MARIETTA, Ga. – Trains still roar past the Kennesaw House located between the city square and the railroad tracks a block away. Turn back the clock 145 years to April 12, 1862, and the Kennesaw House was the stepping off point for one of the more intriguing episodes of the Civil War.
It was the one-year anniversary of the start of the Civil War, and the morning passenger train – pulled by the locomotive General – arrived in town. The train comes to a stop and 20 men step on board, all headed to various destinations to the north.
What no one on board the train knew is that the 20 men were Union spies. Led by James J. Andrews, the men planned to steal the locomotive and then destroy the Western & Atlantic Railroad, a vital link between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn., in the heart of the Confederacy.
The Andrews Raid, also known as The Great Locomotive Chase, ultimately failed. But days later, the Southern Confederacy newspaper proclaimed it “the most extraordinary and astounding adventure of the war.” More than an “astounding adventure,” the raid was near genius.
Andrews devised not only a daring plan, but also a complicated one, involving his deceit and destruction coupled with the coordinated movement of Gen. Ormsby Mitchel and his troops. Unfortunately for Andrews, bad weather doomed the raid. But, had the weather been clear and the raid taken place on April 11, 1862, when the railroad was less congested, the Civil War would have no doubt played out differently.
Regardless, the raid raised a general awareness among Southerners about the importance of railroads and also their vulnerability. Following the raid, the Confederacy guarded its lines closer and a year later stopped a second attempted raid against the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The railroad was ultimately captured by Union Gen. William T. Sherman during his “March to Atlanta” in 1864.
Since the end of the Civil War, the raid was memorialized in film and books, but the best way to learn about the events of April 12, 1862, is by following the tracks of the raiders themselves.
The Andrews Raid doesn’t just live on in books; the adventure’s scenes remain scattered across the North Georgia countryside and are easily accessible. The route of the Andrews Raid can be retraced in a day – or longer, depending on the time spent at each destination.
Historic markers, railroad depots and other raid-related places await the curious traveler. That includes the two stars of the raid: the General and the Texas, two of the locomotives used during the day.
The upcoming series of articles outlines some of the Andrews Raid-related sights worth visiting.