The Great Locomotive Chase

U.S. #2843 from the 1994 Locomotives issue.

On April 12, 1862, a group of Union sympathizers stole a Confederate train, leading to a daring eight-hour chase.

Railroads played a major role during the Civil War, transporting troops and keeping them supplied. Although both sides used railroads, the South was at a distinct disadvantage because it had less track and far fewer locomotives available.

Supplies produced for the Confederate Army in the south were transported north by the Western & Atlantic rail line, often through Chattanooga, Tennessee. Union sympathizer James Andrews developed a plan to take Chattanooga, destroy the railroad tracks, and cut off the supply line.

U.S. #2843 FDC – The General Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

Designed by William Hudson, the Confederate locomotive General was built in 1855 for the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The General left Atlanta, Georgia at 4:00 a.m. on the first anniversary of the attack on Fort Sumter. Andrews and 23 men (later referred to as Andrews’ Raiders) quietly boarded the train a few stops later. When the train stopped in Big Shanty, conductor William Fuller and his crew disembarked for breakfast. In a daring daylight raid, Andrews and his raiders stole the train and headed north – tearing up railroad ties and cutting telegraph wires as they went.

Item #4902645 – Hudson’s General First Day Proof Card.

Fuller and his crew chased the hijacked train on foot for two miles. At the next northern station, they jumped aboard a platform handcar to continue the chase. Fuller commandeered two different engines in his pursuit of The General before taking the southbound The Texas at the Adairsville station. The chase was on – with Fuller pursuing at top speed – and The Texas in reverse.

Andrews dropped crossties on the tracks and let three boxcars loose – setting one on fire – in attempts to slow The Texas. Each time, Fuller’s men pushed the cars aside and continued the chase. South of Calhoun, Fuller spotted a young telegraph operator, pulled him aboard the train, and quickly wrote a message warning the Confederate general in Chattanooga of the approaching danger. The telegraph operator jumped off the train to telegraph the message.

U.S. #2045 – 19 of Andrews’ men received the Medal of Honor.

After an 87-mile chase that lasted nearly eight hours, The General ran out of fuel and Andrews and his men were captured. Andrews was hanged and buried unceremoniously in an unmarked grave. The first Medals of Honor of the war were given to some of Andrews’ men for their bravery.

U.S. #245 – This design was based on a medal made in Madrid and also appeared on a commemorative Half Dollar.

After the war, The General was repaired and continued to serve on the Western and Atlantic Railroad. It remained in service until 1891 and would have been destroyed if not for E. Warren Clark, a photographer who suggested it be restored for display at the World’s Columbian Exposition. Over the next century, The General appeared at various expos and World’s Fairs before retiring at its current home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The General’s story was also immortalized in a 1926 film starring Buster Keaton.

Click here to watch Keaton’s film, The General.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
4.8/5 - (6 votes)
Share this Article


  1. There is a recent movie on this chase. Don’t recall the name but good movie and seems to follow the story line:)

  2. The article fails to bring out that Andrews and his men were all Union soldiers who were not in uniform and thus were treated as spies rather than as enemy combatants. The General was not the only locomotive from this episode that was ultimately preserved; The Texas was recently restored at Spencer Shops in North Carolina, one of the few shops equipped to do so with personnel trained and qualified for such work.

  3. Walt Disney also made a film about it in the 50s starring Fess Parker as Andrews and Jeff Chandler as Fuller. That is when I first learned about the Great Locomotive Chase as it was called. BTW, except for Andrews, all the other men with him were Union soldiers in civilian clothes. They were not just Union sympathizers.

  4. A scale model of the General sits atop the Ohio monument dedicated to Andrew’s Raiders and is located in the Chattanooga National Cemetery. The train, “The General” is located at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, GA. I know, I’ve seen it. The Texas is located in Atlanta. And all those stamps are in my collection. Thanks Mystic!

  5. I remember the movie; and thanks to TDIH I now know the story behind it, and how it relates to the Civil War – and my stamp collection. Thanks for the link as well to the movie, really adds value to the post.

  6. In the film version I saw of this incident, it was not just Andrews who was hanged, but “every last one of them” as ordered by the judge in the case. The 23 men were supposedly marched through Atlanta so everyone could see them on their way to the gallows.

    Incidentally, the proper legal term for death on the gallows is hanged, not hung. Hung is used when, say, you hung up your coat, a ballplayer hung up his spikes, or we hung around long after closing. To say a man was hung is to say he was well-endowed.

  7. Nice report, but the city of Kennesaw GA “stole” the General in the 60’s from Chattanooga. It’s in a museum in the Georgia city.

  8. Kennesaw, GA was formerly the Big Shanty mentioned in the article, where Andrews’ Raiders stole the train from while the crew was eating breakfast. I was at one of the APS winter shows in Atlanta awhile back, and one of the show covers pictured The General in its cachet and was franked with The General stamp pictured at the head of this article. I decided I wanted it cancelled at Kennesaw, and asked the post office lady how to get there, and was their post office open on Saturday. She said Kennesaw was 15 or 20 miles north, and their p/o was open till noon. It wasn’t even that far, and I got there just before closing, so I got my cancel. I showed it to the lady when I got back to the show, and she couldn’t believe I had driven “all the way up there just to get a cover cancelled!” Here I had flown clear from California to attend the show, and she couldn’t understand why I had driven a relatively short distance for a cancel. Some people just can’t appreciate the dedication of stamp collectors.

  9. Yep; was at the reenactment of the Battle of Yorktown, ( Revolutionary War) as an American colonial wife with children. HAD TO go to the stamp center and wait for hours to have , meal ticket, admissions tickets, FDC’s sheets and etc, cancelled. What a moving reenactment with French & British people portraying all sides and positions , including Americans, ships, cannons and gun patrols. Very impressive.
    Still look thru all of my stamp memorabilia and remember the times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *