Catching up with the stolen train

Curt Yeomans

Curt Yeomans

Let’s have a little fun and activate our TARDIS randomizer this week. Yes, I really did just throw in a classic “Doctor Who” reference.

I’m going to start picking random spots on the Georgia map to highlight. Where better to begin than with a choo-choo train. Everybody loves a choo-choo train. Well, children at least love choo-choo trains. That will suffice for the purposes of this column.

The rest of you, well, whatever.

Since everyone has been talking about the 150th anniversary of the Civil War lately, let us consider Georgia’s role in it. We all know about the Battle of Jonesborough and the burning of Atlanta.

If you don’t, then all I can say is “What rock have you been living under?”

But Georgia has more to its place in Civil War lore than Sherman marching through and setting the place ablaze with his presence. There is a good old spy and theft story that originates out of this area.

It all centers around a train called “The General.”

Today, “The General” is a museum piece at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. Nothing more than a stationary memorial to one of the more interesting moments in a war that pitted neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother.

In April 1862, however, it was pitted in its own war of sorts. Not by choice, mind you, because trains don’t exactly get a voice in these matters. Still, it was pitted against another train, “Texas,” which chased it along the railroad going north from Marietta to Chattanooga.

“The General” was driven by Union soldiers who had sneaked into Marietta dressed as civilians and boarded the train. They stole it while its crew ate breakfast one morning and engaged in a daring act that rivals anything you’d find in an Ian Fleming novel.

Their plan was to blow up bridges and destroy the rail line between Atlanta and Chattanooga in an attempt to bolster the Union Army’s chances of capturing the southeastern Tennessee city.

Here is where it gets fun, though.

The crew of “The General” was chasing the Union spies in a backward-running “Texas.”

You’ve got the spies being chased by the enemy in a race where havoc is being wrought along the way. Eat your heart out James Bond.

Ultimately, they made it close to Chattanooga, but they fell just 18 miles short. All of the Union participants were captured and found guilty. Some were hung. Some were the first Medal of Honor recipients.

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “Gee, this sounds like something Hollywood could make into a movie.” Funny you should say that, because Hollywood has already had that same thought — twice actually.

There was Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent masterpiece, “The General,” and then Walt Disney took a stab at it with its 1956 version, “The Great Locomotive Chase,” starring Fess Parker.

Anyone who wants to learn more about the chase can visit the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, 2829 Cherokee St. in Kennesaw. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Admission costs $7.50 for adults, $6.50 for seniors over 60 and $5.50 for children ages 4 to 12.

The museum’s website is www.southernmuseum.org.