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Book Review - Stealing the General:The Great Locomotive Chase A Story of The Civil War
Who Stole the "General"?
In April 1862, Union spy and adventurer James Andrews and twenty-four Union soldiers set out to wreck the railroad between Atlanta, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The plan involved stealing a locomotive and driving it up the line between the two cities, burning bridges and tearing down the telegraph lines along the way.
The locomotive hauling the train they planned to hijack that day was to become famous in tales of daring-do for over a century later. Heroine, if machines can be called such, and star of at least two movies. Her name was General.
She and her train were hijacked by the Union soldiers at the coaling station at Big Shanty, GA (Modern day Kennesaw) in a thrilling chase which lasted several hours the locomotive was chased by her Conductor, William Allan Fuller. Eventually after chasing his train on foot and by push cart, Fuller with the aid of the engineer of the locomotive Texas, chased down the hijackers of General, near Chattanooga, TN.
Following a brief chase across country, all of the hijackers were captured. Enduring several months in Confederate prison, Andrews and seven men were executed. There is a graphic description of botched execution.
Among the survivors of the great locomotive chase stories was that of the awarding of the first medal of honor.
Stealing the General
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In his book Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor, Russell Bonds retells the exciting and sometime poinient story of the planning and execution of the raid.
Bomds, himself a native of Marietta, GA. where the hijackers boarded the train. Uses diaries, military records and memoirs to tell the tales of the men involved. Their own personal stories are sometimes tragic. Andrews and seven of his men were executed as spies following the raid. Several men also became involved in thrilling prosiner of war camp escapes, all fully recounted in this book.
In the decades following the war. William Fuller was hailed a hero of the Confederacy, wrote several memoirs which often inflated his role in the great locomotive chase.
Bond's attempts to seperate the fact from the fiction. He does so convincigly without detracting from the tension.
Bond's also documents the healing of the wounds between the states as men of both sides found themselves as participants of one of the most thrilling, small scale events of the early Civil War.
History Writing at its Best
This is history writing at its best. Bond's writes well and uses his sources effectively.
He shows little bias in his writing. There is compassion for the men who paid for their involvement with their lives and also little criticism of those who after the war made a living and an exagerated involvement in the events.
Some may find that Bond's at times does anthropomorphize the locomotives. Talking of some of their functions in emotional terms. To me this was noticable but did not detract from the book. Men do tend to invest their machines with personality, it would seem cold and indifferent if both General and Texas were not treated to such personification.
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