Stealing the General
The locomotive the General was stolen by Andrews’ Raiders during the Civil War near Atlanta and driven toward Chattanooga. The daring raid resulted in the hangings of several Ohio soldiers and their spy ringleader, James J. Andrews of Kentucky.
In the summer of 1961, my parents took me to see the old engine when it was on display at Union Station in Columbus, Ohio. The General was on a nationwide tour and had passed through my hometown of Zanesville, Ohio.
In the above photograph, my Mom, me, and my sister Peggy are about to enter the rail car that was coupled to the General. Photograph by Robert E. Mingus.
It was an event that cemented my love for the Civil War and for the Andrews Raid in particular, because all of the soldiers involved in the daring plot were, like me, Buckeyes. Some were from nearby towns.
Fast forward to 2010 and my birthday.
My professor son and daughter-in-law gave me a gift card to Borders. With it I purchased a book I have wanted for a very long time, Russell S. Bonds’ Stealing the General.
The General parked at a rail station near Columbus, Ohio, during the Civil War Centennial. Photograph by Robert E. Mingus.
Stealing the General is a wonderfully written, gripping account of the April 12, 1862, Andrews Raid. Shadowy operative James J. Andrews and some two dozen volunteers from three Ohio infantry regiments donned civilians clothes, worked their way to Atlanta, and then boarded a train pulled by the General. North of Atlanta at Big Shanty, in plain view of a large Confederate camp, the raiders uncoupled the passenger cars (keeping a few box cars) and then steamed for Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Conductor William A. Fuller, stunned to see his train roaring out of Big Shanty while and some of the passengers breakfasted at the nearby hotel, raced after it. First on foot, then using a handcar, and finally a series of locomotives he commandeered, Fuller’s determination finally paid off when the General ran out of steam in northern Georgia. By then using an engine names the Texas, Fuller had stubbornly persisted until he recovered his stolen train.
The raiders were captured and Andrews and seven others were executed by Confederate authorities. Some of the remaining raiders escaped and made it back to Union lines, while the rest were eventually exchanged.
Raider Jacob Parrott became the first man to receive the newly created Medal of Honor. A handful of the raiders, for various reasons, never received the medal.
Bonds’ book is fast-paced, yet very detailed and descriptive. It is undoubtedly the definitive work on the Andrews Raid, and deservedly received the 2007 Richard Barksdale Harwell Award as the Best Civil War Book of the Year.