The Chunky Creek Train Wreck of 1863
By Greg S. Boggan
Pictured Left: Modern map of Hickory-Chunky area with wreck site circled in red.
At 3:00 A. M. on the morning of February 19, 1863, the Mississippi Southern left the depot in Meridian, Mississippi. The train was headed for the battlefield at Vicksburg where the Confederate forces were in desperate need for reinforcements in the defense of the city against the assault of Sherman and the Union Army. Aboard the train were about 100 passengers, mostly Confederate soldiers, but also civilians and a paymaster for the Confederate government. Willis Roy Norman was among the local civilians aboard.
The soldiers aboard viewed the trip to the battlefront with great anticipation knowing that this was perhaps their destiny with death. But they realized that destiny long before they reached Vicksburg. They, in fact, never reached Vicksburg.
Thirty-five miles to the west the Chunky Creek lay at flood stage. A wandering stream, the Chunky meanders in a western-to-eastern course in the southeastern part of the Newton County, such that three bridge crossings were needed in the Chunky-Hickory area.
The continued flooding caused by winter rains had weakened the bridges significantly. A train had crossed the west Chunky bridge the day before, but only after all passengers were removed from the train. Debris continued to build up from the flood, and the bridge trestle had shifted by several inches due to the weight of the debris. The track was as much as six inches out of alignment where it joined at the bridge. Efforts to repair the track were in vain. There simply was not an adequate work crew to remove the debris and repair the track before the next train was due.
In the investigation that was later conducted, it was discovered that attempts to stop the train were woefully inadequate. An elderly Negro man had been placed in the Chunky hills with a lantern to use to stop any ongoing train. The Chunky section master, A. F. Temple, had also erected a pole 100 feet from the bridge a conventional method used at that time to stop a train. These efforts were not enough and the train continued on its trip through the dark night.
The engine ran off the track as it entered the bridge. The engine plunged into the cold icy waters and was followed by a string of boxcars loaded with passengers and cargo. A reporter later described the scene as follows: The wreck presented a frightful experience. The engine is out of sight in deep water, with the box cars, crushed to pieces, lying directly upon it, portions of which are now above water, while three more, laden with barrels, boxes, etc., in the stream, are piled up in confusion confounded.
Many of the passengers were killed on impact. Others were swept up in the icy waters of the flooded creek. A cry went out for help.
Help came quicker than expected. The First Battalion of Choctaw Indians, under the command of Major S. G. Spann, was based at a Confederate military training camp near the crash scene. Led by Jack Amos and Elder Williams, the Indians rushed to the scene, stripped, and plunged into the flooded creek. Many of the passengers were rescued due to their heroic acts.
Clean-up operations began the next day. Bodies were removed from the swollen stream, along with cargo, and the first attempt at righting the engine was made. Among the cargo recovered was $80,000 or more from the baggage of W. P. Grayson. Most of the passengers who had been killed were buried in trenches on a farm belonging to A. F. Temple, two miles east of Hickory Station.
More than 40 passengers were killed. Among those who lived to tell was Willis Norman. He later recalled that he was in the nearest car to the engine. He was thrown to the bottom of the stream in about fifteen feet of water, but rose to the surface with the fragments of the broken car, and with great difficulty succeeded in getting to the shore. He suffered a broken collarbone, internal injuries, and an injury to his leg.
The following passengers are known to have been killed in the accident:
Major William H. Lilly, 12th Mississippi Infantry
C. W. Bradley, Company G, 12th Mississippi Infantry
D. B. Taylor, Company A, 12th Mississippi Infantry
William H. Clark, Private, Company I, 35th Mississippi Infantry
R. M. Gammell, Company K, 35th Mississippi Infantry
George W. Pope, Company A, 3rd Tennessee (Lillards) Mounted Infantry
Enoch Ward, Company A, 3rd Tennessee (Lillards) Mounted Infantry
Robert S. Slaughter, Company G, 3rd Tennessee (Lillards) Mounted Infantry
Christopher C. Cunningham, Private, Company G, 59th Tennessee Infantry Regiment
Charles A. McDaniel, Private, Company G, 59th Tennessee Infantry Regiment
Andrew T. McKinney, Private, Company G, 59th Tennessee Infantry Regiment
Riley Millsaps, Private, Company G, 59th Tennessee Infantry Regiment
Andrew T. Scarborough, Company G, 59th Tennessee Infantry Regiment
Harvey A. Thompson, Private, Company G, 59th Tennessee Infantry Regiment
Marion D. Roden, Corp., Company G, 59th Tennessee Infantry Regiment
Redford Brown, Private, Company D, 41st Tennessee Infantry Regiment
J. T. McGough, Private, Company H, 33rd Tennessee Infantry Regiment
Henry A. Young, Eufaula (Alabama) Light Artillery
Charles Kliffmuller, Eufaula (Alabama) Light Artillery
Miner V. Butler, Company I, 27th Alabama Infantry
J. B. Hill, Company A, 21st Arkansas Infantry
S. H. Holt, Company H, 2nd Louisiana Infantry
Negro fireman, name not given
Isaac P. Beauchamp, engineer, body carried to Forest, Mississippi, to be buried.
William E. Towles, 3rd Louisiana Battalion, body carried by his
faithful servant Bill to be buried at Bayou Sara, Louisiana.
W. P. Grayson, cashier, Bank of Orleans
- The Daily Southern Crisis, Jackson, Mississippi, February 26, 1863 and February 28, 1863
- McClung Collection, Knox County (Tennessee) Public Library
- Confederate Veterans Magazine, Vol. XIII, December 1905, pp. 560-561
- Official Records of the Confederate Army, Department of Archives & History, Jackson, Mississippi
On April 28, 2003, Louis Foley and Greg Boggan placed a wreath at the site of the Chunky Creek Wreck that occurred on February 19, 1863 and killed an estimated 100 Confederate soldiers and civilians. As part of the ceremony, the names of 26 identified soldiers and civilians were read. This was the first such ceremony since the accident some 140 years ago and was done in observance of Confederate Memorial Day, Louis Foley, Commander of Jefferson Davis Unit 1862, Sons of Confederate Veterans, presiding.