Todd DeFeo

Great Locomotive Chase: 154 years later and not forgotten

The General locomotive as seen on Nov. 27, 2011, at the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Ga. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

KENNESAW, Ga. — In the early morning hours of April 12, 1862, a now-famous passenger locomotive made its way into the small community of Big Shanty.

Engineer Jeff Cain blew the locomotive’s whistle to signal that Big Shanty was approaching. “Big Shanty, 20 minutes for breakfast,” Conductor William A. Fuller told passengers.

As the train stopped, most passengers and the train crew, exited the train and made their way into the Lacy Hotel for breakfast.

Before too long a group of 20 men — Union spies led by James J. Andrews — made their way to the front of the train and uncoupled the locomotive and three boxcars. The mission was to steal the train at Kennesaw and destroy the Western & Atlantic Railroad between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Four of them climbed into the locomotive; the rest hopped into the boxcars. Without warning, The General steamed off, marking the official start to The Great Locomotive Chase. They succeeded in commandeering the locomotive, but the plan ultimately failed.

The Andrews’ Raid, as the episode is also known, lives on in present day Kennesaw. In addition to a number of monuments dedicated to the raid located in downtown Kennesaw, The General itself is on display. Here are three places to relive the event more than 150 years after it transpired.

Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, Kennesaw

The General steam engine, the star of the Andrews’ Raid, is the centerpiece of The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. Beyond its extensive raid-related collection, the museum is home to many war and railroad exhibits. It’s also home to a display about Glover Machine Works, a local engine builder. The Glover exhibit gives museum goers a look at how steam locomotives were built and what a factory of that era would have looked like.

Historic Western and Atlantic Railroad Tunnel, Tunnel Hill

Perhaps the most impressive sight along the route isn’t a museum. Rather, it’s the 1,477-foot tunnel through the Chetoogeta Mountain, which was completed by May 9, 1850, when the first train passed through it. The tunnel has been out of use since 1928, when a larger passage through the mountain opened, but the old railroad right of way and tunnel remain today. Even though it is no longer in use, the old tunnel remains an impressive sight and can be toured for a small fee.

Adairsville Rail Depot Age of Steam Museum, Adairsville

Just south of Adairsville, the raiders stopped to tear up the track, prohibiting their pursuers from continuing the chase in a locomotive. At this point, the pursuers abandoned their second locomotive — the William R. Smith — and continued on foot. Minutes later, they commandeered their third engine. They ran the Texas in reverse for the remainder of the chase. Today, a small museum located in the historic 1847 Western & Atlantic depot interprets the city’s role in the Great Locomotive Chase and features a number of exhibits related to the town’s history.

About Todd DeFeo
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and Railfanning.org.