Kingston marks chase anniversary by honoring memory of 'favorite son'
by Matt Shinall
Apr 13, 2012 | 2676 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Descendants of Uriah Stephens, Jena Johnson, left, and Betty Johnson admire an exhibit about Stephen’s role in The Great Locomotive Chase at the Kingston Museum. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Community members and guests gathered in Kingston Thursday to remember the past and celebrate the history of an unsung hero.

With a proclamation signing and monument dedication, the city of Kingston recognized the efforts of Uriah Stephens during The Great Locomotive Chase of April 12, 1862. After 150 years, collaborating historical organizations gave proper tribute to the famed event's only "voice of resistance."

Stephens, Kingston depot agent at the time of the chase, was the only character in The Great Locomotive Chase to significantly impede the progression of Union spy James Andrews and his band of raiders as they tried to disrupt supply lines north with a stolen engine, The General.

President of the Kingston Woman's History Club Nettie Holt recounted the day's events in Kingston, describing Stephens as an example to live by.

"In this day and time, we always want people to do the right thing and do their job to the best of their ability," Holt said. "Something happened when [Andrews] got to Kingston and came up against Uriah Stephens. Uriah Stephens said, 'I don't know you. You aren't part of the regular crew that comes through here. This is not part of the regular schedule, and frankly, I just don't believe your story.' And so he put him on a sidetrack.

"Uriah Stephens would not move him back onto the main line and kept him sidetracked for one hour and five minutes."

The delay was enough to keep Andrews and his men from taking on water or fuel leading to the end of their run near Ringgold as The General ran out of steam.

Historian with the Etowah Valley Historical Society Joe Head authored a book about the chase and, in the process, found the untold story of Stephens. He also found a number of significant items occurring in Bartow, for which he calls his home county "the heart of the chase."

"As I researched, I became extra proud about sort of a subconscious discovery of how important Bartow County was to the chase," Head said. "Before long, I had five or six important, significant things that claimed Bartow to be the heart of the chase. ... In doing so, I discovered something else, a voice, a voice in Bartow County that stood out to me and in all the books I was reading, this voice was not receiving in my opinion the kind of recognition it should have -- the voice of Uriah Stephens from right here in Kingston.

"We need to be a bit more proud of Uriah Stephens, we need to give him some credit, we need to draw him out and proclaim him as a favorite son here in Kingston."

As special guests, Kingston welcomed Betty and Jena Johnson, the great-great-granddaughter and great-great-great-granddaughter of Stephens, respectively. Betty and Jena Johnson made their first trip to Kingston for Thursday's ceremony.

"I've been reading about Kingston for years. I never thought I'd be here," Johnson said. "I'm so glad to be here and to actually see where he performed."

Betty Johnson has been tracing her ancestry for about a decade and shared some information about Uriah Stephens with those in attendance.

Head provided a biography showing Uriah Stephens as an accomplished man living in many cities across the region, including Kingston, Cartersville and Covington. Uriah Stephens owned mercantile stores in Cartersville and Covington and served as a depot agent and postmaster in Kingston. He also was successful in several real estate transactions throughout Bartow County.

His great-great-granddaughter also provided personal information about Uriah Stephens, including the loss of two children to typhoid and an impressive education for his time.

A memorial marker now rests at the rear of the Kingston Woman's History Museum, 13 E. Main St. in Kingston. Many organizations contributed to Thursday's events, including the Kingston Woman's History Club, the Etowah Valley Historical Society, the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Sons of Confederate Veterans and Daughters of Confederate Veterans.