The Great Locomotive Chase Sesquicentennial Celebration – Joe Head

The Great Locomotive Chase Sesquicentennial Celebration

It might be argued that the Great Locomotive Chase” of April 12, 1862 was the first intrusion of the American Civil War onto Georgia soil, the first certainly into Bartow County. It was the earliest event of a prolonged struggle between the north and south that introduced an impressive roster of Georgia heroes on both sides of this tragic conflict. Many individuals played colorful, important and even heroic roles in Georgia Civil War history. On this 150 year anniversary we recognize a local personality, Uriah Stephens, and the role he played in the Great Chase.

 The Great Locomotive Chase is considered to be perhaps the most exciting railroad adventure in American history. The event unfolded on the W&A Railroad in northwest Georgia between Atlanta and Chattanooga, beginning in Big Shanty and concluding a few miles south of the Tennessee line near the small town of Graysville in Catoosa County. The event featured engine number 39, (later renumbered 3) a state owned Dixie Flyer, named “The General” and involved several other “southern engines” before the chase ended in favor of the Confederacy.

The event became a platform that introduced the American public to approximately two-dozen ordinary souls (north and south) destined to become heroes as defined by government and literary branding. These common folk became unsuspecting heroes either by national recognition of receiving the first Congressional Medals of Honor or by eventual celebrity status having been showcased in a number of books, movies, and articles that followed the Great Chase.

The Great Locomotive Chase was a bold Yankee spy raid to infiltrate Rebel lines deep into north Georgia. Some 20 men led by James Andrews armed with a scheme to hijack a train at Big Shanty and race north with the objective to burn bridges, cut telegraph wires and tear up track along the lifeline of the Confederacy. This deed was in hopes of disrupting communications and transportation, thereby disabling the ability of Rebel reinforcements reaching Chattanooga and giving Union General Ormsby Mitchel and his forces time to take Chattanooga. This coordinated event, if successful, would likely have shortened the war considerably in favor of the Union.

If one reads the thrilling story, it becomes clear that the most colorful events actually took place in Bartow County thus making it the “Heart of the Chase”. While the General was stolen in Big Shanty  (Kennesaw, Cobb County, Georgia) by Union spies and run north some 87 miles covering 5 counties it must be acknowledged that the greatest number of events unfolded in Bartow County, formerly Cass County. The records show a number of facts exclusively belonging to Bartow County including, the greatest track distance covered 40% (35 miles), the Powder Train cover story was told twice in Bartow (Rodgers Station and Kingston), all three chase engines (Yonah at Etowah & Cooper, William R. Smith at Kingston and Texas near Adairsville) were acquired in Bartow, an hour delay in Kingston and finally, the “old Station Agent”, Uriah Stephens’ perceptive resistance which was the only documented confrontation that Andrews faced. (Not to be confused with the Uriah Stephens who was founder of the Knights of Labor in Philadelphia in 1869.)

The hijacked General arrived in Kingston only to find the station congested with freight cars side tracked while waiting for southbound traffic from Chattanooga on the main track. A Union attack on the city of Chattanooga forced rail traffic to move out and overload points south. The General had to take to a siding for more than an hour before Andrews boldly took the switch keys from the depot agent’s office wall and returned the engine to the main line.

In any number of books written about the Great Chase all reference, to some degree, Uriah Stephens and his role at the Kingston station. Although brief, his mention is meaningful as it describes a suspicious Station Agent who was skeptical from the get-go about the irregular circumstances in which the locomotive, General, arrived pulling a non-standard set of rail cars. Others were more easily duped as to the fabricated vale of southern patriotism surrounding the story about getting urgently needed gun powder cargo to General Beauregard in Chattanooga. Andrews was a skilled and cool double agent. He performed well under pressure keeping his composure and easily turning a phrase in his favor on more than one exchange.

However, the old station agent was a seasoned W&A Railroad hand employee who well understood the rail schedule, operations and authorized personnel on the Georgia State railroad. He was quickly alerted when the General did not include any crewmember he recognized. Additionally, he was most concerned that no advance notice had preceded a special train running on the track. This alone gave him great pause and reason to verbally protest any commands being barked by the stylish Andrews who sported a top hat and dressed in such an official capacity. As Andrews saw the resistance emerge it was once again necessary for him to use the powder train relief story to reach General Beauregard with munitions.

Uriah Stephens continued his vigil and line of questioning. The stakes were escalated when Andrews insisted that the rail switch needed to be thrown to allow the General back onto the main line. Stephens vowed that he would not take the switch keys down until Andrews provided satisfactory proof explaining by what authority he was ordering everyone around as if he owned the whole road. Accounts report that Stephens attempted to stir bystanders to help him prevent Andrews from taking the keys. Andrews pretended to be amused by this action and personally removed the keys from the station and unlocked the switch himself.

Stephens is described similarly in most works related to the Great Chase as an older or “aged” man who grumbled and ranted about the situation. He is portrayed as one who was perhaps disagreeable, grumpy and a difficult older individual at the ripe age of 45. Authors have continued to portray him as a crusty personality with varying titles depending on how he is referenced. His titles range from Yardman and Switch tender to Station agent or Stationmaster, but overall he has been left with a more demeaning “geezer” image cast by the recollections, interviews, notes and second hand accounts from those younger participants in the actual event. Subsequent authors are confined to the few remarks that are on file from previous texts, but primarily initiated by the first publications written by raider, William Pittenger.  (The Daring and Suffering and later republished as, The Great Locomotive Chase)

As a legacy from the raider’s perspectives, Uriah’s presence was cast as a meddling sort. Little more is offered to the reader about Stephens other than one who earned a place in the story, but played an annoying role for the raiders. The reader may be left with the opinion that Stephens was a common laborer with little resource, older than most and lacked influence. Stephens’ role has been cited in numerous articles and books many of which can be referenced in the bibliography of this work.

 In contrast a very different image of Stephens emerges when one researches his lifelong career and personal life as can be found in a number of creditable documents.

Our first record of Stephens can be found in the 1850 South Carolina U.S. Census. In 1860 he is found living in Canton, Georgia, (Cherokee County) at age 43 and his occupation is listed as “Mechanic.” It is recorded that he was born in 1818 in Pickens (Old Pendleton District), South Carolina and came to Georgia prior to the Civil War. He married Hannah A. McConnell in Floyd County and they had several children (Sarah, Mary, Joseph, Nannie, Colie and Laura). During the event of the Great Chase, Uriah and family are living in Kingston in the F.R. Goulding house south of town next to the railroad tracks.

Following the Great Chase, Uriah and his family are listed in the 1870 and 1880 US Census living in Cartersville. His occupation is listed as Dry Goods Merchant and Boarding House Keeper. He and his brother Silas were partners in the Dry Goods business. Property records find the family living for a time on the southeast corner of Bartow and Leake Streets and later on the northeast corner of Main and Stonewall Streets in Cartersville.

According to his obituary and a genealogical document prepared by his great, great granddaughter (Betty Johnson of Sarasota, Florida) he also bought and sold property in Cartersville. A review of property and deed records in the Bartow County Court House reveals that Stephens’ family was very active in land transactions. His brother, Silas seems to be the primary dealer, but Uriah bought and sold considerable land. Dozens of land sales appeared among all the Stephens siblings.

One notable entry indicates that on March 4, 1890 his wife Hannah sold 35 acres to former Governor Joseph E. Brown for $3000.00. (Deed Record Book BB page 469). This deal was for 35 acres (lot 314, district 5) which is in the southeast corner of White, Georgia in Bartow County. The property records point to many large and small transactions including sales to individuals, merchants, Georgia Iron and Coal Company, Cherokee Iron Works and others. Records indicate  a close relationship he held with Governor Brown who eventually appointed Stephens as Purchasing Agent for the W&A RR.

Genealogical records held by Great, Great, Granddaughter, Betty Johnson include  considerable mention of a claim following the war for loss of goods filed by Uriah against Federal troops. The claim was filed on February 15, 1872 in Fulton County in the amount of $788.75.  The claim consists of 40 pages of testimony describing the event of how his goods were stolen by Union soldiers. According to the claim Uriah is listed as living in Covington, Georgia. His testimony alleges that in July 1865, a troop train in route to Augusta stopped briefly in Covington where he operated a small dry goods store some 100 feet from the tracks. The soldiers, under Colonel Eggleston’s command, entered his store, pillaged, destroyed and took what they wanted. He confronted them and they instructed him to “obey up”. His claim listed a range of goods were taken without payment to include 275 pounds of chewing tobacco, 90 pounds of smoking tobacco, 40 dozen eggs, 125 ginger cakes, 10 pairs of socks, 225 yards of shirt material, 30 gallons of beer and a variety of family medicines.

The written claim listed four witnesses including the name of former Governor Joseph E. Brown. An inspection of the statements finds other interesting information about Stephens. It appears the claim and statements were conducted much as a deposition would be today. His career history was fully documented regarding oaths, allegiances, hear say evidence regarding loyalty and his own statements that he tried to maintain war neutrality. The witnesses and Uriah’s own personal statement reveal he was also a former Post Master in Canton, Georgia prior to the war and also a Post Master during the war while in Kingston. His witnesses perhaps hurt him as much as helped him in testimony as some described Uriah sympathetic to both sides of the war. One witness even characterized his shop in Covington as “sort of a confederate store and lacked any products from the north”.

Eventually, his claim was disavowed as Uriah had taken an oath to the Confederacy as documented when he accepted the position of Post Master in Kingston.

According to an article printed in The News and Courant on April 3, 1902, Stephens died on March 30, 1902. His grave marker matches this information. He lived his final six years with his son, J. M. Stephens in Atlanta who was the Superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph Company. According to the obituary, he was 86 years old at death. A close friend and former General in the Civil War, Clement A. Evans conducted the funeral services. The article indicates he was a Mason, member of the Methodist church and was the “depot agent” in Kingston at the time the famous General went through.

Following his death his body was returned to Cartersville where he was buried in the old Ebenezer Church section (Sam Jones) of Oak Hill Cemetery.

His grave along with wife Hannah, brother Silas (who never married) and other family members can be found together.  The marker has an inscription honoring Uriah on one side and another inscription honoring Hannah.

Uriah Stephens had a diverse career, lived in interesting times and associated with influential people. Among his occupations he was noted as a mechanic, depot agent, post master, dry goods merchant, boarding house keeper, land dealer and W&A RR purchasing agent. Additionally, he was known to be a close friend with Governor Brown. By all measures he can be considered a successful businessman and entrepreneur.

All of the foregoing indicates that Uriah was much more than the cryptic descriptions leave with us. However, he will forever be known as the crusty old man who resisted Andrews in the one-hour delay in Kingston, Georgia.

As a result of his relentless doubting of James Andrews and reluctance to give up the switch keys, we might also give him the symbolic title of, “Gatekeeper” and one who contributed to Bartow County becoming the Heart of the Chase.

Noted by Wilbur Kurtz in his letter to Lucy Cunyus on August 1932, pages 2 and 3:

“The distance covered by the raiders and pursuers in this affair, was eighty-seven miles; thirty-five of them falling within the domain of Bartow, and for colorful and narrow margins of hazard, perhaps exceeds any other portion of the thrilling episode.” (A later measure by the CSX RR indicates the mileage is closer to 43.5 from the Cobb County line to the Gordon County line.)

It would appear that Uriah Stephens is at least a local historic treasure, but his value may have been overlooked until now. However, the reality is that Kingston and Bartow County actually had a very productive citizen in Stephens and we should be proud to call him a “favorite son.”

Thanks to Uriah Stephens, Kingston can boast that it had the only “voice of resistance” during the Great Locomotive Chase and it played a vital part in making Bartow, The Heart of the Chase!

 Article Sources


 Daring and Suffering, pp 120/121, Pittenger, William (1st Edition in 1863)

History of Bartow County, pp 218, Cunyus, Lucy, 1933

The General, The Great Locomotive Dispute, pp 55/56, Head, Joe, second edition 1997

The Great Locomotive Chase, pp 170, Angle, Craig, 1992

Stealing the General, pp 146/147, Bonds, Russell, 2007

Wild Train, (pp 152/153) O’Neill, Charles, 1956


The News and Courant, Obituary, April 3, 1902, Cartersville, Georgia

Atlanta Constitution, Obituary, March 31, 1902

Government Documents

Deed Record Book, BB, page 469, March 4 1890, Bartow County, Georgia

National Archives, Footnote Folder 3, Publication Number: M1407, Publication Title:

Southern Claims Commission, Claim Number: 7808 Claim Date:1871-09-27,  Courtesy of Betty Johnson

US Census, 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880


Hand notes, Krutz, Wilbur, various interviews, Box 34, Folder 3, Atlanta History Center, Uriah Stephens


Mrs. Betty (Alma) Johnson, Great, Great, Granddaughter of Uriah Stephens

 Dr. David Parker, History Professor, Kennesaw State University

 Ms. Jena Johnson, Great, Great, Great Granddaughter of Uriah Stephens


The General

The Heart of the Chase – Joe Head

The Heart of the Chase
The Great Locomotive Chase in Bartow County
By: Joe F. Head

The General
The General

On April 12, 1862 Bartow County was first introduced to the American Civil War when the famed locomotive, The General raced through the county commandeered by Union Spies on a mission to destroy tracks, burn bridges and spearhead a covert plan to bring the war to a speedy conclusion. Although unsuccessful the espionage effort did result in the very first Congressional Medals of Honor.

This event is considered to be the most daring railroad adventure of the war and has been the subject of articles, books and movies with the most popular film being produced in 1956 by Walt Disney starring Fess Parker and Jeffrey Hunter. The Chase covered five counties beginning in Big Shanty (Kennesaw) Cobb County and ending in Graysville north of Ringgold in Catoosa County. Often misunderstood, the Chase never reached Tennessee and did not have anything to do with Chattanooga until a century later regarding a legal dispute between the two states over rightful ownership of the locomotive.

Today, the historic locomotive is in downtown Kennesaw at the Southern Museum of Locomotive and Civil War History where it is on display. The City of Kennesaw is charged with bragging rights regarding ownership of the old Dixie Flyer. In the late 1960’s the State of Georgia with the L&N RR fought a legal battle against the City of Chattanooga to return the proud steam engine to its Peach State home. The litigations reached the US Supreme Court and were resolved in favor of Georgia.

However, all of the attention regarding the initial 1862 hijacking of the General and the legal spat between Georgia and Tennessee has perhaps submerged a significant point in the story. The story itself is rich with color and historical facts of which the most thrilling events actually unfolded in Bartow County.

The Heart of the Chase (number of meaningful events) all occurred in Bartow (formerly Cass) County. As a result of the many story versions all have overlooked the collective events that occurred in Bartow. Therefore, Bartow has not received its fair share of literary credit and little to no tribute has been afforded by our own historical community efforts.

The Great Chase in practical terms failed for various reasons. It would be vain for any one person, deed or event to claim full responsibility for the mission’s failure. However, the events that happened within the boundaries of Bartow can easily be recognized as the most colorful and key to the causes of failure. Upon close comparison of the Chase, one can identify five or six incidents that belong exclusively to Bartow. No other county can boast equal action or frequency of events.

The chase begins in Big Shanty (Kennesaw) Georgia where the hijack occurred at a scheduled stop at the Lacy Hotel. Andrews and his raiders had boarded the train in Marietta purchasing tickets for various destinations north.

First, James Andrews the mission leader made what is often referred to as his fatal mistake when he decided to ignore the fully steamed and waiting Yonah (yard engine) at the Cooper’s Iron Works spur junction at the W&A RR bridge on the Etowah River near US Highway 41 of today. This decision eventually provided the Southern pursuers with a locomotive to chase the General. Andrews had not expected the relentless pursuit of the General’s crew… William Fuller, conductor, Jeff Cain, engineer and Anthony Murphy, foreman of motive power. As a side note, the Cartersville City Resident Directory listed Jeff Cain, Engineer renting at the Bartow Boarding House in 1883.

Secondly, the General was eventually chased by a total of three engines all of which were acquired in Bartow County. The Yonah was pressed into service at the Cooper’s spur, the William R. Smith was taken in Kingston and the southbound Texas was boarded outside of Adairsville and run in reverse until the General ran out of fuel and steam. The Texas is credited as capturing the locomotive General north of Ringgold, Georgia.

Adairsville Depot
Adairsville Depot
Cartersville Depot
Cartersville Depot








Thirdly, the greatest track distance (40%) of all the five counties was covered in Bartow. Cobb, Gordon, Whitfield and Catoosa all contained less track distance covered than in Bartow.

Fourth was the fact that only in Bartow was Andrews forced to use his powder train story. He was challenged twice, once at Rogers Station where the General briefly stopped to take on wood and water and again in Kingston to a less friendly reception.

Fifth and perhaps the second most desperate event was the hour-long delay in Kingston at the congested Rome railroad wye. The General was forced to wait on a siding while southbound trains arrived. This traffic jam was due to trains fleeing from Union General Ormsby Mitchell’s advance on Chattanooga.



Kingston Depot
Kingston Depot

Old Cass Station Depot on W&A RR


And finally, the Kingston Depot Agent, Uriah Stephens was the most vocal to resist Andrews and confronted him openly about the irregularity of the circumstances. Stephens was a veteran railroad man who knew too well the state road operations and personnel who should have been on the General. He repeatedly quizzed Andrews only to dislike his answers. Stephens was later noted in all works to be testy, unconvinced and a crusty old man who unknowingly made the concealed raiders very uneasy. As a result he became Kingston’s voice of resistance and is the only documented individual who suspicioned all was not right with the circumstances.

When the sum of these events is considered in batch, it is apparent that Bartow deserves greater recognition in this classic Civil War story. The late Wilbur Kurtz (artist, historian, technical advisor to the Disney movie and husband to William Fuller’s daughter) is on record in a 1930’s letter to Cartersville’s Lucy Cunyas, author of A History of Bartow County Georgia as saying… that within narrow margins the most exciting and thrilling adventure took place in Bartow.

The General now rests in the Southern Museum of Locomotive and Civil War History in Kennesaw, Georgia and the Texas has been relocated to the Atlanta History Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.

It has been long over due and overlooked by too many historians that Bartow has not enjoyed a larger role and degree of respect regarding this priceless piece of Georgia history. Also, the event itself prompted the award of our nation’s very first Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. The sesquicentennial of the American Civil War offers a renewed opportunity to properly recognize these events and proudly claim “The Heart of the Chase” as a Bartow bragging right



History of Bartow County, pp 218, Cunyus, Lucy, 1933

The General, The Great Locomotive Dispute, pp 55/56, Head, Joe, second edition 1997

The Great Locomotive Chase, pp 170, Angle, Craig, 1992

Stealing the General, pp 146/147, Bonds, Russell, 2007

Cartersville/ Cherokee City Directory, 1883-1884

Hand notes, Krutz, Wilbur, various interviews, Box 34, Folder 3, Atlanta History Center

Joe Head is the author of, The General, The Great Locomotive Dispute. He is retired from Kennesaw State University and has written a number of works about Bartow county history.


The Yonah Blows Again – Joe F. Head

The Yonah Blows Again
By Joe F. Head

Those familiar with the April 12, 1862, Great Locomotive Chase know that the first of the three locomotives used to chase the General was the Yonah, a native American name assigned to the ninth engine put into service on the W&A RR. The small yard engine was leased to Coopers Iron Works to ferry castings from the furnace spur to the Etowah River bridge junction.

Locomotive Yonah, Digital Archives of Georgia


Following the Great Locomotive Chase all four locomotives were put back in service on the Western and Atlantic Railroad. However, only two survive today, The General and The Texas.

The General (left) and The Texas (right)

The General now is on display at the Southern Museum of Locomotive and Civil War History in Kennesaw while the Texas has been moved to the Atlanta History Museum. People often ask what happened to the two other engines that chased the General: the Yonah and the William R. Smith?

According to records by Wilbur Kurtz, Civil War historian and artist, these two engines continued to operate in different roles, but eventually became obsolete and retired. The William R. Smith was the property of the Rome Railroad and eventually sold to Samuel Noble for use in his blast furnace operation at the Woodstock Iron Company in Anniston, Alabama.


The William R. Smith

 The Yonah was purchased for $7,500 by the W&A RR in 1849 from Rogers, Ketchum and Grosvenor and put into service on the Georgia Road. However, by 1870, the Yonah was listed on a W&A RR roster as “stationary” and condemned with a value of $350.00.

Serving its final days the Yonah was assigned as a switch engine between Cartersville and Atlanta. When America entered WWII the two engines were dismantled and sold for metal to support the war effort.

However, it has recently been learned in an interview on April 20, 2012 with Mr. Jimmy Dellinger that the Yonah was not entirely sold off as scrap metal. In fact, a legacy of the Yonah is still with Bartow County today thanks to the New River Side Ochre Company and the Dellinger family. Mr. Dellinger recalls seeing the boiler and describes it as about the same size as the General’s boiler.

Jimmy Dillinger and Joe Head with Yonah Whistle
(right) / Yonah Whistle used at New Riverside Ochre (left)


According to Mr. Dellinger, in the 1930’s New Riverside Ocher acquired the Yonah boiler and used it in the ochre production process. It was installed in a concrete support cradle low to the ground and used to fire the drum dryers. The boiler came with the whistle, which served as a pressure relief valve. By the late 1960’s it was decided that the boiler had to be replaced. Mr. Alec Cook, plumber was asked to replace the boiler as he had installed the original Yonah boiler.

When Mr. Cook was in the process of changing out the boilers he recognized that the Yonah’s brass whistle was a historic artifact and needed to be salvaged. He called Mr. Dellinger and told him about the whistle and brought it to him for safekeeping.

Upon close inspection of the whistle we find it is eleven inches in length with the upper body (lever, acron, flue, finial and yoke) being six inches of the total length. A maker’s mark is engraved on the base of the whistle around the circumference of the bulb. The engraving is that of “Detroit Lubricator Company, Detroit, USA.” The upper brass works has yet another maker’s mark stamped, “LONERGAN > PENNA”  (J.E. Lonergan founder and made in Pennsylvania.) Also, the level bar bears a faint “Philadelphia” stamp that reinforces the upper body was manufactured in Pennsylvania. These two markings actually help date the whistle as the Detroit Lubricator Company did not exist until 1879 and Lonergan until 1872. It appears these two devices were perhaps fit as hybrids and installed on the Yonah as an aftermarket repair, therefore it is unlikely the whistle was mounted on the boiler during the Great Chase.

This evidence does place the historic Yonah clearly in Bartow County after the great chase. It points to documentation that the chase engines were used in other roles and were eventually dismantled for scrap metal or other uses. However, this discovery is a testimony to the Yonah’s second life in the Bartow mining industry thanks to New Riverside Ochre.

Thanks to the keen eye of Mr. Alec Cook and the spirit of preservation by Mr. Jimmy Dellinger we in Bartow County can claim yet another piece of the Great Chase story and enjoy an exclusive artifact that points to Bartow as being the Heart of the Chase.



Mr. Jimmy Dellinger, New Riverside Ochre, interview April 20 2012

Detroit Lubricator web site

  1. E. Lonergan Co web site

The Great Locomotive Chase, William Pittenger

Wilbur Kurtz notes Atlanta History Center