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Civil War-era train wreck claimed father of long-time Elzea Addition businessman

Bruce Hoffman, descendant of Joseph R. Hoffman, identifies this small house as the site of the Hoffman Grocery Store, 1521 Vermont St., Hannibal, Mo. The building has been torn down.

Lafayette, Indiana’s Greenbush Cemetery hosts a monument in recognition of the Union soldiers who were killed in an incident known as the Crane Train wreck of 1864. Included on the list of soldiers killed is David S. Hoffman of Payson, Ill., father of long-time Elzea Addition grocer Joseph R. Hoffman.


At three o’clock in the afternoon on Monday, Oct. 31, 1864, at the location of notorious blind curve seven miles from Lafayette, Indiana, occurred what was termed to be this country’s worst rail catastrophe to date.

A passenger train loaded with more than 500 Union soldiers on furlough - heading home for a respite - smashed cow catcher to cow catcher with a steam engine pulling loaded cattle cars on the same track.

Both engine crews jumped to safety as the steam engines exploded into bits. The impact set into motion a series of events that would instantaneously claim the lives of some three dozen of the men who so anticipated their visit home.

The steam engine and tender of the passenger train were followed – as was typical – by the baggage car. The baggage car was narrower and shorter than the first-class passenger car that followed. The force of the impact pushed the baggage car into the first-class car at a 30-degree angle. A newspaper reporter at the scene compared the motion to a collapsing spyglass. Those in the front of the passenger car were killed instantly. Some at the back – thanks to the angle of the impact – escaped with scratches.

The irony of the accident was that this front car absorbed the force, and the later cars in the train received only a bump. The conductor, in the third car at the time of the impact, reported he didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation until he walked forward on the train.

Local impact

David S. Hoffman left his young family and a small acreage behind in Adams County, near Payson,leftEl Ill., on Sept. 1, 1862, and reported to Quincy, Ill., in answer his government’s call to fight for his country. Thirty years old, short in stature, with blue eye and fair skin, he was no more prepared for the cruelty of battle than were the 100-plus others from Adams County, Ill., at his side on that fateful day.

The members of Company “E”, the 84th Illinois Infantry, individually and collectively contributed to the solidarity of the United States, while paying a tremendous personal price in terms of life and livelihood.

Hoffman, Shepherd

David S. Hoffman, killed in that horrible collision of steel vs. steel, was the son of Andrew Hoffman, and brother to Thomas and William Hoffman of Payson, Ill.

David married Isabella Shepherd on Nov. 13, 1851. She was the daughter of Henry M. and Elizabeth S. Shepherd, and sister to John, Warren, Milton, Emily, Harriet and Charlotte Shepherd.

Both families farmed near Payson, Ill.

The two families suffered terribly from the consequences of the war.

David Hoffman’s brother, Thomas A. Hoffman, married Margaret J. Corbin on April 3, 1851, in Adams County, Ill. He died Aug. 4, 1862, at Macon County, Ga. He served with Company A, Missouri 23rd, and is buried at the Andersonville, Ga., National Cemetery.

Isabella Shepherd Hoffman’s brother, John A. Shepherd, also made the ultimate sacrifice, killed Dec. 19, 1862, at Nashville, Tenn. Like David Hoffman, he served with Company “E” of the 84th Illinois Infantry.

Isabella’s other brother, Warren M. Shepherd, survived the war and was mustered out on June 8, 1865. Like David Hoffman, he was also a member of Company “E”, the 84th Illinois Infantry.

Without a father

Joseph R. Hoffman, son of David, was about 6 years old when his father was killed in the wreckage of the northbound Cincinnati Express.

He grew up in the fold of two grieving families, stepping out on his own when he married Martha J. Jones on Nov. 17, 1878. Joseph’s widowed mother, Isabella, died April 29, 1881, at the calculated age of 47. The first child born to Joseph and Martha - Maud - died July 8, 1881. Grandmother and granddaughter are buried at Cook Cemetery, east of Payson, Ill.

Joseph and Martha Hoffman subsequently moved to Hannibal, Mo., where they would spend the rest of their lives.

Hannibal home

By 1885, The Hoffmans had settled in the area to the north of what would soon become Elzea’s Addition on Hannibal’s west side. Joseph was working at the nearby MK&T round house, and they resided on “Union Avenue,” which was different than “Union Street” on Hannibal’s south side. Union Avenue was parallel to Lindell Avenue, situated between the Hannibal and St. Joesph Railroad tracks and the MK&T tracks. The area was to the north of Bear Creek. This portion of the street would later be named Vermont, and the road would later be extended through Elzea’s Addition.

In 1892, Hoffman was working for the J.J. Cruikshank Jr., Lumber Company, and he had moved his family to the newly opened Elzea’s Addition. In 1991, the family lived on A street, which would be renamed Vermont, and Hoffman was working as a car repairer for the Burlington Railroad. Their address would later become 1517 Vermont.

The Hoffmans owned their house free and clear by 1910, when Joseph was working as a carpenter for the Cement Plant.


Circa 1925, the Hoffman’s son, Floyd and his wife Mabel, were living nearby, at 1500 Lindell. Their daughter, Georgia, and her husband, George L. Kilian, were living at 1321 Vermont.

That same year, Joseph Hoffman and his wife opened a grocery store in a little building they constructed next to their house, address 1521 Vermont. It was listed in recent years on as a one-bedroom, 1 bathroom house, 660 square feet.

Their business became one of some 118 grocery stores operating in Hannibal at that time. Those in the immediate neighborhood included stores operated by: Frances M. Ingram, 712 Vermont; Frank Murphy, 822 Vermont; Fred W. Wright, 916 Vermont; and the Hoffmans, at 1521 Vermont.

Joseph R. Hoffman’s grandson, Russell V. Kilian, took over operation of the store by 1937, and Mr. Hoffman died on March 3, 1939, at the age of 81.

By 1953, LeRoy P. and Veda Smith were living in the Hoffmans’ former residence, and would continue to live in this house throughout their lives.

By 1953, Reuben Rogers was operating the grocery store at 1521 Vermont. In 1959, the store was known as Sims Grocery, operated by Samuel Sims and his wife, Edith Ransdall Sims.

After that, it reverted to a private residence, occupied by Carl Clifton in the late 1960s. Bernie Rhodes moved into the little house circa 1985. He died in 2003 at the age of 96.

This 1885 segment of the Sanborn maps of Hannibal, Mo., shows the location of Union Avenue, which was parallel to Lindell. About the time this map was drawn, Joseph R. Hoffman lived on Union Avenue. He later moved south, to the newly opened Elzea’s Addition, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at

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