The story at the heart of Stealing the General has all the hallmarks of a timeless action tale – burgeoning wars, a hijacked locomotive, undercover spies, violent deaths – which is what has made it such a favorite of authors and filmmakers in the past. But in this new non-fiction book, author Russell S. Bonds traces the tale of the threatened train from start to finish, adding new layers to the story, while narrator Bronson Pinchot adds depth and character to the cast of real-life soldiers.
In 1862, civilian plotter James J. Andrews came up with a plan to advance the Union army's plans to take over the South: he and a team of men would hijack the General, a Southern locomotive, and use it to help the Northern army capture Chattanooga. After they took control of the train, its conductor, William Fuller, set out in pursuit of the raiders on foot and by rail in an attempt to take back the General. The pursuit had a less-than-happy ending for Andrews, but many of his men escaped and became the first recipients of the Medal of Honor.
Though the story takes several hours to really pick up steam, Pinchot keeps listeners engaged with varying inflections, plenty of personality, and dynamic tones: adding the right note of incredulity to the truly shocking parts of the plot, tossing off a slow Southern drawl when the dialogue calls for it, and effortlessly blending the story's lineup of research, quotes, and description. There are no clear heroes in a tale about the war between the states, but the narration creates a world where listeners can feel anger, sympathy, and sadness for the men on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line – all of whom thought they were doing what was right for the country. Blythe Copeland
On April 12, 1862—one year to the day after Confederate guns opened on Fort Sumter and started the Civil War—a tall, mysterious smuggler and self-appointed Union spy named James J. Andrews and 19 infantry volunteers infiltrated Georgia and stole a steam engine called the General. Racing northward at speeds near 60 miles an hour, cutting telegraph lines, and destroying track along the way, Andrews planned to open East Tennessee to the Union army, cutting off men and materiel from the Confederate forces in Virginia. If they succeeded, Andrews and his raiders could change the course of the war.
But the General’s young conductor, William A. Fuller, chased the stolen train - first on foot, then by handcar, and finally aboard another engine, the Texas. He pursued the General until, running out of wood and water, Andrews and his men abandoned the doomed locomotive, ending the adventure that would soon be famous as “The Great Locomotive Chase.” But the ordeal of the soldiers involved was just beginning.
In the days that followed, the raiders were hunted down and captured. Eight were tried and executed as spies, including Andrews. Eight others made a daring escape, including two assisted by a network of slaves and Union sympathizers. For their actions, before a personal audience with President Abraham Lincoln, six of the raiders became the first men in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor—the nation’s highest decoration for gallantry. Americans North and South, both at the time and ever since, have been astounded and fascinated by this daring raid. But until now, there has not been a complete history of the entire episode and the fates of all those involved.
Based on eyewitness accounts, as well as correspondence, diaries, military records, newspaper reports, deposition testimony, and other primary sources, Stealing the General is a blend of meticulous research and compelling narrative that is destined to become the definitive history of “the boldest adventure of the war”.
©2007 Russell S. Bonds (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Growing up outside of Atlanta and going to college in Northwest Georgia, of course I had heard about the Great Locomotive Chase and had even seen the General on school field trips to Kennesaw, but I knew very little about the chase itself and, as I found out, what I did know was largely false or inflated by myth. This was a very thorough and entertaining story about a very small chapter in Civil War history. Russell Bonds's research was meticulous and Bronson Pinchot's narration was gripping. I have to take a moment here to apologize to Mr. Pinchot because, while I knew I wasn't going to be listening to Balki or Serge narrate this book, I was a good 10 minutes in before I realized "Hey, this is actually Bronson Pinchot!" He did a fantastic job bringing the story to life and finding the subtle humor in some of the text with timely pregnant pauses and more ironic moments pointed out with conspiratorial undertones.
As I said before, I knew very little of this story even though it happened practically right in my backyard in Georgia. As the story unfolded and the General plowed up through NW Georgia I could imagine my own drives up I-75 and thinking about all the landmarks that the General was passing and my own experiences going through that countryside. After the chase was over, I also felt the Union soldiers' pain as they were held prisoner and their anguish at losing their friends and not knowing what was going to happen to them next. Bonds' description of the Yankees eventual escape was so engrossing, I continued to listen to the book even once I got home as I do almost all of my audio book listening in the car going to and from work.
In the early part of the book, Bonds points out significant landmarks in Atlanta and Marietta which pertain to the Great Locomotive Chase. I plan to buy a copy of this book so that I have it handy on my next trip home to Atlanta so I can visit these landmarks and hopefully pick up a little bit more knowledge of this intriguing moment of Civil War history.
Written as if the author was there
The Main character; Had the gumption to attempt to steal the engine
I love to learn and I love to listen to true stories, biographies, history and real life adventures.
This was an amazing story of adventure and the fact that it is based off of real life factual events makes it all the better. ☺
Very interesting and educational book - I knew little about the civil war and nothing about this part of it. The book had humor and intrigue even though you know from early on how it ends. I would highly recommend this "listen".
American patriot, veteran, historical researcher and writer.
This is not one of those "more of the same" old Civil War stories. This was an exciting adventure, that was daring, complex, and told in a masterful way. Mr. Bonds did a fabulous job in researching the historic train theft, and carefully extracting truths from so much bravado and Hollywood fiction that has become attached to this event thorough time. Bronson Pinchot delivered a superb performance in his reading. The story and performance kept me involved through the whole listening experience. I believe this book spans more than just an historical account of the great train theft. It was a thrilling listen and would be even a better movie, if they would stick to story as the author has presented it to us.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Stealing the General is an interesting but not thrilling piece of history in the hands of Russell Bonds. The fundamental story is a harrowing adventure but the writer only reports the facts. Bronson Pinchot, the teller of the tale, sounds like Jack Webb saying “Just the Facts ma’am”.
Bonds offers a brief review of the history of the American Medal of Honor. He reports facts about its diminishing honorary value and increasing politicization. Bonds suggests Theodore Roosevelt reverses that politicization by establishing apolitical criteria for awarding the Medal. The Medal of Honor has re-gained its prestigious reputation but the criterion for award continues to evolve. The last modification was in 1963.
Stealing the General becomes a movie. It certainly has the makings of a great drama but Bonds only reports the facts. He misses emotive drama.
I have only listened to the audio version.
I have not listened to any other of Mr Pinchot's readings that I am aware of. I did not realize until after I had completed parts 1 and 2 that he was the reader being familiar with one of his past tv series. I did think, quite a few times during listening to the book that the narrator was very good.
No, it was too long for that.
I have had this book on my wish list for many months but I only recently got it because it was on sale for 4.95. I have listened to many audiobooks on the civil war. I had read the summary and thought "what the heck". After a slow start, this was a fascinating story that I was not aware of. I found it to be very entertaining and highly recommend it.
No. I enjoyed learning more about the Civil War and railroads at the time, but the raid itself wasn't particularly exciting, nor was it in any way successful. It was never really made clear why they chose this particularly obtuse way to try and sabotage a railroad (stealing a train and then destroying the track and bridges behind it as they headed north). And given that they did, the approach they took seemed to maximize the chance for failure. The opportunities to muddle the operation of a single-track railroad seem numerous, especially with 24 men. The chosen method, while daring, seems particularly stupid and unworthy of great attention.
Also: Bonds rather pointlessly follows every person or object vaguely related to the raid through the following century and even beyond--not just the raiders, but the generals (and the General), the southern railway men and jailers, and medals of honor in general. The details of the survivors' squabbles over the details of the raid made me regret my typical compulsion to read/listen to most books to the bitter end.
Fortunately, he didn't really change his voice for various characters (of course, there's little if any dialog in the book anyway). He got a little over emotional for my taste at times, but in general was quite easy to listen to.
In the end, the story just wasn't interesting or exciting enough to justify a book of this length.
The book would have been more intriguing if the ending was unknown and not told at the beginning. Although there were some exciting passages, I found it slow going. Knowing the end, the difficulties became predictable failures.
Make no mistake: this is a complete, thoroughly researched, and well-organized account of one of the most infamous events of the Civil War. The Audible version is also well-narrated by Bronson Pinchot (that's right- "Balki" from Perfect Strangers). Unfortunately, I found myself constantly thinking about how many other Civil War heroes undoubtedly had far greater stories that were never told and/or never achieved the notoriety of this tale. It's not surprising that many of the movies, speeches, and books that previously dealt with this story felt the need to "embellish" the facts.
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