The No. 2 express train departed Paris, Tennessee, at 9:40 p.m. on July 27, 1869, en route to Clarksville.

The train, which left Memphis at 3 p.m. on July 27, was scheduled to steam for nearly 12 more hours, passing through Clarksville, Tennessee; Bowling Green, Kentucky; and other points during the night hours before arriving in Louisville at 9 a.m., 190 track miles to the north.

In Humboldt, Tennessee, the Louisville-bound No. 2 express train added a “through” sleeping car from a New Orleans train.

By 10 p.m., passengers retired for the evening. The train — consisting of a locomotive, a baggage car owned by the Louisville & Nashville, a first-class car owned by the Memphis & Ohio, a second-class car owned by the Louisville & Nashville and a pair of sleeping cars owned by the Rip Van Winkle Sleeping Car Company — was due in Clarksville at 1:15 a.m.

By 1 a.m., the train was perhaps a couple of minutes behind schedule as it approached the bridge over Budds Creek, crossing consisting of “four spans of short wooden girder bridges joined to a trestle.” Because the railroad rebuilt the line following the Civil War, the trestle was said to be just two years old, and the bridges three. Coincidentally, Budds Creek was the scene of a fatal crash less than three years earlier, but that thought likely entered no one’s mind in the early morning hours of July 28, 1869.

“As described by those who were aboard the ill-fated train when it went down, the situation was awful in the extreme.”
What happened next was the subject of considerable debate. According to some accounts, the train’s speed increased. Two passengers from New Orleans — identified in the press as Mr. Doll and Mr. White — allegedly arose, dressed and inquired as to the problem. As the train approached the bridge crossing Budds Creek, the engineer sounded the whistle.

The action was, apparently, odd considering there was no requirement for him to do so at this location.

Moments later, the bridge gave way. The train crashed into the creek bed below. Fire began to consume the train’s cars. Only the sleeping car at the rear of the train did not fall into Budds Creek. Five people ultimately died as a result of the wreck.

“As described by those who were aboard the ill-fated train when it went down, the situation was awful in the extreme,” the Federal Union newspaper of Milledgeville, Georgia, reported. The ensuing fire “made nearly a complete ruin of the train and its contents.”

Fatalities

Engineer Eugene Riley Bowling Green
Fireman Charles Shields Bowling Green
Hugh McColl New Orleans
Susan McColl New Orleans
Thomas Baxter (also identified as Thomas Shields and John Baxter) Nashville or Carbondale, Mississippi

Injured Crew Members

Brakeman Ed. Boone
Baggage Master Charles A. Brown
Express Messenger John C. Dugan
Sleeping Car Conductor Sam Lewis
Brakeman C.B. Webster
Mail Agent W.W. (or W.D.) Wray

Injured Passengers

J.J. Buck Clarksville
John Burt (or Bart) Columbia (or Columbus), Mississippi
Judge and Mrs. H.C. Caulkins and their two children New Orleans
J. O’Donnell (or J.L. Connell, J. O’Connell or J.S. Connell) Stewart Station
C.H. Doge (or Sage) Fulton, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Nolan Fontaine and their three children Memphis
Lou (perhaps Louise) Gholson Clarksville
J.C. Hannah Coffeeville, Mississippi
Seth (or Sethe or Lethe) Henderson Memphis
Captain Langdon Mobile, Alabama
J.C. Levy Holly Springs, Mississippi
William McCall New Orleans
H.B. Michael New Orleans
Hattie Michael (or Mitchell) Lauderdale, Mississippi
Joseph Nutt (or Mut) New Orleans
W.S. Packer (or Parker) Pittsburg
Mr. and Mrs. Patterson Baton Rouge, Louisiana
F.F. Porter Paris
Barton Salisbury Stewart Station
Mrs. Sawyer
W.C. (or W.E.) Shephard (or Shepherd or Sheppard) New Orleans
Ed. Stowe (or Stoull or Stone or Stover) Eufaula, Alabama
Joseph West
Walter Wilcox Clarksville
Mr. Wood New Orleans

Other Passengers

Mr. Doll New Orleans
Hamilton Pike and his sister
Mr. White New Orleans