Great Locomotive Chase


Union raiders commandeer the General


Yankees set fire to a railroad bridge

"Boys, we're going into danger, but for results that can be tremendous," said Union spy turned saboteur James J. Andrews to the 24 volunteers he had recruited from three Ohio regiments to take part in a secret railroad-bridge-burning mission. Union General Ormsby M. Mitchel wanted to capture the Confederate city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and he and Andrews had concocted a plan to isolate that important munitions center from Rebel reinforcements by cutting its rail connections and then sending in the Union army.

Andrews and his men, in civilian clothes, were to make their way in groups of three or four to Chattanooga, where they would board a train going south toward Atlanta. They would get off about 25 miles north of Atlanta at Marietta, where they would commandeer a northbound train and race back toward Union lines, burning bridges and cutting telegraph lines along the way. Meanwhile, Mitchel's army would move to cut the tracks west of Chattanooga and be poised to take the city when the raiders returned.

Two of the undercover Union raiders were drafted into the Confederate army before they reached Marietta and two others overslept, but at first light on the morning of April 12, 1862, Andrews and the remaining 20 raiders boarded the morning train from Atlanta and started back north.

The train was pulled by the locomotive General and was composed of a tender followed by three empty boxcars and a string of passenger cars. At 6:46 A.M. the train pulled into the station at Big Shanty, Georgia for a 20 minute breakfast stop. While the train crew and the passengers all got out and filed into Lacy's Hotel to eat, Andrews' men quickly undid the coupling in front of the passenger cars, and three of the raiders with railroading experience climbed aboard the General. One of the diners in the hotel looked out the window and shouted to the train's conductor, "Someone is moving your engine!"

Conductor William A. Fuller was surprised to see his train-minus the passenger cars-suddenly lurch forward and race off down the tracks. Realizing it was being stolen, Fuller chased after the train on foot.

Andrews stopped the train frequently to take on wood and water; the raiders took up a rail to delay pursuers and also cut telegraph wires so that word of the stolen train would not procede them up the tracks.

After traveling 30 miles, the raiders came to Kingston, where they sat for an hour waiting for southbound trains to pass, thereby clearing the track ahead. Four minutes after Andrews pulled out of Kingston going north, Fuller arrived from the south in a locomotive he had commandeered for the chase. Finding his way blocked by three southbound trains, Fuller abandoned his engine and boarded another, continuing the pursuit, this time with 40 armed men on board.

Four miles from Kingston, Fuller again abandoned his train because the raiders had torn up another rail, and again he continued the chase on foot. Meeting a southbound train, he turned it back after the raiders. Andrews' men stopped again to tear up a rail, but before they finished Fuller's train came into view and raced toward them with its whistle screaming. The raiders jumped aboard their train and tore off up the tracks with Fuller pursuing.

The track ahead was clear to Chattanooga, but the raiders hoped to burn more bridges. A flaming boxcar was left on one covered bridge, but Fuller's train arrived in time to push the car onto a side track. The Confederates were following so closely now that the raiders could not stop for fuel, and they were forced to abandon their train 18 miles south of Chattanooga and scatter into the woods. The eight-hour chase had covered 87 miles.

The confederates captured all of the raiders and hanged Andrews and seven others. Eight escaped and the rest were exchanged in March 1863.