Valor Friday

| July 5, 2024 | 7 Comments

Andrews’ Raid aka “The Great Locomotive Chase”

It’s the spring of 1862. The United States has been cleaved in two, with the southern states secceeding from the Union a year previously. With Lincoln in the White House, the Union is waging a war to reunite the country. The Civil War was in its infancy, but already the war had claimed more American lives than all previous American wars combined. The bloodiest battles were yet to be fought. The war became the most costly one in American lives, and remains so to this day. More American men died fighting the Civil War than both World Wars combined. In fact, estimates of the dead during the Civil War are about the same as the number of Americans lost in all of the wars fought by the country since the end of the Civil War.

The first year of the war showed no decisive victories for either side. Commanding the Confederate troops in the south was Robert E Lee, who had yet to take any offensives into the North. Union troops had yet to coalesce under a strong, decisive strategic commanding officer such as Ulysses Grant (who was a field commander at this time). Both sides had claimed clear victories, sometimes entirely routing or capturing all of the enemy troops, in battles, but there was no real sentiment that either side could yet see a clear victory scenario.

The most decisive and lasting gains during this time were in the Western Theater, where Grant’s command saw several gains that the Union was able to hold. In the Eastern Theater, things weren’t looking so rosy. It would not be until the end of the year (1 Jan 1863 to be exact) that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would free all slaves in the rebel states (breaking the bonds of slavery for 3.5 million of the 4 million enslaved Americans at the time). The victory later that year of Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg would start to see the end of the Confederate States.

It was in that more bleak late-winter and early-spring of 1862 that today’s story takes place. The Civil War was the first war to feature the railroad and the telegraph as key strategic and tactical resources. American industrialization meant that for the first time, men and materiel could be transported over great distances at great speed. No longer would an army be limited by how far it could march, but rather how far could the locomotive carry them before running out of steam.

Similarly, the telegraph would change how all future wars were fought. For centuries, national leaders (Kings, Presidents, and Prime Ministers) would either have to personally lead their armies into battle or designate extremely well trusted men to lead them. With the telegraph wire criss-crossing the US, it was now possible for Lincoln and his war cabinet to monitor and direct the war (which spanned almost the width of the whole country) from Washington, D.C.

Both the rail and telegraph lines were thus important targets. Either was relatively easy to disrupt with limited resources. A small group of men could sabotage them, deep behind enemy lines, and sow chaos and confusion or completely stall a army’s advance.

James Andrews was a 32 year old civilian working as a spy and scout for the Union Army in Tennessee. From Kentucky, he’d worked as a house painter and singing coach before becoming a soldier for hire. In March 1862, Andrews (who had been smuggling supplies across enemy lines) presented a daring plan to his commanding general, Don Carlos Buell. He would lead a group of volunteers in a raid on Southern rail lines deep in Georgia, near the critical major industrial center of the state in Atlanta. They would move deep behind enemy lines, steal a locomotive and its engineer, then travel north back to Union lines. Along the way, they would cut telegraph lines and blow up rail bridges. Andrews claimed he had a willing engineer that would defect with his train.

Buell approved of the plan, and Andrews led a volunteers by train to Marietta, Georgia. When they got to the agreed upon meeting place with the defecting engineer, it turns out the man had been called away for service elsewhere. When a poll of his men turned up nobody who knew how to operate an engine, they called off the raid. Two men were caught by Confederates cutting a telegraph line, but were able to play it off as overworked linesmen.

With the raid a failure, another attempt was made in April 1862, the 12th of April to be exact. One year to the day that the war had started with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter. Andrews again led, with William “Bill” Campbell and drew 22 volunteer soldiers from three Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiments. These men were (in alphabetical order);

*Private William Bensinger (21st Ohio)
*Private Wilson W. Brown (21st Ohio)
*Private Robert Buffum (21st Ohio)
*Corporal Daniel A. Dorsey (33rd Ohio)
*Corporal Martin J. Hawkins (33rd Ohio)
*Private William James Knight (21st Ohio)
*Corporal Samuel Llewellyn (33rd Ohio)
*Sergeant Elihu H. Mason (21st Ohio)
*Private Jacob Parrott (33rd Ohio)
*Corporal William Pittenger (2nd Ohio)
*Private John Reed Porter (21st Ohio)
*Corporal William H. H. Reddick (33rd Ohio)
*Sergeant Major Marion A. Ross (2nd Ohio)
*Sergeant John Morehead Scott (21st Ohio)
*Private Charles Perry Shadrack (2nd Ohio)
*Private Samuel Slavens (33rd Ohio)
*Private Ovid Wellford Smith (2nd Ohio)
*Private George Davenport Wilson (2nd Ohio)
*Private John Alfred Wilson (21st Ohio)
*Private John Wollam (33rd Ohio)
*Private Mark Wood (21st Ohio)

The Andrews’ Raiders

Bill Campbell was a 22 year old Ohioan civilian visiting friends serving with the 2nd Ohio. He was described by one of the raiders, “He was a man of two hundred twenty pounds, handsome as Apollo, and of immense physical strength, which he was slow to use when roused, though good-natured and clever in the main.” This was at a time that the average Civil War soldier was 26, 5’8″ in height, and 143 lbs in weight. He was probably recruited for his physical attributes should the mission turn violent, which it was most assuredly going to.

Andrews and his men dressed in civilian clothing and headed south. They traveled in small groups to avoid suspicion, and were to meet in Marietta. Llewellyn and Smith missed the rendezvous, and both enlisted with Confederate artillery units, as they were instructed to do to avoid capture. Smith was arrested, but not identified as a raider. Both men were able to make it back to federal lines. The raiders now numbered 22.

On the day of the train heist, Hawkins (one of the designated engineers) and Porter overslept and missed the operation. They tried to enlist in a Confederate unit, both were arrested, and were part of an escape of Andrews’ Raiders on 16 October. The raiders now numbered 20.

Painting of The General as it appeared during the war

The morning of 12 April, the raiders met the daily train out of Atlanta at Big Shanty (now Kennessaw). The train was stopping for provisions and, since dining cars weren’t yet widely used, for passengers to luncheon. Stopping at the Lacy Hotel, the raiders seized the locomotive The General and three of its boxcars immediately behind the tender. They left the passengers and all the passenger cars behind.

Leaving with The General, the raiders were chased by the locomotive’s conductor and two other men. At first they pursued it on foot, then they used a hand car from a rail crew to chase it a bit faster. Trains at this time, particularly in the hills of this region, traveled about 15 miles per hour. As Andrews planned the stop frequently for sabotage on their way to Chattanooga, it is possible a determined pursuer, even on foot, could catch up with The General. The train’s stranded crew were unable to call ahead down the line as the Big Shanty stop didn’t have a telegraph.

The raiders passed a smaller locomotive named Yonah near an Iron Works parked on a siding. Andrews wanted to capture or disable that engine, so it couldn’t be used by pursuers. He assessed that Yonah’s crew, though unarmed, would likely put up enough of a struggle for his small band of troops to be worth the effort. Any firefight would likely alert nearby Rebel troops.

Stealing The General, the regularly scheduled train, they were riding a single track line north. This meant they’d have to adhere pretty closely to the train’s scheduled stops. If they arrived at a siding early, they’d have to wait there until the southbound train passed. As they arrived at Confederate train stations, Andrews told station masters that he was a special ammunition train for General Beauregard. As they went, Andrews’ men cut the telegraph wires heading south, so the masters of the stations were caught unaware of the danger.

The raiders were halted at Kingston for a southbound freight train. The Confederate train had a red flag at its tail. Andrews inquired of the conductor the reason for this, and the man told him that it meant there was another freight train behind him, preventing Andrews’ movement for a full hour. The freight trains were on orders to evacuate supplies out of Chattanooga, as they were aware of the Union troops on the march to the city. Which had been timed to occur contemporaneously with Andrews’ blowing of the rail line into the city from the south. This allowed The General’s pursuers enough time to catch up.

The chasing conductor, William Fuller, had commandeered Yonah, and nearly caught up to Andrews before they pulled out of Kingston. Andrews was able to cut a rail and the telegraph wires as he continued north, now with Fuller in pursuit in another commandeered locomotive. Fuller was soon stopped by the cut rail, and again dismounted to chase The General on foot.

Texas after a 21st Century restoration to her circa-1870 configuration

Andrews’ was able to convince the conductor of the locomotive Texas to take a siding and allow him to pass. When Fuller caught up to Texas, he commandeered Texas, grabbed about 10 Confederate troops, and pressed the locomotive northward, pushing its tender in front of it.

With Fuller now in hot pursuit, Andrews’ Raiders had no time to stop and cut through a rail to stymie the enemy. Andrews was able to cut telegraph lines, but was unable to sabotage the track or destroy any of the rail bridges as planned. Fuller was successful in getting a telegraph message to Chattanooga just before they cut the line, alerting them to the stolen locomotive.

With General steaming at full speed, and Texas chasing them while running backwards, the two trains sped through Dalton and Tunnel Hill. The unusual sight of two locomotives without a train of cars behind them pursuing one another rapidly through town surprised residents and rail workers who witnessed them.

Just 18 miles south of Chattanooga, the Raiders’ valiant ride ended. The train ran out of fuel, and Andrews and his men abandoned it and scattered. All of the men would be captured in the next two weeks.

The Confederates charged them all with “acts of unlawful belligerency” and further charged the two civilians with being unlawful combatants and spies. All of the men were tried by military courts-martial, with Andrews being the first. He was convicted in May. He and Wollam escaped on 1 June, but Andrews was recaptured the next day, and hanged on 7 June 1862 in Atlanta. Wollam would also be recaptured later that month.

18 June 1862 hanging of seven Andrews’ Raiders in Atlanta

On 18 June, seven more Raiders were hung in Atlanta. Robertson, Ross, Scott, Shadrack, and George Wilson were joined by Campbell and Slavin. The former five all hung on the first attempt, but the latter two were larger men who broke the ropes. It was described thusly; “Five only remained dangling in the air; for two of the seven, Campbell and Slavens, being very heavy men, broke the ropes, and fell to the ground insensible. In a short time they recovered, and asked for a drink of water, which was given them. Then they requested an hour to pray before entering the future world, which lay so near and dark before them. This last petition was indignantly refused, and as soon as the ropes could be adjusted, they were compelled to re-ascend the scaffold, and were again turned off!”

The remaining Raiders rightfully feared being hanged. They plotted an escape. Brown, Dorsey, Hawkins, Knight, Porter, John Wilson, Wollam, and Wood escaped on 16 October 1862. They all succeeded in returning to Union lines. Two of them were helped by slaves and Union sympathizers. Two others floated down the Chattahoochee River to the Gulf of Mexico, where they met the Union Navy blockade.

Original 1862 pattern US Army Medal of Honor

Bensinger, Buffum, Mason, Parrot, Pittenger, and Reddick were returned to Union control in a prisoner exchange on 18 March 1863. They were celebrated as heroes. A week later, on 25 March 1863, they would be the first recipients of the new medal for battlefield gallantry, the Medal of Honor. Parrot was officially the first recipient of the award, which remains the highest decoration of the United States government. He was chosen at the first recipient since he’d faced torture while in captivity.

All six men were offered commissions as second lieutenants by Secretary of War Stanton. It appears as if Pittenger was the only one to decline, though he would later be promoted to sergeant.

As the story of the rest of the Andrews Raiders became known, they too were given Medals of Honor to recognize their valor and sacrifices. Seven of the eight men that escaped in October (Wollam was the exception) and two of those hanged in June (Robertson and Ross) were the next to receive the MoH, on 17 September 1863. Wollam and Smith were awarded theirs in July 1864. Scott was posthumously awarded his in 1866, and Slavins posthumously in 1883.

Andrews, the man who led the raid, will likely forever be denied the Medal of Honor for his role. As will Campbell. Both were civilians and officially ineligible for the award. There have been several notable exceptions, so that oversight might eventually be rectified. The only female recipient of the MoH, Mary Edwards Walker, was a civilian surgeon for the Army when she earned her medal. Buffalo Bill and four other men were civilian scouts for the Army when they earned theirs in the Indian Wars. As was future Chief of Staff of the US Army Major General Leonard Wood (who was a contract surgeon at the time he earned it). Aviation pioneers Richard Byrd and Charles Lindbergh were both awarded the Medal of Honor by a special act of Congress, though both held reserve officer’s commissions.

A careful count will show that three men that took part in the raid have not been honored. Two of them, Shadrack and George Wilson, clearly earned it, as they were among those executed in June 1862. To rectify the oversight, George W Bush signed in 2008 a law that authorized himself to award them the Medal of Honor. For some reason there was no action taken, and it took more 16 years to have it corrected once and for all.

Current pattern Army Medals of Honor were awarded, as the original Civil War pattern ceased being made/issued more than 100 years ago.

President Biden officially awarded the Medal of Honor to Privates George Wilson and Charles Shadrack on 3 July 2024. This is 161 years after the actions for which they earned it.

Biden presents Medals of Honor to the mens’ decendants. Theresa Chandler, the great-great-granddaughter of Pvt. Wilson, and Gerald Taylor, the great-great-nephew of Pvt. Shadrach.

Llewellyn, who missed the rendezvous, is now the only Union Army soldier involved in the raid to not have received the medal. Interestingly, Smith, who also missed the rendezvous with Llewellyn, has gotten one.

Both locomotives The General and Texas survived the war. They are both museum pieces. The General is on display at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, in Kennesaw, Georgia, near where the chase began. The Texas is at the Atlanta History Center. The first first-hand account of the raid was published by William Pittenger under the title of Daring and Suffering. It would be republished in 1881 as Capturing a Locomotive and 1889 as The Great Locomotive Chase. It was a wildly successful book.

Several surviving Andrews Raiders meet at a reunion, many years later

Of the Andrews Raiders that survived the ordeal,

  • Bensinger would later be promoted to captain. He would return to Ohio, where he lived to the age of 78, dying in 1918.
  • Brown saw action at the Battles of Stones River and Chickamauga, wounded in action at the latter. He died in 1916 at the age of 77. He remained active in Andrews Raiders reunions. He also maintained a friendship with William Fuller, the Confederate who pursued him during the raid. Brown’s father was a veteran of the War of 1812. His brothers also saw service to the United States (Charles a lieutenant and adjutant in the 57th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Miller in Co “A” of the 57th Ohio, and another brother served in the Spanish-American War).
  • Buffum died in New York in 1871, just 43 years old. His brother David Buffum died in 1956. He’d been a vocal abolishionist in Kansas, when he was robbed and mortally wounded by pro-slavers. His death was a part of the violent pre-Civil War fight over slavery that is now known as Bleeding Kansas.
  • Dorsey also saw action at the Battle of Chickamauga, was promoted to first lieutenant, and was mustered out in 1864 on a disability. He lived to age 79, when he died in Kentucky in 1918. His son George Dorsey was a corporal in the Army during the Spanish-American War.
  • Hawkins died in 1886 at the age of 56. He lived in Quincy, Illinois at the time.
  • Knight returned to Ohio, living there until his death at age 79 in 1916. A grandson, Melvin Knight, was a WWII corporal in the Coast Artillery Corps.
  • Llewellyn also went back to Ohio. After the war, he served as a member of the Ohio State House of Representatives, 1890 to 1893. He died at 73 in 1915.
  • Mason would be promoted to captain before the war’s end. He was captured by the Confederates (again) at the Battle of Chickamauga. He lived in Ohio after the war, until his passing in 1896, aged 65. His great-grandson was Robert “Bob” Mason Kipp, who enlisted in the US Army in 1946, served in occupied Europe, and became a career civilian historian for the USAF.
  • Pittinger wasn’t to remain in the service long after getting his lieutenant’s commission. He left the Union Army in 1863 on a disability. He became a Methodist minister, first in Pittsburgh, then New Jersey. He was a professor at National School of Elocution and Oratory in Philadelphia for 12 years before moving to California in 1890. He bought a home on 20-acres, and died in 1904 at the age 64. He also authored the aforementioned book that popularized The Great Locomotive Chase. His grave wasn’t properly marked with his military honors until the historical society in his town contacted the VA in 1988.
  • Porter remained in the service after returning to Union lines. By the war’s end he’d been promoted to first lieutenant. He returned to Ohio and was the last surviving raider when he died in 1923, age 84.
  • Reddick became a farmer in Iowa after the war. He died there in 1903 at the age of 63. Among his grandchilren was Willis Reddick, a sergeant of the 78th Field Artillery during WWI, Lewis Reddick, a US Army private during WWI, and Jean Reddick, a WWII veteran.
  • Smith would be promoted to corporal before he left the service. He died in 1868, just 24.
  • John Afred Wilson returned to Ohio. He wrote a book, “Adventures of Alf Wilson – A Thrilling Episode of the Dark Days of the Rebellion”. He died in 1904 at the age of 70. His younger brother was James Derias Wilson, who served with the 2nd Missouri Cavalry (a Union unit) during the war.
  • Wollam died at the age of 52 in 1890.
  • Wood left the Union Army in 1864 on a disability. He died in Toledo in 1866, just 26 years old.

Captain William Fuller

William Fuller, the original conductor of The General who gave chase to and recovered the locomotive, was commended as a hero. The Georgia State Assembly said, “The conduct of Mr. Fuller, the Conductor, and of some others in the hazardous pursuit, while the spies were in possession of the train, deserves the highest commendation and entitles them to the consideration of the General Assembly.”

Fuller received a commission from the Georgia governor as captain of the Independent State Road Guards. As captain and commanding officer of the Guards, Fuller recruited and trained militiamen for the purpose of armed defense of the railroads. He returned to working for various railroads in the postbellum years.

Fuller lived to age 69, dying in 1905. His grave marker reads, “On April 12, 1862, Captain Fuller pursued and after a race of 80 miles from Big Shanty Northward on the Western & Atlantic railroad, re-captured the historic war-engine General which had been seized by 22 Federal soldiers in disguise, thereby preventing the destruction of the bridges of the railroad and the consequent dismemberment of the Confederacy.”

Category: Army, Historical, Medal of Honor, Valor, We Remember

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Civil War E-4 mafia vibes…

“Two men were caught by Confederates cutting a telegraph line, but were able to play it off as overworked linesmen.”


Being caught, not in a uniform, conducting a military mission on eneny soil meant death. Now we give terrorists and spys green cards and jobs…

“On 18 June, seven more Raiders were hung in Atlanta.”


Cool story, one I had not heard. You never disappoint with your articles.


They knowed the job was dangerous when they took it. And took the job in spite of that. Hardcore!

In a sense, their mission was successful in that it made the Confederates allocate resources to defend their rail lines.

Thanks, Mason.


I went on a staff ride to the Savanah GA battle field when I was attending the CCC at (then) FT Gordon GA. They have examples of rail twisted in loops I think that they called Sherman knots, or something like that. They could never be reused. I had to write a research paper on Sherman’s drive to the Atlantic. My part specifically was on his logistics for the March and the speed required. It was very interesting. A lot false stories out there.


“Sherman neckties” was one term used for twisted rails. Back in the late ’50s and on into the ’80s there were places where one could see the ends of rails from where they had been wrapped around the trees. “100 million $s of destruction of which at least 80 million was pure waste.” ‘Cump’s words. Sherman Sentinels was the term used for the chimneys left by burning homes. If one knows where to look, one can still find them. Folks travelling across that 60 mile path soon afterwards referred to it as The Burnt Area. I’ve traveled the routes that both wings took thru Georgia and the Carolinas. Entire towns disappeared and were never built back. One story that is for sure not false is what happened to the women that worked at the Roswell and Sweetwater Mills.

On the other subject of your visit to Helen, I had a message back from one of my sources. She agreed that it had become a FIRST (ht2 Bennsue) Rate Tourist Trap and had quit going because of that. Our very own Commissioner Wretched posted a comment yesterday(?) that he knew of a place that was still worthwhile to visit. We’ll have to get him to post the name of it. My friend had this to recommend…”Sautee Nacoochee is a much more beautiful, quieter area and just a few miles to the east, but there are no Bavarian pubs or restaurants in Sautee to my knowledge. I think…”. You may want to check into that.


Hey KoB, thank you for the intell. I’m going to find a weekend to check some of it out. I’ll probably avoid the Helen trap.

I have found a few of the Sherman Sentinels. I currently live in rural Alabama and know where there are some historical pieces of interest. One of my favorite Civil War figures was Nathan Bedford Forest, and he operated in my local area. I have found many of the Historical Markers that tell some of the stories. I should probably go get pictures of them before they have to be removed in order to “cleanse our nation” of anything that might be offensive to someone. Ya know, like history!?

There is small city west of FT Stewart called Penbroke that has a lot of history of the time period.