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"The Capture of Andrew's Raiders"

(William I. Standifer is a brother of Skelton Carroll Standifer)

*Contributed by Jim C. Standifer

From the book, Chattanooga’s Story, page 65-71 and 98-99

By early April of 1862, a daring Federal plan to Sabotage the Western and Atlantic Railroad was under way with Chattanooga as a focal point of the drama. A group of volunteers was to proceed to near the southern portion of the railroad with the aim of stealing a train. They would then head north with the engine, burning the railroad bridges and wrecking the rails behind them as they went. The aim was to cut off a vital Southern communication link. The raiders planned to take their stolen train boldly through Chattanooga and on to Huntsville, Alabama. There they would meet General Ormsby Mitchel and his men.

Unknown to the Confederate authorities in Chattanooga, two of the Federal raiders were already in town by April 10. William Reddick and John Wollam had obtained a room at the Crutchfield House, though they had to share it with two deathly-ill Confederate soldiers. Throughout the night, Reddick and Wollam were kept awake bringing water to the enemy soldiers and ringing the room service bell (at a quarter per call).

The next day Reddick and Wollam strolled around town, visiting the commissary and ordinance departments. They stopped for awhile at a photographic studio and watched the artist whittle a frame out of a cigar box with his pen knife. The two Northern soldiers also took time to view the burial of some Confederate officers and soldiers who had been killed at Pittsburg Landing. . .

Meanwhile, James Andrews, the leader of the expedition, was with a party opposite Chattanooga on the riverbank. A ferryman was on the shore, securing his frail, horse-driven craft from a windstorm. He at first refused to transport Andrews and his men, but they jeered at him for being afraid to cross the wind-tossed river. The ferryman finally agreed to take them to the Chattanooga side after they promised to help push the poles.

The ferry and disguised Union soldiers landed safely across the river where they expected to find a Confederate guard posted. However, much to the satisfaction of Andrews, no sentry was in sight. The Chattanooga authorities had not believed a sentry was necessary because the weather was so bad they did not think anyone would try to cross the river. Andrews and his men then boldly walked through town to the depot and boarded the train. A Western and Atlantic train carrying the "Andrews Raiders" was soon clanking along the rough tracks in the direction of Marietta.

By the next day (April 12), the alarming news had come by telegraph to Chattanooga that Huntsville, Alabama, less than a hundred miles away, had fallen to General Mitchel. On that afternoon, the Chattanooga telegraph operator received another shocking message: "My train was captured this A.M. at Big Shanty, evidently by Federal soldiers in disguise. They are making rapidly for Chattanooga, possibly with ideas of burning bridges in their rear. If I do not capture them in the meantime, see that they do not pass Chattanooga."

This startling report came from the Western and Atlantic conductor W. A. Fuller, who was the victim of Andrews Raid. Andrews and his men had grabbed the engine the "General" at Big Shanty (Kennesaw) while Fuller was in the station eating breakfast. However, the enraged conductor started out on foot as soon as he discovered what had happened. Fuller ran as fast as he could for two and one-half miles, then he and two of his crewmen took a repair crew’s pole car and continued the pursuit. They had to stop along the way to drag the pole car across gaps where the raiders had lifted the rails. After forty-five minutes on the pole car, the Georgians located an engine named the Yonah, which they climbed aboard. The Yankee raiders had made it to Kingston, Georgia, by now, but were stalled while awaiting the passage of a south-bound freight on the single track. Andrews told those people the raiders met along the track that he was a Confederate officer on a mission of the highest military priority. After an agonizing delay, the south-bound freight passed, and the General pulled away from Kingston, only four minutes ahead of the Yonah.

Conductor Fuller and his men switched to the Texas, a locomotive of the same class as the General, and were on the tail of the raiders as the engines sped past the Adairsville and Calhoun stations. The raiders tried dumping boxcars in the path of the Texas and dropping off cross ties, but nothing stopped Fuller. The engines sped on through Dalton, across the first of the long bridges over Chickamauga Creek, then past the train station at Ringgold. The weather was rainy and the bridges were so soaked that they could not be burned. A mile or so short of Graysville, near the Georgia-Tennessee border, the General began to founder. The boiler water was low and the firewood was gone. Andrews had to tell his men to give up the mission and scatter in the woods. Conductor Fuller, after six hours of high adventure, had the General back.

A search was immediately begun in the vicinity of Chattanooga to capture the infamous Andrews Raiders and to bring them "to their just desserts." In only a few days, one of the raiders, William Pittinger, was captured and was brought in a wagon to the headquarters of General Danville Leadbetter at the Crutchfield House. As soon as the prisoner and guards neared the town the word had spread: "We’ve got a live Yankee; one of them took the train the other day." The curious began coming from every direction and, in a few minutes, the street in front of the hotel was completely blocked. They began hooting and jeering the prisoner and demanded to know why he "came down here to burn our property, murder us and our children, and set our Negroes free."

Pittinger was then taken into the hotel for an interview with General Leadbetter. The general began asking a number of questions, including inquiries about the name of the leader of the raiding party and the purpose of the raid. However, Pittinger refused to answer. The captive also declined to tell General Leadbetter the names of the other members of the raiders. When the interview was over, General Leadbetter turned to a captain and said, "Take him to the hole. You know where that is." As Pittinger was led from the room, he was startled to see Andrews himself, along with two of the other raiders, standing outside the door. They had been brought into Chattanooga only a short time after Pittinger.

The "hole" referred to by General Leadbetter was in the old slave jail on the hill east of town operated by a man named John Swaim. Pittinger was led to this dreaded confine by a guard of eight men, two of whom linked arms with him. They led Pittinger through the downtown streets and up to Lookout Street between Fourth and Fifth streets where the jail was located. It was a little brick building surrounded by a high board fence. The ground sloped steeply upward so that the back of the jail was built into the hill and the front was level with the ground. The jail was two stories high with two rooms on each floor. Swaim and his family lived in the upper and lower rooms at the north end, while the rooms at the south end were used to hold the prisoners.

The jailkeeper Swaim was about sixty years old with long white hair and "a dry weathered face." He spoke in a "whining tone" generally, but his voice could rise to a scream when there was any type of disturbance in his jail. When the heavily-guarded Pittinger arrived at the jail, Swaim came out, unlocked the gate, and led the group up the long outside staircase. They entered a prison room that had no furniture, was lighted only by the candle carried by the jailer, and was inhabited by five or six "wretched-looking old men." Swaim asked the captain of the guard, "Where shall I put him?" The reply was, "Below, of course." Then Swaim moved to the middle of the room, knelt down, and put a large key into a hole in the floor. He then raised a heavy trap door into the hole and Pittinger was made to descend about thirteen feet to a dungeon occupied by some more "wretches." The ladder was then drawn up and the trap door shut.

William Pittinger could see nothing in the darkness, but he felt men moving and breathing around him and he inhaled the stench of the hole. It was so hot that he quickly broke into a sweat. There was no door in the dungeon and no windows-only two holes in the walls opposite each other. The floors and walls were of solid oak, and the guards patrolled outside. The only "furnishings" were four buckets, used for water and slops. The room was only thirteen feet square, but when Pittinger was put in, there were already fourteen white men and one Negro inside. The white men were Union men from various parts of East Tennessee, and the Negro was a suspected fugitive slave. Later the number in the hole was increased to twenty-two. There were two rows of ten prisoners each, and two persons could lie between the rows of feet. However, when one person turned, everyone else in his row also had to turn also. There was also the difficulty of warding off the numerous rats and other vermin in the hole.

Not long after Pittinger was placed in the dark confines of Swaim’s jail, Andrews, Ross and Wollam were likewise brought to the dungeon. The four raiders spent long hours that day telling one another of their adventures following the abandonment of the General. The next morning Swaim lowered the men their breakfast in a bucket at the end of a rope. It consisted of tiny fragments of cornbread and unsavory meat. Later that day six more of the Andrews Raiders were lowered into the hole. More of the raiders were brought to the jail later, and finally Swaim moved the East Tennesseans to the upstairs room and left only members of the raiding party in the hole.

Some of the raiders still had some money on them and one day they passed some of it to the jailer, asking him to purchase wheat bread and molasses for them. However, at the next meal Swaim lowered down the same meager meal as before. When they shouted at him to find out what had happened, Swaim said slyly, "Boys, I lost the money."

As the April days wore on, several of the raiders were taken out of jail from time to time for interviews with the Confederate authorities. The leader Andrews was tried at a court martial in Chattanooga, held on the second floor of the old building at Fourth and Market. Reece Brabson was the lead attorney for Andrews, assisted by a lawyer from Holly Springs, Mississippi.

Then one day the trap door was lifted and all of the raiders were called upstairs. They were marched through town to the depot to wait for the train to arrive. The Confederate authorities, fearful that Chattanooga was in danger of attack from General Mitchel, moved the raiders to a Federal prison at Madison, Georgia. However, they were there only three days before it was decided to send them in boxcars back to Chattanooga and Swaim’s Jail. Jeering crowds met them at every station along the way.

It was now decided to put the East Tennesseans into the hole and keep the raiders in the room upstairs. This room was the same size as the hole, but it had three real windows. They were high enough to admit light and allow the prisoners to look out over the fence in two directions. The guard was still extremely tight, and two lines of bayoneted soldiers stood outside the door each time it was opened. The stairway was also guarded, and sentries walked in a circle outside.

Inside, the chained raiders sang "Twenty Years Ago" and other songs and held mock trials. This singing and favorable reports from the men who guarded the raiders caused some Chattanoogans to feel sympathetic toward the prisoners. The provost marshal allowed them to exercise in the yard, and Mrs. Swaim gave some of them extra food on occasion. Mrs. Reece Brabson came from Brabson Hill to express her compassion for her husband’s client, James Andrews. Later she sent him a few gifts. Colonel Brabson loaned the raiders books from his personal library. Colonel Brabson had not fought in the war because of a disabling fall from a runaway buggy he received in November of 1860 while on his way to reclaim his seat in Congress. During the months he was in Washington, Colonel Brabson had fought for the individual’s right to hold slaves, but he was strongly opposed to any state leaving the Union. He thought the Southern states should stand up for their constitutional rights within the Union.

The Negro blacksmith, William (Uncle Bill) Lewis, lived in a large, two-story, frame house a block from Swaim’s Jail, and he also befriended the raiders. He raised a large quantity of lettuce and obtained permission from the guard to sent some to the prisoners. Uncle Bill had continued to prosper in his blacksmithing business at his familiar shop on Market Street. He had been able to pay for his house and to hire workers to help operate the blacksmith shop. The longtime Chattanooga resident also had enough money to send several of his children north to be educated.

The raiders eventually learned how to remove their handcuffs, and they made plans for an escape. But on the day that the plan was to be carried out, twelve of the group were ordered to Knoxville for a trial. There was a sad departure scene at Swaim’s Jail as Andrews pressed the hands of each of the twelve who were leaving. With a tear in his eye, he told each one, "Boys, if I never see you here again, try to meet me on the other side of Jordan."

Then, on May 31, as the remaining raiders at Chattanooga were exercising outside Swaim’s Jail, an officer entered the gate. He walked briskly toward James Andrews. Without saying a work, he handed the leader of the raiders a large envelope. The officer then turned and moved quickly out of the yard. Andrews broke the seal on the envelope, then looked at its contents and "turned pale as marble." It was the verdict of the court martial after review by Confederacy Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker and President Jefferson Davis. The leader of the Andrews Raiders was found guilty as charged and sentenced to death by hanging. The execution was to take place the following Saturday.

The remaining raiders decided at once to put their plan of escape into operation. However, Andrews was separated from the rest that evening and put into the hole. This made it necessary for the raiders upstairs to cut into the plank floor separating them from Andrews, using a knife that was in the possession of one of them. The work was suspended the next morning, but began in earnest again on Sunday night. It was then necessary to cut the lock on the trap door before bringing Andrews up. This was accomplished, and Andrews was lifted up on a rope made by twisting their clothes together. Next, they had to carefully pick their way through the end brick wall above the ceiling and make a longer rope for the descent to the ground outside the jail.

All of this was accomplished and the leader Andrews was outside first. However, he happened to knock off a loose brick with his foot and the guards were alerted at once. They began firing at Andrews in the shadowy darkness. However, he escaped from the area of the jail though he had to leave his boots behind. John Wollam was the only other raider who made it away from the jail through the gunfire of the Confederate guards. The other raiders hastily returned to the cell and chained themselves back up.

News of the escape spread like wildfire through Chattanooga, and soon soldiers, civilians and dogs were excitedly joining in the pursuit of the two escaped prisoners. Andrews and Wollam had separated a short distance from the jail. Andrews went just south of town and climbed a tree with dense foliage within sight of the Car Shed. He watched throughout the next day as trains sped by and search parties went to and fro hurriedly beneath his feet. The fugitive climbed from the tree when night arrived, and he swam the river. He lost his coat during the swim and cut his bare feet on the rocks by the side of the river.

Andrews was observed by a party of men and dogs as he searched for a hiding place at Moccasin Bend early the next morning. He dashed into the woods, then he happened across a young boy in a dugout canoe. Andrews directed the startled boy to row him to Williams Island. After letting Andrews out on the island, the boy went directly across to the riverbank home of Samuel Williams and informed him about the strange man. Williams immediately thought that it might be one of the escaped prisoners. That day at noon, he went by a spring house on the island and saw a man there. The stranger was dressed only in a coat and shirt, and his feet were badly scratched and bleeding.

Samuel Williams asked the man if he was one of the men "who broke jail yesterday," and Andrews reluctantly admitted that he was. Williams then said, "Well, you are in poor garb to get away. You stay here until I go to the house to get you some clothes." Williams then went to his house and secured some food and clothes, which he took over to James Andrews. The escaped prisoner then told Williams that he had been accused of burning some railroad bridges. He was continuing his tale when two men who were staying at the Williams house walked up. Armed with rifles, they demanded that Andrews go into their custody. The two men were William Standifer, who had lived in the northern part of Hamilton County for many years, and a Dr. Craig of Kentucky, who had come to the Williams place to buy mules. Standifer, now sixty-four years old, was a strong Confederate sympathizer though he was too old to fight. He had led a company in the Mexican War. Standifer, Dr. Crain and Williams then took James Andrews to the Williams home.

The celebrated prisoner had dinner, then he took a seat on the porch facing the calm Tennessee River and described his escape. He also told the Williams family that he did not make the attempt to sabotage the Confederate railroad through patriotism, but he was engaged to a girl back home and he wanted to win the money that was promised for the dangerous mission. Some members of the Williams family felt sorry for Andrews. But, Samuel Williams and William Standifer took him to the Confederate authorities in Chattanooga on Wednesday, June 4. The following day, soldiers in town began building a scaffold for the purpose of hanging James Andrews.

John Wollam also headed toward the Tennessee River following his escape from Swaim’s Jail. He adopted the plan of dropping his coat and vest by the river, wading out a short distance, then returning and hiding out a short distance, then returning and hiding in a canebrake. A search party soon reached the river and, after a fruitless hunt and discovery of Wollam’s clothes, they concluded that the escaped raider had drowned. That night Wollam made his way along the riverbank near town until he found a canoe, which he took and began rowing down the river. At dawn he hid the canoe and waited until nightfall to begin floating the river again. he did this for a week and, thinking he was in safe territory, he began traveling during the day. However, he was still within Confederate lines. Wollam was soon captured by one of their patrols when he had almost made his way to the Union Camp.

The Confederate command at Chattanooga now meant to take no further chance of an escape on the part of James Andrews. He was placed back in the hole of Swaim’s Jail, and extra guards were placed on duty. In addition, one of the workmen from Uncle Bill Lewis’ blacksmith shop was called into the dungeon to rivet a pair of heavy iron fetters around the ankles of the expedition leader. With only four days left to live, Andrews managed to gain some pen and paper in order to write several farewell letters and his will. Outside Swaim’s Jail, the erection of the scaffolding was proceeding.

However, reports came that the Federals were advancing rapidly toward Chattanooga. On the day before the planned execution date, James Andrews was ordered moved to Atlanta. Andrews left Chattanooga for the last time on the early morning train. On June 7, the leader of the Andrews Raiders was taken to a gallows a block from Peachtree Street in Atlanta and hanged. Conductor Fuller reported, "He died bravely."

(Skipping a few pages until after the capture of Chattanooga)

General George Thomas especially wanted Samuel Williams captured because he knew the country so well. It was well known that Williams had guided the Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and others in the vicinity of Walden’s Ridge and Raccoon Mountain. Besides that, General Thomas and others in the Union Army had not forgotten that Samuel Williams was the person who had turned James Andrews over to the Confederate authorities. General Thomas vowed that Williams would hang if he were captured.

Captain William Standifer, who had also been involved in the capture of James Andrews, had made a narrow escape from Chattanooga. After the Union soldiers entered town, it became known that he was to be arrested. Some of his friends loaded a rowboat with food and put it and Captain Standifer off in the night at the old wharf. Lieutenant Leroy Standifer, son of Captain Standifer, was killed during one of the shellings into Chattanooga.

(The site of Swaim’s Jail later became a parking lot for the Provident insurance firm.)

The Encyclopedia of the Civil War by Civil War Society reports that in addition to Andrews, seven of his men were hung in Atlanta. Eight of the raiders escaped in October 1862 and the remaining were released a year later in a prison exchange arranged by U.S. Secretary of War Stanton. James Andrews and all of his men became the first soldiers to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

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Right.jpg (1401 bytes)Click here for another article published in the Chattanooga News May 9, 1993

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