Nelson A. Pryor: Guest Columnist
“The past cannot be cured,” said Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century. Philosopher George Santayana penned the most famous quote warning against tossing out history, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Lyn Vaughn wrote a column for the August 19, 2017 Atlanta Constitution 11a, in which she put into focus the offensive “symbols and memorabilia from the past.”
“First,” she said, “it was Confederate flags. Now monuments and statues have to go. What’s next?” The carving at Stone Mountain? Oh yeah, now someone wants that wiped out!”
The General is best known for its role in the Great Locomotive Chase in the War Between the States. The steam train was assembled in Paterson, N. J., in 1855 and sailed down the coast, where it was commissioned to transport passengers and freight between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tn..
The General, during the war, served as the workhorse for the distribution of military goods.
On April 12, 1862, James Andrews, took upon himself, the role of a Confederate smuggler, boarded The General in Marietta, Ga. along with 20 other saboteurs, for a raid to disrupt Confederate supply lines.
Knowing that rail lines were an important means of transporting supplies and troops, and in this case, from North to South, Andrews had hatched a plan to steal The General and destroy rails and bridges along the way to Chattanooga. The destruction of railroads to Chattanooga, a major rail hub, would deal a major blow for supplying the needs of the Confederates army.
While Andrews and his fellow saboteurs boarded and stole The General from its conductor, William Fuller, various snags, including several days of rain, had delayed their arrival by a day. The raid was conceived to occur simultaneously with an attack on Huntsville, Al., another vital transportation hub for the Confederates.
Alerted by the Huntsville attack, it was assumed by the Confederates that Chattanooga was next. So they responded by jamming the rail lines, with additional trains, headed south toward Atlanta.
On April 12, the raiders, having hijacked The General, were overwhelmed by the increased Confederate traffic, which threw them further off schedule. Fuller caught up with The General. The combination of Fuller’s pursuit, and the water-logged railroad bridges, meant that the saboteurs were unable to implement their intended purpose: to pry up tracks, burn bridges or even refuel.
The 87-mile chase ended when The General ran out of fuel and was abandoned north of Ringgold, just 18 miles short of Chattanooga. By keeping the raiders off balance, Fuller had won the day. The saboteurs had failed their purpose, and were even soon captured.
That legendary locomotive is now housed in a museum, says Dustin Klein, the archivist and registrar, at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, just above Atlanta. And as far as he is concerned, The General belongs to the South, and shouldn’t be messed with. No political correctness is called for. It’s just a wonderful adventure, a history story, that should just be allowed to stand for what it was; an adventure.