James J. Andrews was going to hang. It was just a matter of when and where.
The leader of the failed Andrews Raid decided to break out on May 31, 1862, after receiving his death warrant at a jail in Chattanooga. Andrews was captured two days later, put in ankle irons and given time to write farewell letters as execution scaffolding was erected outside the unpleasant Swaim’s Jail.
But Andrews would not die in Chattanooga. The condemned man was put on a train to Atlanta when Federal troops got too close. Townspeople in Georgia taunted him at station stops during the sad journey.
On this day (June 7), 154 years ago, Andrews was hanged in what is now the Midtown neighborhood in Atlanta only hours after the train came to a stop.
Seven other men also convicted as spies in the April 1862 raid, known as the “Great Locomotive Chase,” had traveled with Andrews to Atlanta. They were executed on June 18 a few miles to the southeast, next to Oakland Cemetery.
A spring 2015 article in Civil War Quarterly gave this account of Andrews’ death:
“Andrews’ sentence was carried out first, at 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 7, near the intersection of Juniper and Third Streets in Atlanta. The hanging was horribly botched: the cotton rope stretched and Andrews’ feet touched the earth. A guard had to swing the doomed man’s struggling body off to the side and hold it there as another scraped away the ground while Andrews slowly strangled.” The account is corroborated in a book by a raid survivor.
A historical marker stands today along a busy street.
Andrews, still wearing his shackles, was buried near the execution site. His remains were exhumed in 1887, when he joined his seven comrades at the federal cemetery in Chattanooga.
|Seven raiders are hanged near Oakland Cemetery|
Some 20 Union soldiers were part of the raid, and six of those who were exchanged as prisoners received the first Medals of Honor in March 1863. Andrews, who was about 33, was not eligible because he was a civilian.
Andrews and his band of “engine thieves” tried to destroy much of the Western & Atlantic Railroad and communications as they rushed northward from Big Shanty, Ga., toward Chattanooga. The damaged they created was negligible. They were captured near Ringgold, Ga. Those not executed either escaped or were exchanged.
|Andrews marker is behind shrubs next to apartment building (Picket)|
Much has been written about the failed raid, and film accounts include a Disney production. One of the most riveting written accounts was by William Pittenger, a member of the operation.
Pittenger wrote of a group of the imprisoned soldiers saying farewell to Andrews in Chattanooga before they were moved to Knoxville, Tenn. It was about a week before their leader learned of his fate.
“I will never forget his last words, as he silently pressed our hands, and with a tear in his blue eye, and a low, sweet voice, that thrilled through my inmost being, said, ‘Boys, if I never see you here again, try to meet me on the other side of Jordan.’ It was our last earthly meeting.”
|Locomotive tops monument in Chattanooga (Library of Congress)|