16 May 65 : Atlanta, the Civil War Cyclorama and the Great Locomotive Chase : Atlanta, Georgia, USA

This continues the letter dated 13th May 1965 which began:

Dear family,

Sunday 16th May

Spent the weekend in Atlanta, Georgia, and not too successful. We stayed at one of the best motels in town and had nothing but bad service.

This afternoon we had a puncture and had to change a wheel in a temperature of 88 degrees, and ended up dripping wet with perspiration.

1965 05 15 Atlanta Georgia skyline
Tony’s photo captioned: Skyline of Atlanta Georgia, taken from Atlanta Stadium.
1960s postcard of Atlanta Stadium (from Wikimedia Commons)
vintage Atlanta Stadium postcard (from Ebay)
1960s postcard of Atlanta Stadium (from eBay)


We went to the new Atlanta Stadium, a giant circular stadium holding 55,000, and only opened a month ago, and saw a baseball game. Typically American, with bands and choirs etc, and popcorn and candy, and gallons of ‘Coke’- but the game itself we found a bit boring, and we left after an hour. It was worth going though if only to see the stadium.

The highlight of the weekend was a visit to the world famous ‘Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama‘. The town of Atlanta was the scene of one of the most fierce battles of the Civil War, and was also the setting of the film ‘Gone with the Wind‘ which was about the Battle of Atlanta.

The Cyclorama is a fantastic reproduction of the battle. It is housed in a circular building, and to view it you have to stand on a raised circular platform in the middle.

It consists of a huge painting all around the wall – 50ft high and 400ft circumference, the canvas weighs 1,800lb and 800 of this is the paint alone. It depicts the scene of the actual height of the battle, and is said to be accurate.


Civil War battlescene at Atlanta Cyclorama
Civil War battle scene from Atlanta Cyclorama (photo from Wikimedia Commons)


Civil War battlescene at Atlanta Cyclorama 2
Atlanta Cyclorama (photo from Wikimedia Commons)


As the painting reaches the bottom it blends into actual solid scenery, real soil and railway lines, guns and wagons, hundreds of life size model soldiers, and all this reaches right up to the raised dais (28 feet above) in the centre.

It is so realistic that it is actually impossible to determine where the painting ends, and the physical scenery begins.

They have actual soil and trees from the scene of the battle, and the actual railway lines that were used. With the use of lighting, and a commentary with the old Battle Hymns, and sound effects, the battle is relived, and the result is very impressive, and moving and memorable.

I expect you have heard of the ‘Great Locomotive Chase‘ of the Civil War. A film was made of it. We saw one of the engines in the chase (the Texas), which raced backwards after the other engine (the General), which is housed in the basement of this building, and we had a look at that too.


The Texas Locomotive at Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum Credit: By Cak22 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16607671


I had a letter from Mum, and one from Carol on Friday. I was very relieved to know that you have got the film safely, and I expect that by now you will have seen it. I hope you haven’t forgotten the H—s, who will also want to see it. (Colin’s parents)

I was surprised to hear that you are having the reception at The Spa now. It all sounds very splendid, I must say!!

Congratulations to Nigel for getting awarded the cup from the Westbury Harriers. Is he going to throw the Javelin this year? (Note: Nigel would later compete internationally, representing Britain in the javelin event, competing in many European events, and once in the Commonwealth Games).

I was sorry to hear that Dad is getting his annual troubles – I am having trouble too. I also think it is the pollen in the air. I have long spells of sneezing, and after that, in this heat, I am usually dripping with perspiration. In a few moments it’s all over, until the next time.

I can’t honestly see the connection between the wedding and the ceilings, but I am glad you are getting new carpet for the hall – should look very nice.

There is no mystery about Vi’s daughter leaving – as you seem to imply. She and her husband have simply bought a house of their own and moved into it. I think I have told you about it before, as I spent a night there one weekend when Colin was in the North. Vi has presented them with a gift of fitted carpets throughout.

We have seen several things from England on the satellite, and as I was writing a few minutes ago there was a film of a mine disaster in Tonypandy.

Well I think that’s all for now, so I will say cheerio for now.

Look after yourselves.

All my love

Tone xxx



Note: The disaster in Tonypandy was the explosion at the Cambrian Colliery in South Wales on 17th May 1965. Poor ventilation had allowed a build-up of flammable gas, and when work was carried out on an electrical switch panel, an arc of electricity ignited the gas, which killed 31 miners. THIS ARTICLE has a sobering account of the tragedy, which devastated this small mining community.

Note: The military raid known as the Great Locomotive Chase took place at the height of the Civil War, on 12th April 1862, in an attempt by the Union Army to capture the city of Chattanooga from the Confederate Army.

To disrupt the Confederate Army’s communication, transport and supply lines, a plan was hatched to destroy the railway lines between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

A small group of Union Army volunteers travelled undercover to the south, led by civilian spy James Andrews. They were later dubbed Andrews’ Raiders.

Their plan was to hijack a train then ride it north towards Chattanooga, cutting telegraph wires and damaging the railway tracks and infrastructure as they went.

When the steam train The General stopped to refuel in Big Shanty, Georgia and allow passengers to eat breakfast at the town’s hotel, the raiders pounced and drove the train away, leaving a stunned audience of abandoned passengers and crew members, locals and Confederate soldiers from the town’s army camp.

The conductor William Fuller and two other men immediately gave chase, first on foot then using a work crew’s hand-cart. Because The General travelled at just 15mph, and the raiders were stopping regularly to cut telegraph wires and damage the railway, the pursuers knew it was possible they could catch up. 

Although the Big Shanty authorities couldn’t alert stations to the north, as the telegraph wires had been cut, the raiders knew they had to keep to The General’s scheduled timetable, in order to avoid suspicion.

This meant waiting in sidings for southbound trains to pass before they could resume northbound again – and reaching Kingston, they were forced to wait for an hour as urgent army trains heading south were given priority.

Meanwhile, the pursuers had now commandeered a small locomotive. They were moments from Kingston when The General was given permission to set off again.

Aware that they’d barely escaped capture, the raiders quickly cut the telegraph wires, before heading north, full-steam.   

Illustration of nineteen men involved in the Great Locomotive Chase—17 Union soldiers and two railroad employees who chased them. From Wikimedia.


The pursuers switched to a larger, faster locomotive in Kingston – but reaching a section where the raiders had destroyed the tracks, they had to continue on foot.

But seeing a southbound steam train – The Texas – the pursuers flagged it down. They then raced it northbound in reverse, only pausing to recruit eleven Confederate soldiers as reinforcements.

Soon, they were following The General along a single-track line, so close that the raiders had no time to pause to destroy the tracks. Although they tried to burn bridges behind them, the wood was sodden from rain, which doused the flames.  

Then, just before the raiders cut a telegraph wire, the pursuers were able to send a message north, warning of the hijacked train. Yet it was immaterial.

The General ran out of fuel 18 miles south of from Chattanooga, and the raiders fled on foot – the end of a chase which had spanned 87 miles.

Within two weeks, all the raiders had been caught and variously charged with ‘acts of unlawful belligerency’ and being unlawful combatants and spies.

Eight, including Andrews, were executed by hanging. Another eight managed to escape to the north – some aided by slaves, while two floated down the Chattahoochee River and were rescued by a Union warship.

The final six were freed in an exchange of prisoners of war in March 1863. The soldiers who did escape were awarded the Medal of Honor by the US Congress.


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