Andrews Raiders awarded Medal of Honor


Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on the Great Locomotive Chase.

At Etowah, the raiders passed the older and smaller locomotive, Yonah, which was on a siding that led to the nearby Cooper Iron Works. Andrews considered stopping to attack and destroy that locomotive so it could not be used by pursuers, but given the size of its work party (even though unarmed) relative to the size of the raiding party, he judged that any firefight would be too long and too involved, and would alert nearby troops and civilians.

As the raiders had stolen a regularly scheduled train on its route, they needed to keep to that train’s timetable. If they reached a siding ahead of schedule, they had to wait there until scheduled southbound trains passed them before they could continue north. Andrews claimed to the station masters he encountered that his train was a special northbound ammunition movement ordered by Gen. Beauregard in support of his operations against the Union forces threatening Chattanooga. This story was sufficient for the isolated station masters Andrews encountered (as he had cut the telegraph wires to the south), but it had no impact upon the train dispatchers and station masters north of him, whose telegraph lines to Chattanooga were working. These dispatchers were following their orders to dispatch and control the special train movements southward at the highest priority.

Thus delayed at the junction town of Kingston, as the first of the southbound freight evacuation trains approached, Andrews inquired of that train’s conductor why his train was carrying a red marker flag on its rear car. Andrews was told that Confederate Railway officials in Chattanooga had been notified by Confederate Army officials that Mitchel was approaching Chattanooga from Stevenson, Alabama, intending to either capture or lay siege to the city, and as a result of this warning, the Confederate Military Railways had ordered the Special Freight movements. The red train marker flag on the southbound train meant that there was at least one additional train behind the one which Andrews had just encountered, and that Andrews had no “authority for movement” until the last train of that sectional movement had passed him. The raiders being delayed at Kingston for over an hour, this gave Fuller all the time he needed to close the distance.

The raiders finally pulled out of Kingston only moments before Fuller’s arrival. They still managed north of Kingston again to cut the telegraph wire and break a rail. Meanwhile, moving north on the handcar, Fuller had spotted the locomotive, Yonah, at Etowah and commandeered it, chasing the raiders north all the way to Kingston. There, Fuller switched to the locomotive William R. Smith, which was on a sidetrack leading west to the town of Rome, Georgia, and continued north towards Adairsville.

Two miles south of Adairsville, however, the pursuers were stopped by the broken track, forcing Fuller and his party to continue the pursuit on foot. Beyond the damaged section, he took command of the southbound locomotive, Texas, south of Calhoun, where Andrews had passed it, running it backwards. The Texas train crew had been bluffed by Andrews at Calhoun into taking the station siding, thereby allowing the General to continue northward along the single-track main line. Fuller, when he met the Texas, took command of her, picked up 11 Confederate troops at Calhoun, and continued his pursuit, tender-first, northward.

The raiders now never got far ahead of Fuller and never had enough time to stop and take up a rail to halt the Texas. Destroying the railway behind the hijacked train was a slow process.

The raiders were too few in number and were too poorly equipped with the proper railway track tools and demolition equipment, and the rain that day made it difficult to burn the bridges. As well, railway officials in Chattanooga had sufficient time to evacuate engines and rolling stock to the south, hauling critical railroad supplies away from the Union threat, so as to prevent them from either being captured by Gen. Mitchel or trapped uselessly inside Chattanooga during a Union siege of the city.

With the Texas still chasing the General tender-first, the two trains steamed through Dalton and Tunnel Hill. The raiders continued to sever the telegraph wires, but they were unable to burn bridges or damage Tunnel Hill. The wood they had hoped to burn was soaked by rain. Just before the raiders cut the telegraph wire north of Dalton, Fuller managed to send off a message from there alerting the authorities in Chattanooga of the approaching stolen engine.

Finally, at milepost 116.3, north of Ringgold, Georgia, just 18 miles from Chattanooga, with the locomotive out of fuel, Andrews’s men abandoned the General and scattered. Andrews and all of his men were caught within two weeks, including the two who had missed the hijacking. Mitchel’s attack on Chattanooga ultimately failed.

Confederate forces charged all the raiders with “acts of unlawful belligerency;” the civilians were charged as unlawful combatants and spies. All the prisoners were tried in military courts, or courts-martial. Tried in Chattanooga, Andrews was found guilty. He was executed by hanging on June 7 in Atlanta. On June 18, seven others who had been transported to Knoxville and convicted as spies were returned to Atlanta and also hanged; their bodies were buried unceremoniously in an unmarked grave. They were later reburied in Chattanooga National Cemetery.

Writing about the exploit, Corp. William Pittenger said that the remaining raiders worried about also being executed. They attempted to escape and eight succeeded. Traveling for hundreds of miles in pairs, they all made it back safely to Union lines, including two who were aided by slaves and Union sympathizers and two who floated down the Chattahoochee River until they were rescued by the Union blockade vessel USS Somerset in the Gulf of Mexico. The remaining six were held as prisoners of war and exchanged for Confederate prisoners on March 17, 1863.

On March 20, 1863, the recently released raiders arrived in Washington, D.C., and the following day Pittenger wrote a letter to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton detailing their mission to Georgia. On March 24, they were interviewed by Judge Advocate Gen. Joseph Holt, who was able to corroborate details of their mission with testimony from the raiders who had escaped in 1862. On March 25, they were invited to Stanton’s office at the Department of War. After a brief conversation, Stanton announced that the raiders would receive the newly approved Medal of Honor. Private Jacob Parrott, who had been physically abused as a prisoner, was awarded the first. The others were Sgt. Elihu H. Mason, Corporals William Pittinger and William H. H. Reddick, and Privates William Bensinger and Robert Buffum. Stanton also offered them all commissions as first lieutenants. After the ceremony, the six raiders were taken to the White House to meet President Abraham Lincoln, which became a tradition for all Medal of Honor recipients. Later, all but three of the other soldiers who had participated in the raid also received the Medal of Honor, with posthumous awards to families for those who had been executed. As civilians, Andrews and Campbell were not eligible.

In 2008, the House of Representatives passed a bill which would retroactively award the Medal of Honor to two of the three remaining raiders, Charles Perry Shadrack and George Davenport Wilson. However, as of yet, it has not been acted upon. All the Medals of Honor presented to the Andrews Raiders used identical text.

Citation: “One of the 19 of 22 men (including 2 civilians) who, by direction of Gen. Mitchell (or Buell) penetrated nearly 200 miles south into enemy territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty, Ga., in an attempt to destroy the bridges and tracks between Chattanooga and Atlanta.”

Ohio’s tribute to the Andrews Raiders is located at the Chattanooga National Cemetery. There is a scale model of the General on top of the monument, and a brief history of the Great Locomotive Chase. The General is now in the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, Kennesaw, Georgia, while the Texas is on display at the Atlanta History Center.

One marker indicates where the chase began, near the Big Shanty Museum (now known as Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History) in Kennesaw, while another shows where the chase ended at Milepost 116.3, north of Ringgold — not far from the depot at Milepost 114.5.

By Harold B. Wolford

Veterans Corner

Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973.

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