Missed In History: The Great Locomotive Chase

BY Tracy V. Wilson / POSTED August 18, 2014
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The locomotive known as the General, which was driven northward by the North during the American Civil War. © Bettmann/CORBIS The locomotive known as the General, which was driven northward by the North during the American Civil War. © Bettmann/CORBIS

Another installment from our listener-submitted suggestions for happier history subjects: Today’s episode is about the Great Locomotive Chase, also known as Andrews’ Raid. This is the story of a Northern raid deep into Southern territory during the American Civil War. The objective: Steal a train outside Atlanta, drive it north, and destroy the tracks along the way, cutting Atlanta off from the rest of the Confederacy and seriously hampering the South’s war effort. The chase itself is a lot of fun, even though its aftermath takes a more serious turn.

This episode is two parts. The first takes us up to the actual theft of the train, and the second takes us all the way through some very dramatic prison escapes to where these train engines are today.

This historical event became a Buster Keaton movie called “The General” and a Disney movie called “The Great Locomotive Chase.” (Neither features Vincent Price, or else Holly probably would have called dibs on researching this one.)

Our listener mail in part one is from Elyse, who writes about the Tulsa Race Riot episode.  As a side note, this listener mail segment was recorded after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and after protests began there. I was aware of the protests when we went into the studio, but I hadn’t made a connection between Ferguson and Tulsa, since the Tulsa Race Riot’s immense property damage and loss of life are an enormous part of that event. However, after we got out of the studio, we got our first tweet from a listener who said that the unfolding events in Ferguson reminded her of what happened in Tulsa in 1921. So, while not an intentional commentary on Ferguson, my comment at the end of the episode does still apply: Episodes like the Tulsa Race Riot make their way into the show, in part, in an effort to understand why things happen the way they do today.

Our listener mail in part two is from Rob, who asked how we deal with the pressure to figure out the “one true answer” to what happened in history. One of the things I talked about is the importance of genuinely listening to and thinking about a story before making up your mind – which ties into current events as well.

Episode link: Andrews’ Raid, Or: The Great Locomotive Chase, Pt. 1 and Andrews’ Raid, Or: The Great Locomotive Chase, Pt. 2

Episode link:

My research:

  • Bagby, Milton. “The Great Railroad Raid.” American History. August 2000.
  • Bonds, Russell S. “Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor.” Westholme Publishing. 2007.
  • Keefe, Kevin P. “Searching for the Andrews Raiders.” Trains. Vol. 72, Issue 4. April 2012.
  • Rowland, Tim. “The Great Train Chase of 1862.” America’s Civil War. January 2012.

You can listen to Stuff You Missed in History Class via iTunes and the Stuff You Missed in History Class RSS feed. Follow us on Twitter at @missedinhistory, and you can keep up with us on the official Stuff You Missed in History Class Facebook page. We’re also on Tumblr and Pinterest.

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