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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Local History: Hawley's link to the Civil War prisoner train wreck

  • HAWLEY - This story highlights Erie Railroad engineer Samuel Locke Hoitt, whose train bound from Hawley is forever connected with the fateful crash near Shohola in 1864, with a train carrying Confederate prisoners of war.
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  • HAWLEY - This story highlights Erie Railroad engineer Samuel Locke Hoitt, whose train bound from Hawley is forever connected with the fateful crash near Shohola in 1864, with a train carrying Confederate prisoners of war.
        Pike County Historian George J. Fuhr has written extensively on the disaster; the 150th anniversary of the wreck was observed July 12-13, 2014 by the Shohola Railroad & Historical Society. Fluhr is also  the Shohola Township Historian, and a founder of the local society.
         The crash occured July 15, 1864. An Erie Railroad train was carrying about 855 Confederate prisoners and 125 Union Guards to the prison camp at Elmira, NY when it collided with a coal train between Shohola and Lackawaxen. Approximately 48 prisoners and 17 guards were killed. The dead were buried near the wreck site where their bodies remained until 1911 when they were disinterred and taken to the National Cemetery at Elmira.
       As Fluhr later comments, “It was one of the greatest disasters of railroading, with special tragedy in the fact that men from two armies who had escaped death in battle died most horribly far from the battlefield.”
    *** Hoitt’s coal train
        Engineer William Ingram was at the controls of Engine 171 pulling the prisoner train north from Port Jervis. He had 18-19 cars, a mixture of box cars and passenger coaches.
        Hoitt was traveling east from Hawley, operating Engine 237. He was pulling 50 cars loaded with anthracite coal. The locomotive was built only the previous year, by the New Jersey Locomotive & Machine Co.
      His crew included Conductor John Martin, Brakeman G. M. Boydon and Fireman Philo Prentiss. The 1870 Census lists a John Martin in Hawley, age 22, a grist mill worker; this would not seem to be the same individual.
        The Pennsylvania Coal Company (PCC) had been in place since 1850, linking the coal mining region of Pittston, PA with Hawley by gravity railroad. Originally the PCC brought the coal to Hawley to transfer it to waiting canal boats in the basin (today’s Bingham Park).
       Beginning on December 23, 1863, however, the PCC began using a newly established branch of the Erie Railroad that linkeaxen with Hawley.
        Culminating years of litigation, the PCC was now in direct competition with the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal Company. The PCC now bypassed the slow canal boats by transferring its coal to waiting Erie train cars at Hawley.
       Honesdale, however, was not served by a steam rail line until 1868, four years after the prisoner of war train wreck. That was only a passenger service, and went only as far as East Honesdale. The D&H continued to rely on its canal from Honesdale until finally closing it down in 1898, after 70 years of use.
    Page 2 of 4 -      Driving on Columbus Avenue today, between the Hawley Fire Hall and the New Covenant Fellowship Church, one can scarcely imagine the scene 150 years before. It was in this very area  that the Erie rail spur came up to the massive, timber coal pockets. Engineer Hoitt, like the rest of his peers, would wait as the noisy loading process would take place. The cars, linked together, would be pulled from the coal pockets by horse, to be weighed on a scale, to determine the charges.
    A locomotive would then take over and be on the way.
       The locomotives used in Hawley at this time period had a large bell-shaped stack, burned wood and could haul about 1,000 tons. Each coal car weighed only about 5,000 pounds, and carried six or seven tons of coal. The train’s speed was not exceed 10 or 12 miles per hour.
        His route would follow the same rail bed now exiting Hawley going east. He crossed over the trestles over the Middle Creek and the Paupack Creek, with the familiar road crossings we know today. At that time there were two rail depots in town, the Upper Depot near today’s library and the Lower Depot near the corner of what is now Welwood Avenue and Paupack Street.
        Townspeople had been used to seeing steam traffic through town for less than a year. This trip would be far from routine.
    Hoitt had stopped his train at the Lackawaxen depot to ask if the Erie main line eastward was clear. The dispatcher gave him incorrect information. The collision occurred at 2:45 p.m. On a blind curve between Lackawaxen and Shohola. The prisoner train had suffered three delays on its trip since leaving Jersey City that morning.
    Fluhr in his research has given us much information about the crash and its aftermath.  Accounts have been preserved about how townspeople and local doctors hurried to the rescue and aid of the injured and surviving Confederates, guards and train crews; of runaways and burying of the dead.
    Of Hoitt’s crew, Firemen Prentiss and Brakeman Boyden were killed.
    Prentiss was laid to rest at Binghamton, NY, and Boydan at Port Jervis.
    *** Hoitt’s account
    For this present article, focusing on Engineer Hoitt, we repeat the narrative reported by Hoitt after the crash.
    “I jumped, seeing as I did no other way of escape, and even before I had time to shout to my fireman. I ran up the bank and got but a few feet before I heard the awful crash of the engines and the thundering of the cars as they piled themselves in promiscuous confusion upon one another. I immediately rushed to my engine to let off the steam and prevent an explosion, also to try to save my fireman. The cab was so full of steam that it was probably three minutes before I could locate the man. By the assistance of Mr. John McAllister I succeeded in getting him out but he died almost immediately. I then went to see where the other engineer and fireman were, and to prevent the explosion of their engine (171). I found the steam escaping, and both William Ingraham and his fireman at their post, dead.
    Page 3 of 4 - “All this time the groans of the dying were heartrending. The first car, containing about 50 prisoners and guards, was crushed into a mass not six feet long, and it was completely demolished; all but one man were killed. The second and third cars were also demolished, but not all the men were killed. Those who were not were badly injured. All the cars were more or less broken throughout the entire length of the train. Many of the prisoners were riding on the platforms and were killed outright by the buckling of the cars.”
    ••• Settled near Port Jervis
         Hoitt was born in August 22, 1828 in Lee, New Hampshire to Goram W. Hoitt and Abigail P. (Locke). Goram was a farmer.
       Samuel Hoitt and Ann J. Hadley (known as Annie) were married, April 12, 1849.
          In about 1853, Hoitt and his wife moved to Northfield, Vermont, where they resided four years before locating in the Port Jervis, NY area.
        Census data for 1860 places the Hoitts in Starfford, Lee, New Hampshire. Samuel, age 31, worked as a machinist. Ann was listed as 36.    Their son Eugene was 10, and at home; also living with them was Samuel’s parents.
        The 1870 Census locates the family in the Town of Deerpark, near Port Jervis. Hoitt, age 44, was listed as a railroad engineer. At home were his wife Annie, 44 (?); son Eugene, 20 and daughter Agnes, 12. Annie was from New Hampshire, where their son was also born. Agnes was born in New York State.
    ••• Second train crash
       Hoitt was involved in at least one other train collision, in 1870.
    The December 17th edition of The Evening Gazette, published at Port Jervis, NY, reported the following [certain text was unclear]:
    Freight Train Run Into near Sufferns -
    “On Thursday night Conductor Newkirk’s freight train stopped one mile east of Sufferns on account of a hot journal. A sharp curve hid the train from the view of a train following, drawn by engine 339, Sam.
    Hoitt engineer.
    “The wheel was packed, flag [celled] in, and Newkirk’s train had just started but was not under much headway when Hoitt’s engine [hove] in sight. Hoitt reversed his engine, and endeavored to stop his train but was too late to avoid the collision.
    “Newkirk’s caboose was destroyed and three or four cars damaged and thrown from the track. The engine was also off the track, and slightly damaged. Hoitt and his fireman saved themselves by jumping from their engine.”
    We can only imagine Hoitt’s sudden, chilling reminder of the 1864 incident.
    Page 4 of 4 -    Not deterred from his profession, the 1880 Census still lists Hoitt as a railroad engineer.
       Hoitt’s name was found listed in a journal of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, containing a letter dated August 1885 from Port Jervis. Angelia J. Bonker wrote, acknowledging receipt of $3,000 due her on the policy held by her late husband, Henry Bonker. The sum was sent to her by Mr. Samuel L. Hoitt, Secretary and Treasurer of Division No. 54, Locomotive Engineers’ Mutual Life Insurance Association.
         Samuel was a member of the Masons since joining the lodge at Port Jervis in 1863.
         At some point Samuel retired and moved to Marlborough, Massachusetts, where their son lived. Ann died December 8, 1892, and was buried at Marlborough.
       Their daughter Agnes J. Hoitt died December 28, 1907, having never married. She was 48.
       Samuel Hoitt died at age 69, August 24, 1897 at his home in Marlboro (Marlborough), Massachusetts. His obituary in the Boston Evening Transcript states, “He became prominent in the war as the engineer of the train on the New York, Lake Erie & Western road which crashed into a trainload of Confederate prisoners in 1862 [misprint], killing 60 of them and wounding 50 more.”
    ••• Son was a doctor
       His son, Dr. Eugene Gorham Hoitt, became the sixth mayor of Marlborogh, MA. Dr. Hoitt was born April 12, 1850. Eugene graduated from Port Jervis Academy in 1867 and after working in the jewelry business, attended Buffalo University. He graduated from there in 1881. Eugene located in Marlborough where he worked as a physician and surgeon. He married in 1873 to Sarah Frances Barrett.
      The 1880 federal census lists Eugene’s wife as “Frank.” Eugene was listed as a medical student. They were recorded as living with Samuel and Annie; also at home was daughter Agnes (Eugene’s sister), a dressmaker and a 5-year old grandchild to Samuel and Annie, Blanche Eugenie Hoitt.
       While not a railroad engineer like his father, Eugene was listed as the president of the Marlboro Automobile Club in 1903, in the journal, The Horseless Age.
      Their daughter Blanche died May 11, 1894, at only age 18, from tuberculosis.
      Sarah passed away in 1918. Dr. Hoitt later remarried. His second wife was named Gladys.
       Dr. Hoitt died April 12, 1928 at Seattle, Washington, where he had relocated his medical practice.
    Sources:
    Ancestry.com/Census records
    Find-a-Grave
    History of Hawley, PA (1927) by Michael J. McAndrews
    The Shohola Civil War Train Wreck (latest printing 2011) by George J. Fluhr

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