KENNESAW, Ga. — Dozens of trains roar through town every day. They speed past the historic 1908 train depot in the heart of town
A few feet away from the tracks, idly sits a 155-year-old steam locomotive that pulled into town a rainy Saturday morning nearly 150 years ago.
It was the one-year anniversary of the start of the Civil War, and the morning passenger train stopped for a 20 minute breakfast. What nobody knew was that 20 men led by James J. Andrews planned to steal the locomotive and then destroy the Western & Atlantic Railroad, a vital link between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn.
The Andrews Raid, also known as The Great Locomotive Chase, ultimately failed.
Andrews devised not only a daring plan, but also a complicated one, involving his deceit and destruction coupled with the coordinated movement of Gen. Ormsby Mitchel and his troops. Unfortunately for Andrews, bad weather doomed the raid. But, had the weather been clear and the raid taken place on April 11, 1862, when the railroad was less congested, the Civil War would have no doubt played out differently.
Regardless, the raid raised a general awareness among Southerners about the importance of railroads and also their vulnerability. Following the raid, the Confederacy guarded its lines closer and a year later stopped a second attempted raid against the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The railroad was ultimately captured by Union Gen. William T. Sherman during his “March to Atlanta” in 1864.
Since the end of the Civil War, the raid was memorialized in film and books, but the best way to learn about the events of April 12, 1862, is by following the tracks of the raiders themselves.
The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive history is planning to celebrate the Raid’s anniversary on April 12 with a series of events.