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James J. Andrews: The World’s First Cyber Warrior

The history of cyber conflict started earlier than you think

James J. Andrews (c. 1829 – June 7, 1862) was a Kentucky civilian who worked for the Union Army during the early years of the American Civil War. He led a daring raid behind enemy lines on the Western and Atlantic Railroad, known as the Great Locomotive Chase. The mission failed and Andrews and seven fellow raiders were executed by the Confederates on the charge of spying.

He was also one of, perhaps even the first, cyber warriors in history. First, some more background on the Great Locomotive Chase:

This was a military raid that occurred April 12, 1862, in northern Georgia during the American Civil War. James J. Andrews was a civilian scout working for the Union Army. He led a crew of volunteers in commandeering a train, The General and took it northward toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, doing as much damage as possible to the vital Western and Atlantic Railroad (W&A) line from Atlanta to Chattanooga as they went. They were pursued by Confederate forces at first on foot, and later on a succession of locomotives, including The Texas, for 87 miles.

But what about cyber war? The civil war was the first conflict which took place with electronic communications: The Telegraph. This means that information could be transmitted at a distance. If the confederates used their telegraph lines to transmit information on the locomotive chase it could be stopped sooner. Andrews new this. So throughout the raid his men destroyed every telegraph line they could find, which significantly delayed the ability to stop them. It also significantly degraded the telecommunications infrastructure of the confederacy. This was the first cyber attack in known history.

But, back to the story: Because the Union men had cut the telegraph wires, the Confederates could not send warnings ahead to forces along the railway. Confederates eventually captured the raiders and quickly executed some as spies, including Andrews; some others were able to flee. Some of the raiders were the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor by the US Congress for their actions. As a civilian, Andrews was not eligible.

Interesting isn’t it. The first cyber war needed help from civilians.



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