One hundred and fifty years ago on April 12,1862, a smuggler named James Andrews and a band of Union soldiers, subsequently called the "Andrews Raiders," infiltrated north Georgia and stole a steam engine called the General in order to thwart Confederate supply lines. They raced northward, cutting telegraph lines and even attempting to burn a bridge as they sped along in a Civil War scheme to open East Tennessee to the Union Army.
William Fuller, the General's conductor, led a relentless chase of the thieves, first on foot, then by handcar and then by way of an engine called the Texas, which, seven hours later, caught up with the abandoned locomotive and captured a place in the history books.
Marietta, Ga., where the chase began, is marking the sesquicentennial of this derring-do with a Great Locomotive Chase Weekend, April 12-15. The four-day event will feature a re-premiere of the 1956 Disney movie, "The Great Locomotive Chase," with opening remarks by Russell Bonds, author of "Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor" (Westholme Publishing, $29.95). The nonfiction story won the 2007 Richard Barksdale Harwell Book Award for the best Civil War book of the year.
"It's only natural for Marietta to commemorate this event," said Connie Sutherland, of the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum and member of the planning committee. "Some of the Andrews Raiders did their plotting right next door at the Kennesaw House (now the Marietta Museum of History), a hotel at that time. They stayed the night and made plans to steal the General the next morning."
Although the Great Locomotive Chase was one of the shortest lived slices of Civil War history, it was also one of the most dramatic - and evidence may be anytime in this community 18 miles northwest of Atlanta.
The Raiders Room at the Marietta Museum of History has a recreation of an 1860s-era hotel room where the audacious plot was hatched, along with authentic furnishings from the hotel and a timeline narrating the adventure. In Marietta's Victorianesque Glover Park, a miniature replica of the famous train recalls the mission that ended in failure, although Andrews Raiders were hailed as heroes in the North.
"The story of the Great Locomotive Chase continues to fascinate because it is a terrific adventure story, railroad story and war story," Bonds said. "It is a story that appeals to folks North and South.
"Yankees like the story because it was a daring raid by boys in blue that led to the Medal of Honor, while Southerners like it because it's a battle, so to speak, that the South actually won."
Most of the events will take place on and around Marietta's Antebellum Square, an old-fashioned town square known for its one-of-a-kind boutiques, lively international dining landscape and atmospheric theatres and museums.
Thursday evening's red carpet re-premiere (Marietta hosted a premiere of the Disney movie originally in 1956) stars not Fess Parker this time, but Gordon Smith, the great-grandson of Jacob Parrott - one of the Andrews Raiders - who was the first recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Smith will bring the 1904 version issued to Parrott when the medal was redesigned. The original medal, presented to Parrott by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, resides at West Point. The 1904 medal, on loan from the Hardin County Historical Museums in Kenton, Ohio (where Parrott is buried), will be on display in the Strand Theatre lobby for the April 12 festivities.
Also in attendance will be Bill Fambrough, the great-grandson of Capt. Fuller. Fambrough, who resides in Marietta, has a connection to both the General and to the Civil War movie, "Gone With the Wind." His grandfather, Wilbur Kurtz, was an artist and technical advisor on the set of the 1939 classic.
Weekend participants can learn how the folks on the home front coped during the Civil War through exhibits at Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum, Marietta Museum of History and Root House Museum. At the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, which preserves the battleground where the Confederate army briefly stopped General Sherman's advance southward to Atlanta; they'll also learn how technology was advanced during the war in the fields of medicine and artillery. At the Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art they'll "meet" some of soldiers who served during the conflict at the "Homes & Heroes of the Civil War" exhibit.
"The Andrews Raid foreshadowed the importance of Georgia's railroads in the Civil War, two years before General Sherman would use the same railroad line to supply his campaign to capture Atlanta," Bonds noted. "In addition, along with the battle of the ironclads and the bloody Battle of Shiloh that same spring, the Chase signaled a new era of warfare in the dawning industrial age."
The 8th Regiment Band of the Georgia Volunteer Infantry will perform a Civil War concert. The post-Civil War drama, "Flyin' West" by playwright and author Pearl Cleage, will be staged. Civil War historian and author Clint Johnson will speak and sign copies of his books "Civil War Blunders" (John F. Blair, $13.95) and "Pursuit: The Chase, Capture, Persecution and Surprising Release of Jefferson Davis" (Citadel, $14.95). Buster Keaton will once again grace the silver screen in a showing of the 1926 silent movie, "The General." The Historic Marietta Trolley will roll through the streets offering tours of the town's five National Register Historic Districts.
You'll be able to meet the Raiders from Locomotive Chase history as well as residents who hail from Marietta's own Civil War history who will share their stories during a program called "Look Who's Talking Now: Living History on the Marietta Square."
And, during the "Texas III and Me Tour: From the Rails to the Road," you'll have a chance to tour the Great Locomotive Chase segment from Marietta (Marietta Museum of History) to Kennesaw (Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History, home of the General). The tours begin at Glover Park and take place aboard the Texas III, a replica of the original Texas locomotive Fuller gave chase aboard that has been converted from an army truck.