Atlanta, GA

We Chase the Story of the Great Locomotive Chase for the 160th Anniversary

DeanLand

April 12, 2022, marks the 160th anniversary of The Great Locomotive Chase. It’s an epic story with trains, spies, bravery and the first Medals of Honor in US history.

Visiting local sites in northwest Georgia and beyond, we traced the lore and locations of this legendary event, ingrained in the collective memory in books, songs, major Hollywood movies, festivals and history museums. We focused on where to learn and experience the story, ignoring the modern day controversies which color this tragic period in our nation's history.

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Locations and lore from the Great Locomotive Chase can be found from Atlanta, GA, to the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, TN.Photo: DeanLand / OurTravelCafe.com

An extended account of this history journey is available at OurTravelCafe.com/chase, where some of the included links may contain advertising where the website or author may receive payments. A new podcast from "Go South Old Man" gives more historical background. The podcast is available from most major podcast sites, including Amazon, Apple, Audible, Spotify, iHeart, and others.

From Marietta and Kennesaw to the story's final chapter in Chattanooga, here's the overview of what we found:

First Stop, Marietta

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A uniformed mannequin representing James Andrews peers from the second floor at the Kennesaw House, now the Marietta History Center.Photo: DeanLand / OurTravelCafe.com

The historic Kennesaw House, one of Marietta’s oldest buildings, has served as a warehouse, hospital, morgue, and hotel. Today, it’s home to the Marietta History Center. On the second floor, overlooking the railroad tracks, a bearded mannequin in period clothing peers out the window. This is the Andrews Raider’s Room, a re-creation of an 1860s hotel suite. James Andrews and his band of marauders stayed at the Kennesaw House before the raid, and boarded the train at the station next door. A timeline outlines the story of Andrews planning and the later train theft.

Big Shanty, 20 Minutes for Breakfast

If you’re looking for Big Shanty, it disappeared from maps in 1887, with the official founding of the city of Kennesaw. Here sits the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on April 12, 2022. Great fanfare accompanied the opening of the new museum 50 years ago, dedicated to documentation and retelling of the Great Locomotive Chase. The museum’s star attraction then and now: the restored General locomotive of chase fame.

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A second-story viewing platform at Kennesaw's Southern Museum provides an overhead view of The General and its wood car.Photo: DeanLand / OurTravelCafe.com

The museum features an extensive display on the strategic importance and operations of Southern railroads during the 1800s. The operations of Marietta’s Glover Machine Works, a local locomotive builder, also are recreated. Visitors can also see a film about The Great Locomotive Chase, which reflects a Southern-centric perspective of the story. And don't miss the Jolley Education Center, a kids area that features an interactive train-driving space.

Finally, the restored General awaits, gleaming in bright red with brightly polished brass fittings. A second story viewing area provides a birds-eye perspective of the engine and its fuel car.

Chattanooga: End of the Line

Just inside the gates of the Chattanooga National Cemetery, a large memorial topped by a scale replica of the General marks the final resting places of James Andrews and several of his raiders. Blue flags flap in the wind, commemorating the first US Medal of Honor recipients are interred here. Walking around the memorial, the four sides tell the story of the raiders.

Rescuing the Texas

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The Texas, now on display at the Atlanta History Center, was the final locomotive to join The Chase.Photo courtesy of Atlanta History Center. All Rights Reserved

Commandeered by conductor William Fuller near Calhoun, the Texas was the final locomotive to join the chase. Retired in 1907, the locomotive was donated “to the ladies of Atlanta.” After restoration, the Texas resided in the basement of a building housing the Atlanta Cyclorama. The Texas now enjoys a new home at the Atlanta History Center’s railroad exhibit, which opened in 2018.

Remembering the Chase

In addition to contemporary newspaper accounts, a detailed story of the raid entitled The Great Locomotive Chase, was written by raid participant William Pittenger and published in 1893. Other commemorations of the event include:

  • US Medal of Honor. Considered the highest military award in the country, a total of 19 Union soldiers received the US Medal of Honor for their part in the historic raid. These were the first Medals of Honor in US history.
  • Concert Music. Music of The Great Locomotive Chase by composer Robert W. Smith is often played by concert bands and symphonies. The piece “stages the train chase complete with fascinating textures and effects,” says program notes from the publisher.
  • Multiple Books. Other well-known accounts are found in “Wild Train: The Story of The Andrews Raiders,” by Charles O’Neill and published in 1956; and “Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor,” by Marietta resident Russel S. Bonds in 2006. Bonds' book was selected by Civil War Interactive as "one of the top Civil War books of all time. (While it's available through usual sources, you can find the best price -- about half of the Amazon price -- at the Marietta History Center gift shop. Than means you can buy the book AND visit the museum for less that the book purchase alone on Amazon!)
  • A Slapstick Silent Movie. Film legend Buster Keaton directed and starred in the 1926 feature film, The General. An ad for the movie read, “Join the LAUGH Brigade. Enlist for Fun with the Commander-in-Chief of LAUGHTER!”
  • A Disney Movie. This 1956 Hollywood version, starring Fess Parker and Jeffrey Hunter, portrays the historic story made by the Walt Disney Company. Major portions were filmed near Clayton and Tallulah Falls, GA. The movie is available for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime Video.
  • A Television Special. In 1961, the Disney re-edited the movie into a two-part feature for television’s “The Magical World of Disney.”
  • Community Festivals. Both Adairsville, GA, and Cartersville, GA, celebrate Great Locomotive Chase festivals. But both festivals are held in October, not during April when the chase occurred.

More from DeanLand

If you enjoyed this article, see others on similar topics by DeanLand at OurTravelCafe.com. You can follow DeanLand on Newsbreak by using the "follow" button, located before and after this article on your phone, or on the left side menu on your computer. Check out these popular posts by DeanLand on Newsbreak:

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I'm Dean Landeche, a trained journalist, global marketing executive and experienced business leader who has run successful enterprises spanning five continents while serving customers who are among the world's best and largest restaurants. I've left the corporate business world behind, now living in Northwest Georgia and writing about avocations including outdoor excursions, family-friendly travel, road trips, exploration ideas for active seniors and some of my community passions. I've traveled to 47 states and nearly as many countries, and I'm still counting up. I'm now a traveler, hiker, cyclist, blogger, marketing consultant, community volunteer and local high school band nerd who previously has lived in Florida, Ohio, Indiana and Mississippi. I'm a South Louisiana-born French Cajun whose great-grandparents were sugar farmers, bar owners and reputed bootleggers. My upbringing in food-rich Louisiana and my restaurant industry career affirmed my status as an over-qualified eater. That also inspired the name of my blog, OurTravelCafe.com. There, I offer up a complete menu of our my own experiences, explorations and adventures, organized by geography and always sprinkled with some spicy, tasty tidbits and food notes.

Acworth, GA
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