The General
The General locomotive as seen on Jan. 28, 2017. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

KENNESAW, Ga. — April 12, 1862. It was the one-year anniversary of the start of the Civil War, and the morning passenger train — pulled by the locomotive General — arrived in town.

“This capture was a wonderful triumph.”
Deep in the heart of the Confederacy, Union spies under the command of James Andrews rode into town on the morning passenger train. When the train stopped in Big Shanty, Ga., for breakfast, the raiders made their way to the front of the train and detached the locomotive from the rest of the train.

“For one moment of most intense suspense all was still — then a pull — a jar — a clang — and we were flying away on our perilous journey,” Raider William Pittenger later wrote in one of several accounts he published chronicling The Great Locomotive Chase.

“This capture was a wonderful triumph,” Pittenger wrote. “To seize a train of cars in an enemy’s camp, surrounded by thousands of soldiers, and carry it off without a shot fired or an angry gesture, was a marvelous achievement. There are times when whole years of intense enjoyment seem condensed into a single moment. It was so with us then.”

William A. Fuller, the conductor on the northbound passenger train that morning, led a pursuing party, first on foot, then on a “pole” car and finally by commandeering a number of locomotives. His dogged pursuit of the “engine thieves,” as the Southern press called the Raiders, helped save the railroad from total destruction.

Anthony Murphy, a native of Ireland who was the Western & Atlantic’s repair shop foreman in 1862, joined William Fuller in pursuing the General during the 1862 Great Locomotive Chase, which ended just north of Ringgold, Ga.

Today, the raid is a mere bookmark in the history of the Civil War and the General sits idle – an exhibit in the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History – yards away from where she was stolen 14 decades ago. The museum, a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate, chronicles the chase through film, reproductions and exhibits, including the famous locomotive.