LETTS — Passengers had not finished their breakfasts April 12, 1862, at the Lacy Hotel in Big Shanty, Georgia, before their train, the General, was hijacked by 22 U.S. soldiers and two civilians.
A southern insurgency clinging to the institution of slavery rebelled against the United States government propelling the country into a civil war.
The raid that screamed out of that station that day with Confederates in hot pursuit would come to be known as the Great Locomotive Chase or Andrew’s Raid. The raiders aimed to steal a train and ride it north from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tenn. destroying as much infrastructure as they could. Their campaign ended 18 miles short of the mark in Ringgold, Georgia, when the train ran out of fuel. Several were picked up and charged by Confederate forces with “acts of unlawful belligerency.”
Some were hanged. Some escaped. Some even lived long enough to receive the greatest U.S. military accolade.
One Corporal William H. H. Reddick of 33rd Ohio, buried in Letts, Iowa, received the Medal of Honor on March 25, 1863.
The quiet site was visited Monday afternoon by Louisa-Muscatine School’s Becky Feldman and her sixth grade class.
It's so local, which is fundamental," Feldman said. "Otherwise, you can mention different soldier's names and it doesn't connect to them, but as soon as we started looking at William (Reddick) and what he had done, immediately, their faces just were surprised. They were eager to learn more.”
Helping her out was Douglas Elam, a Civil War re-enactor and hometown pride coach with Keep Iowa Beautiful. He said he was just excited to get to share the story with a new generation.
“We've lost so much of our history over time,” Elam said. “As teachers will note, they have to teach other things in order to stay current in competitive education and job fields so much of our history gets pared back.”
Feldman said that the paring back is an outcome of teachers spreading their instruction out to hit as many benchmarks as possible.
“As teachers, there is a lot of pressure on us to check off boxes and assess everything,” Feldman said. “Social studies unfortunately is one of the first things we cut.”
Feldman hopes that this time she spends will lead her students to search out and learn more.
“It's so important that during that time we spark their need to know more,” Feldman said. “So we try to get them a few topics like this that they can take further.”
Elam said he got interested in the Civil War back during its centennial. Right about that time he would have been in the sixth grade.
“If we lose our history, what do we have for our future,” Elam said. “Being able to share this — I just hope to spread what I can.”