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The General.

The General

Field review by the editors.

Kennesaw, Georgia

The South's relationship with the Civil War is mostly bittersweet, a tale of martyrs and doomed warships. One exception is the story of the General. It was an old-fashioned steam locomotive, stolen by Yankee commandos, chased for almost 90 miles by outraged Rebels on other locomotives, and finally caught. It became a symbol of southern pride. The Yankees were hanged.

Several southern cities have vied for the honor of displaying the General. Its most recent resting-place is its nicest yet: the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, opened in 2003.

The General historical marker.

The old locomotive, restored good-as-new, is now only a few hundred feet from the still-active railroad track where it was kidnapped on April 12, 1862. Sound effects in its gallery-shrine hoot, puff, and hiss unexpectedly -- like fake thunderstorms in a supermarket vegetable display -- but because the General is still a functioning locomotive, visitors aren't allowed to touch it.

Showcases document the General's ascendancy into celebrity; there are General cookie jars, cologne bottles, cereal boxes, whiskey decanters, plastic kit models. A small-scale replica of the General runs along track near the ceiling, pursued by a scale model of the Texas, the locomotive that finally caught it (The Texas is preserved and enshrined at the Atlanta Cyclorama). An adjoining Raiders Gallery acknowledges the Yankee commandos, and includes the posthumous Medal of Honor awarded to one of them.

Locomotive assembly line.
Locomotive assembly line.

Befitting its name, the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History extends its reach beyond its most famous exhibit. Memorable displays include a painful overview of Civil War medical equipment, and the reconstructed Glover Machine Works, the only fully restored belt-driven locomotive assembly line in the U.S.

Custom wax dummies give some sense of what it was like to stand sentinel, telegraph important information (except when Yankee commandos cut the wires), and bang together locomotives out of plate iron.

Connected to the museum is the Jolley Education Center, opened in 2008. It was built for children, but contains adult-satisfying displays such as a fully restored French Merci Box Car, along with an interactive map with locations of all the other survivors (each state got one). There's also a memorable exhibit of vintage railroad safety posters designed to scare the crap out of reckless kids and motorists.

1920s railroad safety poster - Walk Not on R.R. tracks
1920s railroad safety poster - Walk Not on R.R. tracks.

But the star of the museum will always be the General, one of Dixie's rare feel-good stories. Her fame is an afterthought; the Yankees didn't think she was anything special; all they wanted was transportation so that they could tear up tracks and burn bridges.

We asked director Deena Bush if the museum had all of the General's design specs. She said yes and that the museum would gladly make them available -- but so far no southern billionaire has expressed an interest in building a replica.

Also see: Where the General was Kidnapped | Where the General was Caught

The General

Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History

2829 Cherokee St., Kennesaw, GA
Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. I-75 exit 273. Drive west one mile. On the north side of Cherokee St. just east of Main St. and the train tracks. Parking is on the south side of Cherokee St.
M-Sa 9:30-5, Su 11-6 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $7.50
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Where the General Was KidnappedWhere the General Was Kidnapped, Kennesaw, GA - < 1 mi.
Wildman's Doomsday-Proof TombstoneWildman's Doomsday-Proof Tombstone, Kennesaw, GA - < 1 mi.
Giant Spider on a RoofGiant Spider on a Roof, Woodstock, GA - 5 mi.
In the region:
Monkey Massacre Memorial, Johns Creek, GA - 22 mi.

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