The vacation, part 2: On the trail of the Great Locomotive Chase

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Sunday, August 27, 2017

My wife, Cate, and I didn’t plan to go looking for signs of the Great Locomotive Chase of Civil War fame, but during a couple of days on our recent vacation down south we found ourselves between Atlanta and Chattanooga. The important trappings of the chase were all around us. We basically just fell into it.


The initial inspiration wasn’t difficult. We were in Atlanta to see friends. Our first stop was the Atlanta History Center, where my good friend, Jackson McQuigg, oversees capital projects. Jackson’s job right now is overseeing the History Center’s major expansion to include the iconic Cyclorama of the battle of Atlanta – part painting, part diorama. As Jackson says, it was the late 19th century’s Imax theater. Part of that renovation and expansion includes the 4-4-0 steam locomotive Texas, the locomotive that conductor Fuller commandeered and gave chase in April 1862 to the General, the 4-4-0 which Union raider James J. Andrews had stolen. The Texas arrived at the history center after a cosmetic restoration in April, and the expansion where it sits will be opened in 2018. We got a sneak peek into the area where the Texas will tell the story about its day of fame as well as the importance of railroading to this, the capital of Southeastern business, which it is because it was first a railroad center. It was great to see this famous locomotive enshrined in a new place of prominence, a far jump from its previous display site in the basement of the Cyclorama building in Grant Park.

 

From there, we were pumped up, so our route north on I-75 led us to Kennsaw, Ga., and the Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. Here, the General is enshrined in all of its gaudy glory. We marveled at its size, confident that we were lucky to be among the first and among the few who can say they’d seen both motive power players in the chase since the Texas returned from its restoration.

After a delightful evening in downtown Cartersville, Ga., with good friends Bill and Jana Weidemann at Appalachian Grill and watching an almost constant parade of trains on the CSX main line, the next day we set out for Tunnel Hill, Ga., one of the first railroad tunnels dug in the southeast and an important landmark along the route of the Great Locomotive Chase. We arrived first thing – it’s still hot and humid in this part of the world in August – and took the golf cart tour of the 1,477-foot tunnel, which was begun in 1848, opened in 1850, and last used in 1928. The Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway dug a new tunnel adjacent to the old one. On the day of our visit, and we could see CSX track crews preparing to do maintenance work after a northbound passed the old freight shed that dates to the 1850s. A northbound freight gave us a chance to return to today after being immersed in mid-1800s railroading for a few minutes.


From there we traveled to Chattanooga, the planned destination of the Andrews Raiders, and a location they only arrived posthumously. Here, at the National Cemetery on Hotzclaw Avenue, a monument, sponsored by Ohio honors the raiders, some of whom were the first recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. You can’t miss it – the likeness of the General, pointed correctly – is visible from the street. Individual grave markers tell us the final place of eight men interred her. Notably, Andrews, whose grave is at the end of the line of the raiders, was executed a few days earlier than the rest of the group. We also noted that someone had appropriately left a buckeye, the nickname for Ohio, next to the monument. Nearby, we heard trains at Norfolk Southern’s DeButts Yard and maybe even CSX’s former Atlantic & Western mainline, where the Great Locomotive Chase took place 155 years ago. Our tour had happened by chance, but we’d go back and do it all over again. Join us?



 

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