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Our story begins In 1927 when United Artists released Director/Actor Buster Keaton’s, “The General”. Buster Keaton plays Johnny Gray, an engineer for the Western and Atlantic Flyer, and his engine is named “The General”. There are two loves in Johnny’s life, “The General” and Annabelle Lee.
During a visit to Annabelle’s home, her brother announces that Fort Sumter has been fired upon and men are needed to enlist in the Southern cause. Johnny does too, but is rejected because he is more valuable to the South as an engineer. Annabelle’s father and brother think Johnny refused to sign up and Anabelle informs him that she will not speak to him until he is in uniform.
A year later, a group of Union soldiers led by Captain Anderson steal Johnny’s train with Annabelle in one of the boxcars. Johnny gives chase in another train with all sorts of comical events happening along the way. Deep in Union territory, the Yankee soldiers realize Johnny is alone on the train. Johnny deserts the train and flees into the woods.
During a late night storm, Johnny happens upon a house and sneaks in to steal some food. It turns out that the house is being used by General Thatcher, Captain Anderson and other Union officers to plan an attack on the southern forces at the Rock River Bridge. Also, this is where Annabelle is being held captive. After everyone has gone asleep, Johnny rescues Annabelle and they flee again into the woods.
Johnny must get word to the southern forces of the attack. The next morning he sees the trains being loaded with supplies to support the Union forces in their attack. One of the trains is his beloved “General”. Wearing a Yankee uniform he got at the house, Johnny puts Annabelle in a sack and blends in as one of the many Union soldiers putting supplies on the train. After getting Annabelle into the boxcar, he goes to the engine and, after knocking out a couple of soldiers with a piece of wood, he steals the train.
With two more trains loaded hot in pursuit, Johnny races toward the Southern lines
to warn them of the attack. Along the way, he uses a multitude of tricks, as well as luck, to keep pursuers at bay. After crossing the Rock River Bridge, he sets it on fire to keep the Union soldiers from crossing it. In town, he warns of the coming attack, and the Confederate forces head for the Rock River Bridge. In spite of the damage of the fire, the Union general orders one of the trains to cross the bridge, however the bridge collapses sending the train into the river below. As the Southern forces arrive, a full-scale battle takes place over the river. Johnny inadvertently saves the day when he accidentally shoots a cannonball straight into the air which comes down and blows up the dam. This sends a rushing torrent down the river forcing the Union forces to retreat.
Having won the battle, the Confederates return to the town where Johnny is rewarded for his heroism with a commission as an officer in the army thereby winning back Annabelle’s love, in uniform as well.