We hope that you know the infamous story of James Andrews’ raid, stealing The General, and the Great Locomotive Chase. If not please come to the Western & Atlantic Railroad Tunnel Museum to learn about that interesting historical story. But did you know The General was stolen twice?
First, a little background on this story. In 1891, The General, under the control of the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway, moved to Chattanooga and put on display for the Union Civil War Veteran’s reunion. Surviving members of Andrew’s Raid attended this reunion, and so did Conductor William Fuller who led the chase to catch them.
After the reunion, The General stayed on display at Chattanooga’s Union Depot, and it remained there for 70 years until 1961. During this time, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad acquired the NC&StL Railway and thus owned The General.
On June 7th, 1961, The General is taken by the L&N to their shops in Louisville. A reenactment of the Great Locomotive Chase was set to take place on April 12th, 1962, so they took it for renovations to prepare for this. Afterward, The General was going to tour the country under its own power.
Chattanoogans were assured by L&N officials that The General would be returned to the city after the centennial tours were completed. The railroad later announced that the General would be permanently displayed in Kennesaw, Georgia where it was stolen during the Civil War. The L&N’s lease on the old Western & Atlantic Railroad, owned by the state of Georgia, was set to expire in 1969. The L&N’s gift of The General back to the state assured the renewal of the soon-to-expire lease.
In the fall of 1967, The General finished the tour and headed to its new home in Kennesaw. However, it had to pass directly through Chattanooga. Chattanooga Mayor Ralph Kelley got word of this from an Ohio news reporter. Acting on a ruling by City Chancellor Ray Block, Mayor Kelley, the county sheriff, and a posse of 20 men blocked the track, stopping the train carrying The General, as it passed Wauhatchie Yards just west of Chattanooga. They demanded the flat car hauling The General be moved to a side rail and allowed the train to continue.
The case of who owned The General would go to court. On January 4, 1969, US District Judge Frank Wilson ruled that the engine belonged to the L&N Railroad and that they could do what they wanted with it. The city of Chattanooga appealed that ruling to the US Court of Appeals, and that court upheld Wilson’s ruling. The city appealed again to the Supreme Court of the United States. The city’s appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court and Wilson’s ruling was again upheld.
The General was turned over to the state of Georgia and remains on display in Kennesaw to this day.