Learning Lincoln On-line


Topic Fifty-seven: Student Direction Page

The General and the Texan in the Great Locomotive Chase 1862

[Prelude] One of the most exciting spy stories in American History occurred during the year 1862.  The time was the Civil War.  The war was not going well for the United States and something needed to be done.  The Southern Railroad system, between Atlanta , Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee was the main way for the Confederate Army to receive supplies and ammunition.  

The Union Army was at a stopping point, but James J. Andrews and several soldiers wanted to do more than sit the war out.  A secret plan was devised and would make history.     It was “the deepest scheme that ever emanated from the brains of Yankees,” declared the Southern Confederacy in its issue of April 11, 1862

        The plan proposed by James J. Andrews, a quinine (pain killer) trader and secret service spy for the Union , called for a group of Union raiders to sneak into Georgia , steal a locomotive on the Western & Atlantic Railroad and drive it north.  They would then burn bridges on the line between Atlanta and Chattanooga .  Once isolated, Chattanooga would presumably fall easily to the Union forces advancing from the west.  The war could actually end much quicker.

         [map link 1] Andrews recruited willing volunteers from an Ohio brigade in Tennessee .  The men would dress in civilian clothes, and [map link 2] travel to Marietta , Georgia .   Upon arrival, sixteen would successfully be on hand at dawn, April 12, 1862 .   A northbound passenger train pulled by the locomotive General steamed into Marietta .   The raiders would portray Southern sympathizers and load onto the train as passengers.  No one suspected them.  They would be a group of “separate” passengers, with none knowing the other.  This was very dangerous, as Confederate soldiers and officers were also on the train.        

          [map link 2]  At the whistle stop, Big Shanty, passengers and crew got off for breakfast. Andrews and his fellow raiders swiftly disconnected all but three boxcars behind the locomotive, and took off.   The General, under control of the Union raiders raced northward, pausing only to cut telegraph wires and to make a few futile efforts to wreck the tracks.  It seemed that stealing the train was a simpler task than destroying bridges.   Cutting telegraph wires would prevent the Confederate forces up north from knowing what was going on, at least for the time being.

         The chase would begin without Andrews Raiders being aware. [map link 3] Railroad Conductor, William A. Fuller, when noticing his General was stolen, would become so enraged that he started chasing them on foot.  Fuller would become very famous for never “giving up.”  

         [map link 4] His foot race gradually evened out:  First he commandeered a push car and then three steam locomotives, the Yonah, the William R. Smith and finally the Texas . 

  [map link 9] The Texas was headed south, but the Fuller and his men threw it into reverse and continued the chase going backward.  It would not be long until Andrews and the raiders would discover they were being chased from the rear.

         [map link 15  &  16]  Near Ringgold , Georgia , the General ran out of fuel, with the Texas close on its heels.   The raiders ran off into the woods.  The eight hour chase was over. 

         [Conclusion]  Within a week, everybody in the Andrews party was captured.   Andrews himself and seven others, selected at random, were hanged.   Eight escaped from prison and reached Union lines.   The rest remained in Confederate prisons until they were exchanged in March 1863.

         [The Congressional Medal of Honor]  Andrew's Raiders were a great moral booster for the Union Army.   President Abraham Lincoln had established a medal to give soldiers demonstrating extreme bravery and service to their country.   It would be called the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Surviving members of Andrew's Raiders would be the recipient of the first Congressional Medals of Honor.  The dead raiders would receive medals as well, posthumously.   Ironically, Andrews was not a member of the U.S. Military, and would not receive the Medal of Honor.   He was also giving posthumously the civilian version of the Medal of Honor.

        [War & Heroes]  All wars have their great heroes.  The Civil War had many.  It was the bloodiest and most deadly war in U.S. History.   Many great heroes arose from the Civil War, but Andrew's Raiders had one of the most exciting stories.