In November 1863, Abraham Lincoln rode a five-car train along the Northern Central Railway through parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania. His destination was the battlefield at Gettysburg, where thousands had fallen just four months earlier.
Along the way, at least according to legend, he wrote one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history.
Today, tourists can ride in wooden coaches behind a faithful replica of the engine that pulled the 16th president's train through the Pennsylvania countryside.
Steam into History, a nonprofit organization, in June began offering trips along a 10-mile section of the old Northern Central Railway route in York County to give riders a feel for what Lincoln would have experienced as he made the trip.
"This is a story that needs to be told," said Debi Beshore, manager of the organization.
It has been a long trip to make the train a reality. A dinner train that used more modern equipment on the same route more than a decade ago went out of business. But others saw the potential in using historically accurate trains to build on the region's rich heritage, and the route's connection to Lincoln.
A decade after the idea was conceived — and after 7,000 railroad ties were replaced — the organization this spring received delivery of a replica of the steam locomotive that pulled Lincoln's train. The locomotive tows two borrowed wooden passenger cars along with an open-air coach. The organization's own pale yellow coaches are under construction in Arkansas and will be delivered next year. "The colors are correct for that era," Beshore said.
Giving people a feel for the 1860s doesn't stop with highly detailed replicas. Each trip is narrated by a costumed volunteer who tells the story of the railway, countryside and Lincoln's trip. Some excursions feature musicians performing period music and actors portraying historical figures from the Civil War era.
The train and its two coaches move slowly down the tracks, at 10 miles per hour, running alongside the popular York County Heritage Rail Trail Park (the train can carry bikes). It passes small towns, forests and farms until it reaches the historic train station at Hanover Junction. There, passengers disembark for a half hour to explore the station — a Civil War museum inside is open sometimes on the weekend — or watch the locomotive switch ends of the train. Lincoln stopped here, too, before his train continued on to Gettysburg, about 30 miles to the west.
Hanover Junction is quiet today, but as many as 30 trains a day came through during the Civil War. After the battle, wounded soldiers were transported to hospitals in York and Baltimore through the station.
Lincoln would pass this way one more time. Less than two years later, his funeral train made the same trip, though instead of turning to the west at Hanover Junction, that train continued north to Harrisburg.
Steam into History
Steam into History, located in New Freedom, PA, just over the state line from Maryland, offers three trips daily Tuesday through Sunday. Tickets are $17 for adults and $9 for ages 12 and younger. Trips that include special programs are $20 for adults and $10 for children. A shorter 10-mile round trip to Glen Rock and back is offered on weekdays. Weekend trips are often filled; buying tickets online is encouraged.
For details, or to buy tickets, visit www.steamintohistory.com.
Civil War Commemorations
July 1–3 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle ever fought in North America, but programs commemorating the battle and other Civil War events will continue through the summer.
- At Gettysburg: There are two re-enactments of the battle in late June and early July, but other events take place daily at various locations throughout the summer including lectures, encampments, living history programs and walking tours. Visit www.gettysburgcivilwar150.com.
- In Maryland's Carroll, Frederick & Washington counties: Many programs will mark events leading up to, and after, the battle, including the Confederate retreat through Williamsport July 10–14, and the Union Signal Corps occupation of the Washington Monument atop South Mountain near Middletown, MD, July 13-14, as well as encampments, lectures and exhibits at numerous locations through August. Visit www.heartofthecivilwar.org.
Check out other towns and Civil War sites for commemorative events not related to the Battle of Gettysburg.
- Manassas, VA: A Civil War weekend Aug. 23–25 will features re-enactments and programs to help visitors experience how Civil War events transformed a sleepy railroad junction town into a thriving camp, then a devastated landscape. Visit www.manassascity.org.