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Railroads brought War Between the States to Cobb
By David Layman, CobbLine staff, with information provided by Dan Cox, executive director of the Marietta Museum of History
Cobb County is rich with history from the Civil War era, being the site of a number of major battles and skirmishes. Most of the war-related activities in this area are associated with the Atlanta Campaign of U.S. General William T. Sherman, who started from northern Georgia on May 5, 1864, and culminated with the fall of Atlanta on Sept. 2, 1864.
During the Atlanta Campaign, Sherman for the most part stuck close to the Western & Atlantic Railroad line, which he used as his supply line, funneling food, ammunition and other supplies from the north. This railroad line also passed through Cobb County on its way to the city of Atlanta.
Two years before the battles for Atlanta, in April 1862, the railroad in north Georgia was the objective in one of the boldest plots of the war — a scheme that would begin in Marietta and eventually end in the hanging of Union spy James Andrews and several of his “raiders.”
Andrews and his men spent the night of Friday, April 11, at the Fletcher House, now called the Kennesaw House, in Marietta. It was in Andrews’ room at the hotel that the group made final preparations for their daring raid in which they would destroy railroad tracks, bridges and cut telegraph wires all the way to Chattanooga.
On the morning of April 12, the group boarded a train in Marietta and headed north. At the station in the town of Big Shanty (now Kennesaw), in clear sight of the old Lacy Hotel and the Confederate army’s Camp McDonald, the raiders carefully snuck aboard the locomotive “The General,” uncoupled its boxcars and headed north, beginning “The Great Locomotive Chase.” Along the way, the raiders cut telegraph wires in Acworth and Allatoona and several other towns and removed rails and crossties.
Meanwhile, William Fuller, the conductor of The General, and several other men began their pursuit of the stolen locomotive, first on the locomotive “Yonah,” then on the “William R. Smith” and finally aboard “The Texas.”
Knowing they were being pursued and with The General running low on fuel, the raiders stopped but were unable to obtain wood and water. Finally, a couple of miles beyond Ringold, The General ran out of steam and the raiders fled into the surrounding woods.
Within a few days all of the raiders were captured. Andrews and seven of his men were tried and hanged in downtown Atlanta on June 18. Several others escaped. Six of the men who escaped and five of the eight who were executed were later awarded the newly created Medal of Honor by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Unfortunately, Andrews, who was a civilian, was ineligible to receive the award.
Why Andrews and his men came to Marietta to stay in the Fletcher House is not known—particularly since their plot was to begin at the station in Big Shanty. Some believe Mr. Fletcher, owner of the Fletcher House, may have had advance knowledge of the raid.
Fletcher was a known Union sympathizer. His daughter, Eliza, however, was a firm supporter of the Confederate cause and probably for this reason, Fletcher made sure she was out of town during the raid.
Fletcher was also father-in-law of Henry Greene Cole, another Union sympathizer and owner of the Marietta Hotel on the south side of Marietta Square. The Marietta Hotel was later burned, but not by Sherman. In 1866, Cole donated some of his land for what became the Marietta National Cemetery, where many federal soldiers from surrounding battles were moved and buried after the war. The Confederate dead were buried in the city’s cemetery nearby, since local folks did not wish to have them buried in the same cemetery as Union soldiers.
As the war closed in on Cobb County in 1864, several large battles occurred nearby—at New Hope Church and Pickett’s Mill in Paulding County, and to the north at Allatoona Pass. In Cobb, Southern General Joseph Johnston established a defensive line at Pine Mountain, where Confederate General Leonidas Polk was killed by federal cannon fire. The army then fell back to a line along Kennesaw Mountain. Battles in Cobb included Kennesaw Mountain, Kolb’s Farm, Smyrna Camp Ground and Vinings Station. Finally, the Union army crossed the Chattahoochee River on its way to capture Atlanta.
The Fletcher House, now the Kennesaw House, just off Marietta Square, now contains the Marietta Museum of History. Visitors can still see where Andrews and his raiders met to launch their audacious attack.
The General, the locomotive used by Andrews and his men, can also be viewed in downtown Kennesaw at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. The Texas, which was used in pursuit of the General, is located at the Cyclorama museum in Grant Park in Atlanta.
Another interesting spot to visit for Cobb County’s Civil War history is Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, which commemorates the Battle of Kolb’s Farm on June 22, 1864, and the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864.
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