Lieutenant William Pittenger is best known for Daring and Suffering: A History of the Great Railroad Adventure (J. W. Daughaday, 1863), his terrifying first-hand account of the now-famous Union attempt to steal a Confederate railway engine and run it north, destroying cables, tracks, and bridges along the way. The attempt was an almost instant failure. A squad of 21 Union soldiers under the leadership of a secret agent named James J. Andrews boarded a Confederate train as civilian passengers, stole it during a meal break, ran it a few miles north, and pulled over to a side track to allow a scheduled Confederate train to pass in the other direction.
William Fuller and Jeff Cain, the conductor and engineer of The General, pursued the stolen train by rail and foot. They first used a hand-cart (as Buster Keaton does in the film), then a small work locomotive called The Yonah which they borrowed from a railroad work crew, and finally a full-sized Confederate army locomotive called The Texas, which pursued The General for 51 miles -- in reverse. During the chase, Confederate soldiers were able to repair the sabotaged telegraph wires and send messages ahead of the raiders.
Andrews and his men were hunted down by bloodhounds, and they were eventually intercepted and captured near Chattanooga, TN, by a squad of Confederate troops led by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest (who, after the war, was one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan). Tried as spies, Andrews and seven of his raiders were hanged (a special gallows was built to hold all eight men). The rest of the raiders were traded in a prisoner exchange. In 1863 the survivors of the mission were awarded the first Medals of Honor (Andrews and the raiders who had been hanged later received the Medal of Honor posthumously).
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