The Great Locomotive Chase
Original Western & Atlantic Railroad Track & Bond
The Great Locomotive Chase was a military raid that occurred April 12, 1862, in northern Georgia during the American Civil War. Volunteers from the Union Army, led by civilian scout James J. Andrews, commandeered a train, The General, and took it northward toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, doing as much damage as possible to the vital Western and Atlantic Railroad line from Atlanta to Chattanooga as they went. They were pursued by Confederate forces at first on foot, and later on a succession of locomotives, including The Texas, for 87 miles.
Big Shanty to Kingston
Conductor William A. Fuller
The raid began on April 12, 1862, when the regular morning passenger train from Atlanta, with the locomotive General, stopped for breakfast at the Lacy Hotel. They took the General and the train's three boxcars, which were behind the tender in front of the passenger cars. The passenger cars were left behind. Andrews had previously obtained from the work crew a crowbar for tearing up track.
The train's conductor, William Allen Fuller, and two other men, chased the stolen train, first on foot, then by a handcar belonging to a work crew shortly north of Big Shanty. Locomotives of the time normally averaged 15 miles per hour (24 km/h), with short bursts of speed of about 20 miles per hour (32 km/h). In addition, the terrain north of Atlanta is very hilly, and the ruling grades are steep. Even today, average speeds are rarely greater than 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) between Chattanooga and Atlanta. Since Andrews intended to stop periodically to perform acts of sabotage, a determined pursuer, even on foot, could conceivably have caught up with the train before it reached Chattanooga.
At Etowah, the raiders passed the older and smaller locomotive Yonah which was on a siding that led to the nearby Cooper Iron Works. Andrews considered stopping to attack and destroy that locomotive so it could not be used by pursuers, but given the size of its work party (even though unarmed) relative to the size of the raiding party, he judged that any firefight would be too long and too involved, and would alert nearby troops and civilians.
As the raiders had stolen a regularly scheduled train on its route, they needed to keep to that train's timetable. If they reached a siding ahead of schedule, they had to wait there until scheduled southbound trains passed them before they could continue north. Andrews claimed to the station masters he encountered that his train was a special northbound ammunition movement ordered by General Beauregard in support of his operations against the Union forces threatening Chattanooga. This story was sufficient for the isolated station masters Andrews encountered (as he had cut the telegraph wires to the south), but it had no impact upon the train dispatchers and station masters north of him, whose telegraph lines to Chattanooga were working. These dispatchers were following their orders to dispatch and control the special train movements southward at the highest priority.
Kingston to Adairsville
The raiders finally pulled out of Kingston only moments before Fuller's arrival. They still managed north of Kingston again to cut the telegraph wire and break a rail. Meanwhile, moving north on the handcar, Fuller had spotted the locomotive Yonah at Etowah and commandeered it, chasing the raiders north all the way to Kingston. There, Fuller switched to the locomotive William R. Smith, which was on a sidetrack leading west to the town of Rome, Georgia and continued north towards Adairsville.
Two miles south of Adairsville, however, the pursuers were stopped by the broken track, forcing Fuller and his party to continue the pursuit on foot. Beyond the damaged section, he took command of the southbound locomotive Texas south of Calhoun, where Andrews had passed it, running it backwards. The Texas train crew had been bluffed by Andrews at Calhoun into taking the station siding, thereby allowing the General to continue northward along the single-track main line. Fuller, when he met the Texas, took command of her, picked up eleven Confederate troops at Calhoun, and continued his pursuit, tender-first, northward.
Adairsville to Ringgold
The raiders now never got far ahead of Fuller and never had enough time to stop and take up a rail to halt the Texas. Destroying the railway behind the hijacked train was a slow process. The raiders were too few in number and were too poorly equipped with the proper railway track tools and demolition equipment, and the rain that day made it difficult to burn the bridges. As well, railway officials in Chattanooga had sufficient time to evacuate engines and rolling stock to the south, hauling critical railroad supplies away from the Union threat, so as to prevent their either being captured by General Mitchel or trapped uselessly inside Chattanooga during a Union siege of the city.
Andrews's men abandon the General
With the Texas still chasing the General tender-first, the two trains steamed through Dalton and Tunnel Hill. The raiders continued to sever the telegraph wires, but they were unable to burn bridges or damage Tunnel Hill. The wood they had hoped to burn was soaked by rain. Just before the raiders cut the telegraph wire north of Dalton, Fuller managed to send off a message from there alerting the authorities in Chattanooga of the approaching stolen engine.
Finally, at milepost 116.3, north of Ringgold, Georgia, just 18 miles from Chattanooga, with the locomotive out of fuel, Andrews's men abandoned the General and scattered. Andrews and all of his men were caught within two weeks, including the two who had missed the hijacking. And Mitchel's attack on Chattanooga ultimately failed.
Trials and executions
Depiction of the court-martial of one of the raiders in Knoxville
Confederate forces charged all the raiders with "acts of unlawful belligerency"; the civilians were charged as unlawful combatants and spies. All the prisoners were tried in military courts, or courts-martial. Tried in Chattanooga, Andrews was found guilty. He was executed by hanging on June 7 in Atlanta. On June 18, seven others who had been transported to Knoxville and convicted as spies were returned to Atlanta and also hanged; their bodies were buried unceremoniously in an unmarked grave. They were later reburied in Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Escape and exchange
Writing about the exploit, Corporal William Pittenger said that the remaining raiders worried about also being executed. They attempted to escape and eight succeeded. Traveling for hundreds of miles in pairs, they all made it back safely to Union lines, including two who were aided by slaves and Union sympathizers and two who floated down the Chattahoochee River until they were rescued by the Union blockade vessel USS Somerset in the Gulf of Mexico. The remaining six were held as prisoners of war and exchanged for Confederate prisoners on March 17, 1863.
The Great Locomotive Chase - Original Western & Atlantic Railroad Track & Bond
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