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Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor Paperback – September 15, 2008


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Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor + War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Westholme Publishing; 1st Edition edition (September 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594160783
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594160783
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #720,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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. BOMC,History Book Club and Military Book Club selections, Borders' Original Voices selection. 20,000 first printing. (Oct. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Stealing the General, by Russell S. Bonds (Westholme; $29.95). On April 12, 1862, twenty Union soldiers in disguise boarded a train in Georgia to execute a scheme that was meant to bring a quick end to the Civil War. The plan, devised by a quinine-smuggling Union scout and an astronomer turned general, was to steal a locomotive and drive it to Chattanooga, capturing a key railroad connection whose loss would cut the Confederacy in half. The raid might have succeeded if not for the train's conductor, who pursued the hijackers on foot ("this seemed to be funny to some of the crowd," he said later, "but it wasn't so to me") and then by handcar and a series of three engines. The Union men were captured, and eight were hung as spies; some of the survivors were later the first-ever recipients of the Medal of Honor. The chase became a contemporary legend - it's now best known as the basis of a Buster Keaton film - and Bonds's account, the first major study in decades, is thoroughly worthy of an expedition that, a Union officer wrote, "had the wildness of a romance."
Copyright © 2006 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Stealing the General by Russell Bonds tells the story of the Great Locomotive Chase as it happened on April 12, 1862.
Andrew Bracken
Some authors writing about historical events feel the need to provide descriptive filler to pad the pages and replace details that have been lost to time.
Audiobook Bandit
Well written and researched; it was one of those books that once you started reading it you just couldn't put it down.
Ron

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John McCoy on July 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Detailed coverage of one of the Civil War's lesser known and stranger episodes. Includes informed speculation on why the endeavour was undertaken, thorough recital of the events of the raid itself, and extensive coverage of the raiders in the following days, as they were moved between prisons and, eventually, returned to the North. This latter portion is an aspect of the story which has not previously been told, and is fully as interesting as the events of the raid itself.

In no part of this book did I find myself wanting further detail, or wondering what events had been omitted or compressed for brevity. It is rare to find a book which is so complete in it's story.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By James Ackerman on September 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
After reading Mr. Bonds' second book, War Like The Thunderbolt, I went back to read Stealing The General. As with Thunderbolt, I found Stealing The General to be well-written and thoroughly researched. Mr. Bonds has organized the varied, sometimes inconsistent stories concerning the theft of The General into a cohesive, "here's how it really happened" account of this historic event.
This story has been handed down through generations, celebrated in a museum and featured in movies. Mr. Bonds' greatest contribution to the story may be that he reminds us that this was a war mission that resulted in the deaths of many of its participants. As is often the case in war, a group of men entrusted their lives to the supposed skills and intellect of a single, charismatic leader and paid harshly for it.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that it follows until the end the lives of many of those involved on both sides in the story of The General. In some cases, those who were adversaries in the story became
friends and attended reunions into the early 1900's.
Mr. Bonds' version of the story of The General held my interest from the beginning. As with Thunderbolt, I finished this book with a greater understanding of and appreciation for the people and events described within. I highly recommend this book.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence A. Huffman on November 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is a welcome addition to Raiders lore. This is the first effort at compiling all the sources on Andrews Raiders since Charles O'Niell's "Wild Train". The footnotes are a treasure trove of insight. "Stealing" is more than the story of a train chase. Bonds describes in detail the effect of the raid on Atlanta, the Confederate Army and the captured Raiders themselves. The additional account of the first Medals of Honor hopefully is a prelude to his next book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on March 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In "Stealing the General" Russell Bonds presents a minutely detailed account of an 1862 raid that sent a party of Union soldiers (and two civilians) behind Confederate lines to steal a locomotive and then burn railroad bridges between Atlanta and Chattanooga to isolate the latter city in advance of a proposed Federal movement. The Union raiding party captured the locomotive (the "General" of the title) but because of close pursuit they were unable to carry out the main part of their mission, the destruction of the bridges. The entire raiding party was subsequently captured and about a third of them were executed as spies (the survivors and their dead military comrades were awarded Medals of Honor). Bonds delves into the backgrounds of the raiders (and their foes), creating three-dimensional portraits of real men, with flaws as well as commendable virtues.

The incident resulted in many postwar articles and books, including several by participants, and eventually provided seeds for not only the 1956 film, "The Great Locomotive Chase," but also an earlier Buster Keaton classic, "The General." But for the past half century, the raid has been largely neglected as a subject for serious study; Bonds's book corrects this lack.

Although not a story of a great battle or a famous military leader, this is nonetheless a book that provides compelling, vivid reading about heroes who may have been less than perfect, and all the more real because of that.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jeanne E. Franklin on November 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Stealing the General is a great book--full of adventure, suspense, and terrific characters (very well drawn by the author)--and a bittersweet story, one that shows in wonderful prose how a single event--in this case the hijacking of a Confederate locomotive--can be used to explain the emotional and strategic story of the Civil War. I found this book to be one of the best I've read all year. I enjoyed learning about General Ormsby Mitchel, for instance, who authorized the raid--he was an internationally renowned astronomer before the war--and had he not died of typhoid fever early on, was well on his way to becoming a household name. The author's accounts of the executions of some of the Raiders is brilliantly done--not morbid, just moments where you feel the doom of the condemned--and his description of how eight of the Raiders ultimately broke out of prison and escaped to freedom makes for wonderful page-turning reading. Although I did not know much about the history of Georgia before reading this book, the author's snapshot of northern Georgian history is both fascinating and contains some of the best passages in the book.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By R. A Forczyk VINE VOICE on February 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There has been such a deluge of books on the American Civil War in the past forty years - many of them thrown together with minimal research - that many readers might ask, do we really need another? Particularly a book written by a lawyer for Coca-Cola? In fact, Stealing the General is a remarkably good book that seems to escape the vicissitudes of more pedestrian efforts at Civil War history. Author Russell S. Bonds has not only carefully researched the details of the famous Andrews raid in April 1862, but he lays out the tale of train theft, capture, execution for some and escape for others in a dramatic and gripping fashion. Unlike most Civil War history, this book is a real page turner and even though most readers will know the broad details, the author displays an ability to fascinate the reader with details that are often not so well known. This book can be viewed on several levels: as a cautionary tale about one of America's first commando-style operations, as a demonstration of human resilience and ingenuity in the face of danger, and as a measuring point on a nation's attempt to quantify military valor. Stealing the General succeeds magnificently on all three levels.

Stealing the General is laid out in standard narrative format, with the opening chapters discussing the origins of the raid and the men involved on both sides. Most readers are not likely to be overly familiar with Union Brigadier General Ormsby Mitchell, an aggressive division commander in eastern Kentucky in the spring of 1862. Mitchell developed the plan with James J. Andrews, a smuggler and sometimes-Union intelligence operative that was familiar with Confederate railroad operations in Tennessee and Georgia.
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