HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – To many, the Civil War is about the action that took place on the battlefields. But, the Great Locomotive Chase is a bit of an anomaly: the episode occurred behind enemy lines and wasn’t confined to a battlefield.
It is, however, inextricably linked to the country’s most distinguished military decoration, the Medal of Honor, said Dr. Richard Banz, executive director of the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia.
“We think of the Civil War as a series of battles,” said Banz, who gave a guest lecture Sunday at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg. “But, the Great Locomotive Chase is a daring event of espionage, something many people don’t think of when they explore the Civil War.”
The Great Locomotive Chase – also known as the Andrews Raid – began about 6 a.m. on April 12, 1862 when a group of Union spies stole a Confederate locomotive, The General, from what is today Kennesaw, Georgia. The event is memorialized in film, books and at the Southern Museum, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate that is home to The General.
Union participants in the Great Locomotive Chase were the first recipients to receive the Medal of Honor. Last April, the family of Sgt. John M. Scott, one of the Great Locomotive Chase participants, donated his Civil War-era Medal of Honor to the Southern Museum.
The medal, which was previously on loan, is part of a permanent display and will be added to the Southern Museum’s extensive collection of Andrews Raid artifacts, photos, and memorabilia that features the General as its centerpiece.
In conjunction with Banz’s lecture, the National Civil War Museum displayed the Medals of Honor of six United States Servicemen from three wars.