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The Civil War in Georgia, An Illustrated Travelers Guide

By Richard J. Lenz

Design by Lenz, Inc. Decatur, Georgia.


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The Great Locomotive Chase

Early on the morning of April 12, 1862 in Big Shanty, 21 Federal soldiers dressed as Confederates and under the leadership of civilian spy James J. Andrews, stole the engine General and three boxcars and headed north with a plan to destroy the Western and Atlantic Railroad, so important to supplying Confederate armies. The crew and passengers were eating breakfast at a nearby hotel. Hearing the engine pull out of the station, conductor William A. Fuller and two others gave chase on foot for two miles. They found a railroad crew, and commandeered their platform car, which is propelled by pushing long poles or pushing off on railroad ties with one's feet. At the Etowah River, they picked up the steam-powered yard engine Yonah, belonging to Cooper's Iron Works. Meanwhile, the raiders had been delayed an hour in Kingston, where southbound train traffic had toStamp comemorating the "General." be switched to the side to let them pass. Four minutes after they rolled north, the Yonah came puffing into Kingston. Delayed in Kingston, Fuller abandoned the Yonah and pursued on foot and quickly was able to commandeer the William R. Smith. Farther north, Andrew's raiders were vandalizing track, and gathering wood to help burn bridges to the north, which would stop their pursuer. At Adairsville, the General had to wait to let the southbound Texas get by, then they steamed north. Behind them, Fuller had to abandon the Smith when he came to some destroyed track. Proceeding on foot three miles, Fuller and his men came upon the southbound Texas. When told of the situation, the engineer threw the Texas in reverse to pursue the General at more than 60 miles an hour. When the Texas closed on the General near Resaca, Andrews' men released a boxcar to slow him up, but the Texas just pushed the car along in front of it. Other attempts to slow the Texas were unsuccessful, and the General was running out of fuel as it roared through Tunnel Hill and Ringgold.

If the desperate raiders could get beyond Chattanooga, a few miles away, they would be safe behind Northern lines, but it was not to be, as the engine came to a stop. Andrews told his men to "Jump off and scatter! Every man for himself!" Soon they were all captured and imprisoned in Chattanooga. Eight escaped, six were exchanged, and eight — including Andrews — were hanged and buried in Atlanta. The Medal of Honor — the nation's highest award for valor — was established in U.S. Congress and given to the Raiders, except for Andrews himself, who was a civilian. Later the dead were reinterred in Chattanooga National Cemetery, their ultimate goal, and honored with a monument and commemorated by three movies, most recently being the popular Walt Disney film, The Great Locomotive Chase.

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Published (print): 1996, Published (Web): September 2000, Revised (Web): November 2002, ISBN: 0-96503-050-4
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