Great Locomotive Chase

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Map of the chase route, with locations of various events marked

The Great Locomotive Chase or Andrews' Raid was a military raid that occurred April 12, 1862, in northern Georgia during the American Civil War. Volunteers from the Union Army, led by civilian scout James J. Andrews, commandeered a train and took it northward toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, doing as much damage as possible to the vital Western and Atlantic Railroad (W&A) line from Atlanta to Chattanooga as they went. They were pursued by Confederate forces at first on foot, and later on a succession of locomotives for 87 miles.

Because the Union men had cut the telegraph wires, the Confederates could not send warnings ahead to forces along the railway. Confederates eventually captured the raiders and executed some quickly as spies, including Andrews; some others were able to flee. Some of the raiders were the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor by the US Congress for their actions. As a civilian, Andrews was not eligible.


File:Andrews Raiders.jpg
Illustration of nineteen men involved in the Great Locomotive Chase—seventeen Union soldiers and two railroad employees who chased them

Major General Ormsby M. Mitchel, commanding the Federal troops in middle Tennessee, planned to move south with his army and seize Huntsville, Alabama, before turning east in hopes of capturing Chattanooga. Mitchel recognized the strategic value of seizing the rail and water transportation center of Chattanooga.

At the time, the standard means of capturing a city was by encirclement to cut it off from supplies and reinforcements, then would follow artillery bombardment and direct assault by massed infantry. However, Chattanooga’s natural water and mountain barriers to its east and south made this nearly impossible with the forces that Mitchell had available. But, if he could somehow block railroad reinforcement of the city from Atlanta to the southeast, he could take Chattanooga. The Union Army would then have rail reinforcement and supply lines to its rear, leading west to the Union-held stronghold and supply depot of Nashville, Tennessee.

James J. Andrews, a civilian scout and part-time spy, proposed a daring raid to Mitchell that would destroy the Western and Atlantic Railroad as a useful supply link to Chattanooga, thereby isolating the city from Atlanta. He recruited the civilian William Hunter Campbell and 22 volunteer Union soldiers from three Ohio regiments: the 2nd, 21st, and 33rd Ohio Infantry. Andrews instructed the men to arrive in Marietta, Georgia, by midnight of April 10, but heavy rain caused a one-day delay. They traveled in small parties in civilian attire to avoid arousing suspicion. All but two (Samuel Llewellyn and James Smith) reached the designated rendezvous point at the appointed time. Llewellyn and Smith joined a Confederate artillery unit, as they had been instructed to do in such circumstances. Andrews' proposal was a combined operation; General Mitchell and his forces would first move on Chattanooga; then, the Andrews’ Raid would promptly destroy the rail line between Chattanooga and Atlanta. This essentially simultaneous actions would bring about the capture of Chattanooga. Andrews' Raid was intended to deprive the Confederates of the integrated use of the railways to respond to a Union advance, using their interior lines of communication.

When the Union Army threatened Chattanooga, the Confederate States Army would (from its naturally protected rear) first reinforce Chattanooga's garrison from Atlanta. When sufficient forces had been deployed to Chattanooga to stabilize the situation and hold the line, the Confederates would then launch a counterattack from Chattanooga with the advantage of a local superiority of men and material. It was this process that the Andrews raid sought to disrupt.

The chase

Because railway dining cars were not yet in common use, railroad timetables included water, rest, and meal stops. In addition, as the locomotives of the time needed to frequently replenish fuel and water, stops for passenger and crew meals were combined with the stops for water and fuel for passenger railway travel.

File:DoV1-018 - Mitchel Raid.jpg
The raiders set a train car on fire to try to ignite a covered railway bridge and thwart pursuit, from Deeds of Valor

The raid began on April 12, 1862, when the regular morning northbound passenger train with the locomotive General stopped at Big Shanty, Georgia (now Kennesaw), on its regular run from Atlanta to Chattanooga, so that the crew and passengers could breakfast at the Lacy Hotel. There Andrews and his raiders hijacked the General and the train's first car. Their plan was to take the train north towards Chattanooga, stopping to damage or destroy track, bridges, telegraph wires, and track switches behind them, so as to prevent the Confederate Army from being able to move troops and supplies from Atlanta to Chattanooga. The Raiders planned to cross through the Federal siege lines on the outskirts of Chattanooga and rejoin Mitchell's army. They chose to capture the train at Big Shanty station because it had no telegraph office. They steamed out of Big Shanty, leaving behind startled passengers, crew members, and onlookers, which included a number of Confederate soldiers from Camp McDonald, directly opposite the Lacy Hotel.

The train's conductor, William Allen Fuller, and two other men, chased the stolen train, first on foot, then by handcar. Locomotives of the time normally averaged 15 miles per hour (24 km/h), with short bursts of an average speed of 20 miles per hour (32 km/h). In addition, the terrain north of Atlanta is very hilly, and the ruling grades are steep. Even today, average speeds are usually never greater than 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) between Chattanooga and Atlanta. Since Andrews intended to stop periodically to perform acts of sabotage, a determined pursuer, even on foot, could conceivably have caught up with the train before it reached Chattanooga.

In his footrace north, Fuller spotted the locomotive Yonah at Etowah and commandeered it, chasing the raiders north all the way to Kingston. There, Fuller switched to the locomotive William R. Smith and continued north towards Adairsville. Two miles south of Adairsville, however, the raiders had destroyed the tracks, and Fuller was forced to continue the pursuit on foot. Beyond the damaged section, he took command of the southbound locomotive Texas at Adairsville, running it backwards, tender-first, northward.[1]

The raiders never got far ahead of Fuller. Destroying the railway behind the hijacked train was a slow process. The raiders were too few in number and were too poorly equipped with the proper railway track tools and demolition equipment, or with suitable igniters and explosives to effectively close the line. Also, the raiders had stolen a regularly scheduled train on its route, and they needed to keep to that train's timetable. If they reached a siding ahead of schedule, they had to wait there until scheduled southbound trains passed them before they could continue north. As well, railway officials in Chattanooga had sufficient time to evacuate engines and rolling stock to the south, hauling critical railroad supplies away from the Union threat, so as to prevent their either being captured by General Mitchel or trapped uselessly inside Chattanooga during a Union siege of the city.

Andrews’ claimed to the station masters he encountered that his train was a special northbound ammunition movement ordered by General Beauregard in support of his operations against the Union forces threatening Chattanooga. This story was sufficient for the isolated station masters Andrews encountered (as he had cut the telegraph wires to the south), but it had no impact upon the train dispatchers and station masters north of him, whose telegraph lines to Chattanooga were working. These dispatchers were following their orders to dispatch and control the special train movements southward at the highest priority.

As the first of the southbound freight evacuation trains approached, Andrews inquired of that train’s conductor why his train was carrying a red marker flag on its rear car. Andrews was told that Confederate Railway officials in Chattanooga had been notified by Confederate Army officials that Mitchel was approaching Chattanooga from Stevens, Alabama, intending to either capture or lay siege to the city, and as a result of this warning, the Confederate Military Railways had ordered the Special Freight movements. The red train marker flag on the southbound train meant that there was at least one additional train behind the one which Andrews had just encountered, and that Andrews had no "authority for movement" until the last train of that sectional movement had passed him. This gave Fuller all the time he needed to close the distance.

The raiders considered stopping to attack and overwhelm the first work party they encountered, who were operating a locomotive, the Yonah, at Etowah. If the Yonah had been seized, it could possibly have been run at high speed and derailed, demolished, and/or its boiler deliberately exploded in a tunnel or covered bridge. This would have not only stopped Fuller’s pursuit, but it would also have achieved the raiders' mission of closing the line between Marietta and Chattanooga. However, given the size of the Yonah’s work party (even though unarmed) relative to the size of the raiding party, Andrews judged that any firefight would be too long and too involved, and would alert nearby troops and civilians.

The Texas train crew had been bluffed by Andrews into taking the station siding, thereby allowing the General to continue northward along the single-track main line. Fuller, when he met the Texas, took command of her, picked up eleven Confederate troops at Calhoun, and continued his pursuit.

With the Texas still chasing the General tender-first, the two trains steamed through Dalton and Tunnel Hill. The raiders continued to sever the telegraph wires, but they were unable to burn bridges or damage Tunnel Hill. The wood they had hoped to burn was soaked by rain.

Finally, at milepost 116.3, north of Ringgold, Georgia, just 18 miles from Chattanooga, with the locomotive out of fuel, Andrews' men abandoned the General and scattered. Andrews and all of his men were caught within two weeks, including the two who had missed the hijacking.


Depiction of the court-martial of one of the raiders in Knoxville

Confederate forces charged all the raiders with "acts of unlawful belligerency"; the civilians were charged as unlawful combatants and spies. All the prisoners were tried in military courts, or courts-martial. Tried in Chattanooga, Andrews was found guilty. He was executed by hanging on June 7 in Atlanta. On June 18, seven others who had been transported to Knoxville and convicted as spies were returned to Atlanta and also hanged; their bodies were buried unceremoniously in an unmarked grave (they were later reburied in Chattanooga National Cemetery).

Writing about the exploit, Corporal William Pittenger said that the remaining raiders worried about also being executed. They attempted to escape and eight succeeded. Traveling for hundreds of miles in pairs, they all made it back safely to Union lines, including two who were aided by slaves and Union sympathizers and two who floated down the Chattahoochee River until they were rescued by the Union blockade vessel USS Somerset. The remaining six were held as prisoners of war and exchanged for Confederate prisoners on March 17, 1863.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton awarded some of the raiders with the first Medal of Honor. Private Jacob Wilson Parrott, who had been physically abused as a prisoner, was awarded the first. Later, all but two of the other soldiers who had participated in the raid also received the medal, with posthumous awards to families for those who had been executed. As civilians, Andrews and Campbell were not eligible.


Rank Name Unit Date of Medal of Honor award Notes
James J. Andrews (c. 1829 – 1862) No award Hanged in Atlanta; ineligible as a civilian for the Medal of Honor
Private William Bensinger (1840–1918) 21st Ohio March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to captain
Private Wilson W. Brown (1837–1916) 21st Ohio September 17, 1863 Escaped; later promoted to 2nd lieutenant
Private Robert Buffum (1828–1871) 21st Ohio March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to 2nd lieutenant
William Hunter Campbell (1839–1862) No award Hanged; ineligible as a civilian for the Medal of Honor
Corporal Daniel Allen Dorsey (1838–1918) 33rd Ohio September 17, 1863 Escaped; later promoted to 1st lieutenant
Corporal Martin Jones Hawkins (1830–1886) 33rd Ohio September 17, 1863 Overslept and did not participate; escaped; later promoted to sergeant
Private William James Knight (1837–1916) 21st Ohio September 17, 1863 Escaped
Corporal Samuel Llewellyn (1841–1915) 33rd Ohio No award Did not participate; enlisted in a Confederate unit before reaching Marietta; later promoted to sergeant
Sergeant Elihu H. Mason (1831–1896) 21st Ohio March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to captain
Private Jacob Parrott (1843–1908) 33rd Ohio March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to 1st lieutenant
Corporal William Pittenger (1840–1904) Company G, 2nd Ohio Infantry Regiment March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to Sergeant. Pittenger was awarded the fifth ever Medal of Honor on March 25, 1863, for his service during the Great Locomotive Chase. His official citation reads: "One of the 19 of 22 men (including 2 civilians) who, by direction of Gen. Mitchell (or Buell), penetrated nearly 200 miles south into enemy territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty, Ga., in an attempt to destroy the bridges and tract between Chattanooga and Atlanta."
Private John Reed Porter (1838–1923) 21st Ohio September 17, 1863 Overslept and did not participate; escaped; later promoted to 1st lieutenant; last living raider
Corporal William H. H. Reddick (1840–1903) 33rd Ohio March 25, 1863 Exchanged; later promoted to 2nd lieutenant
Private Samuel Robertson (1843–1862) 33rd Ohio September 17, 1863 Hanged as a spy; received award posthumously
Sergeant Major Marion A. Ross (1832–1862) 2nd Ohio September 17, 1863 Hanged as a spy; received award posthumously
Sergeant John Morehead Scott (1839–1862) 21st Ohio August 4, 1866 Hanged as a spy; received award posthumously
Private Charles Perry Shadrack (1840–1862) 2nd Ohio No award Hanged as a spy; real name was Phillip Gephart Shadrach

MOH authorized under Public Law January 28, 2008 (H.R. 4986; sec 564)

Private Samuel Slavens (1831–1862) 33rd Ohio July 28, 1883 Hanged as a spy; received award posthumously
Private James Smith (1844–1868), born Ovid Wellford Smith 2nd Ohio July 6, 1864 Did not participate; enlisted in a Confederate unit before reaching Marietta, but was held prisoner in Swims Jail during the Raid;[2] later promoted to corporal
Private George Davenport Wilson (1830–1862) 2nd Ohio No award Hanged as a spy

MOH authorized under Public Law January 28, 2008 (H.R. 4986; sec 565)

Private John Alfred Wilson (1832–1904) 21st Ohio September 17, 1863 Escaped
Private John Wollam (1840–1890) 33rd Ohio July 20, 1864 Escaped
Private Mark Wood (1839–1866) 21st Ohio September 17, 1863 Escaped; later promoted to 2nd lieutenant
File:Andrews Raiders monument 1902.jpg
Monument in the National Cemetery, Chattanooga, Tennessee, by noted photographer William Henry Jackson in 1902

In popular culture

Monument and markers

The Ohio Monument dedicated to Andrews' Raiders is located at the Chattanooga National Cemetery. There is a scale model of the General on top of the monument, and a brief history of the Great Locomotive Chase. The General is now in the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, Kennesaw, Georgia, while the Texas is on display at the Atlanta Cyclorama.

One marker indicates where the chase began, near the Big Shanty Museum in Kennesaw, while another shows where the chase ended at Milepost 116.3, north of Ringgold — not far from the recently restored depot at Milepost 114.5.

There is a historic marker in downtown Atlanta, at the corner of 3rd and Juniper streets, at the site where Andrews was hanged.


  • Daring and Suffering: A History of the Great Railroad Adventure, Lieut. William Pittenger (J. W. Daughaday, 1863)
  • Daring and Suffering: A History of the Andrews Railroad Raid, by William Pittenger, with Introduction by Col. James G. Bogle, (Cumberland House Publishing, August 1, 1999, ISBN 978-1-58182-034-8), a first-hand account of one of the Raiders, with an introduction by one of the foremost experts on the subject.
  • Wild Train: The Story of the Andrews Raiders, by Charles O'Neill, (Random House, 1959), long considered one of the most authoritative accounts of the Raid.
  • The Case of Private Smith and the Remaining Mysteries of the Andrews Raid, by Parlee C. Gross, (General Publishing Company, 1963) focuses on the fates of the three soldiers who started off with the rest of the company but did not reach Marietta—Ovid Wellford "James" Smith and Samuel Llewellyn, who joined a Confederate unit as directed by Andrews when they were stopped and sharply questioned en route, and an unknown third soldier.
  • Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor, by Russell S. Bonds, (Westholme Publishing, October 15, 2006, ISBN 1-59416-033-3)
  • The Great Locomotive Chase – The Andrews Raid 1862 by Gordon L. Rottman; Osprey Raid Series #5 (Osprey Publishing, November 2009, ISBN 978-1-84603-400-8)

See also


External links