Marietta: The Roots of the Raid
MARIETTA, Ga. – The sound of a diesel freight train resonates as it passes the historic Kennesaw House.
The busy main line, today under the control of CSX, sees dozens of mixed freights daily. Without taking notice, the trains are passing by a historical point, with little more than a historical marker commemorating what once happened here.
It was at this very spot, more than 140 years ago, that 20 men boarded a northbound passenger train bound for Chattanooga, Tenn. The train, however, wouldn’t make it to Chattanooga. And the subsequent events would go down in history as one of the most exciting actions of the Civil War.
The men, led by James J. Andrews, intended to steal the locomotive, The General, and destroy the railroad. The Raiders were from the north, who had traveled to the heart of the Confederacy on a secret mission: destroy the artery that delivered freight throughout the region.
At about 5 a.m., the General, pulling three empty boxcars, a combination baggage-passenger car and a passenger coach coaxed their way into the Gem City of the South.
“Get seats near each other in the same car and of course say nothing of our business on the way up,” Andrews told his men as they boarded in Marietta. “When the train makes the Big Shanty breakfast stop, keep your places till I tell you to go. If anything unexpected happens, look to me for the lead.
“(William J.) Knight, (Wilson W.) Brown, and John A. Wilson will go with me on the engine,” he continued. “The rest will go on the left of the train forward of where we’ll uncouple it. Climb into the cars as quickly as you can when the order is given. If anyone interferes, shoot him, but don’t fire unless you have to.”
With that the “most colorful exploit” of the Civil War was under way.
Two of the Raiders – John Reed Porter and Martin Jones Hawkins – did not board the train in Marietta. The two did not pay a room waiter to wake them up that morning. As they awoke to see .
And two other men – James Smith and Samuel Llewellyn – didn’t make it past Jasper, Tenn. They are not generally associated with the Andrews Raid.
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Big Shanty: 20 Minutes for Breakfast, 10 Minutes Until Go Time
KENNESAW, Ga. – The morning passenger train wound its way through the rural Georgia countryside.
Shortly before 6 a.m., Jeff Cain, The General’s engineer, blew the whistle, signaling the train was approaching Big Shanty. With that, conductor William A. Fuller announced: “Big Shanty, 20 minutes for breakfast.”
The train pulled into the station. And passengers, along with the crew, exited the train and made their way into the Lacy Hotel for breakfast. The General and its cars sat idle, and soon, Andrews and his raiders made their way to the front of the train.
Knight, Brown, Wilson and Andrews climbed into the locomotive’s cab. The remaining 16 raiders climbed into one of the three boxcars that remained coupled to the engine.
Without warning, The General steamed off, marking the official start to The Great Locomotive Chase.
The April 15, 1862, edition of The Southern Confederacy read: “This unheard of act was doubtless undertaken at that place and time, upon the presumption that pursuit could not be made by an engine short of Kingston, some thirty miles above or from this place; and that by cutting the telegraph wires as they proceeded, the adventurers could calculate on at least three or four hours that start of any pursuit. This was a legitimate conclusion, and but for the will, energy and quick good judgment of Mr. Fuller and Mr. Cain, and Mr. Anthony Murphy, the intelligent an practical foreman of the wood department of the State Road shop, who accidentally went on the train from this place that morning, their calculations would have worked out as originally contemplated, and the results would have obtained long are this reaches the eyes of our readers – the most terrible to us of any that we can conceive as possible, and unequaled by anything attempted since this was commenced.
“… Let this be a warning to the railroad men and every body else in the confederate States, Let an engine never be left alone a moment. Let additional guards be placed at our bridges. This is a matter we specially urged in the Confederacy long ago. We hope it will now be heeded.”
Fuller, Cain and W. & A.R.R. Foreman Anthony Murphy began a foot pursuit, chasing their train as it sped off.
About a mile later, the Raiders stopped at Moon’s Station and acquired some tools from a track crew. It was here the train’s real crew obtained a push car and continued the pursuit.
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Kingston: A Deadly Delay
KINGSTON, Ga. – A critical turning point in the Andrews raid came with a 65-minute delay in a rail yard.
Although the town is no longer a thriving railroad community, during the Civil War Kingston was a major crossroads of the Western and Atlantic and the Rome railroads. Kingston’s depot no longer stands, but the remains of its foundations are still visible. Likewise, the remains of the rail yard’s right of way can still be seen.
Heavy southbound freight traffic on the Western & Atlantic Railroad caused excessive delays and derailed the raiders’ plans to destroy the railroad. The pursuing party arrived in Kingston about five minutes after the raiders departed. After Kingston, the raiders were racing to save their lives.
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Tunnel Hill: A Key Target of the Raid
The historical marker at Tunnel Hill reads (spelling errors have been corrected):
“The 1447 foot long Chetoogeta Mountain railroad tunnel is one-half mile east of this marker. The tunnel was completed in 1850 and this opened the W&A RR from Atlanta to Chattanooga. This was the first railroad tunnel completed south of the Mason-Dixon line and linked railroads from the Atlantic to the Mississippi Rover. The railroad was operating during the late 1840’s and goods and passengers were portaged over Chetoogeta Mountain while the tunnel was under construction. A community grew up near the construction activity and Clisby Austin built a three story hotel in 1848. Tunnel Hill was incorporated on March 4, 1848. The W&A was approved by the Georgia Legislature in 1836 and surveyed by Stephen Harriman Long. Construction of the 137 mile line took 13 years and cost more than four million dollars. William L. Mitchell was Chief Engineer and William Gray was Chief Mason. Gray was given the honor of being the first to pass through the tunnel when the two headings were driven through on October 31, 1849. The tunnel was in use until larger locomotives and loads necessitated a larger tunnel in 1928.
“The tunnel played a role in one of the most colorful exploits of the Civil War, The Great Locomotive Chase, James J. Andrews and his band of Union ‘engine thieves’ raced the stolen General through the tunnel closely pursued by the Texas, under Wm. Fuller, and Confederate forces.”
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Ringgold: Long Way Home
About two miles north of Ringgold, the General would run no more. It was at this point the raiders abandoned the locomotive and fled for home.