Sons of Union Veterans of
2001 Lee Court

Sgt. William Pittenger (January 31, 1840 - April 24, 1904) was a participant in the Great Locomotive Chase (or Andrew's Raid) into northern Georgia on April 12, 1862 and was among the first recipients of the Medal of Honor. He later became a minister and author, settling at Fallbrook, California, where he is buried.

William Pittenger entered into the lore of the American Civil War when he volunteered to be a member of a raiding party today known as the "Andrews Raid." The mission was to take control of a Confederate train at Marietta, Georgia and proceed to Chattanooga while wreaking havoc in its wake by burning bridges and destroying telegraph lines in an attempt to disrupt Confederate troop movements and communications. The heroic attempt was a disaster as not a single bridge was destroyed and all participants were captured with some hung as spies.

William was an Ohio native born to Thomas and Mary (Mills) Pittenger in Knoxville, Jefferson County, Ohio. His meager education came from one-room country schools.

Patriotism was the force that caused him to enlist as a private in the 2d Ohio volunteer infantry. He first saw combat at Bull Run. His zeal let him to volunteer for the hapless Andrews railroad raid even though his commander attempted to discourage him because of bad vision. He escaped execution as a spy but remained imprisoned until repatriated in a prisoner exchange. Upon his return to the North, William was not only promoted but was among the first men to be presented the Medal of Honor. He attempted to further serve in the Union Army but bad health forced him to leave military service at the midway point of the war.

William became a theology student culminating in ordination as a Minister. For some thirty years, he filled pastoral positions in Methodist and Episcopal churches in the east. A marriage would produce six children. Rev. Pittenger arrived in Fallbrook, California, already in his fifties, assuming the duties as pastor for Methodist and Episcopal members then meeting in what is now the First Christian Church.

He was very active in the small farm community both as a lecturer against Darwinism and as a writer penning a number of historical books covering the Civil War. William ranched in rural Fallbrook where he owned a small cottage located on some twenty acres, where he grew walnuts and fruit. He lobbied along with others for state legislation which created the local Irrigation District. The mostly self taught Civil War hero was a teacher for a time at Fallbrook High school then became president of the board of education.

Among his books was Daring and Suffering: A History of the Great Railroad Adventure published by The War Publishing Co. in 1887. It generated two movies: The General, a 1927 Buster Keaton directed silent-era embellished comedy, and a 1956 Disney made-for-television movie The Great Locomotive Chase.

The beautiful white wood frame church in Fallbrook where he served is still standing, with a thriving congregation. Across the street is the small pastor's house, a Victorian cottage where Pittenger lived and is now called the Reverend William Pittenger House. It is owned by the Fallbrook Historical Society and has found a new use as an Alzheimer Day Care Center. A few miles away is his small farm house and next door is the recently constructed Fallbrook Historical Museum.

His grave in the Odd Fellows Cemetery remained militarily unmarked until 1988 when the Historical Society contacted the Federal Government, which provided a military headstone appropriately marking the grave as that of a Medal of Honor recipient.


Biography by Donald Greyfield — THE SOLDIERS~THE MEDALS~THE MEN

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Created 4 Mar 2008; Revised 25 Aug 2015

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