Editor’s note: This is one in a series of historical articles about Champaign County’s part in the Civil War. The articles are leading up to a re-dedication ceremony for the Man on the Monument in Urbana on December 5 at 3 p.m.
Levi and Mary Ross were among the original settlers of Christiansburg, Ohio, raising their nine children in a log cabin on a farm along Honey Creek. Their oldest son, Marion Ross, was described as a handsome young man, soft spoken, refined, intelligent and eager for an education. He had a wonderful singing voice and played the flute.
Marion attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs from 1853-1855, then went on to teach school in St. Paris, Ohio, being their first school teacher. He joined the Mt. Olivet Lodge #226 of Christiansburg and was a 32nd Degree Mason.
When President Lincoln gave the call for volunteers in 1861, Marion Ross quickly joined to serve his country, becoming a member of Co. A, 2nd Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry and within a few months was appointed the rank of sergeant major. Marion was listed as “absent of secret service” in 1862, and the reason was because he had become part of a group of soldiers, now known as Andrews Raiders, whose goal was to sabotage and cause havoc to the Confederate lines of communication. On the morning of April 12, 1862, a group of 22 Union soldiers under the leadership of civilian spy James Andrews, stole the locomotive The General. These men had devised a daring plan to steal a Confederate train and drive it north while destroying railroad tracks, burning bridges and cutting telegraph wires. While traveling through Big Shanty, Georgia, the Raiders made their move when the passengers and crew of The General departed the train for breakfast. The Raiders quickly uncoupled the engine and several empty boxcars and dashed north towards Chattanooga, Tennessee, severing the telegraph lines as they went. Quickly, the Confederates had found another northbound train and soon closed the distance between the two trains – and so began The Great Locomotive Chase. The men in the boxcars threw anything they could find onto the tracks to act as obstacles, and they stopped to burn the bridges, but recent rains made the wood too wet for fires. In spite of their efforts, The General began to lose steam.
Six hours later, Andrews Raiders abandoned The General and scattered into the nearby woods just 15 miles short of Chattanooga. Within a few days, they were all captured and transferred to different prisons in the south, enduring hostility, torture, dirty cells littered with vermin, and little food. The Raiders were charged as spies, given quick trials, and sentenced to death.
Marion Ross was among 7 men who were hanged on June 18, 1862 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was only 29 years old. In 1863, he was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor for gallantry for his actions during the Civil War. In 1866, the bodies of all these men were removed from unmarked graves in Atlanta and transferred to the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In one of the last letters written to his friends and family back home in Christiansburg, Marion Ross wrote, “When danger threatens, I do not hesitate to make the sacrifice.” And in the end, he made the biggest sacrifice of all for this country. Today, his Medal of Honor is displayed at the Champaign County Historical Museum in Urbana, Ohio.