Stealing a Locomotive: An Andrews Raider Tells His Tale

Corporal Daniel Allen Dorsey of the 33rd Ohio was among the first of Andrews’ Raiders to provide an account of that abortive raid upon his escape into Union lines in the fall of 1862. In April 1862, a group of 24 men (two of whom were civilians) penetrated Confederate lines into Georgia with a plan to destroy bridges along the Western & Atlantic Railroad which ran between Chattanooga, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia. They surreptitiously boarded a train at Big Shanty, Georgia, and ran it north, pursued along the way by a persistent Confederate conductor named William A. Fuller. After a chase of 87 miles, the Raiders abandoned the train and tried to escape back to Union lines. Within days, all of the Raiders were captured. Eight of the men were eventually hung in Atlanta.


Daniel Allen Dorsey
Medal of Honor recipient for his participation in Andrews' Raid in April 1862

Corporal Dorsey escaped from the Fulton County Jail on October 16, 1862 and made his way back into Union lines at Somerset, Kentucky. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his participation in Andrew’s Raid, commissioned a lieutenant, and served until 1864 with the 33rd Ohio. Following the war, he resided in Circleville, Ohio and before his death in 1918 had moved to Kansas. He is buried at Leavenworth National Cemetery.


Dorsey’s account was published in the December 16, 1862 issue of the Weekly Scioto Gazette in Chillicothe, Ohio. It is one of if not the earliest published account from an Andrews' Raider. 


    In compliance with a request made by numerous friends, I will give a history of the adventurous tour of Andrews’ party in Rebeldom. The public will perhaps be interested in hearing something from the so-called party of spies who left General Ormsby M. Mitchel’s division last spring.  Those who think we went on a spying expedition are badly deceived. We went for the express purpose of destroying the bridges on the Georgia Railroad between Chattanooga, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia. The party was ordered by General [Ormsby M.] Mitchel. The question now arose, who should go? In order to decide the matter, the officers made known to the boys that a secret expedition was being organized which would be attended with considerable danger, and that 24 men were required, eight each from the 2nd, 21st, and 33rd Ohio regiments. A call was made for volunteers- more than needed offered to go, those reporting first to their colonels were accepted.

    At 5 o’clock p.m. April 7, 1862 we reported to James J. Andrews of Fleming County, Kentucky as our leader. About 8 o’clock of the same evening, we left Shelbyville, Tennessee (near where we were encamped), proceeded on the railroad a few miles, halted, and divided into squads of four and six men, as per the order of our leader, who supplied each squad with a sufficient amount of money to pay our fare to our place of destination, and after being dressed in citizen’s clothing, were ordered to proceed to Wartrace, Hillsboro, Pelham, and Jasper, to Chattanooga. Our leader instructed us, if questioned by Rebels, to say we were from Kentucky, going south to join the Rebel army. We all got through safe, but two, who failed to make their story good and were picked up by Rebel scouts, and in order to avoid suspicion, joined the Rebel army. Both have since escaped.

    On Friday April 11th we were at Chattanooga in time for the 5 o’clock p.m. train. We started for Marietta, Georgia, arriving there at 12 o’clock that night. Lodged at a house, giving orders to be awakened for the 5 o’clock train in the morning. Found our leader on hand, according to agreement. Accordingly, next morning, we took passage for Big Shanty, eight miles north of Marietta. On arriving there, the train hands and a number of passengers took breakfast; during this time we, with feigned indifference, got off the train on the opposite side, and proceeded to the front of the train. Finding all right, our leader ordered his engineer and fireman to take their respective stations, uncoupled the locomotive tender and three cars from the main train, and got all the boys safely aboard, put on steam and left double quick, leaving train hands, passengers, and soldiers (in a Rebel camp near the place) according to their own classic language “dumbfounded and amazed.” We were informed by the Rebels after our arrest that if we had taken another car we would have gotten $400,000 worth of Confederate scrip which was on the way to Corinth to pay Rebel soldiers. If they had been greenbacks, we might have lamented over our misfortune.

The locomotive that Andrews' Raiders stole still exists and is on display at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History at Kennesaw, Georgia. The 4-4-0 type locomotive was built in 1855 by Rogers, Ketchum, and Grosvenor in New Jersey and was purchased by the Western & Atlantic Railroad. One of the Yankee engineers who drove The General during the raid, John A. "Alf" Wilson, served with my ancestors in Co. C of the 21st Ohio and is buried at Union Hill Cemetery near my present home. 

    After running several miles we stopped, blockaded the road with crossties and cut the telegraph wire- then proceeded some distance, stopped again, tore up one rail, and again cut the telegraph wire- then proceeded to a station, where we met a train, passed unmolested, and we presume unsuspicioned. Before we met it, we supposed it would be the only one we would meet, but lo, when it passed we beheld it was flagged for a coming train. Passing on next station, we switched off. It think it was here that our conductor got the switch keys, on pretense of going to Corinth with powder for Beauregard. When the train arrived, the conductor informed our conductor that there was another train not far behind, and if he moved on had better flag for it and send a man ahead, to which our conductor replied very authoritatively, “I will attend to that, sir.”

After this short answer, the Rebel conductor moved off and we passed on with lightning speed to the next station where we met the third train, and learned that there was still another train ahead, which would meet us at the next station. We moved thence and once past the two last stations, we tore up another rail and cut the telegraph wires- endeavored to do more of this kind of work but did not succeed, being too closely pursued by a Rebel train. At this station, we passed the fourth train, after which we proceeded at the speed of 48 miles in 40 minutes. I presume the Rebels considered this skedaddling for certain. When we met the last train we had passed the bridges we purposed to burn, and being too closely pursued, we knew we could not accomplish what we were especially ordered to do. We therefore made a most desperate effort for our escape. The chances growing rather unpromising, we detached two cars, threw off ties to obstruct the road, which we had collected on the cars for that purpose. After running in all about 90 miles, within 20 miles of Chattanooga, getting out of wood and water, we abandoned our train.


    The reader may already have anticipated the cause of the failure of our enterprise. The first train we met was the regular down train from Chattanooga; the other three were extra trains which were running off rolling stock, government stores, etc. from Chattanooga. General Mitchel having moved to Huntsville, Alabama and sending a detachment of his division to Bridgeport, alarmed the Rebels and caused this removal of their stock, stores, etc. Had we been sent one day sooner, or General Mitchel deferred his march from Shelbyville one day later, I firmly believe we would have been successful in our important mission.

    After we abandoned the train, we were advised by our leader to scatter. Though he was a brave man, the majority of our company differed with him and would have preferred remaining together to fight our way through. We were all armed with revolvers. We took to the woods and scattered in squads from two to five in number. It happened on a day of general mustering, many being collected at the different towns on the railroad and they were soon apprised of our escape and started out immediately in pursuit of us. Our attempt to escape appeared almost hopeless, being within the enemy’s lines and about 150 miles from ours.

    We were all caught in a few days, some on the first day, some on the second, others some days after. As fast as caught, we were put in the most convenient jails. Myself and four others, after leaving the train, traveled all night and part of the next day, then concealed ourselves- about noon, were surprised by four men who were armed; not seeing any more we thought they might be hunters. As they approached, we stepped out from our hiding place, resolved in case of emergency, to defend ourselves. We inquired of them if they had seen any strange Negroes in their travels, feigning to be hunting fugitive slaves. They replied they had not- one of them walked down the hill a short distance, and by making a few calls, had us surrounded by some 50 men, they dashing at us as if intent on killing us right off. They ordered us to surrender, and considering prudence the better part of valor, we yielded.

Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1864 as depicted in a postcard dating from the early 1900s.

    They then took us to Ringgold and lodged us in jail to await the night train to Marietta, where we were conveyed that night and committed to the tender mercies of a dungeon so dark we could scarcely discern between day and night. Being very tired, we enjoyed the night in restoring exhausted nature. In this Southern house of entertainment, they kept us several days and nights, bringing two more of our party to enjoy our society in this abominable place, after which they handcuffed us when they removed us to Chattanooga, Tennessee. In addition to hand cuffing us, they bound us together in pairs with trace chains around our necks. When we arrived at that place, we found they had our brave leader and a goodly number of our party confined in an indescribable miserable dungeon and of course permitted us to enjoy their society. In a few days, the remainder of our company was lodged in the same place.

    Now I would invite to these facts the attention of such as profess not to believe the reports of the cruel treatment our prisoners receive from the Rebels. If any should doubt my statements, I refer them to those of our party who were so fortunate as to make their escape, viz: John Wollam, 33rd Ohio, John R. Porter, 21st Ohio, Captain David Fry, 2nd East Tennessee, and M.G. Hawkins, 33rd Ohio of Portsmouth, Ohio. In this dungeon, 13 feet square and almost indescribably filthy, infested with lice innumerable, they kept our party, 22 in number, for about two weeks when, to our great joy, General Mitchel stirred them up, I think at Lookout Mountain, and they fearing we would be recaptured, ran us to Madison, Georgia, kept us a few days in a more tolerable place. Their fright having subsided, they removed us to Chattanooga. This time they put us in a room above the dungeon, where it was light enough to read and work. One of the boys, when we were searched, secreted a pocket knife. We saved the bones from our meat rations and with said knife succeeded in making keys to unlock our cuffs, after which we dispensed with them as a general thing, wearing them only on particular occasions- in the presence of the guard, as a matter of respect. So we out-generaled them in the hand cuff affair.

    At this place Mr. Andrews was tried by a court martial, the decision of which was not made known. In a short time, twelve of the party were taken to Knoxville, Tennessee where a court martial was in session, trying the boys. After seven were tried, the court was suddenly interrupted by the approach of the Federal army. They then moved the boys to Atlanta, Georgia. The ten boys left in Chattanooga resolved to make their escape; accordingly, Mr. Andrews, with the notable pocket knife, succeeded in a few days in making an opening in the ceiling sufficient to allow our egress. Replacing the plank, we waited for a dark and rainy night. On the 31st day of May, Andrews was sentenced to be hung, to be executed on the 7th of June. On the night of the 31st, he was put in the dungeon; on the next day he was permitted to be in our room and we resolved to make our escape that night. Andrews was again put in the dungeon- and if he determined for us to make our escape that night, he would give us the signal by asking us to sing “Carrier Dove,” when we were to cut the trap door loose and let him out of the dungeon.

    About dark we received the signal to sing. We did so; and cutting the door loose, soon rescued our brave leader. He and one of the boys then passed through the opening in the ceiling and commenced working a hole through the brick gabled end of the jail; they succeeded about daybreak. We made a rope of our blankets, attached it to a rafter. Andrews passed down safely and undiscovered, another one also passed down, but at that juncture, the guards made the discovery and gave an immediate alarm. The boys both escaped. Andrews was caught on the third day, and John Wollam on the 8th or 10th day. The remaining number deemed in prudent not to attempt an escape after the discovery, as the guard was some 30 strong. This attempt proved rather a reverse to us. We all again were put in the dungeon; Mr. Andrews was brought back and imprisoned with us. We remained here until the 7th of June, when we were removed to Atlanta, Georgia, arriving there in the evening of the same day where our brave leader Mr. Andrews was executed about one and a half hours after we arrived. The remainder of us, eight in number, were lodged in the jail; on the 14th those who were left at Knoxville were brought here and lodged with us.

James J. Andrews

    On the 18th of June, they executed the seven who were tried at Knoxville, to wit: George D. Wilson, P.G. Shadarack, Marion Ross, William Campbell, 2nd Ohio; John M. Scott, 21st Ohio; Samuel Slavens, Samuel Robertson of the 33rd Ohio. This was the most heart-rending scene ever witnessed. At 2 o’clock p.m., about 200 cavalry collected around the jail. The officers then came into the jail, calling the names of the seven who had been tried, putting them in a separate room, and had two Southern preachers to read their sentence and pray with them. This being done, they were ordered to put on their clothing. While this was being done, a contemptible wretch, I think a Provost Marshal, stood with watch in hand hurrying up the unfortunate men. They permitted them to come into our room to bid us a final adieu. The poor fellows, though brave men, were considerably affected. One of them entreated for us, for God’s sake, to let this be a warning to us, and hoped we would be better prepared to meet our God than he was. While shaking hands with another, I remarked, “This is hard.” “Ah yes,” he replied, “and I don’t fell prepared to go.” Certainly, it was enough to move the stoutest heart to think that these poor men, U.S. soldiers, must be hung up like dogs- ushered into an awful eternity, denying them time to make any preparation for the future world. A just God will not suffer such wicked perpetrators to go unpunished. 

    They were taken out about three quarters of an hour after receiving the knowledge of their doom. We were told by some Rebel soldiers who saw them executed that two of them broke the rope and fell to the ground; recovering, they asked for water which was given them. They begged for their lives, which of course was not granted; they then asked for two hours to spend in prayer, which was also denied them. They then walked up on the scaffold firmly.

    They kept the remaining 14 of our party and Captain David A. Fry of East Tennessee, confined in the same room until October when we learned from a reliable source that the Secretary of War of the C.S.A. had ordered us to be executed. On the reception of this unwelcome news, we mutually resolved to get out of that jail or die in the attempt. Accordingly, we most solemnly appointed the 15th of October as the time for our exodus. The day arrived, it be rainy, we deferred one day. On the evening of the 16th, after supper, while the doors were open and the Negroes were getting our supper pans and bringing us water for the night, we took possession of the jailer, took the keys from him, locked another room, let out six prisoners, these rushing the guard, seven in number, and three of their guns, two of which were loaded; four of the guards who guns were not loaded, rushed to the gate of the board fence enclosing the jail- charging bayonets, we quickly climbed over said fence, nine feet high, and made our escape to the woods.  Martin J. Hawkins and myself associated and made good our escape. We think all of our party escaped to the woods. Whether any were afterwards caught by the Rebels we know not.

    We traveled by starlight for nearly three days, not trusting for some time to travel in the day time. After 21 days of fatigue, living most of the time on corn and persimmons or a head of cabbage, dodging the Rebel pickets and cavalry, climbing mountains, dragging through brush and wading streams, we finally were so fortunate as to find some Union men in the Cumberland Mountains. One day’s travel on this side of the Sequatchie Valley, having gotten where we thought it safe to travel in day time, we came to those men in the woods, and being nearly starved, we were probably less cautious. We asked them if they would give us supper- stating we had none and belonged to the Rebel army, had been sick and left behind and were on our way to join our regiment. They rather refused to supply our wants. Conversing with them some time and quizzing them pretty closely, an old gentleman came out and plainly declared himself to be a Union man and his son proved to be the same. Being satisfied they were all right, we made known our true sentiments, and closer friends were never met. They took us to their house, gave us supper, lodging, and breakfast, then piloting us to another Union man, and so on, we were directed from one to another until we arrived at Somerset, Kentucky, from there we got transportation to Lebanon, Kentucky, and from there to our respective homes.

I will now give you a faint idea of our fare in Rebeldom. While at Chattanooga, we got two meals a day, consisting of a small pan of heavy wheat bread and a proportionate piece of old corned beef, at least five years old, and occasionally a few beans or a little rice. While at Atlanta, Georgia, we got three meals a day, part of which was old bacon, animate with maggots. Towards the last of our journeying there, we got fresh beef without salt, wheat bread made of flour and water, not half-baked, had corn bread mostly of the same quality, sometimes we got a few beans cooked with old bacon- the maggots appeared to outnumber the beans. These are stubborn facts.

    When first captured, we were abused and cursed by the Rebels; they asking us what we were fighting for, the next, why we did not let them alone. They said all they wanted was for us to let them alone. The declarations were made upon all occasions by officers and privates alike; all were anxious to be let alone. If all goes right, we will let them alone against spring. If the hypocritical, conservative, compromising cowards will leave us untrammeled awhile, we will give the Rebels their rights pretty soon, particularly the leaders of this rebellion. In the language of the indomitable Parson Brownlow, “they have but two rights- one to be hanged, and the other to be damned.”

To read another account from a Raider who escaped at the same time as Daniel Dorsey, click here to read about Mark Wood and how in 2019 his long-lost Medal of Honor was discovered in Orlando, Florida. 


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