The General and the Great Locomotive Chase
Kennesaw, Georgia houses one of the most famous locomotives in American history, yet most people don’t have a clue what that is. One hundred and fifty years ago, on April 12, 1862, what came to be known as “The Great Locomotive Chase” took place between Kennesaw (which was then known as “Big Shanty”) and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The General was momentarily left unguarded when Confederate soldiers and passengers stopped to eat breakfast at the Lacey Hotel. Union Civil War spies led by James J. Andrews boarded the locomotive and attempted to drive it up to Chattanooga, destroying as much of the railroad line and passing telegraph lines as possible en route.
Seeing the train depart, the locomotive’s conductor, William A. Fuller, and two other men chased after it. The threesome borrowed a platform car and continued their pursuit, but had to abandon it when they came across destroyed railroad ties that the raiders had torn up. They continued the chase on foot, managing to catch up, because the raiders kept stopping to wreak havoc. Finally, the threesome climbed aboard another locomotive, the Texas, chased after the raiders with their train in reverse, and stopped the spies before they reached Chattanooga.
The Union spies who were caught, including Andrews, were hanged. Later on, they received the very first Congressional Medals of Honor for their daring raid, most posthumously.
(Photo courtesy of the Southern Museum in Kennesaw, GA)