America’s most famous locomotive "The General" is home at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia
America’s Great Locomotive Chase Story
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011, marks the 149th 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 on the morning of April 12, 1862, Cain pushed the throttle of The General and drove the engine out of Atlanta,Georgia for Chattanooga, Tennessee as a cool spring rain fell on the city.
During the spring of 1862, the peaceful town of Big Shanty (now Kennesaw) was paid not so peaceful a visit by Union spies led by James Andrews, who brought with him plans to disrupt Confederate supply lines. Andrews and his men boarded the train at Marietta, Georgia. They had spent the previous night at the Fletcher House now (Kennesaw House). Twenty boarded the train while two were left behind.
The next stop was the Lacy Hotel in Big Shanty for a twenty-minute breakfast break. That’s where The General was stolen in full view of “Camp McDonald” a drill camp and home to many Confederate officers and enlisted men. There was no telegraph there, which was one reason Andrews chose the site.
Andrews, A Kentuckian, had made a name for himself by smuggling much needed quinine through Union lines for the benefit of Confederate soldiers and civilians. There were with him three experienced engineers, William Knight, Wilson Brown and John Wilson. When asked where they were from, they replied by saying, “I am from Fleming County, Kentucky.” They also said that they were on their way 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 on Andrews before moving into Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“Someone…..has stolen my train, ” William Fuller, conductor on the General said in amazement as the train was pulling away from the Big Shanty train depot. Men of the Western and Atlantic railroad almost 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 along the railroad tracks to Moon Station and procured a platform handcar; then went on until they found “The Yonah.” The next train used was the “William R. Smith.”
The last locomotive used in the chase by William Fuller was the famous “Texas” that was heading South. The Texas is now housed in Atlanta, Georgia’s Cyclorama at Grant Park. With no time to spare, the Texas was run in reverse through the entire chase.
James Andrews and his Raiders were slowed down by southbound 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, as it was in motion, and gave him a message for General Ledbetter that Henderson sent from Dalton.
Andrews and his men failed to destroy the bridges over Georgia’s Chickamauga Creek, Etowah River and Tunnel Hill. They also failed to slow down the pursuers by setting up 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. Eventfully, 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 not a part of the military service.
William Fuller was recognized by the Confederate Government, Georgia Governor Joseph Brown and the Georgia General Assembly for his act of heroism.