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Map of the chase route, with locations of various events marked.

The Great Locomotive Chase or Andrews' Raid 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 and took it northward toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, doing as much damage as possible to the vital Western and Atlantic Railroad (W&A) 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.

Because the Union men had cut the telegraph wires, the Confederates could not send warnings ahead to forces along the railway. Confederates captured the raiders and executed some quickly as spies. Some of Andrews' raiders were the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor by the US Congress for their actions, though Andrews himself was not.

Background[edit | edit source]

Illustration of nineteen men involved in the Great Locomotive Chase—seventeen Union soldiers and two railroad employees who chased them.

Maj. Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel, commanding the Federal troops in middle Tennessee, planned to move south with his army and seize Huntsville, Alabama, before turning east in hopes of capturing Chattanooga. General Mitchel recognized the strategic value of seizing the rail and water transportation center of Chattanooga.

At the time, the standard means of capturing Chattanooga would have been its encirclement. Mitchell would by artillery bombardment, and successive infantry attacks; reduce the defenses of the city. Chattanooga, then starved of supplies (food and ammunition), would no longer be able to resist. The exhausted and trapped inhabitants would either formally surrender, or its defenses simply be overrun.

But Chattanooga’s natural water and mountain barriers to the east and south made this nearly impossible with the forces that General Mitchel had available. But he believed that if he could block railroad reinforcement of the city from Atlanta to the south, he could take Chattanooga. And, once taken, the Union could enjoy the city's natural defenses. The Union Army would then have rail reinforcement and supply lines to its rear, leading west to the Union-held stronghold and supply depot of Nashville, Tennessee.

James J. Andrews, a civilian scout and part-time spy, proposed to Mitchell a daring raid to destroy the Western and Atlantic Railroad as a useful supply link to Chattanooga, thereby isolating the city from Atlanta. He recruited the civilian William Hunter Campbell and 22 volunteer Union soldiers from three Ohio regiments, the 2nd, 21st, and 33rd Ohio Infantry. Andrews instructed the men to arrive in Marietta, Georgia, by midnight of April 10. With the plans delayed a day by heavy rain, they traveled in small parties in civilian attire to avoid arousing suspicion. All but two (Samuel Llewellyn and James Smith) reached the designated rendezvous point at the appointed time. Llewellyn and Smith joined a Confederate artillery unit, as they had been instructed to do in such circumstances.

The chase[edit | edit source]

Because railway dining cars were not yet in common use, railroad timetables included water, rest, and meal stops. In addition, as the locomotives of the time needed to frequently replenish fuel and water, stops for passenger and crew meals were combined with the stops for water and fuel as a feature of passenger railway travel.

The raiders set a train car on fire to try to ignite a covered railway bridge and thwart pursuit, from Deeds of Valor

The raid began on April 12, 1862 when the regular morning northbound passenger train with the locomotive General stopped at Big Shanty, Georgia (now Kennesaw) on its regular run from Atlanta to Chattanooga, so that the crew and passengers could breakfast at the Lacy Hotel. There Andrews and his raiders hijacked the General and the train's first of several cars. Their plan was to operate the train north towards Chattanooga, stopping to damage or destroy the track, bridges, telegraph wires, and track switches behind them, so as to prevent the Confederate Army from moving troops and supples north from Atlanta, when it decided to reinforce Chattanooga to prevent its capture. The Raiders plan when they reached the outskirts of Chattanooga was to cross through the Federal lines laying siege to the city and rejoin Mitchell's army. They chose to capture the train at Big Shanty station because it had no telegraph office. The raiders steamed out of Big Shanty, leaving behind startled passengers, crew members, and onlookers, which included a number of Confederate soldiers from Camp McDonald, which stood directly opposite the Lacy Hotel.

The train's conductor, William Allen Fuller, and two other men, chased the stolen train, first on foot, then by handcar. Locomotives of the time normally averaged 15 miles per hour (24 km/h), with short bursts of an average speed of 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 usually never 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.

In his foot-race north Fuller spotted the locomotive Yonah at Etowah and commandeered it, chasing the raiders north all the way to Kingston, Georgia. There, Fuller switched to the locomotive William R. Smith and continued north towards Adairsville, Georgia. Two miles south of Adairsville, however, the raiders had destroyed the tracks, and Fuller was forced to continue the pursuit on foot. Beyond the damage, he took command of the southbound locomotive Texas at Adairsville, running it backwards and tender-first northward.[1]

For a number of reasons, the raiders never got far ahead of Fuller. First, 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, or with suitable igniters and explosives (modern high explosive demolition munitions had not yet been invented), to effectively close the line. In the time the raiders had (for their number), they could not either permanently disable or destroy any section of the installed railway plant (track, switches, bridges) of the Western & Atlantic Railway between Marietta and Chattanooga. The railway was too well built for their efforts to yield anything more than minor, temporary, and superficial damage.

Second, the raiders had stolen a regularly scheduled train on its route, and they needed to keep to that train's timetable. If they reached a siding ahead of schedule, they would have had to wait there until scheduled southbound trains passed them before they could continue north. But it was in truth, only an explanation (an imperfect one at that) of why Conductor Fuller (who was well known on the line) was not in command of this, his normal morning passenger run north to Chattanooga, accompanied by his usual crew, of well known locomotive engineers and firemen. It was never an authority for the movement of his train, anywhere on the Atlanta – Chattanooga line.

Third (and neither Andrews nor Mitchel understood or foresaw this,) Mitchel's threat to Chattanooga occurred long enough in advance of the commencement of Andrews’ raid that Confederate Military Railway officials in Chattanooga had sufficient time to order, organize, and implement the emergency evacuation of all engines and rolling stock in Chattanooga. Thus, special freight trains with superior right of passage (over the single track line between Chattanooga and Atlanta) were made up in Chattanooga and ordered southbound, 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’ claim as explanation to the Station Masters he encountered moving northward was 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 moved northwards (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 level of priority, and superior to all other trains.

The authorities in Chattanooga had given the conductors of southbound trains superior right of passage over all other train movements between Chattanooga and Atlanta, including the regularly scheduled passenger train that Andrews had stolen and was operating northbound. And Andrews' verbal claim of special authority for an ammunition movement was a bluff that only worked in a Station Master's office without a working telegraph.

Andrews met the first of these southbound conductors at Kingston, where he had stopped (under the authority of his timetable) for the watering and fueling of his locomotive. As the first of the southbound Special Freight movements approached, Andrews inquired of that train’s conductor why his train was carrying a red marker flag on its rear car. Andrews was told that Confederate Railway officials in Chattanooga had been told by Confederate Army officials that the Union Army under General Mitchel was approaching Chattanooga from Stevens, Alabama, intending to either capture or lay siege to the city, and as a result of this warning, the Confederate Military Railways had ordered the Special Freight movements. The red train marker flag on the southward train meant that there was at least one additional southward moving train behind the one which Andrews had just met, and that Andrews and his train (regardless of whatever “orders” they were adhering to) had no “authority for movement” until the last train of that sectional movement (displaying the appropriate rear marker flag) had passed him.

In the running of an "Extra" sectional movement, the conductor of the lead train is dispatched with orders to post markers (flags) on the front and rear of his train. These markers identify this train as the lead train of a sectional movement. The sectional movement can contain any number of individually powered sections (trains) with separate locomotives, cars, conductors, and crews. Extra section movements are to be regarded by all Dispatchers, Station Masters, conductors, and crews they may encounter, as being a single train (in multiple sections), whose authority for movement is superior to all other trains’ movements on the line of road upon which they have been dispatched, until the last train (in the sectional movement, and displaying the proper flags) has passed. Then, and only then, may any other trains on the line resume their movement, in accordance with their orders, their rank, and their hierarchy (their “authority for movement”) over the line.

Neither Andrews nor any other conductor or crew had authority to move their train onto the line of road where an “extra” sectional movement was operating until the last train of the sectional movement (as evidenced by the special flag on the rear car of the last train in the sectional movement) had passed. Any crew who failed to obey this rule would almost certainly be the cause of a head-on or rear-end collision with the extra sectional movement train. It was this operational reality that meant Andrews could not attempt to move north of Kingston until the final section of the "Extra" movement had passed. If that train too had a red marker flag on its last car, Andrews was still not to attempt to move his train north of Kingston. It was this mechanism of delay that gave Fuller all the time needed to close the distance between them.

The raiders considered stopping to attack and overwhelm the first work party they encountered, who were operating a locomotive, the Yonah, at Etowah. If the Yonah had been seized, it could possibly have been run at high speed and derailed, demolished, and/or its boiler deliberately exploded in a tunnel or covered bridge. This would have not only stopped Fuller’s pursuit, but it would also have achieved the raiders' mission of closing the line between Marietta and Chattanooga. Additionally, the line would have remained closed until a major work party had been assembled to remove the destroyed locomotive and replace a destroyed bridge. However, given the size of the Yonah’s work party (even though unarmed) relative to the size of the raiding party, Andrews judged that any firefight conducted to commandeer and safely escape with the Yonah would be too long and too involved without alerting nearby troops and civilians.

The General Monument near Ringgold, Georgia

The Texas train crew had been bluffed by Andrews into taking the station siding, thereby allowing the General to continue northward along the single-track main line. As Andrews' party had cut the telegraph lines, all train crews, station masters, and W&A management to the north had no idea that the General had been captured by the enemy. Fuller, when he met Texas, took command of her, picked up eleven Confederate troops at Calhoun, and continued his pursuit.

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.

Finally, at milepost 116.3, north of Ringgold, Georgia, just 18 miles from Chattanooga, with the locomotive out of fuel, Andrews' 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 that morning.

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

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).

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. The remaining six were held as prisoners of war and exchanged for Confederate prisoners on March 17, 1863.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton awarded some of the raiders with the first Medal of Honor. Private Jacob Wilson Parrott, who had been physically abused as a prisoner, was awarded the first. Later all but two of the other soldiers also received the medals, with posthumous awards to families for those who had been executed. As civilians, Andrews and Campbell were not eligible.

Raiders[edit | edit source]

Image Rank Name Unit Date of Medal of Honor award Notes
James Andrews.jpg E-00Civilian Andrews, James J.James J. Andrews
No award Hanged in Atlanta; ineligible as a civilian for the Medal of Honor
William Bensinger.jpg E-01Private Bensinger, WilliamWilliam Bensinger 21st Ohio Infantry March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to captain
Wilson Brown.jpg E-01Private Brown, Wilson W.Wilson W. Brown 21st Ohio Infantry September 17, 1863 Escaped; later promoted to 2nd lieutenant
Robert Buffum.jpg E-01Private Buffum, RobertRobert Buffum 21st Ohio Infantry March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to 2nd lieutenant
William Hunter Campbell.jpg E-00Civilian Campbell, William HunterWilliam Hunter Campbell
No award Hanged; ineligible as a civilian for the Medal of Honor
Daniel Allen Dorsey.jpg E-04Corporal Dorsey, Daniel AllenDaniel Allen Dorsey 33rd Ohio Infantry September 17, 1863 Escaped; later promoted to 2nd lieutenant
E-04Corporal Hawkins, Martin JonesMartin Jones Hawkins 33rd Ohio Infantry September 17, 1863 Overslept and did not participate; escaped; later promoted to sergeant
E-01Private Knight, William JamesWilliam James Knight 21st Ohio Infantry September 17, 1863 Escaped
E-04Corporal Llewellyn, SamuelSamuel Llewellyn 33rd Ohio Infantry No award Did not participate; enlisted in a Confederate unit before reaching Marietta; later promoted to sergeant
Sargent E A Mason.jpg E-05Sergeant Mason, Elihu H.Elihu H. Mason 21st Ohio Infantry March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to captain
Jacob Parrot.jpg E-01Private Parrott, JacobJacob Parrott 33rd Ohio Infantry March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to 1st lieutenant
Corporal William Pittinger.jpg E-04Corporal Pittenger, WilliamWilliam Pittenger 2nd Ohio Infantry March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to sergeant
E-01Private Porter, John ReedJohn Reed Porter 21st Ohio Infantry September 17, 1863 Overslept and did not participate; escaped; later promoted to 1st lieutenant; last living raider
E-04Corporal Reddick, William H. H.William H. H. Reddick 33rd Ohio Infantry March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to 2nd lieutenant
E-01Private Robertson, SamuelSamuel Robertson 33rd Ohio Infantry September 17, 1863 Hanged as a spy; received award posthumously
E-09Sergeant Major Ross, Marion A.Marion A. Ross 2nd Ohio Infantry September 17, 1863 Hanged as a spy; received award posthumously
E-05Sergeant Scott, John MoreheadJohn Morehead Scott 21st Ohio Infantry August 4, 1866 Hanged as a spy; received award posthumously
E-01Private Shadrack, Charles PerryCharles Perry Shadrack 2nd Ohio Infantry No award Hanged as a spy; real name was Phillip Gephart Shadrach
E-01Private Slavens, SamuelSamuel Slavens 33rd Ohio Infantry July 28, 1883 Hanged as a spy; received award posthumously
E-01Private Smith, JamesJames Smith 2nd Ohio Infantry July 6, 1864 Born Ovid Wellford Smith. Did not participate; enlisted in a Confederate unit before reaching Marietta, but was held prisoner in Swims Jail during the Raid;[2] later promoted to corporal
E-01Private Wilson, George DavenportGeorge Davenport Wilson 2nd Ohio Infantry No award Hanged as a spy
E-01Private Wilson, John AlfredJohn Alfred Wilson 21st Ohio Infantry September 17, 1863 Escaped
E-01Private Wollam, JohnJohn Wollam 33rd Ohio Infantry July 20, 1864 Escaped
M Wood.jpg E-01Private Wood, MarkMark Wood 21st Ohio Infantry September 17, 1863 Escaped; later promoted to 2nd lieutenant

Monument in the National Cemetery, Chattanooga, Tennessee, by noted photographer William Henry Jackson in 1902.

Monument and markers[edit | edit source]

The Ohio Monument dedicated to Andrews' Raiders is located at the Chattanooga National Cemetery. There is a scale model of the General on top of the monument, and a brief history of the Great Locomotive Chase. The General is now in the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, Kennesaw, Georgia, while the Texas is on display at the Atlanta Cyclorama.

One marker indicates where the chase began, near the Big Shanty Museum in Kennesaw, while another shows where the chase ended at Milepost 116.3, north of Ringgold — not far from the recently restored depot at Milepost 114.5.

There is a historic marker in downtown Atlanta, at the corner of 3rd and Juniper streets, at the site where Andrews was hanged.

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

  • The pursuit of Andrews' Raiders was featured in the Buster Keaton silent film comedy The General.
  • The Walt Disney dramatic film The Great Locomotive Chase (1956), starring Fess Parker as Andrews, was also based on these exploits.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

File:The poster of the movie The Great Locomotive Chase.jpg

Film poster for The Great Locomotive Chase (1956)

  • Daring and Suffering: A History of the Great Railroad Adventure, Lieut. William Pittenger (J. W. Daughaday, 1863)
  • Daring and Suffering: A History of the Andrews Railroad Raid, by William Pittenger, with Introduction by Col. James G. Bogle, (Cumberland House Publishing, August 1, 1999, ISBN 978-1-58182-034-8), a first-hand account of one of the Raiders, with an introduction by one of the foremost experts on the subject.
  • Wild Train: The Story of the Andrews Raiders, by Charles O'Neill, (Random House, 1959), long considered one of the most authoritative accounts of the Raid.
  • The Case of Private Smith and the Remaining Mysteries of the Andrews Raid, by Parlee C. Gross, (General Publishing Company, 1963) focuses on the fates of the three soldiers who started off with the rest of the company but did not reach Marietta—Ovid Wellford "James" Smith and Samuel Llewellyn, who joined a Confederate unit as directed by Andrews when they were stopped and sharply questioned en route, and an unknown third soldier.
  • Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor, by Russell S. Bonds, (Westholme Publishing, October 15, 2006, ISBN 1-59416-033-3)
  • The Great Locomotive Chase – The Andrews Raid 1862 by Gordon L. Rottman; Osprey Raid Series #5 (Osprey Publishing, November 2009, ISBN 978-1-84603-400-8)

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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