Remembering The Great Locomotive Chase
Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.
Do young people know what happened on April 12, 1862, in our nation's history? Please share this story with your family.
This year, 2007, is the 51st Anniversary of Walt Disney Picture's classic "The Great Locomotive Chase" starring Fess Parker and Jeffrey Hunter. This movie was made during the golden age of Hollywood when films were still made for the entire family.
When it comes to locomotives many of us are children at heart. Don't you love a good story about the bygone era of passenger trains that once were America's fastest way to travel?
America's most famous locomotive "The General" is now home at the Kennesaw, Georgia Civil War Museum. Kennesaw, Ga. is just 45 miles from Atlanta. Located across the railroad tracks from Kennesaw's main street of business that is Old Highway 41 is the museum. There is a train story here if you have the time to listen.
April 12, 2007, is the 145th anniversary of the Great Locomotive Chase that made "The General" famous.
Jefferson Cain, an employee of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, was Engineer of the General. At 4:15 a.m. on April 12, 1862, Cain pushed the throttle forward and drove the train out of Atlanta, Georgia for Chattanooga as a cool spring rain fell on the city.
In the spring of 1862, the peaceful town of Big Shanty (now Kennesaw) Georgia was paid not-so-peaceful visit by Union spies that were led by James Andrews, who brought with him plans to disrupt Confederate supply lines. Andrews and his men boarded the train in Marietta, Georgia. They had spent the night before at the Fletcher House (now the Kennesaw House.) Twenty boarded the train and two were left behind.
The next stop was the Lacy Hotel in Big Shanty (now Kennesaw) for a 20 minute breakfast break where the General was stolen in view of Camp McDonald that was home to many enlisted men and officers. There was no telegraph there which was one reason Andrews chose this site.
James Andrews, a Kentuckian, had made a name for himself by smuggling the much needed quinine through Union lines for Confederate soldiers and Southern civilians. There were with him three experienced engineers, William Knight, Wilson Brown and John Wilson. When asked where they were from their reply was, "I am from Fleming County, Kentucky." They also said they were going to join the Confederate army.
The official plan to steal the General was approved by Union General Ormsby Michael. The plan was to take the locomotive north on the Western and Atlantic Railroad and destroy tracks, bridges and tunnels along the way. General Michael agreed that he would take Huntsville on April 11, 1862, and then would wait for Andrews before moving into Chattanooga, Tennessee.
"Someone...has stolen our train," William Fuller, Conductor of the General said in amazement as the train was stolen and was pulling away from the train depot. Men of the Atlantic and Western Railroad immediately began the chase with Engineer Jefferson Cain, William Fuller and machine foreman Anthony Murphy close behind.
With no telegraph at Big Shanty, the men ran north for two miles to Moon Station and procured a platform handcar, then went on until they found the locomotive "Yonah." The second train used was "the William R. Smith." The last locomotive Fuller used was the famous "Texas" that was heading south. The Texas is now housed at the Cyclorama at Grant Park in Atlanta, Georgia. With no time to spare, the Texas was run in reverse through the entire chase.
James Andrews and his Raiders were slowed down by South Bound trains that had to pass before they could continue. With the telegraph out of service, Fuller was fortunate to catch telegraph operator Edward Henderson. Fuller gave the young Henderson a hand up on the train, still in motion, to take a message that he would send to General Ledbetter from Dalton, Georgia.
Andrews and his raiders failed to destroy the bridges over Georgia's Chickamauga Creek, Etowah River at Tunnel Hill. They also failed to slow down their pursuers by setting the cars of the General on fire and sending them back down the railroad tracks. The end came when they ran out of wood and lost power about 18 miles south of Chattanooga.
It took about two weeks for the Confederates to capture the Union spies. Some of them made it as far as Bridgeport, Alabama. All 20 of Andrews Raiders were captured. James Andrews and six of his men were hung in Atlanta, eight escaped and others were paroled.
The United States Congress created the Medal of Honor in 1862 and it was awarded to some of the raiders. James Andrews was not eligible because he was not a part of the military service.
The South's William Fuller, who is buried in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery, was recognized by the Confederate government, Georgia's Governor Joseph Brown and Georgia State Legislature for his act of heroism.
Lest we forget all of our American history.