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Do 2 Union raiders deserve Medals of Honor?

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At the Chattanooga National Cemetery,  a memorial to the The Great Locomotive Chase stands. WXIA photo At the Chattanooga National Cemetery, a memorial to the The Great Locomotive Chase stands. WXIA photo

KENNESAW, GA (WXIA) -- Research historian Brad Quinlin is working to convince the Defense Department to give Congressional Medals of Honor to two Union raiders from the Great Locomotive Chase, which started in Kennesaw in 1862.

PETITION | Sign the petition to get Private George Wilson and Private Philip Shadrach Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously

"There's nothing I can find in the regimental records, in the personal accounts, nothing that would say these men do not deserve the Medal of Honor like their comrades," Quinlin told 11Alive's Jennifer Leslie.

PHOTO GALLERY | Union raiders who never received Medals of Honor

Private George Wilson and Private Philip Shadrach of the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment were the only two of 22 Union raiders who were not given Medals.

"This is something that needs to be corrected. It needs to be done," said Ron Shadrach, the great, great, great nephew of Philip Shadrach.

His family drove from Ohio to see Shadrach's grave at the Chattanooga National Cemetery, where there is a monument to the Union raiders who were hanged in Atlanta.

Wilson and Shadrach are the only two soldiers whose headstones don't include markings of the Medal of Honor.

"Why would these two not have the Medal, when the others were awarded?" asked Cheryl Kravetz, Ron's sister.

"And there's nothing you know of to justify that?" Leslie asked.

"No," she responded.

Wilson and Shadrach were two of seven soldiers hanged in what's now Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta in June 1862. A civilian scout, James Andrews, was also hanged. He was considered the mastermind of the chase.

"The Confederate government didn't really know what to do with them, so they decided these were spies, bridge-burners and trained thieves," Quinlin said. "And that moment they decided to go ahead and hang them."

The Great Locomotive Chase inspired two movies, including The General, a silent film starring Buster Keaton that was released in 1927.

In April 1862, 24 men, most of them Union soldiers, set off to steal a Confederate engine called the General.

The chase started in what's now Kennesaw, where the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History documents the chase and houses the General.

"It's a great story of American history. It's a story of courage on both sides," Quinlin added.

The Union raiders tried to burn the tracks and tear down communication wires as they raced the General toward Chattanooga with a goal of destroying a key supply line for the Southern Army.

But they ran out of wood and water needed to feed the steam engine just as the Confederates began to catch up.

The Union soldiers scattered but were later captured.

"If this event had been successful, it would have shortened the war up to two years," Quinlin said. "It may have saved 200-300 thousand lives."

Three months later, the chase inspired Congress to create the Army Medal of Honor in July 1862.

Over the next 20 years, all but two of the Union soldiers involved received one, including those who were hanged, those who eventually escaped capture and those traded as prisoners of war.

"These were the first Medal of Honor recipients, except for two," Quinlin explained.

Quinlin has volunteered to help the Shadrach family correct what he considers to be an oversight of history.

He said it's likely that Shadrach and Wilson's officers were engaged in other battles and couldn't stand up for the soldiers and push for medals.

The 22 Union raiders given the highest award for valor in action included two who missed the raid because they overslept and two who never made it to Kennesaw.

In March, Quinlin met with Congressman Rob Woodall (R-Lawrenceville), who then convinced the U.S. Defense Department to consider the case.

Quinlin plans to travel to Washington, D.C., in May to share his research.

"I have talked to 18 living Medal of Honor recipients, and every single one of them has said, 'Brad, go get them the Medal,'" Quinlin added.

READ MORE | WXIA's story about the Union raiders

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