On April 12, 1862 the War Between the States had been under way one year, when a band of 22 Union soldiers disguised as civilians, under the leadership of a spy and contraband merchant, James J. Andrews worked their way 200 miles behind the confederate lines. Their objective, to board and steal a northbound locomotive on the Georgia State Western & Atlantic Railroad while burning the bridges, and tearing up track and telegraph lines behind them. The Great Locomotive Chase or Andrews Raid is one of the great railroad adventure stores of all time, and has been called the most exciting escapade of the American Civil War. Today it remains a tribute to American courage and valor. The men who participated in this event were the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor - our nation’s highest military decoration.
In the spring of 1862, there were two main Confederate armies, one in Richmond Virginia, under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston, the other in Corinth Mississippi under General P.G.T. Beauregard. The line of railroads linking these armies ran from Memphis to Chattanooga via Knoxville to Richmond. The Confederate Government counted on the State of Georgia, with its Troops, weapon factories, and food production to help supply both these armies. The use of the State owned Western & Atlantic Railroad to connect Atlanta with Chattanooga made this line through Georgia a prime target for sabotage. Destruction of this critical link was the main objective of Andrews and his raiders.
James J. Andrews, the leader of these saboteurs was a native of Handcock County West Virginia. Moving to Flemingsburg, Kentucky, in 1859 he taught singing schools and was and house painter before the Civil War. At the outbreak of war he found himself sponsored by Federal officers engaging in espionage in the guise of a merchant of contraband materials for the South. He was a spy for General Don Carlos Buell in the Fort Donelson Campaign. In March 1862 Andrews set out with 8 men for Atlanta with the intentions of burning bridges in North Georgia and in Bridgeport Alabama. There he failed to find an engineer who had agreed to help steal a locomotive and the plan was given up. When he returned to Tennessee he found that General Buell had left for Shiloh Tennessee. In his place was General Ormsby Mitchel with ten thousand Ohio troops were at Shelbyville Tennessee. This army was to protect Nashville from Confederate attack.
Andrews convinced General Mitchel that with more men and his own engineers he could destroy the bridges on the W.& A.R.R. putting the road out of commission, thus isolating Chattanooga from Atlanta and the South. Chattanooga had only 3000 Confederate troops only 1500 were armed. The nearest renforcents were in Atlanta. If the raid was successive the war could be shorten by two years. It seemed like a workable plan. Unknown to the planners the bloody battle of Shiloh was raging. One hundred thousand men had fought two days leaving twenty four thousand wounded and three thousand four hundred and seventy-seven men dead.
On April 7, 1862, volunteers were selected from the ranks of the Ohio army. A civilian also volunteed named William Campbell. They were warned of the hazardous nature of the raid and if caught dressed as civilians, they would be considered spies not soldiers and would probably hang. They went into Shelbyville to purchase civilian clothing. The raiders armed themselves with revolvers. On that dark night one mile east of Shelbyville they met their leader James J. Andrews for the first time. He gave them his final instructions. They were to work there way to Marietta Georgia, by midnight of April 10th. Early morning April 11th they would seize a train and begin their destructive ride north, burning bridges, tearing up telegraph lines and railroad tracks. Their raid and Mitchel’s assault on Huntsville were to be simultaneous. When Andrews and his party would show up in Huntsville with a captured locomotive and word that the W. & A. R.R. was in ruins, Mitchel would then safely move on Chattanooga with ease. As the meeting ended, a heavy rain began to fall. It would rain for the next ten days.
The group separated into twos and threes. They had three days to travel over 100 miles. The constant rain slowed their progress. Mud and swollen streams made travel difficult. Andrews told the raiders if asked about their presence to say that they hailed from Fleming County, Kentucky and were enroute to Chattanooga with hopes of joining a Kentucky-raised Confederate regiment. Andrews knew there were no Confederate soldiers from Fleming County. This story would later become part of there downfall. The men frequently came in contact with each other. By Wednesday (April 9) Andrews had decided that the weather would delay Mitchel’s attack and passed the word that they had an extra day to reach Marietta. This proved to be a crucial error in judgment and was to have a disastrous effect in the outcome of the raid. By midnight Friday, April 11, Andrews and 21 raiders had made their way to Marietta. Two had managed to get through on time arriving at Marietta on April 10. Two others had been stopped near Jasper Tennessee, and impressed into a Confederate artillery unit.
At Marietta, in the Fletcher House hotel (Kennesaw House) Andrews learned that Mitchel had not been delayed but had in deed, taken Huntsville. With the raid’s timing off, some raiders now wanted to back out. In a meeting in Andrews’s room he tried to help them overcome their fears. “Boys,’ he said,”I tried this once before and failed. Now I will succeed, or leave my bones in Dixie.” At 4:00AM, Saturday, April 12th the regular mixed passenger and freight train pulled by the locomotive General steamed out of the car shed in Atlanta. At the throttle, engineer Jeff Cain, Fireman Andrew J. Anderson, and the Conductor who would figure so prominently in the chase William A. Fuller. Riding that morning was Anthony Murphy, foreman of motive power and machinery for the W. & A.R.R., who was on his way to Allatoona to check on a water pump.
At Marietta, around 5:15 AM, Andrews and 19 men boarded the northbound train. Two of the raiders had failed to pay for a wake-up call and missed the train. The twenty-six year old Conductor William Fuller eyed the large group of men who climbed aboard his train at Marietta. He had been warned to watch for deserters, but these men were joining the confederate army. Andrews told his men get seats near each other in the same car, "When the train makes the Big Shanty breakfast stop, keep your places till I tell you to go. If anyone interferes, shoot him, but don’t fire unless you have to."
The General is a 4-4-0 locomotive built in 1855 by Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor and was one of the finest on the W. & A.R.R. line. Three empty boxcars were behind the locomotive that morning, bound for Chattanooga to bring back supplies and they would fit right in with Andrews story of an “emergency ammunition train” for General Beauregard and his troops at Corinth. This 12-hour Chattanooga passenger and freight train left at 4:00AM and arrived in Chattanooga at around 4:00 PM. It took 12 hours to travel the 138 miles from Atlanta to Chattanooga. The average speed of locomotives in 1860 was 7 to 45 miles per hour. It has been estimated that during the Great Locomotive Chase that speeds of 65 miles per hour were reached.
Most locomotives of this era could only travel around 33 miles on a tank or tender of water. Water and wood stops were all up and down the W. & A.R.R. There were no dinner cars; the railroads had established designated eating and rest stops similar to stagecoach stops for the passengers and crews. Andrews knew that Big Shanty was the morning breakfast stop, for the crew, and that they would leave the train and take breakfast at the Lacy Hotel. He also knew that there was no telegraph key at Big Shanty, the closest being at Marietta. Across the tracks from the station stood the white tents, guards and 3000 recruits of the newly established Camp McDonald, a Confederate training camp.
At 6:00 AM. The train drew into the station. The whistle blew and the conductor pulled out his watch and called out “Big Shanty” twenty minutes for breakfast!” the conductor, engineer, fireman, and most of the passengers quickly entered the Lacy Hotel anticipating a pleasant, hearty breakfast. Andrews moved slowly alongside the train toward the locomotive with him were his engineers. They climbed into the cab and with nervous hands seized the throttle! Other raiders sneaked behind the last boxcar and uncoupled it from the passenger cars. Andrews gave a signal and the other 16 raiders jumped into an empty boxcar. A Confederate guard a few feet away watched apparently not realizing what was happening. Andrews swung aboard; the engineer yanked the throttle the big driver wheels spun on the track and sparks flew, “The Great Locomotive Chase” was on!
Meanwhile, Conductor William Fuller looked up from his breakfast table and glanced out the window to see the General pulling away from the station. The Conductor followed closely by Engineer Jeff Cain and W. & A.R.R. Foreman Anthony Murphy, ran outside in time to see the locomotive steam around the curve and out of sight!
The raiders had barely made their escape when the locomotive came to a stop about a mile down the road. Engineer Cain had routinely closed the dampers at Big Shanty and now the engine’s fire had all but gone out. The Yankees rekindled the fire and in a short time were on their way again. Before reaching moon station, the raiders stopped to cut the telegraph wire and block the track; Andrews talked a work crew out of a pry bar. He instructed his engineer to hold to the schedule and not run too fast, this way they would not attract undue attention. When meeting southbound trains, they would be able to take the proper sidings to avoid head-on collisions. A red flag was tied on the last boxcar. It was Railroad custom to indicate that another train was following by placing a red flag on the last car. It would also dispel any suspicions about the unusual make-up of his train: an engine, tender, and just three boxcars.
The raiders passed through Acworth and Allatoona, stopping after each station to cut the telegraph wire. Crossties were piled on the tracks and some loaded in the boxcars. Four miles past Allatoona the pry bar was used to remove a section of rail, which they took with them. The raiders now felt safe from pursuit. The Yankees reached the Etowah River, passing easily over the great bridge. On a sidetrack, on a spur that ran upriver to Major Mark Cooper’s Iron Works, stood a locomotive. It sat steamed up, smoke rising from the stack. It was the Yonah. The Yankee engineer spoke directly to Andrews. “We’d better destroy that,” he said “and this bridge with it.” Andrews shook his head "it won’t make any difference. We don’t want to tip our hand to soon." The raiders passed by the startled crew of the Yonah and looked the other way.
The Yankees now passed through Cartersville and moved on to Cass Station. Here they took on wood and water. James J. Andrews was well dressed and represented himself as a Confederate agent for General Beauregard. He was able to convince railroad personnel to let him pass by using the story that he was running an extra train through with powder and ammunition for the Confederate army at Corinth. With the battle of Shiloh taking place in Tennessee, this was quite a believable story, so much so that the wood tender gave Andrews a train schedule.
When the raiders pulled in to Kingston they found the morning train from the Rome Railroad waiting for the General to arrive. The station attendant asked Andrews to pull on a siding to await another southbound freight. He was very suspicious of the unfamiliar crew on the General and demanded an explanation. Andrews again told the powder train story he knew there were no other trains scheduled and asked why he could not proceed northward. The answer spelled bad news for the raiders. General Mitchel’s capture of Huntsville the day before had thrown a scare into the rebels in Chattanooga. Every train that could gather steam was being loaded with supplies and sent south to Atlanta to avoid capture. The extra day that Andrews had taken to get to Marietta was proving to have been a serious mistake. When the second train finally pulled up it carried a red flag. As he waited for the third train, the men in the boxcar were told that they might have to fight their way out, and to listen for gunfire. Finally the third freight train arrives it carried a red flag also! Meaning another train was coming south! Andrews and his men had spent a very frustrating hour and five minutes in Kingston. He decides to take a risk and try to beat the next southbound! The old switch master did not believe Andrews' Powder story and would not let the General back on the main line. Andrews found the switch keys and threw it open himself! It is now steadily raining. The raiders will try to beat the southbound train.
CONDUCTOR FULLER IN PURSUIT
Back at Big Shanty where the chase had started, things were in a commotion. The Confederate Conductor William Fuller was mad! Someone who had no right had taken his train, and he was responable for it! Fuller’s first thought was that the train had been taken by deserting conscripts from the nearby training camp , and that they would most likely abandon it down the line. Much to the amusement of the nearby spectators the three employees of the Western and Atlantic Railroad began the pursuit on foot. Murphy sent a rider to Marietta to telegraph the W. & A.R.R. that someone had stolen a train at Big Shanty. About two miles down track Fuller arrives at Moon Station outrunning his less athletic coworkers. He learns that the General has passed 30 minutes earlier, and the men on board had taken tools with them. Obviously they are not mere deserters. Fuller finds a nearby pole car and backtracked to pick up Murphy and Cain, and then continues the chase north.
At Acworth Fuller finds the telegraph lines cut. Halfway to the Etowah station, in there haste Fuller fails to see the rail the raiders have removed and everyone is dumped headlong in the ditch. Mad, shaken but unhurt, they put the car back on the track, and arrive at Etowah to find the iron works engine the Yonah under steam. In minutes, Fuller has the Yonah on the main line headed north toward Kingston, 14 miles distant, at full steam in pursuit of the General. Fuller wrote later that they made these 14 miles in an incredible 15 minutes.
When the Yonah steamed into Kingston the station was buzzing with excitement. Fuller was told he had missed the General by only 4 minutes. Now the three southbound trains that had delayed Andrews were blocking the Yonah. Fuller ran to where the Rome Railroad’s engine William R. Smith came into the line. “It is clear of the tangle” he said as he commandeered the locomotive. As the train pulled out of the station a group of Confederate militia piled into one of the cars.
North of Kingston station, the raiders stopped to cut the telegraph wire. They also piled crossties on the track. Six miles down the track they cut another line. They tried unsuccessfully to lift another rail. In there frustration they hear a train whistle in the distance behind them. It was the William R.Smith. One of the raiders remembered it as” faint and far off" no sound more unwelcome ever fell on human ears.” The raiders now know they are being pursued. They work hard to remove another piece of track climb back on the General and steamed off. When the raiders reach Adairsville, there waited the expected freight train, and a storm of questions. Andrews acting with authority, ordered the freight’s crew to move the train south. As it passed the General, the raiders could see the name of the locomotive on the boiler, "Texas", an engine that before the day was ended would also take its place in history.
The raiders could now sense a possible failure of their mission. With the train whistle still in their mind, Andrews ordered his engineer to let the General break loose, despite the danger of the southbounds. The General Flew into Calhoun, where it nearly collided head-on with the southbound Catoosa. The southern crew demanded an explanation. Andrews told the powder train story again. After much talk and persuasion, Andrews said, “I’ve got to go on with no more delay!” The crew of the Catoosa let the General pass. With no more southbound trains to contend with, the raiders felt now free to accomplish their mission of burning bridges, and the Oostanaula Bridge at Resaca was just ahead!
Meanwhile Fuller and his party on the locomotive William R. Smith were making their way north from Kingston. Fuller decided to ride on the front of the engine (the pilot) and watch ahead for any obstructions on the track. He spots the missing rail just in time. Again the men are on foot! It is raining and, the terrain is muddy. This time Jeff Cain the Confederate engineer drops out. Murphy and Fuller run about three miles when they meet the southbound Texas. The engine Andrews had waved on from Adairsville. Pete bracken, the engineer, immediately recognized Fuller and Murphy; they climb on board and tell of the heist. He quickly reversed the Texas and moved back to Adairsville where he got rid of the freight cars at a siding. The Great Locomotive Chase was now on more equal terms, only the Texas had no boxcars and was running backwards! Ten miles and little more than 10 minutes later the Texas rolled into Calhoun, where Fuller learned the General had passed just five minutes before. At Calhoun, Fuller picked up two extra men to help and a young telegraph operator who had been sent down to find out what was wrong with the telegraph line.
Having passed five trains and remembering the sound of a locomotive whistle coming from his rear, Andrews decided to try to take up another track. They had not been at it very long when a long clear whistle came from the south. They next tried to reverse the General and kick a boxcar back at the Texas. The raiders were fast approaching the Oostanaula trestle the first covered bridge to burn. All efforts to set the car on fire were useless as the wood was to wet. The smoldering car was uncoupled and left in the bridge. Fuller had the Texas push the car out of the bridge and both boxcars were left on a siding at Resaca.
The Yankee’s next busted out the back of the last box car, and resorted to dropping cross ties on the track in hopes of derailing or slowing down the Texas. The raiders now discussed setting a trap and fighting it out with the Confederates but fearing they were outnumbered they pressed on. Running low of fuel they stop at Green’s wood yard. Very little water is obtained before the Texas pulls in behind them. A second stop for water at Tilton is also unsuccessful. The raiders now sailed through Dalton at breakneck speed. Again they stopped long enough to cut the telegraph wire one last time. At Dalton, Fuller drops off the young telegraph operator who had joined the party at Calhoun. There he sends Fuller’s message to the Confederate commander at Chattanooga warning of the raiders advance. About half of the message is received before Andrews' men cut the wire. Unknown to Andrews, General Mitchell had failed to take Chattanooga; it was still in Confederate hands. The last few miles of the chase were a close race between the locomotives within sight and sound of each other. At the long tunnel at Tunnel Hill some of the raiders wanted to fight; Andrews decided against it. When the Texas reached the smoke filled tunnel the fear of ambush or obstruction was enement. Fuller is relieved to find it clear. Two miles north of Ringgold the General runs out of steam! Andrews gave the order “every man for himself.” The raiders scattered for the woods.
The Great Locomotive Chase had ended 18 miles below Chattanooga. It so happened that April 12, 1862, was a muster day at Ringgold, hundreds of mounted and well-armed men were training there. They were soon alerted to the Raiders and within a few days, the last of the fugitives had been captured and jailed, including the two who missed the train in Marietta. All the raiders gave the same story of being from Flemingsburg Kentucky thus linking them all together. Andrews was tried as a spy and hanged.
Seven more raiders were tried and on June 18th hanged. The remaining 14 made a daring jail break in October. Eight of them avoid recapture and reached Union lines. Two even floated down the Chattahoochee River to the Gulf of Mexico to the Yankee blockade. In March 1863 the remaining six raiders were exchanged. In recognition of their courage, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton awarded them the newly created Medals of Honor making them the very first recipients. In addition, Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously to five of the eight who had been hanged. As a civilian, James J. Andrews was ineligible for the award. And so ended the Great Locomotive Chase, the most spectacular event in the War Between the States.