Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History

Home of the Great Locomotive Chase - Kennesaw, GA - More
The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History is a Smithsonian affiliate located just north of Atlanta in Kennesaw, Georgia. The significance of Kennesaw in Civil War history is notable on several fronts. Not only is Kennesaw the site of one of the most savage battles of the war between the states, and home of a massive National battlefield cemetery, it (Big Shanty Station) is also the beginning point for what would eventually become famously (or infamously, depending on loyalties) known as the Great Locomotive Chase. The key subject of the action-filled story is housed here at the Southern Museum. Let me explain...

On April 12, 1862, a small band of rough-cut northern spies
led by a civilian northern scout (secret service?) by the name of James J. Andrews, boldly stole a train in plain sight of the southern army. Their objective was to push north to Chattanooga, cutting telegraph lines and destroying track and bridges along the way. Their ultimate goal was to cut off supply lines and communication between Atlanta and Southern Troops in Tennessee. Unfortunately for the spies, a single enthusiastic train conductor named William Allen Fuller would have nothing to do with his train being stolen by a bunch of Yankee spies. He set out on foot to chase his train, the General, until he got it back. Mr. Fuller's resolve proved to be more than "Andrew's Raiders" expected, and the train was captured near Ringgold, Georgia, remarkably near the spy's destination. Some of the northern spies were captured and some escaped to return home. The Union survivors were awarded the very first Congressional Medals of Honor.

In 1956, the Great Locomotive Chase adventure was made into a Disney
film starring Fess Parker, an actor who later (1964) became the star of the popular TV series Daniel Boone. Rebecca and I were young children during that time period, and Fess Parker was a star to us. So, when I first saw The Great Locomotive Chase at camp at the ripe old age of 9, it was a immediate hit.

Ok, sorry about the tangent, but the point is, the steam engine named The General, the real star of "The Great Locomotive Chase," is here in all its glory. Yes, the original, 200-year-old locomotive is displayed here at the Southern Museum. Also, an abbreviated 20 minute film tells the Great Locomotive Chase story in the museum's theater, and the full length Disney DVD is available for purchase in the museum's gift shop.


Now, I don't want to neglect the rest of the museum because there is much more here. The Southern Museum features many displays portraying life of the soldiers of the Civil war, both northern and southern. Most displays are static: pictures, clothing, eating utensils, and weapons. Additionally, the museum has a series of displays portraying the manufacture of train engines by the Glover Machine Works during the time period. This is a really cool display showing the processes of engineering, machining, casting, and manufacturing.
For the children:
While much of the museum is targeted at adults, there is a portion of the
Southern Museum dedicated to children. There are displays of historical significance that encourage children to role play (dress-up). There is also a full-size model of an engine in which children can experience the thrill of piloting a train. Additionally, the museum is adjacent to a very nice playground, a sure cure for childish boredom.

In summary, the Southern Museum is a must-see for adventurous families. Much of the static portions of the museum are not the most exciting places
for small kids, but there are plenty of distractions to help keep them occupied. We really recommend the purchase of Disney's Great Locomotive Chase DVD in the museum's gift shop. It's well worth it! 

While in the Kennesaw area, we suggest a short drive up to Cartersville to visit the Tellus Science Museum, the Booth Western Art Museum, and the Etowah Indian Mounds. If camping and recreation are what's on your mind, check out Red Top Mountain State Park and McKinney Campground on nearby Lake Allatoona.

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