Part 2: daring enterprises of officers and men.
The great railroad chase.
The most remarkable and thrilling railroad adventure that ever occurred on the American
continent, was that which happened to the twenty-two members of an expedition sent out by the Union General O. M. Mitchel
, to destroy the communication on the Georgia State Railroad, between Atlanta
The expedition itself, in the daring of its conception, possessed the wildness of a romance, and which, had it been successful, would have suddenly and completely changed the whole aspect of the war in the South and Southwest.
It was as sublime in the results aimed at, as it was daring in execution; for it would have given full possession of all East Tennessee
to the Union
forces, which, moving then on Lynchburg
, would have had the valley of Virginia
at their mercy, and could have attacked Stonewall Jackson
in the rear.
In addition,, to this advantage, they would have held the railroad to Charlottesville
and Orange Court House
, as well as the Southside railroad leading to Petersburg
; and thus, by uniting with McClellan
's army, could have attacked the rebel General Joe Johnston
's army, front and flank.
driven him from Virginia
, and flanked Beauregard
This admirable coup daetat, the sagacity and importance of which challenged even the warmest admiration of the Confederates
themselves, as being “the deepest laid scheme, and on the grandest scale, that ever emanated from the brains of any number of Yankees combined,” was planned and set on foot in April, 1862, by Mr. J. J. Andrews
, a citizen of Kentucky
, who had been previously engaged in the secret service of the United States Government.
The plan of operations which he proposed was to reach a point on the State
road, where they could seize locomotive and train of cars, and then dash back in the direction of Chattanooga
, cutting the telegraph wires and burning the bridges behind them as they went, until they reached their own lines.
The party, consisted of twenty-four men, who, with the exception of its leader, Mr. Andrews
, and another citizen of Kentucky
, William Campbell
by name — who volunteered as substitute for a soldier — were selected from different companies of the Second, Twenty-first, and Twenty-third Ohio regiments, with particular reference to their known courage and discretion.
These brave men were informed that the movement was to be a secret one, and doubtless comprehended something of its perils; but Mr. Andrews
and one other alone seem to have known any thing of its precise direction and object.
They all, however, cheerfully and voluntarily engaged in it; and before starting, Andrews
divided among them seven hundred dollars of Confederate scrip, informed them that they were now venturing upon important and dangerous duty, and threatened to shoot on the spot the first man that got drunk or flinched in the least.
They then made their way through the lines in parties of two and three,
in citizens' dress, and carrying only side arms, to Chattanooga
, the point of rendezvous agreed upon, where twenty-two out of the twenty-four arrived safely.
Here they took passage, without attracting attention, for Marietta
, which place they reached at twelve o'clock on the night of the 11th of April.
The next morning, before daylight, they took the cars and went back on the same road to a place called Big Shanty, a regular stopping-place for refreshments, and where, within forty or fifty yards of the road, some twenty thousand Confederate troops were encamped, it being a general rendezvous for recruits and the organization of regiments.
The train upon which the conspirators were, contained, also, a number of soldiers, as well as citizens, together with a quantity of provisions, and an iron safe containing a large amount of Confederate money, designed for the payment of the rebel troops at Corinth, Mississippi
Here, for the first time, they knew the nature of their duty, which was to destroy the track and bridges from Big Shanty, to and beyond Chattanooga
, or as far as Bridgeport, Tennessee
This section of the road is built over innumerable creeks and rivers; and as General Mitchel
had already cut off all communication from Corinth
, by holding Huntsville, Alabama
, the destruction of bridges which they were expected to effect, would have completely prevented rebel reinforcements and commissary stores from reaching Virginia
, and Georgia
At Big Shanty, therefore, the train stopped for breakfast, and passengers, conductor, engineer, and “hands,” all went into the saloon, and were soon engaged in enjoying their matutinal meal.
The conspirators were
prompt to seize the golden moment of opportunity now offered to them.
Leaving the cars, they quietly and naturally grouped together in squads of three and four, taking station with apparent carelessness on each side of the train, Andrews
stationing himself at the coupling pin of the third car. A number of their party were engineers, and thoroughly understood the business in hand.
One of these engineers was at his post, and found every thing right.
All hands then quickly mounted the cars, although the guard was within three feet of them; the word was given, Andrews
drew the coupling pin and cried, “All right!”
The engineer opened the valve and put on all steam, and the train, now consisting of three box cars and the engine, moved quietly but swiftly off-leaving rebel conductor, engineer, passengers, spectators, and the soldiers in the camp near by, all lost in amazement, and dumbfounded at the strange, startling, and daring act. And now commenced the most exciting railroad race and chase, which it has ever fallen to the pen of historian to describe.
They soon lost sight of the lights at Big Shanty station, and at the first curve the train was stopped just long enough to allow one of the party to climb the telegraph pole and cut the wires.
Starting again, they pushed along — making stops here and there to tear up the track, and taking with them on the cars a few of the rails thus removed.
But unforseen difficulty now began to meet them.
According to the schedule of the road, of which Mr. Andrews
had possessed himself, they should have met but a single train on that day, whereas they met three, two of which were engaged on extraordinary service.
and they were compelled to switch off and let them
At the first station where this happened, the engineer of the road made his appearance, and was about to step on the engine, when Andrews
told him he could not come on board, as this was an extra train running through to Corinth
, and that his party were engaged to run it, and in support of his assertion the iron safe was shown.
This apparently satisfied the engineer, and after taking in wood and water, the train again started.
A second time they were compelled to switch off, and in order to get the switch-keys, Andrews
, who knew the road well, went into the station and took them from the office.
This caused considerable excitement, which he partly quieted by stating that the train contained gunpowder for Beauregard
, at Corinth
About an hour was lost in waiting to allow these trains to pass, which, of course, enabled their pursuers to press closely after them.
But they pushed on as rapidly as possible, removing rails, throwing out obstructions along the track, and cutting the telegraph lines from time to time-attaining, when in motion, a speed of sixty miles per hour-but they could not regain the time which they had lost.
Reaching a bridge about twenty miles south of Dalton, Georgia
, they set fire to one of their cars, piled on wood, and left it on the bridge, to which they thus hoped to set fire.
Now, let us return to the rebel engineer, conductor, and passengers, thus unceremoniously left at Big Shanty, by the amazing and sudden disappearance of the engine and part of the train.
The party who had thus stolen the march upon them, had evidently done so at that time and place, with the presumption that pursuit could not be made by an Engine short of Kingston
, some thirty
miles above Big Shanty; and that, by cutting the telegraph wires as they proceeded, they should gain at least three or four hours start of any pursuit which could be made.
This was a legitimate and reasonable conclusion, and but for the energy and quick judgment of Mr. Fuller
, the conductor, and Mr. Cain
, the engineer of the stolen train, and of Mr. Anthony Murphy
, foreman of the Wood Department
of the State
road, who accidentally happened on the train that morning, the plans of Mr. Andrews
and his party would have resulted as originally contemplated, and with crushing disaster to the rebel cause.
But these three determined men, without a moment's delay, put out after the flying train on foot
, amidst shouts of laughter from the crowd, who, though lost in amazement at the unexpected and daring act, could not repress their merriment at seeing three men starting on foot after a train which had just whirled away from before their eyes, under the highest power of steam.
But Messrs. Fuller
, and Murphy
, nowise daunted by the disparity of motive power, put on all their speed and ran along the track for three miles, until they came up with some track raisers who had a small truck car, which is shoved along by men so employed on railroads, on which to carry their tools.
Truck and men were at once “impressed,” and they took it by turns of two at a time to run behind the truck and push it along all up-grades and level portions of the road, and let it drive at will on all the downgrades.
Reaching the spot where the runaways had cut the telegraph wires and torn up the track, they found themselves suddenly tumbled out, pell-mell, truck and men, upon the side of the road.
Finding, however, that
“nobody was hurt on our side,” the plucky “rebs” put the truck again on the track, left some hands to repair the road, and with all the power of determined will and muscle, they pushed on to Etowah station, some thirty miles above.
Here, the first thing that met their sight was the “Yonah,” an old coal engine, one of the first ever used on the State
road, standing already “fired up.”
This venerable locomotive was immediately turned upon the track, and like an old racer at the tap of the drum, pricked up her ears and made fine time to Kingston
There they found themselves but twenty minutes behind the runaway train; and leaving the “Yonah” to blow off, they mounted the engine of the Pine Branch
road, which was ready fired up, and waiting for the arrival of the passenger train nearly due. Here a number of persons volunteered for the chase, taking such arms as they could lay their hands on at the moment, and with the fresh engine they started for Adamsville
But a little before reaching that place they found the train at a standstill, in consequence of the destruction of a portion of the road by the Yankee
This was vexatious, but it did not discourage Fuller
, who left the engine and once more put out on foot
After two miles running, they met the down freight train from Adamsville-reversed and ran it backward to that place, switched off the cars on a side track, and with the engine made fine time to.