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Engineer’s account of Civil War train crash here

By Walter Geiger As the Lamar County commission prepared to hear arguments from Barnesville officials regarding the relocation of approximately 103 graves from the old Wadsworth Cemetery to Greenwood Cemetery for industrial purposes, a fascinating account has surfaced from the engineer of one of the trains involved in a horrific crash nearby during the Civil War. The crash occurred Sept. 1, 1864 in Lavender’s Curve when a southbound train carrying wounded and a northbound train carrying supplies hit head on. There are differing opinions as to whether some of the at least 31 killed in the crash are buried in Wadsworth Cemetery. The following account of Bill Mitchell, entitled ‘˜A Big Collision’ was published in The Atlanta Journal on Nov. 12, 1882. His recollection was that 54 were killed. From the Georgia I went to the Tennessee and Georgia Road, stayed there a year and thirty years ago I came to the Central and here I rest. The worst collision that I was ever in was on the Central during the war. When was the fight of Jonesboro? Don’t know? Well, I don’t remember exactly myself. It was the day after battle of Jonesboro, I was running the ‘˜Dispatch’ and Lum Carr was bringing out the ‘˜Governor’. I was pulling the regular passenger train and Lum had a commissary train. The commissary train should have waited for me at Barnesville, but they did not do so and I went on like a streak of greased lightning to meet them. The ‘˜Dispatch’ was drawing eight passenger cars and five box cars. I was making about 40 miles an hour and when I saw the ‘˜Governor’ I think she was making about the same time. You could not have breathed more than three times before these engines struck. The passenger cars were smashed into kindling wood; the engines were totally demolished; the commissary train was a mass of ruins; one car loaded with bulk peas was stood on its end, and six soldiers, who were riding in there, were smothered in the peas. Colonel Hulbert was riding on the engine with me, and just before the engines struck, a negro kicked him off and thus saved his life. Out of the wreck we took thirty-two dead bodies and twenty-two died in a few days from the effects of injuries received. When I saw the ‘˜Governor’ come in sight I blew down breaks, reversed my engine and jumped. That was all I could do. My arm was broken. As I jumped across a gully just as the engines struck, a freight car that had left the track just grazed my head and knocked off my cap. That was the worst wreck I was ever in. We buried the dead at Barnesville. Former county agent and amateur historian Keith Lassiter turned up another account that lauded Yankee prisoners for their help in assisting the injured at the scene. It came from the Augusta Constitutionalist and was dated Sept. 7, 1864. The Macon Confederate contains the following account of the collision at Barnesville: The railroad collision at Barnesville was a far more serious affair than at first supposed. We learned that thirty-one dead bodies were taken from the wreck killed instantly, and that forty wounded soldiers were wounded again – many mortally. One lady was killed. Two engines and six cars were crushed to pieces. The citizens of the neighborhood came en masse to the scene of the disaster and rendered every assistance they could. There were eighteen Yankee prisoners on the down train, none of whom were hurt. As soon as the accident occurred they went to work and did everything in their power to rescue the dead bodies and the wounded caught under the mass of rubbish. This should be remembered and the men rewarded by being placed first on the list for exchange. All accounts agree that the passenger train was a few minutes out of time, and that it was designed for the other to meet at Barnesville. The collision occurred in a cut and a curve two miles on the other side of that place, the trains coming together without anyone on board either having the slightest warning until within a few yards of each other.

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