March 30, 2006

Alfred Alonzo Coffee

I was borned in Wilkes County, N.C. May 10th, 1831. My father's name was Elijah, a native of N.C. My mother was reared near Nashville in West Tenn. Her maiden name was Heulme. My Father moved to Georgia about the last of 1839 and settled on what is known as Little Betties Creek in Raburn Co., 7 miles north of Clayton. I lived there on the farm until I was 21 years of age, going to school a few months each year at which time I commenced going to school to Philon P. Brown's at the Academy at Clayton at which time I went 4 times through arithmetic, 4 times through English, 4 times through dictionary, and partly geography. After this, I worked in dry goods store for John Wyley for a time. After this, I went to Atlanta and clerked in the Records office in the State Depot for the W & A RR. Also the Depot at Resaca for a while at which time I went to Running on the Road in the capacity of Conductor. This was in 1854. Continued on the Road until the first of 1856, at which time I left the Road and went West and was in the Kansas Trouble. Was in the Battle at Hickory Point against old John Brown by whom I was captured but afterward relieved by Summers commanding US Troops. I am the only living man I have any knowledge of that was in that battle. Brown kept up his deviltry until captured at Harpers Ferry and was executed. I returned from Kansas the latter part of 1856. In 1857 I married Julia Dawkins, daughter of John Dawkins of N.C. Her mother was Mary Wheeler. They resided in Habershal County, 4 miles south of Tallulah Falls on Panther Creek. In 1858 and 1859 I clerked in the GA Legislature, one session in the House and one in the Senate. In March, 1862, I enlisted in the Confederate cause. I was mustered in to service at Big Shanty. I was standing nearby when Andrews and his followers stole the engine from Bill Fuller. In the fall of 1866, I came to Walker Co. GA and remained there and Catossa County until 1879, at which time I came to Chattanooga. I have lived here ever since. I haven't gone into detail as I might have done.

P.S. I was discharged from service on account of disability. I went home and was appointed tax assessor of tax in kind for 3 counties by quartermaster Bacon of Georgia. I taught in the first colored school ever taught in GA.

The above is a partial autobiography of Alfred Alonzo Coffee. It appeared in the Sep., 1994 edition of the Coffey Cousins' newsletter, and was submitted by Katie Taggart Dunn, a great-granddaughter of Alfred. Alfred Alonzo was a son of Elijah and Polly Hull Coffey. Elijah descended from John and Jane Graves Coffey through their son Thomas, and his wife, Sarah (Sally) Fields.

The report of Andrews and his followers stealing an engine from Bill Fuller created a bit of curiosity for me. I recalled the story from one of the several books that I have read about the Civil War, and did a bit of research.

The steam engine was a locomotive named "The General." In April, 1862 as the train neared Kennesaw, GA. The conductor announced that the train would stop at "Big Shanty" for 20 minutes so the passengers could have breakfast.

Union spies commanded by James Andrews had sneaked into town with a plan to destroy the Western & Atlantic RR. The men made their way towards "The General," and uncoupled it and three boxcars from the other cars. As the spies sped away with the locomotive the conductor, William A. Fuller gave chase. The story goes that he commandeered handcars and three different locomotives in an effort to catch up with the stolen train.

The pursuit continued on rail until the Union spies tore up some track near Adairsville, GA. Fuller and his men had to abandon the train and pursue on foot until they could find another locomotive which they had to drive in reverse in order to continue the chase.

"The General" ran out of steam just north of Ringgold, GA, where it was abandoned as the thieves scattered through the nearby woods. All were eventually caught.

Today, "The General" in on exhibit at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, not far from where it had been stolen in 1862.

Other Links to "The General"

The Great Locomotive Chase

The Andrews Raid

Tennessee and the Andrews Raid

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