Oakland Tours in Focus: The Great Locomotive Chase

By Larry Upthegrove

Raider Andrew James

Raider Andrew James

In Marietta, Ga., on the morning of April 12, 1862 at 4:15 a.m., Kentuckian James Andrews – along with a group of 21 Federal volunteers from Ohio – determined to use a stolen railroad engine to transport themselves northward. The raiders intended to destroy railroad bridges in a coordinated effort with the Federal army that was moving on Chattanooga. They met the northbound train, pulled by the engine General and conducted by the youngest conductor on the Western and Atlantic Railroad, 26-year-old William Allen Fuller. Only 20 of the 22 raiders reported to the train station, as two of them overslept and missed the train.

When the train stopped for breakfast at Big Shanty, Ga. (now Kennesaw), the train crew and most passengers disembarked for a 20 minute break. Andrews and his men, claiming they’d already had breakfast at their hotel, stayed onboard until the train crew exited.  Then, they unhitched all the passenger cars (keeping several box cars) and steamed away with the train. Conductor Fuller and the engineer, Jeff Cain, along with Anthony Murphy, a railroad shop supervisor, began the chase on foot.

William A. Fuller

Conductor William A. Fuller

Soon the pursuers encountered a work gang with a push cart that they borrowed, and they were able increase their speed, especially downhill. After an all-day chase, the determined Fuller and Murphy (Cain gave out) used three different borrowed engines to pursue the enemy spies and finally prevailed, late in the day.  The final leg of the chase involved using a borrowed engine and crew, the Texas, running it to speeds of 65 mph backwards in hot pursuit of the General and its human cargo. The Rebs kept so much pressure on the Yankees that they were unable to take on wood and water, forcing the engine thieves to abandon the General and disperse to the woods near Rossville, Ga. Unfortunately for them, Confederate soldiers were training in the area in just the right position for rounding up the hapless adventurers.

All the members of the raiding party were captured, including the two who had overslept.  They had to endure trials and incarceration.  Andrews was executed by hanging, and two weeks later, seven more of the raiders were hung on property adjacent to Oakland Cemetery.  Eight of the survivors were able to escape from Atlanta’s Fulton County jail and the other six were eventually exchanged as prisoners of war.  Most of the raiders received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the very first ones ever issued. Several of the participants on the Confederate side are buried at Historic Oakland Cemetery, including the main players.

In 1956, Walt Disney made a movie about this event and the ensuing drama of the trials.

Promotional poster for Disney's "Great Locomotive Chase" courtesy Yesterland.com.

Promotional poster for Disney’s “Great Locomotive Chase” courtesy Yesterland.com.

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On Saturday, April 22 Historic Oakland Foundation offers a special topic tour commemorating the 155th anniversary of the Great Locomotive Chase.

On April 12, 1862, a group of Union raiders stole a Confederate locomotive and took it northward to Chattanooga with the intent of destroying railroad lines and crippling the Confederate war effort. The chaotic pursuit that followed, known as the Great Locomotive Chase, is considered one of the most famous exploits of the Civil War. Join us on a wild ride through history and learn about the Oakland residents involved the daring train chase. Discover the fates of the Union raiders and the Confederate railroad men, and who met their end at the hangman’s noose just outside Oakland’s walls.

Tour Prices
Adults: $12
Students: (with ID) $6
Seniors: (65 and older) $6
Historic Oakland Foundation Members: Free

Please note that not all areas of Historic Oakland Cemetery are wheelchair accessible. Please use your discretion when planning your tour visit.