Andrews' Raid: "Such Spartan Fortitude"

Sketch of an eagle spreading its wings with a banner in its mouth

This is a published version of a report to the Judge Advocate General to the Secretary of War, recounting the ordeal of the men who carried out Andrews' raid. This report was published in the Washington Chronicle on April 4th, 1863.  


Report of the Judge Advocate General to the Secretary of War.

Judge Advocate General’s Office,

March 27, 1863.

Sir: I have the honor to transmit for your consideration the accompanying depositions of Corporal William Pittenger, company G, Second regiment Ohio volunteers ; Private Jacob Parrot, company K, Thirty-third regiment Ohio volunteers; Private Robert Buffum, company H, Twenty-first regiment Ohio volunteers; Corporal William Reddick, company B, Thirty-third regiment Ohio volunteers; Private William Bensinger, company G, Twenty-first regiment Ohio volunteers; taken at this office on the 25th instant in compliance with your written instructions; from which the following facts will appear:

These non-commissioned officers and privates belonged to an expedition set on foot in April, 1862, at the suggestion of Mr. J.J. Andrews, a citizen of Kentucky, who led it, and under the authority and direction of General O. M. Mitchell, the object of which was to destroy the communication on the Georgia State railroad, between Atlanta and Chattanooga. 

The mode of operation proposed was to reach a point on the road where they could seize a locomotive and train of cars, and then dash back in the direction of Chattanooga, cutting the telegraph wires and burning the bridges behind them as they advanced, until they reached their own lines. The expedition consisted of twenty-four men, who, with the exception of its leader, Mr. Andrews, and another citizen of Kentucky – who acted on the occasion as the substitute of a soldier – had been selected from the different companies for their known courage and discretion. They were informed that the movement was to be a secret one, and they doubtless comprehended something of its perils, but Mr. Andrews and Mr. Reddick alone seem to have known anything of its precise direction or object. They, however, voluntarily engaged in it and made their way in parties of two and three, in citizen’s dress, and carrying only their side-arms, to Chattanooga, the point of rendezvous agreed upon, where twenty-two out of the twenty-four arrived safely. Here they took passage, without attracting observation, for Marietta, which they reached at twelve o’clock on the night of the 11th of April. The following morning they took the cars back again towards Chattanooga, and at a place called Big Shanty, while the engineer and passengers were breakfasting, they detached the locomotive and three box-cars from the train and started at full speed for Chattanooga. They were now upon the field of the perilous operations proposed by the expedition, but suddenly encountered unforeseen obstacles. According to the schedule of the road, of which Mr. Andrews had possessed himself, they should have met but a single train on that day, whereas they met three, two of them being engaged on extraordinary service. About an hour was lost in waiting to allow these trains to pass, which enabled their pursuers to press closely upon them. They removed rails, threw out obstructions on the road, and cut the wires from time to time, and attained when in motion a speed of sixty miles an hour; by the time lost could not be regained. After having run about one hundred miles, they found their supply of wood, water, and oil exhausted, while the rebel locomotive which had been chasing them was in sight. Under these circumstances they had no choice but to abandon their cars and fly to the woods, which they did, under the orders of Mr. Andrews, each one endeavoring to save himself as best he might.

The expedition thus failed from causes which reflected neither upon the genius by which it was planned, nor upon the intrepidity and discretion of those engaged in conducting it. But for the accident of meeting the extra trains – which could not have been anticipated – the movement would have been a complete success, and the whole aspect of the war in the South and Southwest would have been at once changed. The expedition itself, in the daring of its conception, had the wildness of a romance; while in the gigantic and overwhelming results, which it sought and was likely to accomplish, it was absolutely sublime. The estimate of its character entertained in the South will be found fully expressed in an editorial from the Southern Confederacy, a prominent rebel journal, under date of 15th of April, and which is appended to and adopted as part of Mr. Pittenger’s deposition. The editor says: “The mind and heart shrink back appalled at the bare contemplation of the awful consequences which would have followed the success of this one act. We doubt if the victory at Manassas or Corinth were worth as much to us as the frustration of this grand coup d’etat. It is not by any means certain that the annihilation of Beauregard’s whole army at Corinth would be so fatal a blow to us as would have been the burning of the bridges at that time by these men.” 

So soon as those composing the expedition had left the cars, and dispersed themselves in the woods, the population of the country around turned our in their pursuit, employing for this purpose the dogs which are trained to hunt down the fugitive slaves of the South. The whole twenty-two were captured. Among them was private Jacob Parrot, of Company K, Thirty-third regiment Ohio volunteers. When arrested, he was, without any form of trial, taken possession of by a military officer and four soldiers, who stripped him, bent him over a stone, and while two pistols were held over his head, a lieutenant in rebel uniform inflicted, with a raw hide, upwards of a hundred lashes on his bare back. This was done in the presence of an infuriated crowd, who clamored for his blood, and actually brought a rope with which to hang him. The object of this prolonged scourging was to force this young man to confess to them the objects of the expedition and the names of his comrades, especially that of the engineer who had run the train. Their purpose was no doubt, not only to take the life of the latter if identified, but to do so with every circumstance of humiliation and torture which they could devise. Three times, in the progress of this horrible flogging, it was suspended, and Mr. Parrot was asked if he would not confess; but steadily and firmly, to the last, he refused all disclosures, and it was not till his tormentors were weary of their brutal work that the task of subduing their victim was abandoned as hopeless. This youth is an orphan, without father or mother, and without any of the advantages of education. Soon after the rebellion broke out, though of but eighteen years of age, he left his trade, and threw himself into the ranks of our armies as a volunteer; and now though still suffering from the outrages committed on his person in the South, he is on his way to rejoin his regiment, seeming to love his country only the more for all that he has endured in its defense. His subdued and modest manner, while narrating toe part he had borne in this expedition, showed him wholly unconscious of having done anything more than perform his simple duty as a soldier. Such Spartan fortitude, and such fidelity to the trusts of friendship and to the inspirations of patriotism, deserve an enduring record in the archives of the Government, and will find one, I am sure, in the hearts of a loyal people.

The twenty-two captives, when secured, were thrust into the negro jail of Chattanooga. They occupied a single room, half under ground, and but thirteen feet square, so that there was not space enough for them all to lie down together, and a part of them were, in consequence, obliged to sleep sitting and leaning against the walls. The only entrance was through a trap door in the ceiling, that was raised twice a day to let down their scanty meals, which were lowered in a bucket. They had no other light or ventilation than that which came through two small, triple-grated windows. They were covered with swarming vermin, and the heat was so oppressive that they were often obliged to strip themselves entirely of their clothes to bear it. Add to this, they were all handcuffed, and, with trace chains secured by padlocks around their necks were fastened to each other in companies of twos and threes. Their food, which was doled out to them twice a day, consisted of a little flour, wet with water and baked in the form of bread, and spoiled pickled beef. They had no opportunity of procuring any supplies from the outside, nor had they any means of doing so – their pockets having been rifled of their last cent by the confederate authorities, prominent among them was an officer wearing the rebel uniform of a major. No part of the money thus basely taken was ever returned. 

During this imprisonment, at Chattanooga their leader, Mr. Andrews, was tried and condemned as a spy, and was subsequently executed at Atlanta on the 7th of June, they were strong and in perfect health when they entered the negro jail, but at the end of something more than three weeks, when the were required to leave it, they were so exhausted from the treatment to which they had been subjected, as scarcely to be able toe walk and several staggered from weakness as they passed through the streets to the cars. 

Finally, twelve of the number including the five who have deposed, and Mr. Mason, of company K, Twenty-first regiment Ohio volunteers – who was prevented by illness from giving his evidence – were transferred to the prison of Knoxville, Tennessee. On arriving there, seven of them were arraigned before a court-martial, charged with being spies. Their trial, of course, was summary. They were permitted to be present, but not to hear either the argument of their own counsel or that of the judge advocate. Their counsel however, afterwards visited the prison and read them the written defense he had made before the court on their behalf. The substance of that paper is thus stated by one of the witnesses, Corporal Pittenger: “He (the counsel) contended that our being dressed in citizen’s clothes was nothing more than what the confederate government itself had authorized, and was only what all guerrillas in the service of the confederacy did on all occasions when it would be an advantage to them to do so; and he recited the instance of General Moran having dressed his men in the uniform of our soldiers and passed them off as being from the Either Pennsylvania cavalry regiment, and by that means succeeded in reaching a railroad and destroying it. This instance was mentioned to show that our being in citizen’s clothes did not take from us the protection awarded to prisoners of war. The plea went on the further state that we had told the object of our expedition; that it was a purely military one for the destruction of communications, and, as such, lawful according to the rules of war.” 

This just and unanswerable presentation of the case appears to have produced its appropriate impression. Several members of the court-martial afterwards called on the prisoners and assured them that, from the evidence against them, they could not be condemned as spies; that they had come for a certain known object, and not having lingered about or visited any of their camps, obtaining or seeking information, they could not be convicted. Soon thereafter all the prisoners were removed to Atlanta, Georgia, and they left Knoxville under a belief that their comrades, who had been tried, either had been or would be acquitted. In the meantime, however, the views entertained and expressed to them by the members of the court were overcome, it may be safely assumed, that under the prompting of the remorseless despotism at Richmond. On the 18th of June, after their arrival at Atlanta, where they rejoined the comrades from whom they had been separated at Chattanooga, their prison door was opened, and the death sentences of the seven who had been tried at Knoxville were read to them. No time for preparation was allowed them. They were told to bid their friends farewell, “and to be quick about it.” They were at once tied and carried out to execution. Among the seven was Private Samuel Robinson, company G, Thirty-third Ohio volunteers, who was too ill to walk. He was, however, pinioned like the rest, and in this condition was dragged from the floor on which he was lying to the scaffold. In an hour or more the cavalry escort which had accompanied them, was seen returning with the cart, but the cart was empty – the tragedy had been consummated! 

On that evening and the following morning the prisoners learned from the provost Marshal and guard that their comrades had died, as all true soldiers of the Republic should die, in the presence of its enemies. Among the revolting incidents which they mentioned in connection with this cowardly butchery, was the fall of two of the victims from the breaking of the ropes, after they had been for some time suspended. On their being restored to consciousness, they begged for an hour in which to pray and to prepare for death, but this was refused them. The ropes were readjusted and the execution at once proceeded. 

Among those who thus perished was Private Alfred Wilson, company C Twenty-first Ohio volunteers. He was a mechanic from Cincinnati, who, in the exercise of his trade, had travelled much through the States North and South, and who had a greatness of soul which sympathized intensely with our struggle for national life, and was in that dark hour filled with joyous convictions of our final triumph. Though surrounded by a scowling crowd impatient for his sacrifice, he did not hesitate while standing under the gallows to make them a brief address. He told them that though they were all wrong, he had no hostile feelings towards the Southern people, believing that not they but their leaders were responsible for the rebellion; that he was no spy, as charged, but a soldier regularly detailed for military duty; that he did not regret to die for his country, but only regretted the manner of his death; and he added, for their admonition, that they would yet see the time when the old Union would be restored, and when its flag would wave over them again. And with these words, the brave man died. He, like his comrades, calmly met the ignominious doom of a felon – but, happily, ignominious for him and for them only so far as the martyrdom of the patriot and the hero can be degraded by the hands of ruffians and traitors. 

The remaining prisoners, now reduced to fourteen, were kept closely confined under special guard, in the jail at Atlanta, until October, when, overhearing a conversation between the jailer and another officer, they became satisfied that it was the purpose of the authorities to hand them as they had done their companions. This led them to form a plan for their escape, which they carried into execution on the evening of the next day, by seizing the jailer when he opened the door to carry away the bucket in which their supper had been brought. This was followed by the seizure also of the seven guards on duty, and before the alarm was given eight of the fugitives were beyond the reach of pursuit. It has been since ascertained that six of these, after long and painful wanderings, succeeded in reaching our lines. Of the fate of the other two, nothing is known. The remaining six of fourteen, consisting of the five witnesses who have deposed, and Mr. Mason, were recaptured and confined in the barracks, until December, when they were removed to Richmond. There they were shut up in a room, in Castle Thunder, where they shivered through the winter, without fire, thinly clad, and with their but two small blankets, which they had saved with their clothes to cover the whole party. So they remained until a few days since, when they were exchanged; and thus, at the end of eleven months, terminated their pitiless persecutions in the prisons of the South – persecution which began and concluded amid indignities and sufferings on their part, and atrocities on the part of their traitorous foes which illustrate far more faithfully than any human language could express it, the demoniac spirit of a revolt, every throb of whose life is a crime against the very race to which we belong. 

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. Holt, judge Advocate General.

[To] Hon. Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War. 



Washington Chronicle, Saturday, April 4, 1863, Page 1: "Report of the Judge Advocate General." Accessed through