Railroads America - An Adventure Of The Civil War
( Originally Published 1927 )
THERE is a Civil War story of a captured locomotive that is celebrated. Early in the war Confederate troops held the eastern section of Tennessee, including the city of Chattanooga, which was an important strategic point. A railroad ran through Georgia to that city and to protect the line of communication Confederate soldiers guarded the tracks for two hundred miles. If Union forces could destroy the tracks Chattanooga, isolated from support by the south, could be taken by a small detachment of Northern troops; but to capture the rail-road would, it seemed to the Union commander, require a good-sized army, and there was no such army available for that purpose.
Such was the situation when on an April evening in 1862 a young man, James J. Andrews, well known as a clever scout, sought an interview with the Union commander in central Tennessee, General O. M. Mitchell. To this officer Andrews said: "General, if you will let me have twenty-four soldiers, I will capture a train, burn the bridges on the Georgia railroad and cut off Chattanooga from the south."
"That's impossible," Mitchell said shortly.
"Isn't it worth trying, sir Q" Andrews argued. "If my plan fails we lose only a handful of soldiers; if it succeeds the whole of Tennessee is ours."
General Mitchell considered for some moments and then agreed to give the scout the men he asked for.
Twenty-four men were offered the first chance to volunteer for secret and dangerous service and each accepted. Each was given the camp countersign and a special countersign by which they might recognize the others of their party. They were told to meet at sunset the following day at a point a mile below the encampment and wait there for Andrews. This they did, and the scout led them by a winding path to a thicket in a small ravine. There he told them his plan : to capture a train from the enemy and run it two hundred miles through Confederate territory. They would have to pass other trains while they were occupied in tearing up tracks and burning two bridges. He pointed out that they might be shot and, if taken prisoner, would probably be hung as spies. Any who did not care to make the venture might yet withdraw.
All the band agreed to follow Andrews. He then went into details. The soldiers were to wear Confederate uniforms and carry no arms except a revolver and a bowie-knife apiece. From camp they were to go to Chattanooga on foot and from there, boarding a Southern train, ride to the little town of Marietta in Georgia. If anyone questioned them they were to say that they were Kentuckians going to join the Confederate army. In Marietta they would take rooms at the hotel and meet in the leader's room at two o'clock on Saturday morning.
At the time set nineteen of the twenty-four reported to Andrews at the Marietta hotel. One of the others had been delayed by a wreck, two had been obliged to enlist in the Confederate army, and the remaining two, though they reached Marietta, through some mistake did not join the party at the hotel. The leader gave them further orders, and the nineteen went to their rooms to sleep until daylight.
Early in the morning all were at the railroad station before the arrival of the northbound mail train. Each bought a ticket for a different station along the road in the direction of Chattanooga. Some eight miles from Marietta there was a small station, Big Shanty, with a freight-house and one or two dwellings, nestled at the base of Kenesaw Mountain, and at this place, where he thought there would be few people, Andrews had planned to capture the train.
Picture the astonishment of the leader and his men when they saw from the windows of the cars on which they were riding to Big Shanty the white tents of a regiment of Confederate soldiers camped near the road ! The little Union band would have to capture the train in full view of a detachment of the enemy ! The train stopped at the station and engineer, fireman and conductor, together with the passengers, hurried into the restaurant for breakfast. Andrews and his men hung behind. In his party were two who had been engineers and one who had been a fireman; these three, unobserved, went forward and commenced to uncouple the locomotive—a wood-burner, christened "General"—with its tender and three baggage-cars. Meantime the others stood around, hands on their revolvers, and shielded the three from Confederate sentries stationed along the tracks.
At length the men freed the cars and the two engineers and the fireman jumped up to the locomotive cab while the others sprang into the baggage-cars. Andrews stood on guard, not yet aboard the train. The enemy sentries appeared surprised at the sight of so many men climbing into the cars, but one of the Union party called out to the Confederates that they would be back as soon as they had taken some other cars on at the siding.
When his men were all aboard Andrews followed them and gave the signal to start. The engineer in his excitement pulled the throttle wide open and for a moment or so the wheels spun round and round without gripping the rails. Then he slowed and the locomotive started off with a sudden jerk that threw the car-riders off their feet. Away went the engine and baggage-cars just as the train's former crew ran out from the dining-room and shouted to the sentries to stop the thieves.
The train had been successfully captured; now it must be run through two hundred miles of hostile country and past all the trains it might meet from Big Shanty to Chattanooga. To succeed in this Andrews must prevent any news of the capture being forwarded along the line. Big Shanty had no telegraph station, but word could quickly be sent to the telegraph office at Marietta. After a dash of four miles therefore the locomotive was stopped and one of the party climbed a telegraph pole and cut the wires. Others tore up one of the rails and hoisted it into a baggage-car while dry railroad ties were being loaded to be used in burning bridges. On again they went ; obliged presently to halt at a station to take on fuel and water, Andrews told the agent that they were carrying powder in a special train to General Beauregard's headquarters at Corinth. Then, after another dash, they arrived at a station called Etowah and saw a locomotive belonging to a coal company standing with steam up on a side-track.
The Union engineer who was running the captured train wanted to stop and put the locomotive on the siding out of commission, so that the enemy could make no use of it for pursuit. Andrews, however, opposed making a halt, so they ran on north through Georgia.
At Kingston, thirty miles from Big Shanty, the train pulled up. The station agent said that a freight from Chattanooga was due soon, and the Union engineer ran his cars over on a siding to wait for the southbound train. The wait seemed very long to the impatient party, but after some time the freight steamed in; from the caboose flew a flag to indicate that another southbound train was behind.
Andrews went over to the man in charge of the freight and declared that he must have the use of the tracks for General Beauregard's powder-cars. The freight's conductor answered that Union troops had captured Huntsville, thirty miles from Chattanooga, and that a number of trains were being run from the city to get stores out of the Yankee's way. That information spurred Andrews to complete his work by burning bridges on the railroad; but he had to curb his impatience : the second freight arrived, it also carried a flag indicating a following train, the track north from Kingston appeared to be very busy.
Meantime train-hands and idlers chatted with the Union men on the captured locomotive and the others of the Union party hid behind the closed doors of the baggage-cars. For over an hour they were obliged to tarry at Kingston; then the freight that was holding them up rumbled by and the "General" with its little train was able to steam north.
The engine halted a mile from Kingston; telegraph wires were cut and a rail pried loose from its fastenings. While they were at this work the men heard the whistle of a locomotive coming from the south. The enemy were after them ! The men leaped into the baggage-cars, the engineer opened the throttle, and away went the "General" at its best speed.
Adairsville was the next station; there a passenger and a freight train were waiting and an express was reported as due from Chattanooga. With the pursuers close behind him, Andrews could not wait and gave orders to run at full speed in the hope of reaching the next siding before meeting the south-bound express.
The engineer and the fireman piled on wood and the "General" covered nine miles in nine minutes. In the nick of time they arrived at the next northern station; the express was about to start, but its driver heard the "General's" whistle, and backed up to permit the other train to run on to the side track. The engineer of the express, however, appeared suspicious of the "General" and stopped his train so as to close the end of the switch, then refused to move until his questions were answered. Andrews, held up in front and with pursuers in full cry behind, took a bold step. He strode up to the engineer, pointed his revolver at him, and said : "General Beauregard has ordered me to rush this train through and to shoot anyone who tries to delay me."
The engineer, overawed, made way for Andrews' train.
On thundered the "General." Past the next station the engine was halted, the men cut telegraph wires and tried to pull up a section of track. A locomotive whistled, and they turned to see an engine crowded with Confederate soldiers bearing down on them. The Yankees tugged at the rail but could not tear it free. Bullets began to fly; the men sprang aboard their train and again the "General" was on the wing.
What was the story of the pursuers of the "General"` There were two quick-witted men at the station at Big Shanty, Fuller, the conductor of the captured train, and Murphy, the foreman of the railroad machine shops at Atlanta. There was no engine near at hand in which they could give chase nor any telegraph station. While the soldiers and stranded passengers ran about asking questions these two men raced along the track. The soldiers laughed to see two men on foot pursue a locomotive; however, Fuller and Murphy had not run half-a-mile before they came upon a hand-car standing on a siding. They put this car on the main track, worked the pump-bars, and flew along at a good pace. Near Etowah the hand-car, coming to the first broken rail, jumped from the track and went rolling down an embankment. The two men were considerably bruised, but they got the car back on the rails and pushed ahead, keeping a sharp eye out for any more breaks in the track. When they got to Etowah there was the locomotive of the coal company standing on the siding, the engine that the Yankee engineer had wanted to destroy but which Andrews had preferred to leave unmolested. Fuller and Murphy took possession of this locomotive, picked up a load of soldiers, and were off to Kingston.
The pursuers knew that there were a number of southbound trains in the vicinity of Kingston and thought to overtake the captured engine there. Andrews, however, had left the station four minutes before the chasing locomotive arrived. On the track at Kingston stood three heavy freights and it would take too long to wait for them to pull out. Fuller and his mates ran to the farthest train, uncoupled the locomotive and one car, took aboard forty soldiers, and resumed the chase.
Beyond Kingston the Yankees had torn up a rail ; this the pursuers saw in time to reverse their engine. The break in the track ended pursuit in that loco-motive; it was impossible to get it over the gap. The soldiers gave up the chase, but again Fuller and Murphy set out doggedly on foot. Soon they met a southbound train; this they signaled and stopped, then told the crew about the stolen "General." Immediately the locomotive and tender of the train were uncoupled, soldiers among the passengers climbed into the cab, and Fuller and Murphy were in full chase again.
The two locomotives passed through Adairsville and the next station only a few minutes apart, then the Confederates sighted the Yankees hard at work on a rail. If Andrews and his men could get that rail up they would win and be able to proceed to burn the bridges at their leisure. The rail was obstinate, however; the men did not have the proper implements for their purpose; the iron bar bent, but the spikes held. They worked at it until a hail of bullets sent them to their locomotive and shelter in flight. If they could gain a little lead they might set fire to the Oostinaula Bridge.
To block the track Andrews uncoupled the rear baggage-car and left it on the rails. The Confederates' locomotive bumped into it and pushed it before the cow-catcher to the next station, where it was switched off to a side-track. This slowed the pursuit and Andrews was able to halt to take on fuel and water and cut the telegraph wires so that no message should be sent north to head off his train. The Confederates' engine began to gain again, and the Yankees crowded into their front car and dropped the second baggage-car. Across the track behind they threw railroad ties ; and by this gained sufficient leeway to enable them to stock up with more wood and water at the next two stations and to cut more telegraph wires. Twice they halted and attempted to break a rail loose, but each time they were prevented by a fusillade of bullets. A heavy rain was now falling and thwarted their efforts to set fire to the bridges. The pursuers were gaining as mile followed mile.
Andrews tried every method he could think of to halt that enemy locomotive. He saw a spare rail lying near a curve, stopped his engine, and fitted the rail into the track in a position he thought would wreck the Confederates. Fortune sided with his enemies; their engine came on at top speed, hit the misplaced rail, bounded up and over it, and held its place on the road. The chase was closing now.
The Union men saw one more opportunity of winning the race. A little distance ahead there was a wooden-covered bridge. The soldiers climbed from the last baggage-car to the engine and tender; all the wood that was left was piled in the car, drenched with oil and lighted; the doors were opened and the draught made by the speeding locomotive soon set the car ablaze. The engine sped into the covered bridge and the car was dropped behind where the flames would ignite the bridge-timbers. That was a barrier of fire that should halt pursuit. The "General" had just enough pressure in the boiler to roll on to the next wood-yard.
Into the flaming bridge the Confederates' loco-motive plunged headlong ; out it came, pushing the blazing baggage-car to the next switch. The hunt was up; there was no time to stock the "General" with fuel. The Yankees stopped their engine, jumped out, reversed the "General" and, seeing it rolling back to collide with the pursuing locomotive, took to their heels across country.
The pursuers, at sight of the backing "General," reversed their own engine and retreated until the captured locomotive, out of fuel, soon came to a stop.
Fuller and Murphy had saved the railroad for the Confederacy, Chattanooga was still linked with Georgia and the Union troops could not take the city.
It happened that near the place where Andrews and his men were forced to abandon the "General" there was a regimental muster and a number of planters had gathered with horses and bloodhounds. All the Union fugitives were captured. The two who had reached Marietta but had not joined the others at the hotel were also made prisoners and held as spies. Andrews and seven others were hung. Of the rest, eight managed to overpower their guards and get safely away to the Union lines. Six others started off with the eight but were recaptured and held until they were exchanged in 1863.
Such is the story of one of the most daring railroad adventures in history.