Shohola Train Wreck

The Great Shohola train wreck occurred on July 15, 1864 during the American Civil War on the broad gauge Erie Railroad 1½ miles west of Shohola, Pennsylvania and killed at least 60 people.

On board the 18 car train were 833 Confederate prisoners of war (many captured at the Battle of Cold Harbor) and 128 Union guards from the Veteran Reserve Corps. The prisoners were being taken from Point Lookout, Maryland to newly constructed Camp Rathbun at Elmira, New York, built to house 10,000. They had begun their journey by steamer travelling along the Atlantic coast from Maryland to New Jersey. Here they switched to railroad for the final 273 miles to Elmira[.

A mile and a half from Shohola the track passes through "King and Fuller's Cut" which had only 50 feet of forward visibility as the track negotiated a series of blind bends. The trains collided head-on with a crash so fierce that locals 'felt it as an earthquake'. The combined speed was over 30 mph, and propelled the wood stacked in each engine's tenders forward into the cabs; killing both engineers and firemen. The wooden box cars were telescoped into each other. Of the 37 men in the car immediately behind the engine, 36 were killed outright, the only survivor being thrown clear. Most casualties occured in the first three box cars, those riding further back escaped death though many were injured. A ring of uninjured guards was formed around the wreck but despite this five Confederate prisoners escaped and were never recaptured. Frank Even's, a Union guard described the scene: "The two locomotives were raised high in the air, face-to-face against each other, like giants grappling...The front (car) of our train was jammed into a space less than six feet. The two cars behind it were almost as badly wrecked. There were bodies impaled on iron rods and splitered beams. Headless trunks were mangled between the telescoped cars"

The shock of collision was fearful. Two noble engines were almost entirely demolished, the "171" and "237." The tender of the "171" was heaved upon end, hurling its load of wood into the cab, effectually walling in both engineer and fireman against the hot boiler, and crushing them terribly. Both were found standing at their post, dead. This was the train carrying the prisoners. The first two or three cars were box freight cars, and their frail frames were crushed like rushes. Only one man was saved from the forward car. In the others very many were wounded, and scarcely a car escaped without being crushed. The most industrious endeavors were at once put in requisition to relieve the mangled beings in the wreck. But it was slow work, and their sufferings were intense. As fast as possible the wounded were carried to Shohola, and the dead placed beside the road. On the bank, near the engines, lay some twenty-five rebel dead -- many mangled past recognition. Another squad, of as many more, lay further down the road; and still further, wrapped in blankets, lay fourteen of the guard -- their duty done forever. Viewed by moonlight, and with lantern, it was a ghastly and horrible sight, although kindly hands had done much, by coverings of leaves, &c., to relieve the horror of the scene and the ghastliness of the dead. As we left, MR. McCORMICK, wood agent and paymaster of the Delaware division, had arrived with pine boxes for the burial of our own dead. This morning all were buried on the spot, and the graves marked for future recognition. The rebel dead were also decently interred in pine boxes.

The two locomotives were raised high in the air, face-to-face against each other, like giants grappling.”

— Frank Evans, Union Guard

Steaming east at about twenty-five miles an hour, the coal train passed Shohola at 2:45 p.m. In the middle of a blind curve, in a deep rocky ravine known as King and Fuller's Cut, the two trains ran headlong into each other. The sudden impact of the collision propelled the fuel wood stacked in each engine's tender forward into the locomotive cabs, immediately killing both engineers and firemen. On the prisoner train, the impact telescoped the wooden cars into each other, killing thirty-seven men in the first car behind Engine 171. As many as fifty-one prisoners and nineteen Union guards died as a result of the crash.