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The Great Locomotive Chase – Could it ever have succeeded?

Report on the ACWRTUK February 2006 Tony Daly Lecture by Greg Bayne

 

The surprising thing about the recent lectures is that I found that my preconceived ideas have been consistently challenged and I have come away much the wiser. With the theft of the General I thought that we would be served some standard action fare. How wrong could I be? The story is one of deception, bad planning, bad luck, bad weather, and persistence of the highest order...

 

 

 


The story starts with James Andrews. Described as strong and silent, he was soft spoken, even effeminate, and stood six foot tall. Moving to Flemingsburg, Kentucky, in 1859 he taught singing schools and was a house painter, hotel clerk and lawman before the Civil War. He was engaged to be married to Miss Elizabeth Layton of Flemingsburg. At the outbreak of war he found himself sponsored by Federal officers engaging in espionage in the guise of a merchant of contraband materials for the South. He was a spy for General Don Carlos Buell in the Fort Donelson Campaign. He appeared to have that innate ability to ingratiate himself with the hierarchy of both sides. He supplied information and goods to all and needed to be liked by everybody.

 

There were in fact two locomotive raids.

 

In March 1862 Andrews set out for Atlanta with 8 men from the 2nd Ohio (Sill's Brigade, Army of the Ohio), with the intentions of burning bridges in North Georgia and in Bridgeport Alabama. There he failed to find an engineer who had agreed to help steal a locomotive and the plan was given up. Andrews overlooked the need to recruit an engineer from the volunteers. During his trip Andrews manages to share dinner with General A S Johnston and also attend a rally whose guest of honour was Robert Toombs.

 

When he returned to Tennessee he found that General’ Buell had left for Shiloh Tennessee. In his place was General Ormsby Mitchel with ten thousand Ohio troops were at Shelbyville Tennessee. This army was to protect Nashville from Confederate attack. Mitchel had an independent command with a number of options:

 

1) To cut the Memphis-Chattanooga Railroad

2) To capture bridges over the Tennessee River at Decatur and/or Bridgeport

3) Capture Chattanooga

4) Move on Knoxville

5) Drive towards the Cumberland Gap

 

Andrews convinced General Mitchel that with more men and his own engineers he could destroy the bridges on the W. & A.R.R. putting the road out of commission, thus isolating Chattanooga from Atlanta and the South. Chattanooga had only 3000 Confederate troops only 1500 were armed. The nearest reinforcements were in Atlanta. If the raid was successive the war could be shortened by two years. It seemed like a workable plan. No doubt Mitchel was anxious for his own piece of glory and saw Andrews as a heaven-sent opportunity. He sanctioned the raid for immediate implementation. Mitchel also had the opportunity to use Andrew's as an expendable diversion should things go wrong. And go wrong they would, as unknown to the planners the bloody battle of Shiloh was raging. One hundred thousand men had fought two days leaving twenty four thousand wounded and three thousand four hundred and seventy-seven men dead. The implications for the W. & A.R.R would be very serious.

 

On April 7, 1862, volunteers were selected from the ranks of the Ohio army. Sill's Brigade was again chosen. The 21st paraded and in front of the regiment the mission was outlined and volunteers asked for. From the 2nd Ohio, 1 man per company was selected. The original eight were asked but refused. A civilian named William Campbell also volunteered. They were warned of the hazardous nature of the raid and if caught dressed as civilians, they would be considered spies not soldiers and would probably hang. They went into Shelbyville to purchase civilian clothing. Rumour spread through the camp and the volunteers carried on with normal duties until needed. On that dark night one mile east of Shelbyville they met their leader James J. Andrews for the first time. He gave them his final instructions. They were to work there way to Marietta Georgia, by midnight of April 10th. Early morning April 11th they would seize a train and begin their destructive ride north, burning bridges, tearing up telegraph lines and railroad tracks. Their raid and Mitchel's assault on Huntsville were to be simultaneous. When Andrews and his party would show up in Huntsville with a captured locomotive and word that the W. & A. R.R. was in ruins, Mitchel would then safely move on Chattanooga with ease. If captured, they all had the same cover story; they were rebel sympathisers from Fleming County, Kentucky and moved south to enlist. Andrews knew there were no Confederate soldiers from Fleming County. This story would later become part of their downfall. As the meeting ended, a heavy rain began to fall. It would rain for the next ten days.

 

The group separated into twos and threes. They had three days to travel over 100 miles. The constant rain slowed their progress. Mud and swollen streams made travel difficult. The men frequently came in contact with each other. By Wednesday (April 9) Andrews had decided that the weather would delay Mitchel's attack and passed the word that they had an extra day to reach Marietta. This proved to be a crucial error in judgment and was to have a disastrous effect in the outcome of the raid. By midnight Friday, April 11, Andrews and 21 raiders had made their way to Marietta. Two had managed to get through on time arriving at Marietta on April 10. Two others had been stopped near Jasper Tennessee, and failing to convince their questioners of their need to join up with a Kentucky infantry regiment, they were impressed into a Confederate artillery unit.

 

At his point, Tony put out his views on why the raid was a complete fiasco and doomed to failure:

 

1) There were no officers in the group

2) They were not trained to carry out this type of commando raid

3) There were no designated leaders and both railway engineers were put in the same group

4) No one was designated a specialist task

5) There was no disaster strategy

6) The men were unrested

7) They were underfed

8) They were unfamiliar with the area

9) They had no escape and evasion briefings or equipment

 

At Marietta, in the Fletcher House hotel (Kennesaw House) Andrews learned that Mitchel had not been delayed but had indeed, taken Huntsville. With the raid's timing off, some raiders now wanted to back out. In a meeting in Andrews's room he tried to help them overcome their fears. "Boys,” he said, "I tried this once before and failed. Now I will succeed, or leave my bones in Dixie." At 4:00am, Saturday, April 12th the regular mixed passenger and freight train pulled by the locomotive the General steamed out of the car shed in Atlanta. At the throttle, engineer Jeff Cain, Fireman Andrew J. Anderson, and the Conductor who would figure so prominently in the chase William A. Fuller. Riding that morning was Anthony Murphy, foreman of motive power and machinery for the W. & A.R.R., who was on his way to Allatoona to check on a water pump.

 

The General is a 4-4-0 locomotive built in 1855 by Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor and was one of the finest on the W. & A.R.R. line. Three empty boxcars were behind the locomotive that morning, bound for Chattanooga to bring back supplies and they would fit right in with Andrews's story of an "emergency ammunition train" for General Beauregard and his troops at Corinth. This 12-hour Chattanooga passenger and freight train left at 4:00am and arrived in Chattanooga at around 4:00 pm. It took 12 hours to travel the 138 miles from Atlanta to Chattanooga. The average speed of locomotives in 1860 was 7 to 45 miles per hour. It has been estimated that during the Great Locomotive Chase that speeds of 65 miles per hour were reached. Most locomotives of this era could only travel around 33 miles on a tank or tender of water. Water and wood stops were all up and down the W. & A.R.R. There were no dinner cars; the railroads had established designated eating and rest stops similar to stagecoach stops for the passengers and crews.

 

The raiders board the train at 7:00am. They were two short as Porter and Hawkins had overslept. Andrews knew that Big Shanty was the morning breakfast stop, for the crew, and that they would leave the train and take breakfast at the Lacy Hotel. He also knew that there was no telegraph key at Big Shanty, the closest being at Marietta. Across the tracks from the station stood the white tents, guards and 3000 recruits of the newly established Camp McDonald, a Confederate training camp. Whilst the crew and passengers stop to eat, Andrews, Knight, Wilson and Brown mount and seize the cab. They cut the telegraph line with a hacksaw found on the train. In their excitement, they stall the engine by not opening a damper, it is quickly fixed and they start off. The chase is on!

 

Andrews knew that three trains were due south on the single-track line. The normal procedure would be that they would meet at assigned places and pass unheeded. To avoid detection as he travelled north, Andrews would cut the telegraph at as many places as possible and damage the track as best he could. He also planned to wreck the Tunnel Hill passage and burn as many bridges as possible.

 

As the General starts to move off Fuller shouts out "Someone with no right has taken our train!" Fuller pursues the raiders on foot with engineer Cain and Murphy. As the set off, Murphy tells someone to send news to Marietta to warn everyone. Fuller assumed at the start that some deserters from Camp McDonald had hijacked the train and he would soon catch them up.

 

Two miles from Big Shanty the raiders pause at Moon's station. They ‘borrow’ a crowbar from a maintenance crew and carry on. Out of sight, they stop, break the wire, lift a rail and continue. Fuller arrives, borrows a handcart and proceed to "pole it" down the gradient to the Etowah bridge were they find the Yonah. Fuller commanders the Yonah plus a few troops who were returning from leave. He now guesses the intentions of the raiders and pursues them northwards.

 

At Kingston, The General stops to allow a train to pass. It is raining heavily. As it goes by it has a red flag flying denoting another train is coming. It transpires that because of the Battle of Shiloh and withdrawal to Corinth plus Mitchel's advance, Chattanooga is being evacuated of military supplies. The second train goes by and displays another flag. The third train arrives and departs - 65 minutes have gone by. As he prepares to leave, the switchman becomes suspicious. Andrews tells him that they have commandeered the General to deliver supplies of powder to Beauregard at Corinth. Andrews is prepared to shoot it out but they eventually proceed. Out of sight they stop, cut wires and damage track.

 

In Kingston, Fuller and the Yonah arrive to a congested railway junction. Frustrated, Fuller, Cain and Murphy run across the junction and commandeer the ‘Wm R. Smith’. Four miles north of Kingston however, they had to abandon the Wm R. Smith when they encountered track that had been taken up by Andrews Raiders shortly after they had departed the city. Refusing to give up, and with the rain still pouring heavily, Murphy and Fuller ran on foot the 3 miles to Adairsville where they encountered a southbound train pulled by the Texas. Releasing the cars, the two continued their pursuit, the Texas running in reverse but gaining on the raiders.

 

Two miles north of Calhoun Andrews halted the trek of the General to allow for the southbound ‘Catoosa’ to pass. They just miss a collision with her and Andrews again spins his "supplies to Beauregard” story. The Catoosa crew reluctantly relents and give way. The General departs and the Catoosa remains in place waiting for the next train to arrive. The Texas soon arrives and the alarm is raised. Fuller grabs the telegraph operator, Edward Henderson, and scribbles a rough note telling him to warn stations further north. The General is doomed.

 

The raiders stop south of the Oostanaula Bridge to tear up the track. They are hampered by the lack of tools and the rain. As the dismounted raiders were going about their work they hear a train whistle and became aware for the first time that the pursuit was real. Quickly the men reboarded and Brown and Knight opened the General’s throttle to the maximum. Still running backwards the Texas gave pursuit, running at full steam in what would ever after become known as the GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE.

 

At the covered bridge over the Oostanaula River the raiders crowded onto the General and its coal tender and set fire to and released the remaining boxcar in an attempt to burn the wooden bridge. Still soggy from the rains that had earlier delayed the raiders initial journey into Georgia, the bridge refused to ignite and the chase continued. In desperation the raiders cut loose two of the three boxcars, but even these failed to halt the determined pursuit. The Texas ‘scoops’ up the sodden boxcars and later dumps in Resaca. Through the towns of Resaca and then Dalton the two engines raced. The raiders dropped timbers behind them but they failed to slow the Texas.

 

Both sides were ignorant of the forces they faced. Some of Andrews's men wanted to fight it out but Andrews says no, they approach Tunnel Hill, an ideal place for a last stand but Andrews keep the General moving north. At the first Chickamauga Bridge, the last boxcar is ignited and dumped. The Texas pushes it off the rail and carries on. At Ringgold, the General is fast running out of fuel and water and chugs through the station. North of the station, Andrews orders every man for himself and they run for the woods. The Great Locomotive Chase was over but the flight for life had just begun.

 

With no escape plan, no food, and little rest and in hostile country, the raiders are soon captured. In Atlanta James Andrews was tried and convicted as a spy. On June 7th he was hanged. Eleven days later on June 18th seven more raiders including the civilian William Campbell and his friend Private Shadrach and two of the three NCOs were also hanged as spies.

 

The remaining 14 young soldiers were placed in prison camps to await what they assumed would be a similar fate. Bold, courageous and with nothing to loose they engineered a daring escape four months later in which eight of them reached safety. The other six were recaptured held until exchanged in March 1863.

 

Tony finished by highlighting the main reasons for failure. The weather played its part, everything was sodden and nothing would burn. The wet sapped the strength and morale of the raiders. Events further north mean the railway carried more traffic than scheduled. Andrews was a civilian and did not lead the men. There was no flexibility in the plan (what plan?) and a distinct lack of local knowledge. Finally, the tenacity of Fuller cannot be stressed enough.

 

As an end piece the Raiders were the first recipients of the Medal of Honor, but that story will be saved for a later issue.

 

The Raiders and their fate were:

 

1. James J. Andrews, Kentucky, Leader of the Expedition. Hung

 

2. William. Knight, Co. E, 21st Ohio Volunteers. Escaped

 

3. Wilson H. Brown, Co. F, 21st Ohio. Escaped

 

4. Mark Wood, Co. C, 21st Ohio. Escaped

 

5. Alfred Wilson, Co. C, 21st Ohio. Escaped

 

6. John R. Porter, Co. G, 21st Ohio. Escaped

 

7. Robert Buffum, Co. H, 21st Ohio. Exchanged

 

8. William Bensinger, Co. G, 21st Ohio. Exchanged

 

9. John Scott, Co. F, 21st Ohio. Hung

 

10. Sergeant E. A. Mason Co. K, 21st Ohio. Exchanged

 

11. Daniel A. Dorsey, Co. H, 33rd Ohio. Escaped

 

12. Martin J. Hawkins, Co. A, 33rd Ohio. Escaped

 

13. John Whollan (Wollam), Co. C, 33rd Ohio. Escaped

 

14. Jacob Parrot, Co. K, 33rd Ohio. Corporal. Exchanged

 

15. William Reddick, Co. B, 33rd Ohio. Exchanged

 

16. Samuel Roberson Co. G, 33rd Ohio. Hung

 

17. Samuel Slavens, Co. D, 33rd Ohio. Hung

 

18. Corporal William Pittinger, Co. G, 2nd Ohio. Exchanged

 

19. George D. Wilson, Co. B, 2nd Ohio. Hung

 

20. Marion Ross, Co. A, 2nd Ohio, Sergeant Major of the Regiment. Hung

 

21. Perry D. Shadrack, Co. K, 2nd Ohio. Hung

 

22. William Campbell of Kentucky. Hung

 

The Locomotives were:

 

1. The General - Combined passenger freight train that ran from Atlanta to Chattanooga and back. The train stolen by Andrews' Raiders

 

2. The Texas - Freight train that was heading south on the W&ARR. Picked up by Fuller and the pursuers south of Adairsville.

 

3. The Yonah - First train picked up by the pursuers at Etowah Station.

 

4. ‘William R. Smith’ - Train on the Rome RR. "Long Bill" Smith was first president of the railroad.

 

5. The Catoosa - Often overlooked player in the Great Locomotive Chase, the crew of the Catoosa nearly ended the chase north of Adairsville. After letting the General go by, and seeing the Texas following, they joined the run behind the Texas