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The “General”

The historic American Civil War engine



THE 4-4-0 LOCOMOTIVE “GENERAL” that was involved in the exciting incident in the American Civil War described in this chapter. The engine was built in 1855. and was a typical example of the 4-4-0 or '‘American” wheel arrangement of the time. It is now preserved at the Union Station. Chattanooga.

THE locomotive “General”, shown in the illustration above, was built by the Rogers Locomotive Works in 1855 for the Western and Atlantic Railroad, U.S.A. This engine, which became historic by reason of an astonishing adventure through which it went, was a 4-4 -0 locomotive with the wood-burning furnace and “balloon” smokestack of the period, and was typically American in design and appearance.

During the American Civil War between Northern and Southern States, the Western and Atlantic main line between Atlanta and Chattanooga was a vital route to the Southerners or Confederates, and therefore was considered specially worthy of destruction by the Federals, as the Northern men were called. To this end Captain James Andrews of the Federal Army and a picked company of 21 men managed to make their way in disguise far down behind the Confederate lines. Their object was to capture a train, and use it for a grand destructive tour of the. Western and Atlantic. This was on 12th April 1862, and the train they picked on happened to be the 6.0 a.m. from Atlanta to Chattanooga. drawn by the 4-4-0 “General”. This train, under the care of Confederate Captain W. A. Fuller, stopped at Big Shanty, some way out from Atlanta, for the breakfast interval. During breakfast Captain Fuller suddenly saw 22 of his supposed passengers rush the engine and calmly drive her away northward, taking with them three empty box cars that were next to the tender, and leaving the passenger cars standing in the station.

Fuller, with Engineer Cain and Shop-Foreman Murphy, set off in pursuit, on foot over the sleepers. After running for two miles they met a party of surfacemen, who said that the train had stopped, and that those aboard had relieved them of their appliances and cut the telegraph wires before going on again. Fuller, Cain and Murphy then plodded on with the surfacemen’s hand-car and reached Etowah, some miles away. At Etowah they commandeered an industrial locomotive named “Yonah” and took in tow a coal car with a company of Confederate soldiers. The wheezing old “Yonah” took them as far as Kingston where the line was blocked by an accumulation of freight cars.

Now Andrews’ proceeding was a tremendous game of bluff. To prevent pursuit or interception he stopped the “General” periodically, blocked or destroyed a length o track, and cut the telegraph wires. At wayside stations officials and soldiers were told that this was a special trail conveying munitions to the Confederate General Beauregard, and the bluff succeeded.

Fuller was determined to recover his train, however and also to prevent Andrews from having time enough to do any major damage. The turning of the tables began when he came up to the freight engine “Texas”, which he detached from its train and pressed into tin pursuit, running tender first. He came within sight of the purloined “General” just as Andrews and his company were giving some further attention to the telegraph wires. Andrews and his men mounted the “General” and set off in a hurry, leaving one of their freight cars in Fuller’s way.

Twice they did this, and both times the “Texas” picked up the car and pushed it ahead of their tender. This close pursuit went on for many miles in the course of which Fuller was able to shunt the encumbering cars into a siding. Andrews, in his turn, had knocked out the end of his remaining car, the better to throw out obstructions while running. Again and again Fuller caught hint up, however, and at last he was obliged through failing water and fuel, to abandon the “General”. His men set their car on lire and reversed the engine, but in their hurry they forgot to release the handbrakes, and the intended collision failed to take place. They were all captured, and Andrews and several of his companions were executed.

Thus was the “General” recovered, after a chase covering something like 90 miles.

You can read more on “The Railway in War”, “Railways at War” and “Railways at War - 2” on this website.