T. J. Williams, Captain in the Twenty-Third regiment of Kentucky Volunteers gives the following account of his remarkable escape from the prison at Macon, Georgia:–I was captured May 27, 1864, at the battle of New Hope Church, or Dallas, Georgia; June 1st, I arrived at Macon, Georgia, and was placed in the stockade, or “pen” where I found twelve or fourteen hundred officers, taken at different periods of the war. Among them Captain John A. Arthur, Eighth Kentucky Cavalry, and when the war began, connected with the “Daily Times”; also, Captain Paul and Lieutenant David Locke, of Newport, and Lieutenant Neimyer, of Covington, who were all in good health. The stockade embraced about two acres; the fence was about twelve feet high, and twelve feet from the outer fence was another about six feet high, which was called “the dead line,” the sentinels having instructions to shoot any one touching this line. June 11, an officer, whose name I do not remember, and who was bathing at least fifteen feet from this line, was shot and killed by one of the guard, who received a furlough as a reward for his inhumanity.
On the evening of June 4, I escaped from the stockade by getting between the coupling-pole and bed of the sutler’s wagon, and in this manner rode by the guard, but was detected after getting beyond all the guards. For this offence I was sent to the Macon jail with an order “place him (me) in close confinement,” and feed me on cornbread and water until further orders. The further orders never came to hand.
Shortly after being placed in jail I managed to procure the impression of the cell keys on a piece of dough made out of some wheat bread I obtained for the occasion, and with the assistance of a file, I succeeded in manufacturing, out of teaspoons, keys to fit all the locks.
June 30.–I had everything in readiness to release all the prisoners, but was betrayed by an inmate of the jail.
After this attempt I was placed in a cell with Captain Whitlock, Aid to General Logan, Sergeant Gillespie, First Kentucky Cavalry, and George Manning, Twenty-Fourth Massachusetts Infantry.
July 4.–We made a Declaration of Independence, and came near gaining our freedom in the following manner:
During the day one of our number feigned sickness. At night when the doors were opened for the purpose of changing water, our sick man stole into an empty cell and his place in our cell was filled with a stuffed pair of pants and shirt. The ruse not being detected, the man on the outside with the assistance of the teaspoon keys, opened our doors, and by two o’clock in the morning of July 5, we were nearly through the wall; we were however detected shortly afterward, and again locked up. the jailer thinking I was the one to blame for the damage done, threatened me with a chain round my neck, and one around each ankle, should I make another attempt to escape.
July 22.–By another ruse, we again succeeded in getting out of our cell. By 2 o’clock we had an opening nearly large enough to pass through. Being in the third story of the jail, we required a rope, with which to reach the ground, and made it by tearing our blankets up for the purpose, and a very strong cable was the result of our labor. Fifteen minutes, and we would be outside of the gloomy walls. But again we were doomed to disappointment, and were again locked up, and after this attempt a guard of soldiers was placed around the jail to make sure of us.
July 26.–Captain Whitlock and myself concluded to attempt the passage of the guards disguised as one of the negro attendants of the jail. Accordingly, we made a fire on the cell floor by splitting some fine kindling of pine wood, burned some cork which we were fortunate in procuring, and by 6 o’clock that evening were ready for the experiment, myself to attempt it first. When the doors were opened for the purpose of changing the water, I placed one bucket on my head and another in my right hand, and passed within two feet of the guard without detection. I was in the act of passing out of the yard-gate when recognized, and the attention of the guard called to me by a deserter from the Army of the Potomac. I was again placed in my cell, and passed the night sadly. It appeared to me that I was not to succeed in making my escape, no matter how often I attempted it. But I concluded to “try again.”
July 30.–Our plans were interrupted by being placed in the cars “for Charleston, South Carolina,” but Stoneman came to the rescue. the authorities, learning that the road had been cut, removed us from the cars to the stockade. Stoneman fought the rebels all day within our hearing, and toward evening drove the rebels within three-fourths of a mile of the city. His shells struck several buildings in the centre of the city, creating quite a panic. Hopes of being released by Stoneman created the warmest feeling among our prisoners, but we were doomed to disappointment, as our troops were compelled by the overwhelming force brought against them, to fall back, and two days later Stoneman himself was brought in a prisoner.
July 31.–Captain Whitlock, myself, and eight others were returned to jail as “dangerous characters.” August 3, another plan was concocted. Myself and another were to smuggle ourselves into a cell on the outside of the door which closed at the end of the entry, and which it was necessary to open in order to allow the escape of all the prisoners. another prisoner was to remain outside his cell, and co-operate with us from the inside. This he failed to do, and for fear of detection next morning, myself and partner resolved to escape that night.
The prisoners of the cell in which we had managed to smuggle ourselves, not having made any attempt to escape, the jailer was in the habit of only locking the inside door upon them. Any one having a key could open this door from the inside; I had altered a key to fit it. about nine o’clock, we opened the door, and after passing out closed and locked it again. I was to pass the guard first, get over the fence, and make a signal to my comrade. I stole gently down to the large outer door where I could observe the guard passing and repassing. We had hoped to catch the guard asleep, but after watching until three o’clock in the morning, they were still on the alert. I resolved to attempt the passage when he was pacing his beat with his back toward me, and was in the act of making the leap, when the command “Halt! who comes there?” rang out upon the air. I drew back and discovered the relief-guard approaching; the guard was relieved, and five minutes later I gave a leap, and thinking the guard had noticed me, and was about to fire, threw myself upon the ground; I lay here some ten minutes, the guard passing within twelve feet of me. Finding that he had not noticed me I made my way to the fence and scaled it in safety. I made the signal agreed upon, waited an hour and a half, and thinking my friend would not risk the running of the guard, started on my journey, reaching the city limits just at daylight.
Sometime before my escape I contrived to get hold of a confederate uniform, upon which I sewed two bars which indicated, in the rebel army, a first lieutenant. Five miles from the city I obtained a first-rate breakfast, for which they refused pay, thinking that I was what I represented myself to be, “Lieutenant J. R. Brown, Fourth Louisiana Battalion Volunteer Infantry.” During the forenoon I lost myself, and at noon found myself only nine miles from Macon. I took dinner at an old planter’s; living at this house was a young man who had been in the army–he proved very inquisitive; he asked me the names of our officers, engagements in which we had taken part, &c., all of which I was able to answer correctly, being in possession of the complete history of the regiment, which I obtained from a confederate soldier in prison. The old gentleman was not so suspicious, but on the contrary was very sociable, asking me if I was a married man, and drawing my attention to the fact that he had four daughters, all unmarried &c. Before I left, the young man was satisfied that I was a loyal southerner, and the old gentleman refused to take any pay from a “soldier.” I thanked him, and bade them all good-by.
That night I had to pay five dollars in Confederate money, for supper. I engaged a bed, and had a good sound sleep only twelve miles from Macon. I also learned that two hundred of Wheeler’s men were in camp only two miles off. Next morning I started early, and passed about one hundred wounded men on furlough going down to the station to take the cars for home. I approved of the policy of allowing wounded men to go home, &c. They wanted to know whether I was on furlough or not. I replied that I was just out of the hospital, and then en route to see a friend three miles from Forsythe; I passed on. Near Forsythe I passed a squad of Wheeler’s men, in search of the camp of which I had heard the night previous. I gave them directions where to find the camp, after which they asked me what command I belonged to, &c. I gave them the same old tale, which satisfied them and passed on.
At the edge of Forsythe, I passed three hospital camps, and experienced no trouble in doing so. Two miles beyond the town I asked permission from an old planter, who was returning home, to ride with him in his buggy, which he granted. Seven and a-half miles from town, we came to this gentleman’s home. I thanked him for his kindness and passed on.
I learned from a negro the names of parties living on the opposite side of the Omulgee River, which I had to cross that evening, and meeting any one, I generally satisfied their curiosity by telling them that I was just going down to Mr. Bradford’s or “any other man’s” name that I happened to know in advance.
At the river I found three cavalrymen (Wheeler’s), on duty, “looking after Yanks.” Stoneman’s men at this time were scattered all over this part of the country, and made it more difficult to escape than under other circumstances.
The old ferryman was very inquisitive. I think I satisfied him by giving him a larger bill than he could change, and telling him to keep the change until my return on the following day. I asked the guards if they were “looking out for Yanks,” to which they replied, “Yes.” I told them what command I belonged to, &c., and passed on. Five miles from this place I encountered my hardest customet. He had been an officer in the rebel Eastern army, but resigned early in the war. He suspected me at first-sight, and the following dialogue ensued between us:
Reb.–“what command do you belong to?”
Yank.–“Fourth Louisiana Battalion.”
Reb.–“Give me the names of officers commanding your regiment, brigade and division.”
Yank.–“Lieut. Colonel John McHenry, formerly commanded the regiment. He was wounded in the arm and thigh at the battle of Resaca, since which time Major Bowie has commanded. Colonel Gibson commands the brigade, and Major General Stewart the division.”
Reb.–“Where is Col. McHenry at now?”
Yank.–“He is in the hospital at Columbus, Georgia.”
Reb.–“Have you any papers to vouch for the truth of your statements?”
Yank.–“I have not.”
Reb.–“How is it that you are without papers?”
Yank.–“It is not necessary for an officer to have papers in going so short a distance.”
Reb.–“You may be all right, but I want to be satisfied. I fitted myself out for the purpose of scouting for Yanks, and we are picking them up every day. How far have you come to-day?”
Yank.–“From Forsythe. I came over to see my friend Joe Smith, the miller, who lives three miles down the river to the left of the road as you come from Macon. I am not going to Mr. Sanderson Millelbrook’s, on private business for a friend in the hospital at Forsythe.”
Reb.–“How long have you been in Forsythe?”
Yank.–“Over two months. I was wounded at Resaca; after recovering from my wound, I was taken with erysipelas.”
Reb.–“You can give the names of citizens at Forsythe if you have been there two months.”
Yank.–“No, sir, I cannot. I suffered severely, and was afterward so sick that I did not leave camp, and consequently did not form any acquaintances.”
Reb.–“Describe the camp and buildings surrounding it.”
I described quite a number of buildings I had noticed in coming through.
Reb.–“Can you describe no others?”
Reb.–“You have omitted the most conspicuous building in the camp. Can you not describe it?”
Reb.–“Well, sir, I will have to take you to camp at Graball, where there are officers better able to decide the matter.”
Yank.–“My friend, if you do your duty you do well; but when you go beyond that, it is unbearable. I am a confederate officer, and expect to be treated as such. I have given you enough proof to satisfy any reasonable man; and if you were an old soldier you would have been satisfied with half the questions answered by me. I have to be in Forsythe on Monday next, in order to go to the front. If I go with you, I will have to come back to-morrow to Middlebrook’s, and then I cannot reach Forsythe in time.”
Reb.–“Well, come and go back to Mr. Smith’s and stay all night.”
Yank.–“I cannot go there, for the same reason that I cannot go to camp.”
Reb.–“Well, sir, if you will describe Mr. Smith’s house, I will be satisfied that you are all right.”
It struck the rebel that if I was one, I could describe the house. That if I was a Yankee, I had not been to Mr. Smith’s,–which was three miles off the road,–and consequently could not describe it. I knew that if I did not describe it I would have to go to camp with him, so I determined to make the attempt. In order to gain time, I pretended not to understand him.
I knew that there were no brick buildings in that part of the country, and that it must be either a frame of a log house. Mr. Smith being a miller, I concluded that it must be a frame. After asking him what he said, I told him that I could describe it; and commenced to do so. I told him that it was a two-story frame house, of pretty good size.
He replied that I was right, and that he was thoroughly satisfied; asked my pardon for detaining me so long; shook hands, and we parted. After this I resolved to travel at night, only.
At Hillsboro I was compelled to lie over three days, until General Iverson’s brigade of Wheeler’s command, got out of my way–narrowly escaping capture, twice, by pickets or scouts of this command. One of Stoneman’s raiders was captured at this place, driven into the woods, and brutally murdered by his captors. Near Monticello I was chased by blood-hounds, but having procured an article which destroys the scent before leaving Macon, I escaped from them and their savage masters. The dogs having lost the scent, myself and negro guide–whom I engaged to take me around the town–went into a negro house and took supper. While there we were informed that three Yankees had been caught a short distance from town, and a negro, caught with them, had been shot. My guide, upon hearing this, made an excuse to go out, and never returned. Shortly afterward I started on again. There being but one road for me to take, and fearing my pursuers might cross over and lie in wait for me, I concluded to lie over that night. I came to an old cotton-gin in the end of which was a window, but no visible means of getting up. After hunting around awhile, I found a pine pole, which I placed against the end of the building, and, by dint of pretty good climbing reached the window and got in. Here I lay all next day, sometimes gazing at the soldiers passing along the road, not more than fifty yards distant, and sometimes sleeping. At night I got down, went back to the negro house of the night before, and took supper.
At Madison, three more of Stoneman’s cavalry were captured and murdered in cold blood.
Near Lawrenceville, hearing that our army had been driven across the Chattahoochie river, and was retiring on Chattanooga, and deeming it best to change my direction, I resolved to enter the house of a rich widow lady, engage supper, and endeavor to obtain sight of a map.
I got supper, and also saw a map, from which I added some new points on my lead-pencil map. While in the house, the old lady asked me what I thought about the war. I replied that if the people of other States did as well as those of Georgia they would be successful. She replied that she thought they were a subjugated people. This was before the fall of Atlanta. While I stayed near Lawrenceville, large numbers of rebels passed by–some going home, others making for the mountains. They said there was no use staying at Atlanta and being killed up; that they were whipped anyhow.
The morning of August 25th found me six miles from the Chattahoochie river, and twenty-seven miles from Marietta.
That night I reached the river at a place known as Mackeyfield’s Bridge. I found that the bridge had been destroyed by our cavalry in their retreat, and I was compelled to swim it, which I did at twelve o’clock at night. I passed through Roswell at daylight, and concluded to travel that day until I reached our lines at Marietta. I met quite a large number of citizens, to whom I represented myself as having been paroled by Stoneman, in front of Macon, with the understanding that I was to send out a Federal Lieutenant in my stead, and that if I failed to do so I was to report at Marietta as prisoner of war. Several of them advised me not to report, but “I couldn’t think of breaking my parole.” Five miles from Marietta I took breakfast at an old lady’s house; she told me of the cruel treatment received at the hands of the Yankees,&c. She mentioned one case, I remember, in which she had traded butter and milk for flour and coffee, and afterward the flour and coffee were taken from her by the Yankees.
I reached our lines at Marietta that day, August 26th, at ten o’clock, A. M., after a tedious and dangerous journey of twenty-two days, having travelled a distance of one hundred and sixty miles, all but thirteen miles on foot. None but those who have experienced it, can imaging the intense feeling of joy that overwhelms one upon again beholding the old flag, after a period of suffering in Southern dungeons.