The Western and Atlantic Railroad led to the establishment of several towns along it’s route, including Big Shanty, which eventually became known as Kennesaw, Georgia. The settlement was the highest point between the Etowah and the Chattahoochee rivers. The high ground and water supply encouraged the railroad workers to build houses, or shanties, basically a house built with slaps of wood. In 1850, the railroad acquired land around this area to establish a depot and hotel for travelers along the rail line, in which a farming community eventually sprang.
Big Shanty became famous as the scene of the Great Locomotive Chase during the Civil War. On April 12, 1862 James J. Andrews and a band of Yankee spies boarded the northbound train at Marietta. This train was powered by the locomotive, The General. At Big Shanty, the crew and passengers left the train to eat breakfast at the Lacy Hotel. In plain view of the soldiers at Camp McDonald, Andrews and his men stole The General and headed north to destroy the Western and Atlantic Railroad. But they did not count on the persistence of William A. Fuller, the conductor of The General, who chased The General first on foot and then on the locomotive Texas (which ran in reverse) before running it down north of Ringgold, Georgia, 80 miles away. This incident forever placed Big Shanty on the map.
James Andrews and his men became the first recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.