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For the 1956 Walt Disney film, see The Great Locomotive Chase.

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 commandeered a train and took it northwards toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, doing as much damage as possible to the vital Western & Atlantic Railroad (W&A) from Atlanta, Georgia to Chattanooga as they went, pursued by other locomotives. Because they had cut the telegraph wires, Confederate forces along their route had no notice of their arrival. The raiders were eventually captured and some were executed as spies. Some of Andrews' Raiders became the first recipients of the Medal of Honor.


File:Andrews Raiders.jpg

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 commanded the Federal troops in middle Tennessee. He planned to move south with his army and seize Huntsville, Alabama, before turning east in hopes of capturing Chattanooga, Tennessee.

General Mitchel recognized the strategic value of seizing the rail and water transportation center of Chattanooga. At the time, the standard means of preventing Chattanooga’s reinforcement in preparation for its capture would have been its encirclement. But Chattanooga’s natural water and mountain barriers to the east and south of the city made this (in 1862) nearly impossible, with the forces that General Mitchel had under his command.

If, however, some means could be found to disable or prevent the railroad reinforcement of Chattanooga from Atlanta, then Chattanooga could be taken by the forces General Mitchel had in hand. Furthermore, if Chattanooga were seized, the same tactical advantages would favor its defense from being retaken from the south. And in defense, the Union Army in Chattanooga had a rail reinforcement supply line leading back to the stronghold of Nashville held by the Union Army.

James J. Andrews, a civilian scout and part-time spy, proposed a daring raid aimed at destroying the Western and Atlantic Railroad link to Chattanooga, isolating the city from Atlanta. He recruited a civilian named William Hunter Campbell as well as 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 clothing to avoid arousing suspicion. All but two men (Samuel Llewellyn and James Smith) were able to reach the designated rendezvous point at the appointed time. Llewellyn and Smith joined a Confederate artillery unit, as they had been instructed to do if their plan went wrong.

The Chase[]

Because railway dining cars had not yet been invented, railroad timetables included water, rest, and meal stops. In addition, as the locomotives of the time needed frequent supplies of fuel and water for their steam boilers, combining stops for passenger and crew meals with the necessary stops for water and fuel became a useful coincidence of daily passenger railway travel.

File:DoV1-018 - Mitchel Raid.jpg

The raiders set a train car on fire in an attempt to set a covered railway bridge ablaze and thwart pursuit, from Deeds of valor

On the morning of April 12 a passenger train with the locomotive General was stopped at Big Shanty, Georgia (now Kennesaw) so that the crew and passengers could have breakfast. Andrews and his raiders took this meal stop as the opportunity to hijack the General and a few rail cars. His goal was to drive the train north towards Chattanooga and meet up with Mitchel's advancing army. Andrews planned to inflict as much damage as possible to the railroad en route by tearing up track, sabotaging switches, burning covered bridges, and sending false telegraph messages. James J. Andrews' men commandeered the General and steamed out of Big Shanty, leaving behind startled and shocked passengers, crew members, and onlookers, which included a number of Confederate soldiers from a trackside camp.

The train's conductor, William Allen Fuller, with two other men, chased the General by foot, then by handcar. Fuller spotted the locomotive Yonah at Etowah and with it chased the raiders north, all the way to Kingston. Fuller got on the locomotive William R. Smith at Kingston and headed north to Adairsville. Two miles south of Adairsville the tracks had been broken by the raiders so Fuller again had to continue his pursuit on foot. Fuller took command of the southbound locomotive Texas at Adairsville.

The Texas train crew had been bluffed by Andrews into taking the station siding, thereby allowing the Andrews' train to continue northward along the single-track mainline. As the 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 and was being used by a sabotage party. Even with these handicaps, Conductor Fuller in command of the Texas continued the chase, picking up 11 Confederate troops at Calhoun.

File:General (Locomotive) Monument, Ringgold (Catoosa County, Georgia).JPG

The General Monument near Ringgold, Georgia

With The Texas chasing the General in reverse, the two trains steamed through Dalton, Georgia, and Tunnel Hill, Georgia. The raiders continued to sever the telegraph wires at various points to prevent transmissions from going through to Chattanooga. Their objectives of burning bridges and dynamiting Tunnel Hill were not accomplished. The wood they hoped to burn was soaked by rain, although they had set one of the wooden box cars on fire and left it on the bridge in the hope that the blaze would spread to the structure. Finally, at milepost 116.3, north of Ringgold, Georgia, just a few miles from Chattanooga, with the locomotive out of fuel, Andrews' men abandoned the General and scattered.

Andrews and all of his men were caught by the Confederates, including the two that had missed the hijacking that morning by oversleeping. Andrews was tried in Chattanooga and 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). Eight other raiders made a successful and remarkable escape from confinement. Traveling for hundreds of miles in predetermined 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 eventually rescued by the Union blockade vessel USS Somerset. The remaining six were exchanged as prisoners of war on March 17, 1863.

The aftermath[]

As all the raiders were deemed to be engaged in acts of unlawful belligerency, and the civilians also to be unlawful combatants and spies, those captured were to be put on trial. Only the seven soldiers and one civilian who were convicted were executed in addition to Andrews. Corporal William Pittenger, who wrote the most extensive accounts of the exploit, said that the remaining raiders were concerned with meeting a like fate with their comrades and, following correspondence with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, attempted their escape. Those who failed in the attempt were later exchanged, nearly a year after the raid itself. No documentation exists to show that the Confederacy intended to treat the remaining raiders any differently until after the escape of eight of the prisoners.

The very first Medals of Honor were given to some of these men by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. The very first was awarded to Private Jacob Wilson Parrott because of the particularly severe treatment he had endured as a prisoner. Later all but two of the other soldiers also received them (posthumously for those who had been executed). The two who have not received the Medal of Honor were executed but the story of their heroics was apparently lost in a paper shuffle at the War Department, and it took some lobbying for them to be appropriately honored. As civilians, Andrews and Campbell were not eligible.

The pursuit of Andrews' Raiders formed the basis of the Buster Keaton silent film comedy The General and a dramatic 1956 Walt Disney film, The Great Locomotive Chase, starring Fess Parker as Andrews.


19 soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for involvement in the raid. They are listed by date of receiving the MOH;

Received Medal on March 25, 1863

  • Pvt.(later 1Lt.) Jacob Parrott, 33rd Ohio Infantry (1843-1908)
  • Pvt.(later Cpt.) William Bensinger, 21st Ohio Infantry (1840-1918)
  • Pvt.(later 2Lt.) Robert Buffum, 21st Ohio Infantry (1828-1871)
  • Sgt.(later Cpt.) Elihu H. Mason, 21st Ohio Infantry (1831-1896)
  • Cpl.(later Sgt.) William Pittenger, 2nd Ohio Infantry (1840-1904)
  • Cpl.(later 2Lt.) William H. Reddick, 33rd Ohio Infantry (1840-1903)

Received Medal on September 17, 1863

  • Cpl.(later 2Lt.) Daniel A. Dorsey, 33rd Ohio Infantry (1838-1918)
  • Pvt.(later 2Lt.) Mark Wood, 21st Ohio Infantry (1839-1866)
  • Pvt.(later 2lt.) Wilson W. Brown, 21st Ohio Infantry (1837-1916)
  • Pvt. William James Knight, 21st Ohio Infantry (1837-1916)
  • Pvt. John Alfred Wilson, 21st Ohio Infantry (1832-1904)
  • Sgt. Maj. Marion A. Ross, 2nd Ohio Infantry (1832-1862) (posthumous; was hanged as a spy by the Confederates)
  • Pvt. Samuel Robertson, 33rd Ohio Infantry (1843-1862) (posthumous; was hanged as a spy by the Confederates)
  • Pvt.(later 1Lt.) John R. Porter, 21st Ohio Infantry (1838-1923) (overslept the day of the raid, did not participate)
  • Cpl.(later Sgt.) Martin J. Hawkins, 33rd Ohio Infantry (1830-1886) (overslept the day of the raid, did not participate)

Received Medal on July 6, 1864

  • Pvt.(later Cpl.) James Smith (birth name Ovid Wellford Smith), 2nd Ohio Infantry (1844-1868) (enlisted in a Confederate unit before reaching Marietta, did not participate, but was held prisoner in Swims Jail during the Raid)[1]

Received Medal on July 20, 1864

  • Pvt. John Wollam, 33rd Ohio Infantry (1840-1890)

Received Medal on August 4, 1866

  • Sgt. John Morehead Scott, 21st Ohio Infantry (1839-1862) (posthumous; was hanged as a spy by the Confederates)

Received Medal on July 28, 1883

  • Pvt. Samuel Slavens, 33rd Ohio Infantry (1831-1862) (posthumous; was hanged as a spy by the Confederates)

Three other soldiers who volunteered were not awarded the Medal of Honor;

  • Cpl.(later Sgt.) Samuel Llewellyn, 33rd Ohio Infantry (1841-1915) (enlisted in a Confederate unit before reaching Marietta, did not participate)
  • Pvt. George Davenport Wilson, 2nd Ohio Infantry (1830-1862) (was hanged as a spy by the Confederates)
  • Pvt. Charles Perry Shadrack, 2nd Ohio Infantry (real name Phillip Gephart Shadrach) (1840-1862) (was hanged as a spy by the Confederates; ineligible for Medal of Honor due to serving under an assumed name)

W&A in modern times[]

The W&A has not changed much since the chase of 1862, although the railroad company itself has changed hands. The railroad eventually became part of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway which later became part of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, ultimately becoming part of CSX. A marker indicating where the chase began is near the Big Shanty Museum in Kennesaw. A marker where the chase ended is at Milepost 116.3, north of Ringgold — which is not far from the recently restored depot at Milepost 114.5.

A 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.

See also[]

  • 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 978-1581820348) a first-hand account of one of the Raiders, with an introduction by one of the foremost experts on the subject of the Raiders.
  • 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.
  • The General - Buster Keaton's 1927 film based on the event.
  • The Great Locomotive Chase - Fess Parker and Jeffrey Hunter's Disney film based on the event and the book "The Great Locomotive Chase" written by William Pittenger in 1899.
  • 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 most recent account of the entire episode.
  • The Great Locomotive Chase – The Andrews Raid 1862 by Gordon L. Rottman; Osprey Raid Series #5 (Osprey Publishing), November 2009. ISBN: 9781846034008

External links[]


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