Bessie becomes beefsteak

Swift Run 1.jpg
Old railroad bed and culvert over Swift Run near New Oxford along Route 30 six miles east of Gettysburg.
One of the frequent problems for railroaders in the 19th century was the very distinct possibility of collisions with wildlife, and, more frequently, domesticated farm animals such as cattle. Cows would at times wander off from their farms and try to cross or walk along railroad tracks. Often, the train engineer could see the bovine in plenty of time to avoid a collision, and, as the years went on, the railroads began attaching “cow catchers” to the front of the engine to gently nudge the stubborn animals from the roadway.
However, at times, the visibility wasn’t as good, and the locomotive would smash into the cow. Such was the case on June 25, 1863, when the 26th Pennsylvania Militia’s troop train struck “a poor woman’s cow” and derailed, forcing the regiment into temporary bivouac. The soldiers had traveled safely through York County, changed trains at Hanover Junction, enjoyed a festive reception in Hanover (where a company had been raised), and then headed into Adams County where the accident occurred.
Swift Run.jpg
Gettysburg Compiler, Monday June 29, 1863.

Swift Run 2.jpg
A closer view of the Swift Run crossing.
Here is some text taken from my recently released Flames Beyond Gettysburg: The Gordon Expedition, June 1863.
“Shortly after passing through New Oxford, the lead section struck “a poor woman’s cow” that had wandered onto the tracks near Swift Run, six miles east of Gettysburg. The locomotive, tender, and several cars suddenly derailed, sending startled soldiers sprawling. The accident tore up several yards of rail and the engine suffered considerable damage. Luckily, only two men suffered minor scratches. The militiamen camped near the wrecked tracks and awaited the arrival of the second section. Company A enjoyed pies, bread, and other delicacies brought to them by fellow Gettysburg citizens. During the cool and cloudy afternoon, pickets brought in a prisoner suspected of being a Rebel spy, taking him to Colonel Jennings for disposition. Area residents spread rumors that the Rebels were “advancing in full force and had already occupied Cashtown.” Most of the soldiers refused to believe the gossip.”
Here’s another account from the Compiler
Swift Run Compiler 2.jpg

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2 Responses to Bessie becomes beefsteak

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Hi Scott:
    Got your book [Flames Beyond Gettysburg] – Good Stuff and well written!
    Regarding the incident of the cow being hit, somewhere recently I read the same story, perhaps in a CW/Gburg Forum or blog, and it was stated that the woman was leading the cow down the tracks as her pasture was separated from her barn and the tracks represented a short cut. Upon noting the approach of the train, the woman tried to get the cow to move faster but it wouldn’t so she [the woman] jumped from the tracks and the cow was hit and killed. The soldiers from the derailed train butchered and ate the cow . . .
    Is this the same incident?

  2. Scott Mingus says:

    Hi Bob!
    I am so glad you are enjoying the book. The incident in your comment is indeed the same cow-train collision I am referring to. I have heard that the old lady ended up jumping into Swift Run. As far as I know, her identity remains unknown, although a map study of nearby farms compared with the 1860 census might give strong clues. Tim Smith at the Adams County Historical Society may be able to shed more light on this incident.

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