This year marks the 150th anniversary of the event, also known as Andrews Raid, when Union raiders during the Civil War conducted a sabotage mission that included hijacking the now famous locomotive, “The General,” pursued by Confederates in another locomotive, “The Texas.” Since then, the story has been memorialized in film, books, toys and museums.
“It’s all part of a bigger story of how the Civil War transforms America,” said Dr. Richard Banz, executive director of the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History in Kennesaw.
“These trains played such an important part of the future of the country. Trains were in their infancy, but here it shows how important these rail lines are and this raid took everyone by surprise. It necessitated the need to guard rails better.”
The Southern Museum, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate that views the history of the Civil War through railroads, is home to The General.
On April 12, the museum will host a series of events to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Great Locomotive Chase, which will include a breakfast, proclamations at Kennesaw’s historic train depot, and an evening of music and interpretive storytelling.
Banz, who previously taught American history at York College of Pennsylvania, said the Great Locomotive Chase helped to put Cobb County on the map.
The General is by far the museum’s most popular exhibit, attracting visitors nationwide. It’s also prominently displayed on the city of Kennesaw‘s official seal. The railways used during the historic chase continue to be used. The Texas, currently housed at the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum, still makes headlines as the cities of Kennesaw and Marietta angle to acquire it.
“The importance of the event to me personally is that it commemorates a significant aspect of the Civil War that is not necessarily military,” Banz said.
“It’s an event that has legend to it. Obviously, the daringness of it — let’s go 200 miles below enemy lines and steal a locomotive. It has the high-speed chase of the day, two locomotives. The courage of William Fuller chasing first on foot, then by handcar and then by several locomotives, eventually The Texas.”
Even in the event’s immediate aftermath, the Great Locomotive Chase was a big story that was widely talked about, said Dr. Wendy Hamand Venet, a Georgia State University history professor.
“The Andrews episode shocked people in Atlanta,” said Venet, who is currently writing a book about Atlanta civilians during the Civil War.
“The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer newspaper called it ‘this extraordinary and most audacious attempt of Lincoln’s spies to rob, burn, and destroy the state (railroad).’ Even though Andrews and his colleagues were executed, the raid revealed that spies and saboteurs were present in Georgia, including Atlanta. The Andrews episode also made the war seem much closer to Atlantans. Up to this time, military engagements had occurred in Virginia and Tennessee, but not really in Georgia. Andrews and his men destroyed the belief that Atlanta might remain physically isolated from the military events of war.”
On April 12, 1862, civilian scout James J. Andrews and his band of Union army volunteers stole The General locomotive while its passengers and crew were eating breakfast at the Lacy Hotel, located in what is now downtown Kennesaw. They’d plan to do as much damage as possible to the vital Western & Atlantic Railroad along the way to Chattanooga, Tenn. in order to cut off Confederate supplies and reinforcements.
They nearly made it across the Tennessee line before Confederate forces — amongst them The General’s conductor William Fuller — eventually caught up with them in The Texas locomotive. Some of the Andrews Raiders became the first recipients of the Medal of Honor, after some escaped and others were executed by hanging.
“It was a very daring and bold raid early in the war, at a time when there really wasn’t a lot of boldness on the Union side,” said Russell S. Bonds of Marietta, a lawyer and author of the book, “Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor.” “President Lincoln recognized that by awarding the surviving raiders the first Medal of Honor.”
In 1962, The General under its own steam made a national tour to more than 20 cities to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the chase. It won’t be making another such journey for this anniversary, but it will be on public display, said Banz.
“It’s an ongoing story of the industrial ingenuity of America,” he said.
“These machines are almost as if they were alive; that’s why they have names. It was The General, The Texas, The Yonah and The Smith. They were important things. They way they hissed smoke and steam. It’s almost as if they were living.”
On April 12, the museum and the city of Kennesaw will hold a series of events and ceremonies to commemorate the event. In addition, the museum will be open from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. free of charge to the public. Interpreters and various activities will be present throughout the day.
The day will begin at the same time the historic event began, with a 6 a.m. breakfast, featuring interpreters, at the Trackside Grill in downtown Kennesaw. Tickets are $20 and registration is required. Guests will receive commemorative coins.
At 8:30 a.m., a 150th anniversary proclamation will be presented nearby at The Depot. Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews and Paul Chastain, president of the Kennesaw Museum Foundation, are scheduled to speak. The North Cobb High School Brass Quintet will also perform prior to a cannon firing on the museum’s lawn. The public is encouraged to attend at no charge in period costumes.
At 6:30 p.m., the museum will hold the Great Locomotive Chase dinner at the Trackside Grill. The $100 per ticket event is sold out.
At 8 p.m., the museum will host “Dessert at the Southern Museum,” featuring musician Bobby Horton, who’ll be performing Civil War era songs; a presentation of model-train replicas; and the donation of a historic Medal of Honor by the Waggoner family of Ohio. Historian Dr. Barry Brown will give a history of the chase. Tickets are $25 for those who do not attend the dinner.
The day of activities is organized by a special committee, chaired by Marietta businessman Gary Eubanks. Proceeds from all of the commemorative events will cap a $1.2 million campaign to construct the museum’s new research center.
For event tickets, call (770) 427-2117 or visit southernmuseum.org.
Following the Great Locomotive Chase anniversary, the museum will be hosting, “Camp McDonald: A Living History Weekend,” April 14-15 with activities recreating and interpreting life in Camp McDonald, a Confederate encampment in Kennesaw. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 4 to 12, and free for children age 3 and younger.
The city of Marietta — where the Andrews Raiders rendezvoused before their journey — will also commemorate the Great Locomotive Chase with four days of events April 12-15.
It will feature the re-premiere of the 1956 movie, book signings, lectures, trolley tours, a statue dedication and cemetery tours, silent movie and plays at local theatres, and museum tours at the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum, Marietta Museum of History and Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art.
The re-premiere of the Walt Disney film, “The Great Locomotive Chase,” begins at 6 p.m. April 12 at the Strand Theatre in Marietta Square. The “Garden of Heroes” statue dedication will take place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. April 15 at the Marietta Confederate Cemetery. For more event details, visit mariettacivilwar.com.