Winner of the 2007 Richard Barksdale Harwell Book Award
for the best Civil War book of the year.
Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor is the dramatic true story of the Civil War raid that resulted in the first award of the nation's highest decoration for valor.
On April 12, 1862one year to the day after Confederate guns opened on Fort Sumter and started the Civil Wara tall, mysterious smuggler and self-appointed Union spy named James J. Andrews and nineteen infantry volunteers infiltrated north Georgia and stole a steam engine called the General. Racing northward at speeds approaching sixty miles an hour, cutting telegraph lines and destroying track along the way, Andrews planned to open East Tennessee to the Union army, cutting off men and materiel from the Confederate forces in Virginia. If they succeeded, Andrews and his raiders could change the course of the war.
But the General's young conductor, William A. Fuller, chased the stolen train first on foot, then by handcar, and finally aboard another engine, the Texas. He pursued the General until, running out of wood and water, Andrews and his men abandoned the doomed locomotive, ending the adventure that would soon be famous as The Great Locomotive Chase. But the ordeal of the soldiers involved was just beginning. In the days that followed, the "engine thieves" were hunted down and captured. Eight were tried and executed as spies, including Andrews. Eight others made a daring escape to freedom, including two assisted by a network of slaves and Union sympathizers. For their actions, before a personal audience with President Abraham Lincoln, six of the raiders became the first men in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honorthe nation's highest decoration for gallantry.
Americans north and south, both at the time and ever since, have been astounded and fascinated by this daring raid. But until now, there has not been a complete history of the entire episode and the fates of all those involved. Based on eyewitness accounts, as well as correspondence, diaries, military records, newspaper reports, deposition testimony and other primary sources, Stealing the General is a blend of meticulous research and compelling narrative that is destined to become the definitive history of "the boldest adventure of the war."
James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom, winner of the Pulitzer Prize:
"The Great Locomotive Chase has been the stuff of legend and the darling of Hollywood. Now we have a solid history of the Andrews Raid. Russell S. Bonds's stirring account makes clear why the raid failed and what happened to the raiders."
Publishers Weekly, starred review (their highest recommendation), August 28:
[star] Stealing the General:
The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor
Russell S. Bonds
A spy and trader in contraband led an ill-fated commando mission during the first year of the Civil War with these words: "Now my lads, you have been chosen by your officers to perform a most important service, which if successful, will change the whole aspect of the war, and aid materially in bringing an early peace to our distracted country." The episode, which formed the basis for one of Buster Keaton's best-known films, took place in April 1862, when 20 Union soldiers crossed Confederate lines to steal a locomotive called the General and destroy a critical Confederate supply line. In this gripping, smooth-running account of the raid and its aftermath, Atlanta lawyer and Civil War historian Bonds zooms effortlessly from broad-stroke overviews of Civil War strategy to minute-by-minute scrutiny of unfolding events on the ground. He sets up the story with a quick, punchy outline of the first year of the war. What follows is a fast-paced, extremely well-told tale of espionage, capture, trial and escape. Half the team was executed; the half that escaped received the newly established Medal of Honor. With its authoritative tone and refreshing accessibility, this should find a place on the nightstand of the general reader as well as the bookshelf of the Civil War enthusiast.
William C. Davis, Director of Programs at the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies and
chief consultant for the A&E television series Civil War Journal:
"As Russell S. Bonds demonstrates in his new book Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor, the story itself is so exciting, the suspense so genuine, and the hair's-breadth nature of the denouement so genuine. Bonds writes with flair and skill that adds to the inherent drama of the story. He has delved into unused manuscript sources, and applied a mature judgment to the numerous published accounts to sift fact from exaggeration and self-justification. It seems hardly likely that anyone will need to write a book on this episode again."
Colonel James G. Bogle (U.S. Army, retired), author of The General and the Texas:
"A very well written and accurate account of one of the most thrilling episodes of the Civil War. Russell S. Bonds's research is impeccable, and the wonderful results are within these covers."