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A Journey to Gettysburg: Rail-Trails Retrace an Iconic Moment in American History
By James D. Porterfield

 
© Library of Congress
Lincoln standing on the station platform - he of the stovepipe hat - at Hanover Junction awaiting his departure to Gettysburg.
 

Related Links

Gettysburg Address
—list of the five known copies of the speech, each with a slightly different text, and named for the people who first received them.

Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail
—A description, reviewer's comments, trail map and pictures.

Heritage Rail Trail County Park
—A description, reviewer's comments, trail map and pictures.

Steam Into History
—a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that plans to build and operate a steam train to chronicle the role York County, PA., played in Civil War history and to promote the area as a tourist destination.

 

Late in 1863, the Union states then fighting in America's Civil War purchased a 17-acre cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa., and planned a commemoration for November 19 of the ferocious battle fought there against Confederate forces in July of that year. Among those receiving one of the hundreds of printed invitations to the ceremony was President Abraham Lincoln, who, surprisingly, was not on the program. In fact, the date for the somber event was established just to accommodate the scheduled speaker, Edward Everett.

When Lincoln RSVP'd his intention to attend, embarrassed organizers hurriedly altered the agenda and invited him to make a few remarks.

For his journey to Gettysburg, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad furnished the president with a special four-car train, and planned its departure from Washington, D.C., for the morning of November 19. Lincoln's concern for his own security led him to reschedule the departure for November 18. The 80-mile trip took his train from Washington through Maryland to Baltimore, where it was transferred to the Northern Central Railway by a team of horses. The Northern Central moved it north to Hanover Junction, Pa., where it was transferred to the Gettysburg Railroad for the remainder of the trip.

This year on November 19 we commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln's brief - just over 270 words - Gettysburg Address. It is thought by many to be the greatest speech ever delivered on American soil. You can retrace much of Lincoln's route to Gettysburg, and stand on the spot he occupied at Hanover Junction, using either of two rail-trails that mark the route of the former Northern Central Railway.

The Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail runs 21 miles north out of Cockeysville, Md., to the Maryland-Pennsylvania border near New Freedom, Pa. It continues as the Heritage Rail Trail County Park beyond the border for another 23 miles into Pennsylvania, past Hanover Junction and to York. The route from New Freedom to the junction is a rail-with-trail, as it shares the right-of-way with the active tourist train service, Steam into History. This new excursion railroad features a replica of a Civil War-era locomotive and passenger cars, and shares many activities with Civil War reenactors for added authenticity.

© Traillink.com
Heritage Rail Trail County Park. Photo courtesy TrailLink.com.

Just 15 months later, this route served an even more somber occasion, as it carried Lincoln's funeral train from Washington, D.C., toward Springfield, Ill.

James D. Porterfield is Director of the Center for Railway Tourism at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va., and a contributing editor of Railfan & Railroad magazine.

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