit had time to jump clear. When the two trains hit the troop trains wood tender jolted forward and buckled upright, throwing its load of firewood into the engine cab killing Tuttle instantly. Ingram was pinned against the split boiler plate where he was scalded to death in the sight of all present. It was said that "With his last breath he warned away all who went near to try and aid him, declaring that there was danger of the boiler exploding and killing them."

 

(December 7, 2008) Sign entering Shohola. At the time of train wreck the population was roughly 2000 people
 
(2008) Enlarge Another Shohola sign

(December 7, 2008) Enlarge Pennsylvania Historic Marker describing number of deaths from The Great Shohola Train Wreck

   

  

(December 7, 2008) Enlarge Former site of Shohola Train Station (to the right of the tracks). The wreck occurred a mile and a half up these tracks. Site of wreck can only be reached by special tours given twice a year by the Sons of Union Veterans out of Goshen, New York

 

Jupiter 1864 train engine, typical of the type of engine used during the Civil War Era

     

Wartime Shohola train station

 

(December 7, 2008) Enlarge Two Confederate soldiers, John and Michael Johnson died overnight. They were taken across the Delaware River to a small congregational church in Barryville, New York and buried there. In 1995 the graves were marked by a single stone and two small wooden crosses. the dead at King and Fullers 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. Conventional coffins arrived for the Union dead who were laid in individual graves

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