The Great Locomotive Chase 144th Anniversary
Essay by Calvin E. Johnson, Jr.
This year, 2006, is the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney Picture's
classic "The Great Locomotive Chase" starring Fess Parker
and Jeffrey Hunter. This wonderful movie was made during the golden
age of Hollywood, when family films were still made.
When it comes to the old locomotives many of us are children at
heart. Do you love good stories about the bygone era of passenger
trains that once were the fastest way to travel?
America's most famous locomotive "The General" is now
home at the Kennesaw, Georgia Civil War Museum. Kennesaw, Georgia
is just 45 miles north from Atlanta. Located across the railroad
tracks from the business district of Kennesaw, that is Old Highway
41, is the museum. There is a train story here if you have the
time to listen.
Please share this story with family and friends.
April 12, is the 144th 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 4:15AM on April 12, 1862, Cain
pushed the General's throttle and drove the train out of Atlanta
for Chattanooga as a cool spring rain fell on the city.
In the spring of 1862, the peaceful town of Big Shanty (now Kennesaw)
Georgia was paid a not-so-peaceful visit by Union spies that were
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 night before at the Fletcher House
(now Kennesaw House.) Twenty boarded the train and two were left
The next stop was the Lacy Hotel in Big Shanty "Kennesaw"
for a twenty minute breakfast break where the General was stolen
in full view of "Camp McDonald" that was a drill camp
and home to many Confederate officers and enlisted men. There
was no telegraph there which was one reason Andrews chose this
James Andrews, A Kentuckian, had made a name for himself by smuggling
the much needed quinine through Union lines for the benefit of
Confederate soldiers and civilians. There were with him three
experienced engineer's, 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
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 for Andrews
before moving into Chattanooga, Tennessee.
"Someone....has stolen my train," William Fuller, Conductor
of the General said in amazement as the train was stolen and 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
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 locomotive "The Yonah."
The second train used was the "William R. Smith."
The last locomotive used in the chase by Fuller was the famous
"Texas" that was heading south. The Texas is now housed
in Atlanta, Georgia at the 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 South Bound
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 still was in motion, and take a message that
he would send to General Ledbetter from Dalton.
Andrews and his men failed to destroy the bridges over Georgia's
Chickamauga Creek, Etowah River and Tunnell Hill. They also failed
to slow down their pursuers by setting 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
It took about two weeks for the Confederates to capture the Union
spies. Some of them made is as far as Bridgeport, Alabama. All
20 of Andrews Raiders were captured. James Andrews and 6 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 was part a part of the military service.
The South's son William Fuller, who is buried at Atlanta's Oakland
Cemetery, was recognized by the Confederate government, Georgia's
Governor Joseph Brown and the Georgia State Legislature for his
act of heroism.
Lest We Forget Our Heritage!