On the night of April 6, 1862, a shadowy character named James Andrews walked into Third Division headquarters at Shelbyville, Tenn., and introduced himself to Union Brig. Gen. Ormsby Mitchel. The outcome of this conversation was a daring plan that came to be known at the time as the Andrews Raid. Most people know it today as the Great Locomotive Chase.
Andrews, a some-time Union sympathizer who functioned as a covert agent in search of personal profit, proposed that he and a group of hand-picked saboteurs be authorized to wreck the Western & Atlantic Railroad in exchange for a handsome payment. Such a plan suited Mitchel’s purposes perfectly. His division had been given responsibility for capturing the important rail hub at Chattanooga, and disabling the W&A would make his job much easier.
Completed in 1850, the W&A ran 138 miles from Atlanta to Chattanooga and served as the main supply corridor for Confederate forces operating in Tennessee. If this railroad could be taken out of commission, even for a brief period, Chattanooga would be cut off from the south and the city would present an easy target.
Andrews’ raiders were selected from the ranks of three Ohio regiments under Mitchel’s command. They were given civilian clothing and told to make their way in small groups to Chattanooga, where they would board the train for Marietta. During the trip the train stopped for supper at the Chester House in Dalton, where the raiders and other passengers packed the dining room. Unable to find a seat, raider Daniel Dorsey approached Mrs. Chester and asked for a piece of pie to take with him, which she cheerfully provided. Dorsey later wrote, “How forcibly this reminded me of my mother and home.”
From an initial group of 24 men, 19 would actually take part in the raid. Andrews’ plan was to hijack a train and head north, along the way tearing up the tracks, cutting telegraph lines and burning bridges.
At 4 a.m. on Saturday, April 12, Andrews and his men boarded a combination passenger-freight train in Marietta.The train was pulled by W&A Engine No. 3, the General. About two hours later the train stopped for breakfast at Big Shanty (now Kennesaw). Here Andrews’ raiders uncoupled the mail car and the two passenger cars and sped off with the engine, tender, and three boxcars.The General’s conductor, William Fuller, and two fellow W&A employees gave chase, first on foot and then with a pole car.
Just across the Etowah River, Fuller spotted the Yonah, a rusty switch engine owned by Cooper’s Iron Works. Seizing the little locomotive, Fuller and his comrades chuffed several miles to Kingston, where they found southbound trains blocking their path. On foot once again, Fuller’s group ran north of the traffic snarl where they came across the William R. Smith sitting on a sidetrack. This locomotive took them to a point about four miles south of Adairsville where they encountered a missing rail that Andrews’ raiders had pried up. Shortly thereafter, Fuller met W&A Engine No. 49, the Texas, pulling a southbound train.The Texas uncoupled its cars on a sidetrack and then, with the engine running in reverse, Fuller resumed the chase.
Meanwhile, Andrews had stopped the General near Resaca with the intent of burning the Oostanaula River rail bridge. It was at that point that Andrews spotted the Texas coming up quickly from behind. By this time Fuller had picked up several additional hands, one of whom was 17-year-old telegrapher Edward Henderson. With his pursuers in sight for the first time, Andrews hastily abandoned the undamaged bridge and the General sped northward into Whitfield County. Low on both wood and water, Andrews began looking for replenishments.