Ohio regiment soldiers receive Medal of Honor for Civil War locomotive chase (2024)

President Joe Biden will fix the 161-year-old oversight by honoring Private Philip G. Shadrach and Private George D. Wilson posthumously

Jessie BalmertCincinnati Enquirer

On April 12, 1862, a group of Union soldiers from Ohio regiments stole a locomotive in Georgia and rode it north, destroying track and telegraph lines in their wake.

The plan, masterminded by Kentucky civilian scout James J. Andrews, was to cut off Chattanooga, Tenn., from the Confederacy by destroying the railroad tracks, bridges and telegraph lines that connected the city to Atlanta. Twenty-two Union soldiers from Ohio regiments and another civilian joined the plot, which involved sneaking into the South wearing civilian clothes.

On March 25, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln's war secretary bestowed Andrews' Raiders with the country's first Medals of Honor. In the years since, all but two soldiers involved in the raid have received the nation's highestmilitary decoration for their bravery.

"Privates (Philip G.) Shadrach and (George D.) Wilson heroically served our nation during the Civil War, making the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to protect the Union, but because of a clerical error, they never received the Medal of Honor they each deserved," Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden will fix the 161-year-old oversight by honoring Private Philip G. Shadrach and Private George D. Wilson posthumously.

The Great Locomotive Chase

Shadrach was born in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, on September 15, 1840, to Robert and Elizabeth Shadrach, and became an orphan at an early age.Shadrach enlisted in the 2nd Ohio Infantry Regiment in 1861 and volunteered for the dangerous mission at age 21.

"Like many other young volunteer soldiers, Private Shadrach was willing to encounter both peril and hardship to fight for what he believed in," according to a White House news release.

Wilson was born in Belmont County, Ohio, in 1830 to George and Elizabeth Wilson. Originally a craftsman, Wilson volunteered for the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in 1861 and joined Andrews' Raiders shortly after.

Once Shadrach, Wilson and the others arrived in Georgia, they commandeered a locomotive called "The General"and its three boxcars. They stole the train while the crew and passengers were eating breakfast at the Lacy Hotel in Big Shanty, Georgia. The train's conductor chased them, first on foot and later by handcar for 87 miles, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

The pursuit continued for about 18 miles from Chattanooga, where the Union soldiers abandoned the "General" and fled. They were caught and eight men were later executed by hanging, including Andrews, Shadrach and Wilson.

One of the raiders wrote about the operation and in 1956,Walt Disney Productionsreleased a film about the event called "The Great Locomotive Chase."

Righting a wrong

Ron Shadrach, a great cousin several times removed of Private Shadrach, has campaigned to recognize the two soldiers since 2003 when he saw an article about the omitted honors.

"They participated and were full volunteers in this action," said Ron Shadrach, of Independence, Ohio. "They knew when they left in civilian clothes to penetrate into the Confederacy that they could either end up being heroes or hanging by some of the trees."

How were they overlooked? The soldiers didn't have close relatives to advocate for them. Their regiment was devastated during the war. "They were lost in the mix," he said.

In 2007, former U.S. Rep. Dave Hobson, R-Springfield, introduced legislation to correct the omission of Shadrach and Wilson's medals. A constituent from Amanda brought the issue to his attention. The following year, Congress authorized honoring the men − but it never happened.

"These gentlemen were left out. They performed the same heroic acts," Hobson said in an interview. "I thought this is not right. We're going to try to fix this. Finally, we're getting it fixed in my lifetime."

Bogged down in bureaucracy, the honor was never bestowed. Brown's office took up the mantle in 2015 to recognize the men's bravery and sacrifice.

Brown asked Biden in an October 2023 letter to "correct this wrong" and award the soldiers the Medal of Honor. "It is past time to acknowledge the bravery and meritorious action of Privates Shadrach and Wilson, as well as their sacrifice in defense of the Union."

And on July 3, 2024, Shadrach and Wilson's time finally came.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

Ohio regiment soldiers receive Medal of Honor for Civil War locomotive chase (2024)

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