Southern Museum examines railroad’s role in the south before, during and after the Civil War
When James J. Andrews and a group of Union spies stole the General locomotive on April 12, 1862, from what is today Kennesaw, Georgia, they — perhaps unwittingly — demonstrated the importance of railroads.
The group headed toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, intending to destroy the Western & Atlantic Railroad, a major transportation link for the Confederacy that helped move troops, supplies and prisoners. The event is known today as the Andrews Raid or the Great Locomotive Chase.
While their plan failed and several of the raiders paid with their lives, the most enduring legacy of the episode is the Medal of Honor. Several of the men who participated were the first to receive the military’s highest honor for sacrifice and distinguished service.
“The story of the Andrews Raid and the Civil War is told in countless books, but there is no more impactful way to learn than by viewing history in person,” said Dr. Richard Banz, Executive Director of the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History. “The Sesquicentennial of the Civil War gives educators, students and amateur historians the opportunity to reflect on this conflict and re-examine how railroads not only changed warfare, but how they helped the South develop industrially.”
The centerpiece of the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History is the General locomotive, the historic locomotive the raiders stole 150 years ago. On display a few feet away from the General is the Medal of Honor given to Sgt. John M. Scott, one of the raiders.
As the museum celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Raid in April 2012, Scott’s family donated the medal to the museum. This rare medal, one of the earliest ever awarded, is on display in the museum’s Andrews Raid collection, which also features newspaper clippings, books and other artifacts connected to the Raid.
While the Medal of Honor is one lasting legacy of the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag is another.
In July 2012, the Southern Museum permanently placed on display a rare regimental flag issued to the 65th Georgia Infantry during the Civil War. It is the only known surviving example of an Army of Tennessee flag that has both the unit and state designations sewn onto both sides.
This flag, donated by the family of the last color bearer, is bloodstained and riddled with 41 bullet holes it received during the Atlanta and Tennessee campaigns. The flag serves as the centerpiece of an ongoing dialogue about the causes and outcomes of the Civil War.
“No discussion of the Civil War — or its impact on society — is complete without looking at what the flag means to generations of Americans — both positive and negative,” Banz said. “With all of our exhibits, we are not looking to start an argument, but rather spur thoughtful conversation. To understand and learn from the past, it’s important to discuss in an open and considerate forum.”
One last exhibit, Glover Machine Works: Casting a New South, features the only fully restored belt-driven locomotive assembly line in the country.
When soldiers returned home from years of fighting, they encountered their homes and country in ruins. Industries such as Glover Machine Works played a significant role in industrializing the region after the Civil War by becoming the premier builder of steam locomotives in the South.
To help teachers and students take a close up view of history, the Southern Museum offers several field trip options featuring interactive exhibits and lesson plans. Tours can be tailored for age appropriateness and customized to meet specific requirements.
Museum Highlights Tour
In the most comprehensive tour, students explore the permanent exhibits at the Southern Museum and learn about the strategic and economic importance of railroads during the Civil War and afterwards.
Students learn about the significance of industry in the years leading up to, during and following the Civil War as they become acquainted with the function of railroads and other industries in the redevelopment of the economic and social structure of the New South beginning with Reconstruction and into the 20th century.
A Nation Divided
Investigate the causes and consequences of our divided nation while touring galleries that display examples of original weapons, civilian items, uniforms, and much more. Guides discuss the life of a Civil War soldier and present a firearms demonstration.
The museum also offers add-ons such as a walking tour of Kennesaw for students at no extra charge. For more information, visit southernmuseum.org.