Railroads: A Little Music, A Little History About A Great Locomotive Chase

You’ve probably heard of Andrews’ Raid…but have you heard the musical piece by Robert W. Smith memorializing this ill-fated Civil War adventure on the tracks?

Need a refresher course on Andrews’ Raid? We’ve got some fast-facts for you:

  • James Andrews – a civilian, Union spy – planned to steal a Confederate train and ride through Georgia, planning to destroy track and telegraph wires along the way.
  • Andrews thought their mission would help cut the transportation lines to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and aid in the Union capture of that location.
  • Eventually, twenty-two soldiers and two civilians took part in the daring scheme which received authorization from Union authorities.
  • The band of raiders traveled about one hundred miles in three days to reach their starting point; they posed as pro-Southern Kentuckians for this first trek through Confederate territory.
  • Andrews and his men bought tickets, and on April 12, 1862, they step onto their train, pulled by a locomotive called The General.
  • At Big Shanty, the raiders took over the train and those who had experience operating locomotives headed The General away from the Confederate conductor and camps.
  • Rolling north and heading for Chattanooga, the raiders thought they would be alright and successful, but the mission started to falter as the train raced by questioning officials, engineers, and troops.
  • The Confederates started a pursuit from Big Shanty, eventually getting another locomotive and gaining ground as destruction, other trains, and effects of recent weather delayed the Union men.
  • The escapade lasted for ninety miles and six hours before Andrews’ men jumped train – just fifteen miles from Chattanooga; all the raiders were captured and sent to various Southern jails in Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Knoxville.
  • The Confederates hanged James Andrews, without giving him a trial; other participants were charged with espionage and announced guilty and seven more were hanged.
  • The survivors were released in a prisoner exchanged and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton gave them the first Medals of Honor.

A sketch of the “Great Locomotive Chase”

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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4 Responses to Railroads: A Little Music, A Little History About A Great Locomotive Chase

  1. Larry De Maar says:

    I believe that some of the raiders escaped, not all of the surviving raiders were exchanged.

  2. Norman D says:

    Andrews had a trial
    Reece Brabson represented him. The former congressman was a well liked Union man and owned slaves.

  3. Pingback: Civil War Railroads – Conclusion | Emerging Civil War

  4. Rob wilson says:

    Interesting reading the facts of this event. You piece stirred memories of a movie I’d seen back in my childhood, which Google tells me was “The Great Locomotive Chase.” It was a 1956 Disney film that most ECW readers under the age of 70 probably missed, with Disney icon Fess Parker playing Andrews. It was probably my introduction to the Civil War. I remember little from the film, but your summary of what really happened, compared to the Wikipedia summary, tells me ol’ Walt took some very serious artistic license in telling the story. Was the background music you provided from the film?

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