UPCOMING PROGRAMS 2017 - 2018
|Nov 2||Barb Mallory
Paul Van Nest
|A Great Great Uncle Edgar Wylie Potter and his brother Stanley Noble Potter in the American Civil War|
|Dec 7||John Moyer||1861-65 "A Horse's Tale"|
|Jan 11||Paul Van Nest||Brandy Station: Largest Cavalry Battle in North America|
|Feb 1||Tarun Roy||A Visit to City Point|
|Mar 1||Murray Hogben||Col. Starkweather Holds On at Perryville|
|Apr 5||Bruce Cossar||Kingstonians and the Civil War|
|May 3||Gord Sly||Guerrilla War in the Civil War|
|Jun 7||Dr. Cheryl Wells||The Civil War from a Global Perspective|
"The Great Rail Heist"
presented by Jack Fox, ex-CWRT-GK
Veteran member and Past President John Fox was our speaker when the Civil War Round Table of Greater Kingston gathered on the evening of October 5, 2017. John's topic was The Great Locomotive Chase, an event that took place in northern Georgia in April of 1862. It is a tale of adventure and derring-do that has caught the popular imagination in the century or so since it occurred despite the sad fate of the many of the participants, including the Virginia-born civilian and spy, James J. Andrews, who masterminded the plan to take a select group of Ohio troops deep into Confederate territory to steal a locomotive from under the noses of the Rebels and use it to escape northwards leaving destruction and mayhem in their wake. John reported some difficulty in researching his topic and found some of his resources to be inconsistent with one another, but this did not detract from the drama of the story he told.
Looking at the big picture, we will recall that in early April of 1862 Generals Grant and Sherman had just won a skin-of-their teeth victory over General Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard at the two-day Battle of Shiloh. Meanwhile in eastern Tennessee, Union forces under General Ormsby Mitchel hoped to advance southeast in the direction of Huntsville, Alabama and Chattanooga, Tennessee. This was where James J. Andrews hoped to play a major role. Andrews was a civilian scout and a spy for the Northern cause who had gained a measure of familiarity and trust with the Confederates by smuggling supplies of quinine and other contraband goods to them through the Union lines. Taking a glance at a map, Andrews could see that the Rebels in Chattanooga were heavily reliant on the Western and Atlantic Railroad that linked them with their base of supplies at Atlanta to the southeast. If the W&A Railroad could be put out of commission long enough to prevent the Confederates from sending troops and supplies to Chattanooga, the task of General Mitchel's troops would be rendered that much easier and Chattanooga's capture would free eastern Tennessee for the Union and place Federal troops right on the doorstep of northern Georgia. The theft of a steam locomotive would also be a significant blow to the Southern transportation system seeing as the Confederacy lacked the manufacturing facilities to build and maintain these massive prime movers. But how to go about stealing a train and wrecking the W&A Railroad was a problem.
The plan that Andrews the civilian proposed to Mitchel the military man was simple and daring. He would recruit a party of Union army volunteers and several engineers. They would infiltrate the Confederate lines wearing civilian clothes and make their way southwards travelling in small parties so as to avoid attracting attention. Andrews Raiders, as they came to be known, would rendezvous at the town of Marietta, Georgia. There they would wait for the early morning train steaming north from Atlanta bound for Chattanooga. Boarding the train at Marietta, Andrews and his men would mingle with the passengers while the engine and its cars continued up the track to its next scheduled stop at Big Shanty. At Big Shanty the Raiders planned to make their move. They would seize the train and head it north to Chattanooga, burning bridges, blocking tunnels, tearing up track, and causing as much damage as they could along the way.
John gave us thumbnail sketch biographies of Andrews and the twenty-two men who comprised his raiding party. These ranged from the 33-year-old Andrews to his fellow civilian, William H. Campbell, to the assorted privates and N.C.O.s of the 2nd, 21st, and 33rd Ohio Infantry regiments who agreed to join Andrews on his adventure. More than a few of them would be hanged as spies once the Great Locomotive Chase was over.
Andrews' plan originally called for him and his men to be in Marietta by midnight of April 10th and carry out their plan the next day, but heavy spring rains meant that their schedule had to be put back by a day. It was thus on the early morning of April 12th, one year to the day since Fort Sumter had been fired upon, that the Raiders boarded the train at Marietta and headed north. The next stop would be at Big Shanty. They knew that the train halted there to allow passengers to grab something to eat while the steam engine took on more wood and water. This would be the time and place to steal the train as Big Shanty had no telegraph connection to send out a warning up the line.
Speaking of the train, this was an era when steam locomotives were deemed to be sufficiently important pieces of technology to be honoured with their own names. In this case, the engine Andrews' men boarded that early spring morning was the General, built in Paterson, New Jersey in 1855. Over the years, the General has come to be seen as playing almost as big a role in the drama to come as any of the human cast of characters.
As John described, there was a surprise waiting for Andrews and his men at Big Shanty in the form of a Confederate military encampment called Camp McDonald and the 300 troops who called it home. If the sight of twenty or so young military-age men in civilian clothing hanging around the General and looking furtively about while the rest of the passengers went for breakfast caught the attention of any of these Southern boys, Andrews' enterprise would be over before it began.
But the luck of the Union men held. While the General's crew took their breakfast break at the Lacey Hotel, Andrews' men unhitched all but two of the passenger cars and climbed aboard. A crew took over the cab of the engine and opened up the throttle, sending the train heading up the tracks towards Chattanooga.
It was here that the role of individual Southerners came into play and John again gave brief biographies of William Fuller, the conductor of the General; Jefferson Cain, its engineer; and Anthony Murphy, a foreman on the W&A Railroad.
John described how Fuller, Cain, and Murphy watched in amazement as their train was stolen and chuffed out of Big Shanty under the control of its crew of Yankee hijackers. Fuller and his comrades immediately gave chase, even though for the moment the speed of their pursuit was limited to how fast their legs could carry them. Meanwhile, someone grabbed a horse and rode back to Marietta to spread the word while some of the troops at Camp McDonald mounted up and prepared to move out.
The General continued its way north on the W&A Railroad with Andrews stopping the train occasionally to cut telegraph lines and carry out other acts of sabotage. Mechanical breakdowns caused other delays, almost as if the General resented being kidnapped by a gang of Yankee raiders and was endeavoring to slow their escape.
John went into some detail describing how the indefatigable William Fuller doggedly pursued Andrews and his men by every means possible. After running along the tracks leading out of Big Shanty for a time, Fuller and his fellow pursuers were able to acquire a hand-car at Moon's Station. But they soon had to take to their feet again when they suddenly came upon a section of torn up track, courtesy of Andrews's Raiders, just outside of Allatoona, which sent Fuller's men and their hand-car catapulting into a ditch.
Meanwhile, the General chugged north and crossed the railway bridge over the Etowah River where Andrews was unpleasantly surprised to find a small switch engine, the Yonah, and a party of railway workers. It had been Andrews' original plan to destroy the bridge over the Etowah behind him, but he didn't want to risk a skirmish with the work party to put the switch engine or the bridge out of commission. Instead, Andrews pressed on in the General. Thus, the Yonah was ready and waiting when Fuller and his men came running up. Taking over the Yonah, Fuller continued the chase.
As the General travelled further north Andrews and his men began to encounter heavier rail traffic. This was the result of General Mitchel's capture of Huntsville and advance on Chattanooga which caused the Confederates to send more trains back and forth along the W&A Railroad carrying reinforcements and supplies. The General was thus ordered to pull off on to sidings periodically to allow other trains to go through along the main line. At Kingston, about halfway between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Andrews was held up for about an hour while southbound trains ran through the station. Down the tracks, Fuller was steadily gaining on him in the Yonah. The General was finally cleared to leave Kingston just as Fuller arrived.
John told us how the enterprising Fuller commandeered a mail train, the William R. Smith, and headed off after Andrews and his men. To thwart his pursuers, Andrews stopped the General a short distance north of Kingston and tore up a section of track before setting off towards Chattanooga again. Now wary of such tricks, Fuller was keeping a sharp lookout and saw the break in the line. He was able to bring the William R. Smith to a stop before the engine was derailed. Fuller and his men were on foot again but they had come too far to give up now.
By the time the General pulled into Adairsville, Andrews was facing increasing questions from Southern railway men as to what was happening farther south down the line as they were out of communication with Kingston and Atlanta thanks to the telegraph lines severed by the Raiders. John described some of the expedients Andrews used to try and bully or bluff his way through these questions and delays. For example, at one point Andrews took to claiming his train should take priority as his freight was a supply of ammunition specially ordered by General Beauregard. When Fuller came hotfooting into Adairsville, he saw an old friend of his, Peter Bracken, in the cab of the Texas, a locomotive southbound from Chattanooga. Fuller persuaded Bracken to aid him in his pursuit of Andrews and with no time or facilities to turn the Texas around, Bracken simply put the engine in reverse and went up the tracks after the General tender first.
And so the General with its throttle now fully open made its way towards Chattanooga with the Texas close behind and slowly closing the gap. Andrews made several brief stops to cut telegraph lines and try to burn bridges and other structures but the recent heavy rains rendered the task of igniting the sodden timbers impossible. With the smoke from the Texas approaching ever closer around each bend of the railroad, there simply wasn't time for the Raiders to carry out any sabotage or destruction on the scale they had hoped.
It was also impossible for crew of the General to stop to take on more wood and water. Just north of Ringgold, Andrews' luck ran out. Its fuel and water exhausted, the General came to a halt on the tracks. Andrews and his men took to the woods and tried to make their way to Northern lines. All were captured within two weeks, however, and eight of them, including Andrews, paid the price for being captured as spies behind enemy lines by being expeditiously tried and hanged.
As for the General, the steam locomotive returned to Atlanta in early May 1862 and survived the rest of the Civil War. As John's photos demonstrated, it may be seen today in The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, restored to its pristine glory. John ended his talk with a brief history of the Medal of Honor, of which some of Andrews' Raiders were the first recipients.
Editor: Tom Brzezicki
Don't forget your membership dues are due: $25 for Sep - Jun. Please and thank you.
EXECUTIVE - 2016-17
|Past President||Paul Van Nestemail@example.com||613-544-6802|
|Sec - Archivist||Paul Van Nestfirstname.lastname@example.org||613-544-6802|
|Webmaster||Paul Van Nestemail@example.com||613-544-6802|