Stealing The General
The Great Locomotive Chase and The First Medal of Honor
Russell S. Bonds
Stealing the General: The Great
Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor is the dramatic true
story of the Civil War raid that resulted in the first award of the
nation's highest decoration for valor.
On April 12, 1862—one year to the day after Confederate
guns opened on Fort Sumter and started the Civil War—a tall,
mysterious smuggler and self-appointed Union spy named James J.
Andrews and nineteen infantry volunteers infiltrated north Georgia and
stole a steam engine called the General. Racing northward at
speeds approaching sixty miles an hour, cutting telegraph lines and
destroying track along the way, Andrews planned to open East Tennessee
to the Union army, cutting off men and materiel from the Confederate
forces in Virginia. If they succeeded, Andrews and his raiders could
change the course of the war.
But the General's young conductor, William A.
Fuller, chased the stolen train first on foot, then by handcar, and
finally aboard another engine, the Texas. He pursued the
General until, running out of wood and water, Andrews and his men
abandoned the doomed locomotive, ending the adventure that would soon
be famous as The Great Locomotive Chase. But the ordeal of the
soldiers involved was just beginning. In the days that followed, the
"engine thieves" were hunted down and captured. Eight were tried and
executed as spies, including Andrews. Eight others made a daring
escape to freedom, including two assisted by a network of slaves and
Union sympathizers. For their actions, before a personal audience with
President Abraham Lincoln, six of the raiders became the first men in
American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor—the nation's highest
decoration for gallantry.