The Texas may be the second piece in the Cyclorama’s move from Grant Park to the Atlanta History Center, but its significance cannot be overstated.
In February, retired McCallie teacher Steve Bartlett spoke at the Buckhead Club to a group of alumni about the Great Locomotive Chase. The chase involved the Texas and its more famous cousin, the General. Disney made the story into a 1956 film.
It is one chapter in the life of the mighty engine, and the Texas was just one of the workhorses of the Western & Atlantic Railroad. And the Western & Atlantic Railroad is why we are here in the first place.
If not for the Great Locomotive Chase, however, the Texas wouldn’t be in Buckhead today, where it can be seen from West Paces Ferry Road encased in a dramatic floor-to-ceiling glass room off the front of the center.
During the Civil War, a team of Union spies under the leadership of James Andrews planned to steal a locomotive in Atlanta and take it to Chattanooga, destroying bridges along the way. This would prevent Atlanta from sending reinforcements to Chattanooga while the Union army overtook it.
Andrews’ Raiders, as they are known, slipped into Georgia and on April 12, 1862, boarded the General as passengers. It was en route to Chattanooga. When it stopped in Kennesaw for breakfast, the passengers disembarked and the raiders sprang into action.
Upon seeing his engine and three railroad cars pulling away, Capt. William Fuller gave chase on foot. He was accompanied by two crew members. By foot and occasionally handcar, they pursued the General.
Over the course of the day, Fuller commandeered several engines as he came upon them, only to be thwarted by Andrews’ men destroying the tracks. They also cut the telegraph wires. Their efforts to burn the bridges failed, though. Because of a wet spring, the bridges wouldn’t burn, only smolder.
Finally, Andrews commandeered the Texas near Adairsville, but it was headed in the opposite direction. Driving in reverse, he caught up to the General, which ran out of fuel in Ringgold near the Tennessee line. Short on time and fuel, and with Fuller constantly gaining on them, the raiders had stopped cutting the telegraph lines and tearing up tracks. Word had been sent ahead. Armed men were waiting as Andrews’ Raiders fled the engine in every direction. They were caught and jailed.
Andrews was hanged in Atlanta on June 7, and seven of his raiders were likewise dispatched in Oakland Cemetery on June 18. The survivors — and there were several — were the first recipients of the Medal of Honor.
It is but a day in the life of the Texas, albeit an incredible day.
The broader story is the story of our city.
The city of Atlanta grew around the terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the Zero Mile Post of which had been driven in the ground in 1837. Today, incredibly, that Zero Mile Post is also in Buckhead, a few feet in front of the engine in the history center.
The railroad purchased the Texas from a New Jersey company in 1856. With four leading wheels, four driving wheels and zero training wheels — 4-4-0 — it was the workhouse the Western & Atlantic. After the Civil War, the Texas carried supplies for the rebuilding of Atlanta.
The 4-4-0 model was so iconic it was used for the city of Atlanta’s first seal.
As the Western & Atlantic evolved through mergers and privatization, the Texas continued to work but changed names. In 1907, it was decommissioned and headed for the scrap heap.
The city rallied around the engine because of its role in the chase. It was saved but not preserved. Over the years, it sat out in the open in Grant Park, and then under a shed built around it. In 1927, it moved indoors to the newly built Cyclorama building in Grant Park.
The Texas has been restored a few times, but the $500,000 effort by the history center is without a doubt the most extensive and historically accurate.
That is a magnificent thing, as it is one of only two engines that remain from the Western & Atlantic Rail Road. The other is The General, which is in Kennesaw.