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Life In Dixie During the War, 1861-1862-1863-1864-1865, Chapter 6

A Daring and Unique Chase
Mary Ann Harris Gay

The Capture and Recapture of the Railroad Engine, "The "General." 

In the early spring of 1862, there occurred an episode of the war which, up to that date, was the most exciting that had happened in our immediate section. The story has often been told; but instead of relying upon my memory, I will condense from the written statement of Mr. Anthony Murphy, of Atlanta, Georgia, who was one of the principal actors in the chase. 

Mr. Murphy begins his narrative by saying: "On Saturday morning, April 12th, 1862, about 4 o'clock, I went aboard a passenger train that started then for Chattanooga, Tennessee. My business that day was to examine an engine that furnished power to cut wood and
pump water for the locomotives at Allatoona, a station forty miles from Atlanta. As foreman of machine and motive power, it became my duty to go that morning. This train was in charge of Engineer Jeff Cain, and Conductor W. A. Fuller. It was known as a freight and passenger train. The train arrived in Marietta, twenty miles from Atlanta, shortly after daylight. I stepped from the coach and noticed a number of men getting on the car forward of the one I rode in. They were dressed like citizens from the country, and I supposed they were volunteers for the army, going to Big Shanty, now known as Kennesaw, a station about eighteen miles from Marietta, where troops were organized and forwarded to the Confederate army in Virginia and other points. At this station the train stopped for breakfast, and, as the engineer, conductor, myself and other passengers went to get our meals, no one was left in charge of the locomotive. I had about finished, when I heard a noise as if steam were escaping. Looking through a window I saw the cars move, saw the engineer and fireman at the table, and said to them: 'Some one is moving your engine.' By this time I was at the front door, and saw that the train was divided and passing out of sight." 

Mr. Murphy, the conductor, and the engineer then held a brief consultation. He asked about the men who got on at Marietta (who afterwards proved to be a Federal raiding party, Andrews and his men), and remarked: "They were the men who took the engine and three cars." At the time he thought they were Confederate deserters, who would run the engine as far as it would have steam to run, and then abandon it. Mr. Murphy and his two comrades concluded that it was their duty to proceed after them. A Mr. Kendrick, connected with the railroad, coming up, they requested him to go on horseback to Marietta, the nearest telegraph station, and communicate with the superintendent at Atlanta, while they "put out on foot after a locomotive under steam." Knowing they would reach a squad of track-hands somewhere on the line they had some hope, and they did, in a few miles, meet a car and hands near Moon's Station, about two miles from Big Shanty. They pressed the car, and two hands to propel it, which propelling was done by poles pressed against the ties or ground, and not by a crank. Soon they reached a pile of cross-ties on the track, and found the telegraph wire cut. Clearing- off the ties, they pressed on until they reached Ackworth Station, six miles from Big Shanty. There they learned that the train they were pursuing had stopped some distance from the depot, and having been carefully examined by its engineer, had moved off at a rapid rate. This satisfied the pursuers that the capturers of the engine "meant something more than deserters would attempt;" and then they "thought of enemies from the Federal army." Says the narrator: "We moved on to Allatoona. At this place we received two old guns, one for Puller, and one for the writer. I really did not know how long they had been loaded, nor do I yet, for we never fired them. These were the only arms on our engine during our chase. Two citizens went along- from here, which made about seven men on our little pole-car. As we proceeded toward Ktowah, we moved rapidly, being down grade, when suddenly we beheld an open place in the track. A piece of rail had been taken up by the raiders. Having no brake, we could not hold our car in check, and plunged into this gap, turning over with all hands except Fuller and myself, who jumped before the car left the track. The little car was put on again, and the poling man sent back to the next track-gang to have repairs made for following trains." 

Arriving at Ktowah, the pursuers found the engine "Yonah," used by the Cooper Iron Company, and  pressed it into service. They got an open car, and stocked it with rails, spikes and tools, and moved on to Cartersville. Passing on to Rogers' Station, they learned that the raiders had stopped there for wood and water, telling Mr. Rogers that they were under military orders, and that the engine crew proper were coming on behind. At Kingston the raiders had told that they were carrying ammunition to General Beauregard, on the line of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, near Huntsville, Alabama. At this point the "Yonah" was sent back to Ktowah, and the supply car of the pursuers coupled to the engine "New York." But at Kingston the Rome Railroad connects with the Western & Atlantic road, and the Rome engine and train were in the way. Instead of clearing the track for the "New York," the crowd at the Kingston depot, having learned the news, took possession of the Rome engine and some cars attached, and pulled out for the chase, which compelled Mr. Murphy and his friends to abandon their outfit and run to get on the same train. A few miles were made, when they found a pile of cross-ties on the rails, and the telegraph wires cut. Clearing the track they moved on, when they encountered another gap. Here Messrs. Murphy and Fuller, believing that they would meet the engine "Texas" with a freight train, left the obstructed train and pressed on again on foot, advising the crowd to return, which they did. The pursuers met the "Texas" two miles from Adairsville, and, motioning the engineer to stop, they went aboard and turned him back. At Adairsville they learned that Andrews had not been long gone. Says the narrator:" About three miles from Calhoun we came in sight for the first time of the captured engine, and three freight cars. They had stopped to remove another rail, and were in the act of trying to get it out when we came in sight. As we reached them, they cut loose one car and started again. We coupled this car to our engine, and moved after them. From Resaca to Tilton the road was very crooked, and we had to move cautiously. The distance between us was short. I feared ambushing by Andrews — reversing the engine and starting it back under an open throttle valve. To prevent us closing in on them, the end of the box car was broken out, and from this they threw cross-ties on the track to check our speed and probably derail us. I had a long bar fastened to the brake wheel of the tender to give power so that four men could use it to help check and stop the engine suddenly. I also stood by the reverse lever to aid the engineer to reverse his engine, which he had to do many times to avoid the cross-ties. 

"Passing through and beyond Tilton, we again came in sight. At this point the road has a straight stretch of over a mile. A short distance from Tilton and just as we rounded the curve, 'The General' with the raiders was rounding another curve, leaving the straight line, giving us a fine view for some distance across the angle. The fastest run was made at this point. I imagine now, as I write this, I see the two great locomotives with their human freight speeding on, one trying to escape, the other endeavoring to overtake, and if such had happened none might have been left to give the particulars of that exciting and daring undertaking. The chances of battle were certainly against us if Andrews had attempted fight." 

Just beyond Dalton the pursuers found the telegraph wire cut. On reaching the "tunnel," they were satisfied that Andrews was short of wood, or the tunnel would not have been so clear of smoke. Passing through the tunnel they kept on, and beyond Ringgold, about two miles, the captors left "The General" and made for the woods. The pursuers were in sight of them. Mr. Fuller and others started after the raiders. Mr. Murphy went on the engine to examine the cause of the stop. He found no wood in the furnace, but plenty of water in the boiler. Says Mr. Murphy: "I took charge of the engine, 'General,' had it placed on the side-track, and waited for the first train from Chattanooga to Atlanta. I reached Ringgold about dark. I went aboard, and reaching Dalton, the first telegraph station, I sent the first news of our chase and recapture of the 'General' to Atlanta." 

Mary A. H. Gay, Life In Dixie During the War, 1861-1862-1863-1864-1865 (Atlanta: Charles P. Byrd, 1894), 40-45.


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