Birmingham, AL Cahaba River Bridge Train Wreck, Dec 1896 - An Awful Wreck

An awful wreck

Train Goes Through a Bridge.


The Cars Caught Fire and Many Cremated --- Twenty Lives or More Lost.

Birmingham, Ala., Dec. 37 [sic]. --- The most horrible train wreck in the South since the famous one at Statesville, S. C., some years since, occurred this morning near this city, when a passenger train crashed through a trestle to a river 110 feet below.

It is known that 20 lives were lost, and a more complete search of the charred train may reveal more. It is also most certain that the wreck was caused by fiends for the purpose of robbery.

Of the persons on the train, nine escaped death, and several of these will die of serious injuries. None of them can give a correct and detailed account of how the accident occurred.

The train was a local on the Birmingham Mineral, a branch of the Louisville & Nashville system, its number being 40. It left Birmingham at 6:30 a.m. To make the daily circuit of the mining towns in that section of the country, and most of the persons on board were miners and their families, taking advantage of the excursion tickets on sale for the holidays.

For a part of the way the line uses the tracks of the Southern Railway company, and it was on these 27 miles from here that the accident occurred.

In crossing the Oshaba [sic] river there is an iron trestle, surmounted by wood work, 110 feet above the water, which at this stage is only four feet deep. The bridge was built only four years ago and was always considered perfectly safe. It is 800 feet long, the main span being 110 feet in length. This, with the span next beyond, went into the river with the train.

The engine fell at right angles to the ____[?] of the bridge with the cars piled on top of it and around it. Engineer WHITE was found with his charred hand still grasping the throttle.

To and fury and commotion to the event, the flames from the stoves in the coaches ignited the wreckage and the entire mass was burned to the edge of the water. The only one of the train crew that escaped with his life from the wreck was the colored fireman, SAM SPENCER. He jumped from the engine while it was in mid-air and, falling into the river, escaped almost by miracle with only a broken arm. Wild with fright, he fled for the nearest station to give the alarm, but before he reached there a farmer passing saw the condition of affairs, and drove to a telegraph station with his horse at full speed. Messages were sent to this city and a relief train went to the scene, but ere it reached there the flames had done all of their work.


Memphis, Dec. 27, --- A special to the Commercial Appeal from Birmingham, Ala., says: Fiends in human form wrecked the Birmingham Mineral passenger train No. 40 at Oshaba [sic] river bridge, twenty-seven miles from here, at 7:30 o'clock this morning, and twenty lives were lost. That number of bodies have been recovered from the wreck and further search may swell the list of dead.

The wreck is regarded as almost certainly accomplished by the removal of a rail on the middle span of the trestle. This derailed the train, which caused it to fall down the two spans and precipitated it into the river 110 feet below. The wreck was the worst that has ever occurred in the State, and the survivors are so few and are so badly hurt that they are unable to give any detailed description of how it happened. It is not known and may never be ascertained just how many passengers were on the train. Most of them were miners and residents of mining towns in this district, who had regular trip tickets and were returning to their homes along the line of the Birmingham Mineral road.

Daily Enquirer Utah 1896-12-28