Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor
Russell S. Bonds
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Selected by Civil War Interactive as One of the Top Civil War Books of All Time
"The definitive book about the Great Locomotive Chase."—Charlotte Observer
"Magnificent and definitive."—Wall Street Journal
"The Great Locomotive Chase has been the stuff of legend and the darling of Hollywood. Now we have a solid history of the Andrews Raid. Russell S. Bonds' stirring account makes clear why the raid failed and what happened to the raiders."—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
"In this gripping, smooth-running account, Bonds zooms effortlessly from broad-stroke overviews of Civil War strategy to minute-by-minute scrutiny of unfolding events on the ground. He sets up the story with a quick, punchy outline of the first year of the war. What follows is a fast-paced, extremely well-told tale of espionage, capture, trial and escape."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Phenomenally well written, organized, and presented."—Civil War Books and Authors
On April 12, 1862—one year to the day after Confederate guns opened on Fort Sumter and started the Civil War—a tall, mysterious smuggler and self-appointed Union spy named James J. Andrews and nineteen infantry volunteers infiltrated north Georgia and stole a steam engine called the General. Racing northward at speeds approaching sixty miles an hour, cutting telegraph lines and destroying track along the way, Andrews planned to open East Tennessee to the Union army, cutting off men and matériel from the Confederate forces in Virginia. If they succeeded, Andrews and his raiders could change the course of the war. But the General's young conductor, William A. Fuller, chased the stolen train first on foot, then by handcar, and finally aboard another engine, the Texas. He pursued the General until, running out of wood and water, Andrews and his men abandoned the doomed locomotive, ending the adventure that would soon be famous as The Great Locomotive Chase. But the ordeal of the soldiers involved was just beginning. In the days that followed, the "engine thieves" were hunted down and captured. Eight were tried and executed as spies, including Andrews. Eight others made a daring escape to freedom, including two assisted by a network of slaves and Union sympathizers. For their actions, before a personal audience with President Abraham Lincoln, six of the raiders became the first men in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor—the nation's highest decoration for gallantry.
Americans north and south, both at the time and ever since, have been astounded and fascinated by this daring raid. But until now, there has not been a complete history of the entire episode and the fates of all those involved. Based on eyewitness accounts, as well as correspondence, diaries, military records, newspaper reports, deposition testimony and other primary sources, Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor by Russell S. Bonds is a blend of meticulous research and compelling narrative that is now considered to be the definitive history of "the boldest adventure of the war."
generals.” No one believed these descriptions more than Mitchel himself. One week later, at a strawberry supper at the home of Union-loyal Judge George W. Lane of Huntsville, Old Stars “monopolized the conversation,” Colonel John Beatty recalled, “determined to make all understand that he was the greatest of living soldiers.” Despite his continued clashes with his superiors and the absence of railroad bridges between here and there, Mitchel continued to regard the capture of Chattanooga as a
potential recipients as well.2 The medal was originally designed by Christian Schussel and its prototype created by assistant engraver Anthony C. Paquet at the United States Mint in Philadelphia. “The medal of honor is bronze, of neat device, and is highly prized by those on whom it has been bestowed,” Townsend wrote in an 1864 report. Its original design, embodied first in the Navy Medal, was an inverted, five-pointed star—each point containing leaves of oak (representing strength) and laurel
e.g., Capturing a Locomotive, pp. 116-17; Daring and Suffering, pp. 148-50. 4 The quote in the text embodies the substance of Andrews’s last command, though the many eyewitnesses remember his exact words differently. Compare Knight, “How I Ran the General,” Railroad Man’s Magazine, March 1911 (“Stop her, Knight! Scatter boys! It’s every man for himself now!”), with Dorsey, “The Mitchel Raiders,” The Ohio Soldier, April 8, 1893, p. 274 (“Every man for himself! Engineer, reverse your engine! Send
filmed on the Tallulah Falls Railroad in North Georgia, used the B&O engine William Mason to play the part of the General. Bogle, “Locomotive General,” Landmarker, pp. 22, 26. 3 Bogle, “Locomotive General,” Landmarker, pp. 35-36; Joe F. Head, The General: The Great Locomotive Dispute (Cartersville, Ga.: Bartow History Center, 2d ed. 1997), pp. 34-35. 4 City of Chattanooga, Tennessee v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co., 298 F. Supp. 1 (E.D. Tenn. 1969), affirmed, 427 F.2d 1154 (6th Cir.),
their war and of those who gave chase in an attempt to avert the loss of theirs.” —The Wall Street Journal “Excellent history, and never less than gripping entertainment. The men and the times are brought vividly to light.” —Bennington (Vt.) Banner “Phenomenally well written, organized, and presented.” —Civil War Books and Authors “Outstanding. . . . A story of bravery and cowardice, brilliance and foolishness, good luck and misfortune. Climb aboard.” —Hawaii Marine “Russell S. Bonds’s