Hijacking The General Locomotive



Past Revisited:

The Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History

The Story Of America's Locomotive Past As Well As The Famous Hijacking Of "The General" Locomotive

"The General" At The Museum [Courtesy/Southern Museum Of Civil War & Locomotive History]

Raiders, destruction, hijacking and an 87 mile chase down the Western & Atlantic Railroad from Atlanta to Chattanooga: The year was 1862. April 12 was a regular morning for northbound locomotive the General, when it stopped for service in Big Shanty, Georgia (now called Kennesaw). Little did the conductor or passengers know – volunteers from the Union Army, led by civilian scout James J. Andrews, had cut telegraph wires and commandeered the train. They sped off at 20 miles per hour down the tracks, stopping periodically to cause as much damage as possible along the route.

“Before working at the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History, I did not realize how prolific the story of the Great Locomotive Chase was in American consciousness,” said marketing specialist Brittany Graham. “There's immense nostalgia surrounding the General. The story of the locomotive has held a prominent place in American imaginations for decades.”

It's been the duty of the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History to tell this story – and many others – since it initially opened in April 12 of 1972, the exact date in which the chase occurred 110 years prior. The museum started off with the General as its centerpiece but later expanded to include the Civil War and other pieces of locomotive history as well.

Kennesaw has a very rich history, making it the perfect location for such an informative museum. The museum sits right next to the railroad tracks it discusses inside its walls. Many guests find that the museum is just one of many stops they make along their educational adventure in the area.

“It's a small but interesting museum,” read one review from a visitor who came from New London, Conn, “with a focus on how the trains impacted the fighting of the Civil War in this region. I was most impressed by the narrative of the displays, which I found to be very well done. Since then, I have sought out histories on the use of railroads during the Civil War. The foundry and the General locomotive are quite impressive, showing manufacturing abilities during the time frame of the Civil War. For someone who enjoys history, the museum is a real find.”

A View Of The Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History [Courtesy/Southern Museum Of Civil War & Locomotive History]
Thieves Escape And Abandon "The General"

The Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History is a cultural cornerstone of metro-Atlanta history museums, showcasing the importance of the railroads – and the General locomotive – during the war. But with over three hours of information scattered throughout the museum - and a large amount of exhibits - the mission of the museum often gets a bit deeper.

“The museum provides a venue for creating southern social dialogue,” noted Graham. “For example, in 2015 the museum hosted 'Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited.' It was an exhibit discussing race and ethnic relations in the south through the lens of the murder of Mary Phagan, and the subsequent trial and lynching of Leo Frank.”

While the museum does have a wealth of knowledge on a variety of topics, people find themselves drawn to the General. It's hard not to. A steam locomotive built in 1855, the train is best known as the engine stolen by Union spies in the Great Locomotive Chase, which remains one of the most fascinating war stories in America's history.

What's most interesting is that the “chase” was actually very slow. The locomotives of the time only went an average speed of 15 miles per hour, and possibly even slower between Chattanooga and Atlanta because of the hilly terrain and steep ruling grades. On top of that, the train made periodic stops to perform acts of sabotage. At first, the Confederates chased the train first by foot, then by handcar.

With a lack of equipment and volunteers, the Union raiders were not able to destroy the railroads, tunnels and bridges fast enough. The chase ended in Ringgold, Georgia (only 18 miles from Chattanooga) when the locomotive ran out of fuel. Andrews and his men abandoned the General and scattered, but were soon caught.

The 1904 Medal of Honor [Courtesy/SoMu]
Glover Machine Works Factory [Courtesy/SoMu]
Jolly Education Center Pre-K Room [Courtesy/SoMu]

Since Andrews was only a civilian he was later hanged in Atlanta. The other raiders involved received their Medal of Honor from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. The short but intense piece of locomotive history was later made into many films and was the inspiration of many novels.

While the General is the focal point of the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History, there are many other exhibits on display for visitors to enjoy.

“I love the 'Casting a New South: The Glover Machine Works' exhibit,” Graham gushed. “The Glover Machine Works was located in Marietta, Georgia around the turn of the century and played a significant role in industrializing the post-Civil War South. Glover locomotives were shipped internationally, in use in more than a dozen countries. This exhibit is special because it features the only fully-restored belt-driven locomotive manufacturing shop in the country, as well as two original Glover locomotives. The exhibit starts with the history of the Glover family in Marietta and gives context to why the factory was so important to the area before walking visitors through the manufacturing process from start to finish.”

It's in-depth information like this that makes the museum a unique and inspiring experience. Educational programs and workshops offered throughout each month add even more immersion into the rich history of the south, facts and events that may not get the appreciation they deserve in textbooks, noted Graham.

For guests looking to expand their knowledge of the Civil War and the locomotive history of the south, the Southern Museum is the perfect blend of excitement and education, of intrigue and information. It's hard not to want to soak up all of the history the museum has to offer.

Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

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