Battles & Leaders of the Civil War
THE LOCOMOTIVE CHASE IN GEORGIA.^
THE railroad raid in Georgia in the spring of 1862 has always been considered to rank high among the striking and novel events of the civil war. At that time General O. M. Mitchel, under whose authority it was organized [see pp. 708, 716], commanded Union forces in Middle Tennessee, consisting of a division of Buell's Army. The Confederates were concentrating at Corinth, Miss., and Grant and Buell were advancing by different routes toward that point. Mitchel's orders required him to protect Nashville and the country around, but allowed him latitude in the disposition of his division, which, with detachments and garrisons, numbered nearly seventeen thousand men. His attention had long been turned toward the liberation of East Tennessee, which he knew President Lincoln also earnestly desired, and which would, if achieved, strike a most damaging blow at the resources of the Rebellion. A Union army once in possession of East Tennessee would have the inestimable advantage, found nowhere else in the South, of operating in the midst of a friendly population, and having at hand abundant supplies of all kinds. Mitchel had no reason to believe that Corinth would detain the Union armies much longer than Fort Donelson had done, and was satisfied that as soon as it had been captured, the next movement would be eastward toward Chattanooga, thus throwing his own division in advance. He determined, therefore, to press into the heart of the enemy's country as far as possible, occupying strategical points before they were adequately defended.
On the 8th of April, 1862,--- the day after the battle of Pittsburg Landing, of which, however, Mitchel had received no intelligence,-- he marched swiftly southward from Shelbyville and seized Huntsville, in Alabama, on the 11th of April, and then sent a detachment westward over the Memphis and Charleston railroad to open railway communication with the Union army at Pittsburg Landing.
Another detachment, commanded by Mitchel in person, advanced on the same day 70 miles by rail directly into the enemy's territory, arriving unchecked within 30 miles of Chattanooga. In two hours' time he could have reached that point, the most important posi- tion in the West, with 2000 men. Why did he not go? The story of the railroad raid is the answer.
The night before breaking camp at Shelbyville, Mitchel sent an expedition secretly into the heart of Georgia to cut the railroad communications of Chattanooga to the south and east. The fortune of this attempt had a most important bearing upon his movements, and will now be narrated.
In the employ of General Buell was a spy, named James J. Andrews, who had rendered valuable services [see p. 716] in the first year of the war, and had secured the confidence of the Union commanders. In March, 1862, Buell had sent him secretly with eight men to burn the bridges west of Chattanooga; but the failure of expected coöperation defeated the plan, and Andrews, after visiting Atlanta, and inspecting the whole of the enemy's lines in that vicinity and northward, had returned, ambitious to make another attempt. His plans for the second raid were submitted to Mitchel, and on the eve of the movement from Shelbyville to Huntsville, the latter authorized him to take twenty-