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Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor Hardcover – October 15, 2006
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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)
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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."
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Top Customer Reviews
The plan: Destroy the confederate rail lines (long before the march to the Sea) and telegraph wires. They would escape using a confederate train following the schedule under the idea that they were carrying emergency gunpowder for Confederate troops at Cornith.
The Operation: Dozens of soldiers successful sneaked down to Atlanta and selected the train to steal (the General) which was delayed due to heavy rain. The raiders successfully steal the engine and are off cutting cable wires. Little did they know the conductor of the stolen train pursues them on foot, hand car and eventually commandeers the Texas an engine of similar ability and begins a pursuit. The soldiers are delayed by traffic ahead and the pursuers nearly catch them on multiple occasions. Finally the pursuers are able to get a telegraph message to the Confederate forces in Chattanooga sending troops towards the General. The soldiers eventually abandoned the train and went on foot into the wilderness.
The Result: The war was brought home to the south and the soldiers spent the next couple of years in southern prisons. Many of them would be hung as traitors and spies while others would escape and make it back to the union or swapped in prison exchanges.
Russell Bonds tell the stories of these soldiers very well and keeps the pace moving going into quite a bit of detail. For those who want the real story this is the great way to go and covers all angles of the heist.
William A.'s brother) I never knew all the amazing details of the chase. This book brings alive the life of my relative and let's me live in this time period for a while.
Russell S. Bonds has done an incredible amount of detailed research on this book not only on all that occurred before, during, and after the chase itself but also in the current events that shaped the whole story. The book stays true to the mainline story though leaving you no doubt of the bravery on both sides and what the raiders had to endure afterwards.
You will take away from this book a much better knowledge of the Civil War era and some of the back drops of one of the most famous of the myriad of stories the war produced. An excellent read!
The Best book on the subject all in one place.