Posts Tagged ‘Civil war’


My version – (History for History Haters)
Scene: General Ormsby M. Mitchel’s tent, Union Army camp somewhere in central Tennessee, early April, 1862. Mitchel is poring over a large map on a table, deep in thought. Standing near his side is a 30-something bearded civilian, James Andrews. A half empty bottle of Old Crow is on the table between them.

Mitchel: “What am I to do with those parasitic Confederates? There has to be a way to get Chattanooga out of their slimy paws!” He takes a long drink from the whisky bottle, slamming it down loudly on the table as if trying to punctuate his frustration.

Andrews: “Now Orms, calm down or you’ll have a stroke. If we could cut off their supplies….hmmm…what about destroying part of Western and Atlantic railroad that runs to it and all the bridges and telegraph wires along the way? That shouldn’t be very hard.”

Mitchel: “Jimmy that is a colossal idea! We could muster a few troops to sneak along under the cover of darkness and blow things up one night, all coordinated to go off at the same time. While some of the men set the charges, others would be destroying the lines and wires. Then disappear off into the woods, nice and safe. Piece of cake!”

Andrews: “No, no, no, NO! That is just crazy talk. That’s it, you’re cut off! What we should do is hijack a big ol’ passenger train right in front of everyone and drive it around in broad daylight. It’s only 100 miles. We can make stops along the way to pull up tracks and perform other acts of sabotage. Then you take some other guys and meet us in Chattanooga.”

Mitchel: “What was I thinking? Jimmy, you are a genius. [He draws a mouthful of whiskey from the nearly empty bottle] Alright, let’s go steal a train!”  Queue music: Jethro Tull’s Locomotive Breath………..

Later that month, April 12, 1862 to be exact, in Big Shanty, Georgia (Present day Kennesaw). The “General”, a steam locomotive built in 1855 by Rogers, Ketchum, and Grosvenor, is on a breakfast stop with the crew and passengers enjoying a meal at the nearby Lacy Hotel. Apparently no one noticed or cared to notice the group of men that had lingered behind. James J. Andrews and his rag tag gang of 20 warriors dressed as civilians had made their way to Marietta, Georgia where they all boarded the northbound General. Oh, and pretended to not know each other. [What? I think people would be a little more questioning and a little less trusting during those times.]

Scene: Engineer and crew sitting and eating at a window table at the Lacy Hotel. One of them notices the train, sans the uncoupled passenger cars, is leaving the station.

Conductor William Fuller: (turns from looking out the window and speaks to Jim Cain, the train’s engineer) “Hey, Jimbo, I think you left the keys in the train or the brake off or something because he seems to be moving.”

Cain: (Without looking up from his plate) “Don’t be ridiculous you cussed fool! You must be hallucinating. You got malaria or something? Been hitting up the morphine again? I swear Bill when we get to Chattanooga….WHAT IN TARNATION!!!” Cain finally looks up from his food, sees his train underway and flees the hotel in hot pursuit with Fuller and another crewman, Anthony Murphy. Queue the music: Chase music from The Keystone Cops.

Needless to say, Andrews Raiders are momentarily successful in spite of the fact they commandeered this train not only in broad daylight but from a depot fairly surrounded by the Confederate’s Camp McDonald. Not to be deterred were the General’s three pretty pissed off crew members who come across a flat car, bringing them up the line to Etowah. Off a rail spur is another a train, the Yonah, an old steamer the raiders passed and decided to leave untouched (hindsight is always 20-20).

Next stop, Kingston. Another hiccup – a large train traffic jam on the tracks – so they switch their ride to the fortuitously awaiting locomotive William R. Smith that was on the mess free side clear of the tracks. Off they go! Ahead of them the General is making stops for its captors to wreak havoc, one such incident causing the Smith’s halt. Back to foot travel  for Murphy and Fuller and for THREE miles until Lady Luck provides a new train, the Texas. But wait – that train is going the opposite direction. No worries! After backing up and dumping all the cars at Adairsville, the duo chase after the Raiders once more full steam ahead and in reverse! Meanwhile the initially clueless of their pursuers Union gang has quickly found stopping and pulling up tracks harder and more time consuming than they had thought [Oh. Really.].

The chase continues on but not for much longer. The picture above is near Ringgold, Georgia (five miles from Tennessee…so close!) on the Ooltewah Ringgold Road and marks the spot where the out of fuel General was abandoned. Not much earlier Andrews Raiders are very much aware of being chased and have been jumping off one by one and scattering and fleeing into the woods to escape.

The tablet in the picture includes all the names of the Union hijackers and their, to be blunt, disposition. Amazingly all are eventually captured. Not so amazingly Andrews’s adventure does not end well for him. June 7th, 1862 finds him a convicted spy at the wrong end of a noose in Atlanta (and not a very good hanging if there is such a thing – his feet touched the ground causing strangulation instead of the usual internal decapitation). Seven of his compatriots are also convicted as spies and suffer hangings as well. The lucky(ish) remaining 14 go on to prison camps where eight brave souls (thinking with nothing to lose here) successfully escape and take different and varying routes to end up safely behind Union lines. The other poor bastards are caught and severely punished but later freed from Libby Prison in a prisoner exchange in March of the following year. Private Jacob Parrott becomes the first of 19 Raiders to receive this country’s first Medal of Honor, including families of the dead. Sadly nothing for Andrews or Campbell because they were civilians. Sure seems like an exception could have been made – all for one, and one for all, right? And what became of our buddy General Ormsby Mitchel? Although Chattanooga was a big fat bust for him he claimed fame that April by seizing Huntsville, Alabama with nary a shot fired. Six months later a mosquito infected with yellow fever, the Civil War’s version of Ebola, finds the newly promoted major general and the disease takes him that October. Chattanooga is finally captured by Union Forces in September 1863.

And…scene. Queue music: Chattanooga Choo Choo.


  1. I don’t care if you do smartly pick the train depot without a telegraph, if it is daylight, there are people around, and the opposing side’s army encampment is right bloody there, maybe you should consider a different venue for your sabotages.
  2. Man those train dudes are supermen when it comes to someone snitching their locos.
  3. If you are trying to keep the enemy from coming after you, maybe you should not leave modes of transportation available for them like other locos hanging around on the spur ready to go. Just a thought.
  4. Have an emergency escape plan well hammered out if you are still bent on carrying out #1. Jumping off a train willy-nilly behind enemy lines should never be a part of that plan. Period.
  5. Planning for fuel stops should be always be at the top of the steal a train to do list.
  6. I’m sorry but how sad are you if (putting item #1 aside) you steal a train and get a head start and still get caught by guys that took off after you on foot, had to keep finding new trains to follow you with, negotiated a traffic jam, ran three miles at one point, and ended up going full tilt in reverse for something like 50 miles!?!?
  7. As if getting hanged isn’t awful enough…you know you are going to have an even worse day when it is apparent the quality control guy for the execution scaffolding called in sick and yours was built for XS and you are definitely a medium.
  8. Again, if a government can decide to enact a medal of honor then why in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks can’t it make it for civilians as well?
  9. Civil Wars are NEVER a good idea.

John Ownby Cabin???????????????????????????????

Actually, the name of this post should be “down the rabbit hole.” It is very often amazing to me how I start out at one spot, with clear intent and path, only to wander off nearly immediately and to end up so far off track I cannot even discern how it came to be. Seems at times I have lost all bearings. I do not remember how I came to having knowledge of John Ownby’s 1860 cabin in The Sugarlands of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Was this something that caused me to explore the Park as an option while visiting Tennessee…or did I discover the existence of the cabin during the planning phases of my excursion? I do know my ancestors that settled in these mountains were Ownby while my branch of the family that trekked to Fannin County, Georgia by way of North Carolina spelled their version Owenby. Others chose Ownbey. As you have probably surmised, this picture is of that 150-year-old cabin on the Fighting Creek trail. It is the last surviving structure from the pre-Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Forks-of-the River community.

Europeans showed up in the area in the early 1800s and called the valley “The Sugarlands” after the numerous sugar maples growing there. This valley at the time was populated with three small Appalachian communities…Forks, Sugarlands, and Fighting Creek.  I hiked alone that day and met no one on the trail and thought of the solitude these folks enjoyed or endured? I found the area peaceful as a day visitor who never had to LIVE here. The cabin, typical of the area in the 1860s, is one room…for the whole family and all their activities of daily living. It fell into disrepair and in the 1960s was restored according to the park’s info –  using original components  – except the fireplace which apparently has amazingly not been touched. The  chimney’s mortar is from the nearby creek. Not too far from the back door is a small spring used by the family for water and refrigeration. I walked around, looking at the cabin from all different compass points, peering into and out of windows, noted the worn floorboards at both entrances, wondered about the growing season and then plopped myself down on the porch and imagined raising a family in this little cabin in the woods. I tried to imagine a springhouse straddling the nearby spring for keeping their meats, fruits, dairy as well as other era appropriate outbuildings… smokehouse, chicken coop, woodshed, toolshed…did they have a barn? Was there a corn crib? I envisioned where a vegetable garden would best be sited and what they might have grown. Were there flowers? Did it include herbs for cooking, health, and healing? Was enough grown to trade at the small local store? Did the misses sit in her chair on the porch in the evening working on willow or oak baskets? They may have been in the area in 1856 when White Oak Flats changed its name to Gatlinburg. Did they know the flamboyant preacher Radford C. Gatlin and why he was later banished? A majority of time must have been spent on raising food and trying to survive leaving very little time for much else. Was there time for John to vote for the 1860 presidential election…in Tennessee the soon to be president of the United States,  Abraham Lincoln, had so very little support his name did not even appear on the ballot! The following February secession was on everyone’s mind with Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina,  and Texas already separated and the seeds of the soon to be Civil War sprouting. Questions, questions, questions came to mind as I easily slipped into my thoughts and became pleasantly lost. How hard their life could only have been, every day a challenge in a rough physical environment teetering into the catechism of a disintegrating nation. I quickly realize try as I might I fail woefully short of any ability to imagine let alone comprehend even one day in their life. In my life a little cabin in the woods would be a vacation home.