Tragic Accident, 1897

February 21st, 2011

A family outing turned into tragedy. It happened near Chattanooga, Tennessee, on 24 February 1897. On 25 February 1897, the front page of the Chattanooga Daily Times shouted the headlines “Nine Members of One Family Hurled Into Eternity!” and carried a gruesome sketch of the accident scene. The remainder of the page carried graphic text and sketches of that dreadful event the preceding day, which took the lives of nine Woodward family members.

The family of W.J. and Laura (Worley) Woodward, their nine children, and one grandchild were on their way from their home in Jersey to Chattanooga to sit for a family portrait. Their daughter, Lizzie, had married Ira Montgomery, the preceding year, and had presented W.J. and Laura with a grandson just two months previously. Lizzie’s husband, Ira, was planning to move his family to Florence, Alabama, where he had found work on a government dredge boat. Lizzie’s departing had prompted the decision to have a family portrait made.  Josie L. Woodward, daughter of J.W. and Laura worked at the residence of W.W. Silver. On route to Chattanooga, the family stopped at the Silver home to pick up Josie. At dining at the Silver home Mr. Woodward and his eldest son, Albert, decided to walk on ahead of the others, leaving the remaining ten family members to start out later in the wagon. George T. Woodward, was left in charge of the two horse team and wagon (because the family was large, a number of chairs had been placed in the bed of the farm wagon).

The Harrison crossing of the Southern railway was a short distance from the Silver home, and was a notoriously dangerous intersection. As the railroad track approached Harrison Pike it passed through a deep cut and was on a heavy grade coming from the Missionary Ridge tunnel. Anyone on the pike could not see the train until it came out of the cut and was nearly upon Harrison Pike. The train came out of the cut just as the wagon carrying the Woodward family was just about crossing the tracks, and although the engineer blew his danger whistle, it was too late for George to stop the team of horses. At 12:46 p.m. the engine of a passenger train on the Georgia division of the Southern Railroad, bound for Chattanooga, struck the family’s horse drawn wagon. The wagon was hit broad side, killing seven instantly. Two more were to die a short time later. Only young Virginia (called Vergie) survived the ordeal.

W.J. Woodward was born in Georgia. He married in Georgia, Laura Worley.  Laura was born in Georgia 27 August 1853 and killed in the accident 24 Feb 1897.

W.J. Woodward and his family had removed from Murray County, Georgia, to Jersey (Hamilton County), Tennessee about 1888. In an interview on the fateful day of the tragic accident, W.J. Woodward stated that his son, George was a very careful and responsible young man. W.J. continued to say, “We had just built a new home and were so happy. We were trying to get the place paid for and after all of our hard work to get it improved, everything has been destroyed by this inscrutable-blow of Providence.”

Albert, the eldest son, left his home Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by his wife and child, for his father’s residence, but were turned back by the high water. The husband, not to disappoint his father and other members of the family, made a second start by himself, telling his wife he would return Wednesday. He reached his father’s home and about 9 o’clock yesterday as preparations for the start to Chattanooga were in progress.

The funeral for all nine victims was held at the King’s Point Baptist Church on Friday, 26 Feb 1897 where the family members regularly worshipped. All nine victims were buried in the King’s Point Cemetery.

Children of W.J. Woodward and Laura (Worley) Woodward:

i. Albert Woodward, b. abt. 1871. He was married with one child in Feb 1897.

ii. Lizzie Woodward, b. about 1868; mar Ira H. Montgomery; killed in accident 24 Feb 1897. Ira and Lizzie had one son, Roy Montgomery, killed in accident 24 Feb 1897, at the age of 2 mo.

iii. George T. Woodward, b. 20 Jan 1873; killed in accident 24 Feb 1897. George had recently purchased a small ten-acre farm.

iv. Josie L. Woodward, b. 29 Aug 1884; killed in accident 24 Feb 1897. Josie had worked in the home of W.W. Silver on the Harrison Pike.

v. Della Woodward, b. 22 April 1881; killed in accident 24 Feb 1897.

vi. Mary Woodward, b. 29 Aug 1884; killed in accident 24 Feb 1897.

vii. Daisy Woodward, b. 22 Jan 1886; killed in accident 24 Feb 1897.

viii. Ada Woodward, b. 22 May 1889; killed in accident 24 Feb 1897.

ix. Virginia (Vergie) Woodward, b. abt 1894.


1. The Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tenn. (25 Feb 1897).

2. Charles W. Lusk, “King’s Point Cemetery,” Hamilton County, Tennessee Cemeteries (typescript, no publication place or date), 4.

(c) 2010 Linda Woodward Geiger, All Rights Reserved.

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