Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review--Stealing the General

Bonds, Russell S. Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor. Westholme Publishing, Yardley, PA. 2006. 444 pages, 374 pages of text, maps, b/w photos, notes, bibliography, index.

It's a story many have heard of but how much do most people really know. Once you read Russell Bonds masterful work Stealing the General you'll know just about all there is to know on "the great locomotive chase". Forget the Disney film read this book!

Bonds skillfully incorporates a large list of primary and secondary sources to paint a complete picture of the plan hatched by civilian James Andrews and Union Brigadier General Ormsby Mitchel. This daring plan called for Andrews and a group of Union soldiers to sneak behind enemy lines and steal a train in Atlanta, they would then head north leaving destruction, including burned bridges, torn up railroad tracks, and cut telegraph wires behind them on their way to Chattanooga where they would meet up with Mitchel's troops to capture the city and effectively cut the Confederacy in half.

Andrews and 24 recruits (Andrews Raiders) made it to Atlanta, not without difficulties, where they proceeded to steal the train engine, The General. What they did not count on was being followed by the Generals conductor William Allen Fuller and several others. Despite the difficulties of following on foot, hand car, and later on a train engine running in reverse, the Confederates did not give up and the raiders were all eventually captured and arrested.

Bonds proceeds to tell the story of trials, jails, evil jailers, prison escapes, recaptures, executions (Andrews was the first to be executed and Bonds paints a grim picture of what happened), prisoner exchanges, the Medal of Honor, life after the war for the remaining raiders (some good and some bad), GAR reunions, friendships made amongst former enemies, and later infighting amongst the survivors as to what actually happened and the role each played.

Bonds has proven himself a writer of remarkable skill. As mentioned he has covered all the sources. His bibliography itself is 12 pages and his notes run 45 pages. Bonds incorporates maps and black and white photos to help readers visualize the action and put faces to names and places. Even more impressive than all this is the readability of his work. The writing itself is a joy to read. Bonds keeps the story moving at a fast clip all the while seeming to cover all the bases. For anybody researching this story Bonds has written what can no doubt be considered at this time the definitive work.

For further information please be sure to visit Mr. Bonds website for this book. It's full of interesting information and is well worth a look.

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