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Last Stop

March 2023
1min read

After nearly a decade of litigation the town of Kennesaw (originally humble Big Shanty), Georgia, has finally won back for good a picturesque locomotive that was stolen from there by Union soldiers 109 years ago. The engine, known as the General , and three boxcars were taken by James J. Andrews, an espionage agent, and nineteen federal soldiers in disguise while the train was stopped at Kennesaw for a breakfast break on April 12, 1862. The Northerners planned to run the train to Chattanooga, then the objective of a Union Army offensive, and, by burning bridges on the way, hoped to seal that city off from Confederate forces to the south and east. Andrews and his men never made it, however. The train crew bolted from the breakfast table as their train pulled away and gave chase first on foot and then in commandeered locomotives. Eight hours and eighty-seven miles later, after many hairbreadth episodes twice glorified in movies, the General ran out of steam. Andrews and the Union men hid in the woods, but all were rounded up within a week and he and seven others were executed. The General returned to serve the southern cause and survived the Battle of Atlanta, though in a badly battered shape. In 1870 her owner, the Georgia Railroad, leased the engine to the newly formed Western & Atlantic Railroad, which converted her from a wood burner to a coal burner. After that line was acquired by the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railroad in 1890, the General was spotted by an enterprising photographer sitting amid the weeds on a siding at Vining’s, Georgia. The NC & S t L restored the engine in her W & A livery and then put her on display under the train shed of Chattanooga’s Union Station. There she rested, except for brief excursions to such fairs as the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, until the Louisville & Nashville Railroad absorbed the NC & S t L in the late 1950’s. Since Chattanooga citizens were in no mood to have their venerated locomotive moved out of state, Louisville & Nashville officials resorted to kidnapping to use the engine in a planned centennial re-enactment of her Civil War escapade. Early in June, 1961, the wire fence surrounding the General was cut, and the engine, covered with canvas, was pulled from the train shed across a specially laid sixty feet of track to the railroad’s main line. She was then hoisted aboard a flatcar and sped the next day to Louisville, where the engine was converted anew, this time to an oil burner. On February 7, 1962, the General operated under her own power for the first time since 1914 and two months later performed handily in the centennial celebration, followed by a nationwide tour. When the railroad then announced its intention to deposit the engine at Kennesaw, the already-irate city of Chattanooga took the matter to court, contending that the General was its “charitable trust.” The suit was finally settled this past November by the U.S. Supreme Court, which let stand a lower court ruling that said the railroad could take the engine anywhere it wished.

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