Read CHAPTER VII of Chasing an Iron Horse / A Boy's Adventures in the Civil War, free online book, by Edward Robins, on ReadCentral.com.

ENERGETIC PURSUIT

Who were pursuing the Northern adventurers, and how did they learn the story of the stolen engine? To answer these questions let us go back to Big Shanty at the moment when the train having the conspirators on board reached that station from Marietta. The conductor, William Fuller, the engineer, Jefferson Cain, and Anthony Murphy, a railroad official from Atlanta, were among those who went into the “Shanty” to enjoy breakfast. They were naturally unsuspicious of any plot; the deserted engine seemed absolutely secure as it stood within very sight of an encampment of the Confederate army.

Suddenly Murphy heard something that sounded like escaping steam. “Why, some one is at your engine,” he cried to Fuller, as he jumped from his seat. Quick as a flash Fuller ran to the door of the dining-room.

“Some one’s stealing our train!” he shouted. “Come on, Cain!” The passengers rushed from their half-tasted meal to the platform. The conductor began to run up the track, followed by his two companions, as the train moved rapidly away.

“Jerusha!” laughed one of the passengers, a gouty-looking old gentleman; “do those fellows expect to beat an engine that way?”

The crowd joined in the fun of the thing, and wondered what the whole scene could mean. Perhaps it was but the prank of mischievous boys who were intent on taking an exciting ride.

“What’s up, anyway?” asked Murphy, as the three went skimming along on the railroad ties, and the train drew farther and farther away from them.

“I’ll bet some conscripts have deserted from camp,” cried Fuller. “They’ll run up the line a mile or two, then leave the engine and escape into the woods.” He did not imagine, as yet, that his train was in the hands of Northern soldiers.

On, on, went the trio until they reached the point where George had cut the wire.

“Look here,” said Cain; “they’ve cut the wire! And look at the broken rail!”

One glance was sufficient to show that the engine thieves, whoever they might be, knew their business pretty well. There was something more in this affair than a mere escape of conscripts.

“Look up the road,” said Murphy. He pointed to some workmen who had a hand-car near the track, not far above him. Hurrying on, the trio soon reached these men, explained to them what had happened, and impressed them into the service of pursuit. In two or three minutes the whole party were flying up the line on the hand-car.

“Kingston is nearly thirty miles away,” explained Fuller, as they bowled along. “I don’t know who the fellows are, but they’ll be blocked by freight when they get there, and we may manage to reach them somehow.” Even if the unknown enemy got beyond Kingston, he thought he might yet reach them if he could only find an engine. The whole escapade was a puzzle, but the three men were determined to bring back “The General.”

Thus they swept anxiously but smoothly on until presto! The whole party suddenly leaped into the air, and then descended into a ditch, with the hand-car falling after them. They had reached the place where the telegraph pole obstructed the track. They had turned a sharp curve, and were on it, before they realized the danger.

“No one hurt, boys?” asked Murphy.

No one was hurt, strange to say.

“Up with the car,” cried Fuller. The hand-car was lifted to the track, beyond the telegraph pole, and the journey was resumed.

“Shall we find an engine here?” thought Fuller, as the car approached Etowah station.

“There are iron furnaces near here,” said Murphy, “and I know that an engine named ‘The Yonah’ has been built to drag material from the station to the furnaces. It’s one of the finest locomotives in the South.”

“I hope that hasn’t been stolen too,” said Cain.

Now they were at the station. They knew that it would be impossible to make the necessary speed with a hand-car. If they were to reach the runaways they must obtain an engine, and quickly at that.

“By all that’s lucky,” shouted Murphy; “there’s ’The Yonah’!”

There, right alongside the platform, was the welcome engine. It was about to start on a trip to the iron furnaces. The steam was up; the fire was burning brightly.

Etowah was ablaze with excitement as soon as the pursuers explained what had happened.

“I must have ‘The Yonah,’” cried Fuller, “and I want some armed men to go along with me!” No question now about seizing the engine; no question as to the armed men. With hardly any delay Fuller was steaming to the northward with “The Yonah,” and the tender was crowded with plucky Southerners carrying loaded rifles. The speed of the engine was at the rate of a mile a minute, and how it did fly, to be sure. Yet it seemed as if Kingston would never be reached.

When, at last, they did glide up to the station, Fuller learned that the alleged Confederate train bearing powder to General Beauregard had left but a few minutes before. Great was the amazement when he announced that the story of the leader was all a blind, invented to cover up one of the boldest escapades of the war.

But now Fuller was obliged to leave the faithful “Yonah.” The blockade of trains at Kingston was such that it would have required some time before the engine could get through any farther on the main track. He seized another engine, which could quickly be given the right of way, and rushed forward. Two cars were attached to the tender; in it were more armed men, hastily recruited at Kingston. They were ready for desperate work.

“‘The Yonah’ was a better engine than this one,” said Murphy, regretfully, before they had run more than two or three miles. He spoke the truth; the new engine had not the speed of “The Yonah.” The difference was quite apparent.

“We must do the best we can with her,” said Fuller. “Put a little engine oil into the furnace. We’ll give her a gentle stimulant.”

His order was promptly obeyed, but the locomotive could not be made to go faster than at the rate of forty miles an hour. Murphy and Cain were both at the lever, keeping their eyes fixed as far up the line as possible, so that they might stop the train in good time should they see any obstruction on the track. Thus they jogged along for some miles until the two men made a simultaneous exclamation, and reversed the engine. In front of them, not more than a hundred yards away, was a large gap in the track. It marked the place where the Northerners had taken up the rails south of Adairsville.

“Jupiter! That was a close shave!” cried Murphy. For the train had been halted within less than five feet of the break. Out jumped the whole party, Fuller, Cain and Murphy from the cab, and the armed men from the cars. The delay, it was supposed, would be only temporary; there were track-laying instruments in the car; the rails could soon be reset. But when it was seen that each of the rails had disappeared (for our adventurers had carried them off with them) there was a murmur of disgust and disappointment.

“Why not tear up some rails in the rear of the train, and lay them in the break,” suggested one of the Southerners.

“That will take too long,” cried Fuller, and to this statement Murphy readily assented. As it was, the stolen “General” was far enough ahead of them; too far ahead, indeed. If the pursuers waited here for such a complicated piece of work as this tearing up and re-laying of the track, they might lose the race altogether. The conductor and Murphy started once more to run up the road-bed (just as they had footed it earlier in the morning at Big Shanty), and left the rest of the party to mend the track.

Were they merely running on in an aimless way? Not by any means. They had not gone very far before the freight train which Andrews had encountered at Adairsville came groaning down the track. The two men made violent gesticulations as signals to the engineer, and the train was slowly stopped.

“Did you meet ’The General’?” cried Fuller.

The freight engineer told the story of the impressed powder-train that was hurrying on to Beauregard, and of the fine-looking, imperious Confederate who was in command.

“Well, that Confederate is a Yankee,” came the explanation.

The freight engineer made use of some expressions which were rather uncomplimentary to Andrews. To think that the supposed Confederate, who had acted as if he owned the whole State of Georgia, was an enemy a spy! Why, the thought was provoking enough to ruffle the most placid temper. And the engineer’s natural temper was by no means placid.

“I must have your engine to catch these fellows!” said Fuller. Naturally there was no dissent to this command. He quickly backed the train to Adairsville, where the freight cars were dropped. Then Fuller, with engine and tender still reversed (for there was no turn-table available), hurried northward on the way to Calhoun station.

“This engine is a great sight better than the last one I had,” said the conductor, in a tone of exultation, to Bracken, his new engineer.

“Ah, ‘The Texas’ is the finest engine in the whole state,” answered Bracken, with the air of a proud father speaking of a child.

They were tearing along at a terrific speed when Bracken suddenly reversed “The Texas” and brought her to a halt with a shock that would have thrown less experienced men out of the cab. On the track in front of them were some of the cross-ties which the fugitives had thrown out of their car. Fortunately Fuller had just taken his position on the tender in front and gave the signal the instant he saw the ties. As “The Texas” stood there, all quivering and panting, the conductor jumped to the ground and threw the ties from the track; then he mounted the tender again, and the engine kept on to the northward with its smoke-stack and headlight pointed in the opposite direction. The same program was repeated later on, where more ties were encountered.

When “The Texas” dashed into Calhoun it had run a distance of ten miles, including the time spent in removing cross-ties, in exactly twelve minutes.

“I’m after the Yankees who’re in my stolen engine,” cried Fuller to the idlers on the platform. “I want armed volunteers!” He wasted no words; the story was complete as he thus told it; the effect was magical. Men with rifles were soon clambering into the tender. As “The Texas” glided away from the platform Fuller stretched out his sturdy right arm to a boy standing thereon and pulled him, with a vigorous jerk, into the cab. The next minute the engine was gone. The lad was a young telegraph operator whom the conductor had recognized. There was no employment for him as yet, because the wires were cut along the line, but there might be need for him later.

Fuller was now aglow with hope. He was brave, energetic and full of expedients, as we have seen, and he was warming up more and more as the possibility of overtaking “The General” became the greater. From what he had learned at Calhoun he knew that the Northerners were only a short distance ahead. His promptness seemed about to be crowned with a glorious reward. He might even make prisoners of the reckless train-robbers.

And there, not more than a mile in front of him, was “The General”! He saw the engine and the three baggage cars, and his heart bounded at the welcome sight. Then he espied the men working on the track, and saw them, later, as they rapidly boarded their train. The Southerners in the tender of “The Texas” cheered, and held firmly to their rifles. At any second now might their weapons be needed in a fight at close quarters.

Of the chase from this point to Dalton we already know. Before Fuller reached that station he knew that it would be possible to send a telegram to Chattanooga, by way of Cleveland, even if the Northerners should cut the wires on the main line.

“Here,” he said to the young telegraph operator, “I want you to send a telegram to General Leadbetter, commanding general at Chattanooga, as soon as we get to Dalton. Put it through both ways if you can, but by the Cleveland line at any rate.” The conductor took a paper from his wallet and wrote a few words of warning to General Leadbetter, telling him not to let “The General” and its crew get past Chattanooga. “My train was captured this morning at Big Shanty, evidently by Federal soldiers in disguise,” he penciled.

On the arrival at Dalton this telegram was sent, exactly as the shrewd Andrews had prophesied. Then “The Texas” fled away from Dalton and the chase continued, as we have seen in the previous chapter, until a point of the railroad about thirteen miles from Chattanooga was reached.

In the cab of “The General” Andrews was standing with his head bowed down; his stock of hopefulness had suddenly vanished. At last he saw that the expedition, of which he had cherished such high expectations, was a complete failure. A few miles in front was Chattanooga, where capture awaited them, while a mile in the rear were well-armed men.

“There’s only one thing left to do,” he said mournfully to George, who was regarding his chief with anxious interest. “We must abandon the engine, scatter, and get back to General Mitchell’s lines as best we can, each in his own way!”

Then the leader put his hand on the engineer’s shoulder. “Stop the engine,” he said; “the game is up; the dance is over!”

The engineer knew only too well what Andrews meant. He obeyed the order, and the tired “General,” which had faithfully carried the party for about a hundred miles, panted and palpitated like a dying horse. The great locomotive was, indeed, in a pitiable condition. The brass of the journals and boxes was melted by the heat; the steel tires were actually red-hot, and the steam issued from all the loosened joints.

Andrews turned to the men who were huddled together in the tender.

“Every man for himself, boys,” he cried. “You must scatter and do the best you can to steal into the Federal lines. I’ve led you as well as I could but the fates were against us. God bless you, boys, and may we all meet again!”

As he spoke the leader now a leader no longer threw some papers into the furnace of the locomotive. In a twinkling they were reduced to ashes. They were Federal documents. One of them was a letter from General Mitchell which, had it been found upon Andrews by the Confederates, would in itself have proved evidence enough to convict him as a spy.

The men in the tender jumped to the ground. So, likewise, did George, the engineer and his assistant. Andrews remained standing in the cab. He looked like some sea captain who was waiting to sink beneath the waves in his deserted ship. He worked at the lever and touched the valve, and then leaped from his post to the roadbed. The next moment “The General” was moving backwards towards the oncoming “Texas.”

“We’ll give them a little taste of collision!” he cried. His companions turned their eyes towards the departing “General.” If the engine would only run with sufficient force into the enemy, the latter might well, it was hard to predict what might not happen. Much depended on the next minute.

There was a whistle from “The Texas.” “The General” kept on to the rear, but at a slow pace. No longer did the staunch machine respond to the throttle. The fire in the furnace was burning low; there was little or no steam; the iron horse was spent and lame.

The adventurers looked on, first expectantly, then gloomily. They saw that “The General” was incapacitated; they saw, too, that the enemy reversed their own engine, and ran backwards until the poor “General” came to a complete standstill. Pursuit was thus delayed, but by no means checked.

“That’s no good,” sighed Andrews. “Come, comrades, while there is still time, and off with us in different parties. Push to the westward, and we may come up to Mitchell’s forces on the other side of Chattanooga.”

Soon the men were running to the shelter of a neighboring wood. George seemed glued to the sight of the departing “General.” He felt as if an old friend was leaving him, and so he was one of the last to move. As he, too, finally ran off, Waggie, who had been released from his master’s pocket, bounded by his side as if the whole proceeding were an enjoyable picnic. When George reached the wood many of the men were already invisible. He found Watson leaning against a tree, pale and breathless.

“What’s the matter?” asked the boy anxiously.

“Nothing,” said Watson. “This rough journey over this crooked railroad has shaken me up a bit. I’ll be all right in a minute. Just wait and we’ll go along together. I wouldn’t like to see any harm happen to you, youngster, while I have an arm to protect you.

“Come on,” he continued, when he had regained his breath; “we can’t stay here. I wonder why Mitchell didn’t push on and capture Chattanooga. Then we would not have had to desert the old engine.”

The fact was that General Mitchell, after capturing Huntsville on April the 11th, had moved into the country to the northeastward until he came within thirty miles of Chattanooga. At this point he waited, hoping to hear that Andrews and his companions had destroyed the railroad communications from Chattanooga. No such news reached him, however; he feared that the party had failed, and he was unable to advance farther, under the circumstances, without receiving reinforcements. But of all this Watson was ignorant.

The man and boy stole out of the wet woods, and thence a short distance to the westward until they reached the bottom of a steep hill which was surmounted by some straggling oaks. They started to walk briskly up the incline, followed by Waggie. Suddenly they heard a sound that instinctively sent a chill running up and down George’s spine.

“What’s that?” he asked. “Some animal?”

Watson gave a grim, unpleasant laugh. “It’s a hound,” he answered. “Come on; we don’t want that sort of gentleman after us. He’d be a rougher animal to handle than Waggie.”

George redoubled his pace. But his steps began to lag; his brain was in a whirl; he began to feel as if he was acting a part in some horrible dream. Nothing about him seemed real; it was as if his sensations were those of another person.

“Anything wrong?” asked Watson, as he saw that the lad was falling behind him.

“Nothing; I’m coming,” was the plucky answer. But fatigue and hunger, and exposure to the rain, had done their work. George tottered, clutched at the air, and then sank on the hillside, inert and unconscious. In a moment Waggie was licking his face, with a pathetic expression of inquiry in his little brown eyes, and Watson was bending over him. Again came the bay from the hound and the distant cry from a human voice.