TO AND FROM LIBBY PRISON. (PART ONE)

BY JOHN F. HILL.

For the satisfaction of the friends, * *Written especially for the Eighty-ninth Ohio regiment, and published in the Scioto Gazette.
I shall give a brief statement of our capture, prison life, and of the escape of three of our members from the Danville prison, with an account of their safe arrival within our Union lines.

The post my regiment was assigned to, at the great battle of Chickamauga, on the 20th of September, 1863, was one which it required great coolness and bravery on our part to hold against the heavy masses that were from time to time hurled against us. It was past the middle of the day when we were brought into action. We had been held back in the fornoon on the reserve, and, when we went into the fight, the original line had become broken, and was falling back in considerable confusion. The rebels came charging down upon us, but our boys stood the fire nobly. We would be compelled at times to fall back, but we would rally again, and regain the ground we had lost. We had orders to hold the ground to the last possible moment, so as to allow our line of battle to fall back and re-form. For over five hours we kept three times our number at bay, fighting them from behind trees and logs, and lying down on the ground. Our ammunition bagan to fail at last, and we had to resort to the cartridge-boxes of the slain for more. Half of our men had been killed, wounded, or fallen back to the rear. Darkness was coming on; still we despaired not. General Granger had been on the ground, and promised to send us reenforcements.

A column of infantry was seen at our right, coming directly towards us, but it was so dark that we could not discern who they were. At the distance of one hundred yards our men commenced firing into them, when our Colonel ordered us to cease firing, for they were friends. At the distance of fifty yards our Colonel hailed them, asking who they were, and they replied, “Friends;” but in a moment we saw who they were; for they were rebels coming at charge bayonet. Our Colonel halloed out, “I know who you are.” Their rebel commander demanded with an oath, “Do you never intend to surrender?” to which Colonel Carlton asked, “Is there a possibility of an escape?” to which the rebel commander replied: “None, for we have our lines thrown entirely around you.” Without further ceremony we soon found ourselves divested of guns and cartridge-boxes, and under guard by our victors–the Fifty-Fourth Virginia infantry. Out of three hundred and thirty of our regiment that went into the fight, only one hundred and seventy were captured, the remainder having been either killed, wounded, or straggled back to the rear, early enough in the day to make good their escape. Of commissioned officers they got a good sprinkle, including Colonel Carlton, Lieutenant-Colonel Glenn, Captains Day, Barrett, Adams, Gatch, and Glenn; Lieutenants Edmonson, Harrison, Scott, Baird, and Fairfield, and Assistant-Surgeon Purdum.

We were taken directly to the rear that night, and passed directly over the battle-ground of Saturday. Here we noticed that none of the dead had been interred, or even the wounded attended to; and many a poor fellow cried piteously to us for help. There they had been lying for thirty-six hours, suffering from painful wounds, in a hot sun, parching up for want of water; and the woods were in several places on fire, threatening them with the most horrible death.

We found our captors very kind and gentlemanly to us, doing everything in their power to make us feel happy and contented with our lot. We acknowledged to them that they were victors; but they said they had nothing to boast of, for they had bought us at a dear price of life and blood.

They hurried us that night to General Buckner’s headquarters, where we rested about an hour, and then were sent on farther to the rear, and it must have been two o’clock Monday morning, when they permitted us to lie down and sleep till sunrise. We were then marched to Tunnel Hill. There we were robbed of our knapsacks, gum blankets, and canteens. The next day they marched us to Dalton, where, on the morning of the 23d, we took the cars to Atlanta, Ga. There the authorities and citizens were very saucy and insulting to us, calling us by all kinds of names and asking us: “When is old Rosy coming again to Georgia? and how we liked Chickamauga.” But our boys would give them half-a-dozen for six, and ask them when old Lee was going up into Pennsylvania again, or how they liked Gettysburg, &c. There they robbed us again of our woollen blankets, and also, by an order from Howell Cobb, Provost Marshal, they took all of our penknives, in retaliation, they said, for the way the North had served John Morgan and his men.

There we were put aboard the cars again, and after six days’ and nights’ travel, found ourselves in the rebel capital, and shortly afterwards inmates of one of the Libby prisons, known as the warehouse of Crew & Pemberton, tobacco-risers. The building was a substantial brick, four stories high. In this they thrust twenty-one hundred of us. There were seven rooms of about forty by one hundred feet, with three hundred men to each room. There, almost crowded to death, commenced a life that will be forever impressed upon our minds; and I am fearful that some of us will hav ethe effects of that prison life so impressed into our systems that it will hurry us to our graves. The horrors of those prisons I will leave for future historians to paint; but I will attempt, in my plain and simple style, to bring a few items to the public gaze–now while humanity, charity, and Christianity are the boast of the great Southern Confederacy.

The first day after we had been thrust into this modern bastile, a rebel officer by the name of Captain Turner came in and had us all drawn up into lines, and there we had to stand under guard. He then proceeded to tell us that we had to give up all our greenbacks. He said that he had a book there in which he would enter our names, company, and regiment, and the amount, and that when we left the prison, exchanged or paroled, we would have all our money refunded to us; and moreover, if we refused to give our money up thus voluntarily, we should be searched, and all moneys and valuables found about us would be confiscated. We saw the dilemma we were in, and concluded that we would take the matter as easy as possible, swearing vengeance would be ours some day. The boys were thus robbed of several thousand dollars, and I have not the least idea that they will ever see one cent of it again.

We were also robbed of almost everything else we had, save the clothes on our backs, and they were poor and thin, for we had worn them for the last eight months (not having drawn our winter suits yet). Some had no shirts, others no blouses, some barefooted, others bareheaded, and our pants all full of holes. With this thin clothing, and no blankets, we were compelled to stretch ourselves upon the hard floor to sleep and rest, and that too in rooms where there was no the least spark of fire. You may have some idea of our suffering at that season of the year; but your imaginations can never realize the true state of things. To say we slept would only be in imagination, for I am confident of myself that I never enjoyed a nap of over half an hour’s duration at one time during my whole stay in prison. And when we slept, it was nothing but a doze, filled with pleasant dreams of home and friends, of well-spread tables and inviting victuals. I have often awoke, catching myself in the very act of feeling for the bed covering; and then imagine my feelings, when I found myself disappointed and compelled to lie there shivering. Our bones would become so sore that we were compelled to be turning from side to side the whole night long. Through the coldness of the room, and the hardness of the floor, we would often be compelled to get up in the night and walk up and down the room to keep ourselves warm. And I have seen at the hour of midnight one third of the men in the room pacing the floors to and fro, so as to pass off the long, weary hours of the night. How many a poor sufferer in after life will trace back the cause of his disease to seeds sown in this cold, desolate prison!

But the darkest part of my story remains yet to be told. Man may suffer with cold, pass through incredible hardships, endure fatigue, and never murmur–but let hunger prey upon his vitals, and he becomes mad, frantic, and raving. He loses all patience, humanity, and sympathy for others, and will then stoop to acts which he would at other times have shunned with disdain.

At first, our daily allowance was one half pound of bread per day, and two ounces of tainted beef, and that without salt. I do not remember of our ever getting any fresh meat all the time we were there. It generally was so bad that we could smell it as soon as it was brought into the room. At times we had some bacon issued to us, and it was strong, old, and maggot-eaten, looking like a honey-comb, it having been saved and cured with ashes and saltpetre, and the meat then had a slimy look, like soft soap. At last we got some kind of meat we could not fairly account for. It was neither beef, pork, mutton, veal, nor venison. It was a tough, lean, black-looking kind of flesh; and it was the decided opinion of all that it was mule meat. Hard as it was, we were very thankful to get even that. From off this mingled lot of corrupted flesh they would furnish us a pint of soup. No, I will not class it with that much-favored dish–it was mere dish slop.

You may ask if we relished this, and that without salt. Yes, the crumbs that fall freom your table, and the slop of your swill-tubs, could be eaten there without asking any questions. At last, meat was entirely ‘played out,” and then for two days we got one gill of rice, and then one day we got two sweet potatoes, and then at last had nothing buty bread alone, and that from half a pound had been also reduced to a small corn “dodger,” about the size of a saucer, and hard enough to knock a negro down, and so strong with alum–instead of salt–as to fairly burn our throats. We became so starved at last that we fell upon some bran that we found in a cellar under our prison. Of this we helped ourselves freely. We generally managed it so as to keep a good supply of this stuff on hand. We took the dry bran and put it in our tin cups, and then poured enough water upon it to mix it into a dough, and of this we ate freely; and to satisfy hunger we thought it answered remarkably well. It looked distressing to see us eating this weak diet with our fingers, relishing it as if it was food supplied from a king’s table.

We were also compelled by starvation to sell the guards all of our jewelry, including our watches, gold pens and holders, finger-rings, and pocket-books; and some even sold the shoes from off their feet, for a small pittance to keep soul and body together. Starvation caused us to resort to a great many means to procure the necessaries of life; and although we were closely confined, and strictly guarded, we often played off some pretty sharp jokes and tricks on the Southern Confederacy.

Some of the boys, that had smuggled some money through, would take one-dollar bills (greenbacks), and have them altered to tens. These they would take, after night, and pass off on the guards for bread and tobacco. And I know of one instance where one of our new copper cents was passed off for a two and a half gold dollar piece. This may look too much the roguery; but what will not a man do before he will starve? All of our trading had to be done after dark, for the guards were not allowed to speak to us. They even had orders to shoot us, if we even put our heads out of the windows. But after dark, when there was no rebel officer near, we could approach the guard, and trade freely; but ere this time, their trading times are over, for their resources have long ago failed.

There is one joke that we played off on the rebel authorities that I must not forget to mention. It looks like a gigantic thing, but it can be well vouched for by hundreds of prisoners. It was nothing less than stealing a great quantity of sugar and salt in the rebel capital. We had a large cellar under our prison, and it was strongly locked and bolted; and we soon mistrusted that there might be something under there that we could use to advantage. So we went to work and cut a hole through the lower floor, and let ourselves down into the cellar after night. And, lo! there we found it filled with sugar and salt. We made daily draws upon it for a week, until the authorities found it out, when they cut off our supplies by removing their commissariat. You may judge we lived upon the “fat of the land” for one week, if we did suffer for it afterwards. The joke was a good one, and the rebels felt completely sold over it. By a statement, shortly afterwards, in the “Dispatch,” they called us “gray rats, that had dug a hole into their cellar, and carried off over nine thousand pounds of sugar, and thirty-five hundred pounds of salt.” Upon this I need add no comments, for every one will say, “Well done.”

We had no regular prison rules, only what we made of our own. We drew rations only once a day; sometimes that would be at nine o’clock A. M., and then sometimes not until eight o’clock at night. That was indeed a long time to fast, but we had to bear it all with patience. We would always be so hungry that we would devour it all at one meal, and then be compelled to go twenty-four hours without tasting another mouthful of food.

Amidst all our suffering we had also another enemy to contend against–that was the vermin. We soon became so covered with these living creatures that it took several hours of our daily life to rid ourselves of them. It was to me an undesired job, but I had to do it, or be literally eaten up alive. This may look, in some people’s eyes, like laziness or negligence on our part to get so, but I will defy any person to be put a few weeks in prison without getting so infested.

It always appeared to me that the rebel authorities tried to make our sojourn with them as miserable as they possibly could. They would agree to no terms of a parole or exchange. It appeared as if they intended to keep us there for the purpose of punishing us, and to kill us all inch by inch. We never could receive a civil answer from the authorities to any question we might ask them. When we would ask them for bread, they would threaten to give us lead. Every sentence would be accompanied with an oath and epithets of abuse, calling us invaders, negre stealers, Lincoln hirelings, &c., saying we were getting better treatment than we deserved. Of the soldiers that guarded us, we have no complaint to make. They treated us with a great deal of humanity and respect. They would run great risks to try to accommodate us, and often made themselves liable to the severest punishment in trying to smuggle us in a little bread, tobacco, or some newspapers.

I talked with a great many of them, who said they were tired of the war, and that they had not the least hope of success. And a great many told me that they knew they were fighting on the wrong side, and contrary to their own principles; they had not gone voluntarily, having been conscripted; and they said if they ever got near enough to some of our armies, they were going across the lines. I can truthfully say, that one third of the soldiers that guarded us were good Union men, but had been dragged into the rebel ranks, and were too fearful to make an attempt to escape. They knew their doom, if caught attempting to escape to our lines, would be death. The guards acknowledged also to us, that they were also in nearly a starving condition. They drew the same quality of rations that we did, only a little more. The inhabitants of Richmond showed signs of being in a starving condition.

In the month of October there were two bread riots in the city. The women collected together in masses, and proceeding to the rebel commissaries, burst open the doors, and helped themselves. There is no doubt that there are thousands of helpless families in the South in as bad a condition as our own Union prisoners.

A rebel soldier’s pay is only one hundred and thirty-two dollars per year; now on this small sum, how is he to support a family, where everthing is selling at such extravagant prices? Flour at one hundred dollars per barrel, corn ten dollars per bushel, pork two dollars per pound, calico twelve dollars per yard, and cotton five dollars, and wool ten dollars per pound. Imagine, ye Northern sympathizers, the fruits that follow a rebellious people, and you will soon come to the conclusion that the way of the transgressor is hard. Of the two most horrible prisons in Richmond, we are so fortunate as to know but little. One is Belle Island, said to be a dreary, sandy, bleak place. On it are generally put our Eastern troops, whom the rebels have a greater hatred for than Western troops. The suffering on that island it is impossible for me to picture. If you could see some of those miserable prisoners there, in their tattered clothing, and with dejected countenances, on a cold, bleak morning in November, hovering over some smouldering embers, it would melt the hardest heart with compassion. Castle Thunder is also another prison of considerable note. There they put their own deserters and criminals, and also our own incorrigible “Yankees” that they caannot so easily manage in the Libby prisons. The treatment and fare in Castle Thunder are said to be worse than were ever known in any half-civilized nation on the globe. There are said to be men within that prison who have not a particle of clothing, and have for their beds piles of saw-dust, in which they nestle down together like hogs. They are there denied all privileges of comfort–no lights, or water to wash with, just only a little food, barely to sustain nature.

They had also three large hospitals filled with our sick soldiers. These were said to be most horrible places. The accommodations and treatment were nothing better than what we received at the prisons. Hundreds upon hundreds have died in these filthy pens, who would this day have been living if they had been under the hands of humane nurses, and at a place where they could have received good healthy nourishment and proper remedies. We had a surgeon, who made a call once a day at our rooms, would make a short examination of our sick, but would generally go off without giving them any medicine, making the excuse that he had none of the proper kind. A man would have to get almost helpless before they would remove him to the hospital, and probably when he got there he would not survive more than a day or so, and then he would pass away from his troubles here to his final rest.

The number of Union prisoners in Richmond, at the date of November 13, was about thirteen thousand; something near one thousand of these were officers, and they were confined in what is known as Old Libby, the same building they used when the rebellion broke out. To Belle Island all of the prisoners from the Potomac are sent. They number now about five thousand, and some of them have been there ever since the battle of Gettysburg.

Our Western troops are all put in large tobacco factories, which could be made comfortable if they would only give them good clothes and blankets, and furnish them with plenty of food.

At times great excitement would prevail in the city. Every time General Meade would make a movement towards the rebel capital, we would notice it by a great bustle on the streets. And at times I thought they were fearful, also, of the prisoners, for it had more than once been whispered around that we were all going to make a general outbreak, fire the city, and make our escape. The thing could have been once easily done if we could only have had a little help from outside.

There were troops in the city. We were guarded principally by artillerymen from the fortification.

As for the rebel currency, it is nothing but mere trash; the whole country is overflowing with it. The rich are putting it all off on the poor, buying up their stock and grain at extravagant prices; so that when their rotten Confederacy goes down, the poor class will have the worthless pictures on hand, and they will only be worth about two cents per pound (the price of rags). and the rich will have all the produce. But I think they will not have their own way much longer. Uncle Sam will soon go down amongst them; and I judge then the whole drama will be changed, the oppressed and downtrodden will arise and shake off their shackles, and be made once more to rejoice under our old banner of freedom.

Friday, November 13.–This morning we were aroused an hour before daylight, by the guards, with orders to prepare to move immediately. Great hilarity existed among the boys and we were making great calculations on a speedy trip around to the North, where we would get plenty to eat, and meet once again with the loved ones at home. But our bright hopes were soon blasted, and we were made to feel more despairing, when we learned that our removal was to another prison. They issued to us that morning a small loaf of corn bread, weighing about ten ounces. We all considered that it was intended for our breakfast; so we ate it all, they promising us that they were going to take us to a place where we would get plenty to eat, and that there would be a supper ready for us on our arrival that evening at Danville, N. C., our destined place. The sun was just peeping up from behind the eastern fortifications of the capital of Rebeldom when we bade adieu to the Libby prisons, and soon found ourselves safely stored away in box cars, and rolling along at the speed of eleven miles per hour. We arrived safe at Danville that night, by eight o’clock P. M., and were soon incarcerated in another “Tobacco Prison.” Danville is south-west of Richmond, distance one hundred and forty miles, and is located on the south bank of Dan River, a tributary of the Roanoke. It contains about twelve or fifteen hundred inhabitants, with some pretty snug buildings, and is in one of the best tobacco regions in the State. It also is the terminus of the Richmond and Danville Railroad. Our prison there was another brick building, forty by sixty feet, and three stories high; and our train load of seven hundred prisoners filled the building full enough to be comfortable. But to our disappointment(and not much either, for we had lost all faith in their promises), we had to lie down to sleep without anything to eat. But such things we had got so used to that we acquiesced without a murmur.

Saturday, November 14.–Daylight came, but nothing to eat. Noon came, but still no food. Night came, and nothing yet. No wonder we looked up some desperate effort to better our condition. Thoughts had been in my head, from the time I had been in Libby one week, to make my escape if the thing was in any way possible; I had even felt sorry that I had let so many opportunities slip, when they were bringing us to Richmond, which I could have done a hundred times, from the carelessness of our guards. While in Richmond, it was continually upon my mind, but the thing looked like an impossibility there. Probably I could have got out of the prison, but I never could get out of the city, and pass their line of pickets and fortifications. We also thought of making the attempt when we run down on the cars to Danville, but before dark set in they came around and locked us all safe up in the cars. The first thing I did on that morning, when I got up, was to take a general survey of the place, and see what the prospect was for making an escape. I saw things looked pretty favorable; and I soon found an accomplice in the Sergeant-Major of the Ninteenth Regulars, a brave and dashing young man.

We two put out heads together, and laid a scheme for making a general outbreak, by bursting open all three of our prison doors, overpowering the guards, capturing the town, destroying the railroad bridge across Dan River, cutting the telegraph, destroying all the commissary stores, securing all the arms and horses that we could, and then making all speed for the mountains. The whole thing could have been easily effected, for we were seven hundred strong in the building, and there were seven hundred more expected about eight o’clock that night, and that, then, would make a considerable force. The rebels had not more than one hundred soldiers there, and no more troops nearer than Richmond, and they had only nine on duty at a time. When night came, it set in dark and rainy, and guards that were not on duty were rambling about the town. We had selected the time when the cars would come in to make the move. We were to divide into three squads. One was to capture the guards as quickly as possible, and then go to their headquarters and pick up all there, and then break out into the town, and take and destroy everything valuable. We had assigned for this four hundred men. Then two hundred more were to make for the railroad bridge, and burn it, and then one hundred were to go to the telegraph office and demolish it. We were then to burn the entire train, depot buildings, &c.; and then, as soon as we could mount and arm seventy-five or one hundred men, we were to start them off to the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad to cut the telegraph, and destroy the track by burning some bridges at and near Salem, in Roanoke County, a distance of sixty miles, which they could make in twelve hours; and then for them to go on and notify our forces in Western Virginia to come to our assistance, and meet us in the mountains.

After having everything completed, we set to work to talk with the men, and to enlist every one in the enterprise. We labored hard and faithfully that day among the men, and could only get sixty men out of seven hundred to go into it. They said they would not go out if we threw the doors wide open. They were so weak and feeble from their sufferings for want of clothes and food that they could never reach our lines, and were certain we would be captured; and then they judged we would all have to fare harder than ever. This might have been the case, but I viewed it in a different light; for to remain there much longer would be death, and it could not be worse than death to make the attempt. So when we found out that we could not effect a general stampede, we concluded that it would be the best policy to get out as secretly as possible, and get as ar away as we could before the authorities would find it out. After dark we went to work and cut a hole through the fence. It was a pine board one inch thick and one foot broad, we cut it off about eighteen inches from the ground. It was done with an old table knife that had been broken off two inches short. It was not more than the work of half an hour, and all was ready; but we waited so as to let the people in town settle down. About half past seven o’clock we commenced going out in small squads of three and four men. We had to pass within ten feet of one of their guards, but he did not appear to pay any attention to us. I should judge he was a good Union man, or well bribed, and how it turned out with him I have never learned. A little before eight o’clock three of us, Sergeant Solomon Stookey, Corporal Henry Thompson, and myself, all being members of the same company, started, and in a moment were through the orifice and once more in free air.

We knew we had undertaken a very hazardous enterprise–but it was life or death. We had not tasted any food for thirty-six hours, and were almost frantic with hunger. As soon as we found ourselves safely out, we made for the banks of the river, distant about fifty yards. By the time we reached the river we heard the guards crying guard that we passed, we distinctly heard him halloo out, “Post number nine, eight o’clock, and all’s well,” I could not help laughing to myself, and thought, “Old soldier, you did not tell the truth that time.”

We hurried up the river bank on a fast run, but as it was raining and the ground slippery, I fell down almost every rod, being weak and exhausted; but my two comrades would hurry me along. About half a mile from the prison we came o a small meadow, and found in it a persimmon tree; we pitched into it and ate over one pint of the fruit apiece, and I thought they did us a great deal of good by giving us strength. We could have eaten a great many more, but I urged the boys on, for we were not yet out of sight of the lights of the town. I had been selected as the guide, and it was my intention to take a north-west course, as anything between north and west would bring us into our lines at some place in Western Virginia.

My first object was to get across Dan River as quick as possible for I knew our escape would be found out, and they would hotly pursue us, and that all ferries would soon be guarded for the purpose of recapturing us. We made up the river as fast as we could travel, reaching what is known as Wilson’s Ferry. There the Danville Pike crosses, going to the Blue Ridge. There we worked for two hours, trying to break the locks or draw the staple, but could not effect anything. We felt a great interest in getting the boat loose for the purpose of crossing, and also of setting the ferry boat afloat so as to retard our persuers. Finding all our efforts fruitless, we abandoned it and moved up the river about three miles, and as it was raining very hard and dark, we became so exhausted that we could not proceed any farther. We lay down in a pine thicket to rest, but there was no rest for us. We were so famished, and the weather so wet and cold, that hope almost fled. There was Dan River we must cross early in the morning if we had to swim. Delay would be dangerous. The whole thing kept my mind excited so that I could not rest.

Sunday, November 15.–We felt very blue this morning, but by daylight we were up and off. We proceeded right up the banks of the river, gathering some raw corn and turnips to subsist on. We had not gone very far until we found a canoe tied up to a tree, and half full of water. We went to work and soon had it baled out, and with a piece of a root for a paddle, we managed to get across, the canoe turning around some half a dozen times in the middle of the stream. As soon as we were safely across, we “broke for timber,” but had not proceeded far, when, as we were going out of a ravine to the top of a hill, we espied three armed men in advance of us. Two of them were on horseback, and they had a kind of an ugly look. We ordered a retreat, and fell back half a mile unobserved by them, hid ourselves in some thick undergrowth, considering that it would not be best to travel in the daylight. We lay by the balance of the day and slept some, and as soon as it began to get dark started again. We took our direction through bush and woods and over fields until about nine o’clock, when it became so dark that we could not see how to travel, and as I used the moon and stars for my guide, we were obliged to halt and camp. In doing so we gathered a few leaves into a fence corner; into this we nestled down and tried to sleep, but no sleep closed our eyelids that night. Everything was wet and cold, and we did nothing but lie there and shiver. God forbid that I should ever pass through such another night. Death would then have been a welcome visitor. I then despaired, and told my two partners we never could make it. Here we were three days without anything to eat, save a little raw corn and turnips, and that was doing us more harm than good. O, ye rich and opulent of the North, when you lie down on downy beds, do you think what the poor soldier has to pass through at times to save your country, your home, and your wealth?

Monnday, November 16.–We arose this morning in despair; we did not care which way the scale turned. We had lost all energy to push forward, and the only thing that engrossed our mind was something to eat. We looked aroung and espied a small cabin at a short distance in a small clearing. We took it to be a negro hut, and we would make a venture to it, let the consequences be what they would. It was agreed that but one should make the venture and if all was not safe the other two could escae. It was put upon me to make that venture. I proceeded to the house, caring but little what the consequences might be, so that I got something to eat. When I came to the yard, a white woman came out; it frightened me a little, but I thought I would go ahead, let what might follow. I told her not to be alarmed, that I was a “Yankee,” and had escaped from a Confederate prison, and was making an effort to reach my home in Ohio. She looked suspiciously at me for a while; but after talking a few moments, she believed my story. I then told her I was famishing for something to eat. She then bade me come in, and said she would do the best she could, although she knew she was running a great risk, for if the rebel authorities should find it out they would severely punish her for harboring and assisting their enemy. I then told her of my two comrades, and she bade me call them in, and said we were welcome to the best she had. We enjoyed ourselves around a warm, blazing fire, for it was the first we had seen or felt for eight weeks. Mrs. Corban (for that was the good woman’s name) went to work and hastily prepared us a good warm breakfast of stewed chicken, butter, cabbage, coffee (Confederate), and corn bread. You need not ask us whether we did justice to the smoking dishes before us. There is one thing certain, we had very grateful hearts. At the table Mrs. Corban informed us who she was. She said she was as good a Union woman as we ever saw, and that she had a husband, who was in the rebel army at that time, but was as good a Union man as was ever in Ohio. But he, like thousands more of his unfortunate class, had been conscripted, but was going to cross the lines at the first favorable opportunity.

After breakfast she took us to a deep forest, where a couple of deserters were hid. We found them in their hermit home, and she left us with them there, while she went off to find a good Union man to help us, one who had some knowledge of the country, so as to get us on safely without falling into the hands of the enemy. She returned late in the evening, bringing with her a nice dinner of beef, potatoes, corn bread, and pumpkin pies, and also the good intelligence that she had found a man by the name of Yates, an overseer on a plantation, who was true Union, and willing to do all in his power to make us comfortable and to assist us on our journey. How devoted and true is a loyal woman to the cause of our country! Such heroines are not rare, and that, too, in the very heart of the Southern Confederacy. Noble woman! As we were parting, she went into the house and brought us the best quilt she had and gave it to us.

Now consider one moment: that woman was poor, and she had five helpless children, her husband in the rebel rank; most of her subsistence she had to draw weekly from the Confederate Government, and you may plainly see why we call her a heroine. Do not such people–laying aside the great interest of our country–demand protection? Can we not bravely fight for such, and redeem them from the thraldom of tyrants? After dark the two deserters (who were Union to the core also) piloted us to the house of Mr. Yates. We found him a thorough Union man, who was glad to receive us, and gave us a hearty supper and a warm bed under his hospitable roof. He was one of those bold, dashing men who did not care what he said; and he remarked to us that the Confederate authorities were more afraid of him than he was of them. Of his being a Union man, almost every man knew it, and yet he remained unmolested. About midnight three more of our runaway boys came to his house and craved his hospitality, which he freely gave by treating them the same as he did us. This is another proof of the loyalty of the downtrodden people of the South. What would have been that man’s fate if the rebels had caught us all in his house? Was there any doubt of true loyalty there?

Tuesday, November 17.–Long before daylight we were up and had our breakfasts, and then our good friend advised us that it would not be safe for us to remain at his house that day, for probably the rebel soldiers would be there and search his house for some of us. He then took us to a nice pine thicket adjacent to his house, where we passed the day quietly. At noon his son brought us our dinner, and after dark the old gentleman came, bringing us our supper and one day’s rations. Then we learned for the first time that sixty of our men had actually effected their escape, and that the whole country was swarming with cavalry in hot pursuit, and that six of our boys had been captured that day in front of his door. I could not pity them much, for they were too foolhardy and careless in attempting to travel in the daylight, and that, too, upon a public highway; and moreover to let one man capture the whole of them!

We ate our supper, and bade our good friend adieu; and as the shades of night were closing in, we set out again to the “land of promise,” with a determination to go through now or die in the attempt. I set out as guide about one hundred yards in advance of my two comrades. On that night, through woods and over fields, and wading one considerable stream, we travelled about twelve miles in proper direction, when the moon went down and it became dark. We travelled on, but I soon found I was making a circle, as I had lost my way; so after midnight, we raked together some leaves and slept till morning.

Wednesday, November 18.–We ate our breakfast at a widow woman’s by the name of Smith, who was true and loyal. We slept in the woods near by all day, and as soon as it was dark we were off. This night we took through woods and fields again, keeping our course, and by two o’clock in the morning were across what is known as Turkey Mountain, and entered a poor man’s house by the name of Carder, who allowed us to sleep on the floor in front of the fire. He would not believe we were Yankees, but took us to be rebel detectives, and I could not exactly find him out.

Thursday, November 19.–Mr. Carder was not able to give us our breakfast; so we had to go on half a mile to a Mrs. Reynolds, who was as good a Union woman as any in Old Virginia. She hastily prepared us a warm meal; and as she was in the kitchen cooking it, a rebel soldier came into the sitting -room where we were. He immediately asked us if we were not runaway Yankee prisoners. We answered in the affirmative. He then said he took us to be such, for he had heard of our escape from Danville, and two of our boys had been along there the day before; and as they were somewhat astray, he piloted them a couple of miles; but he had not more than left them before they were recaptured by some rebel cavalry. He then advised us not to attempt to get any farther, for it was impossible for us to get through, as the cavalry and citizens had turned out to the number of five hundred, and were ranging the country all around for us. He said it would go easier with us if we would voluntarily give outselves up to him, and he would take us to where we would be well treated and get plenty to eat. We gave him to understand we did not put much faith in his promises, and also we did not intend to surrender ourselves to one man. Here our conversation was interrupted by breakfast being ready. At the table Mrs. Reynold’s informed us that the rebel soldier was her brother, but for us to pay no attention to him, and advised us to go ahead at all hazards. She deeply sympathized with us in our perilous undertaking, but wished us God speed.

After breakfast the rebel soldier volunteered his services to pilot us to some secluded spot where we might rest in safety through the day. I politely thanked him. I had undertaken that job myself, and I did not wish his assistance. I saw what he was fishing after, for there was three thousand dollars reward for each of us, and he was after Confederate legal tender. We left him very unceremoniously, and broke for a chain of small hills and mountains. That cursed imp of rebeldom caused me a great amount of uneasiness, and we travelled nearly the whole day, so as to get as far away as possible. By sundown we were over another small mountain called Snow Creek, at the foot of which we entered a man’s house and got our supper. He was good Union, although he had a son in the rebel ranks. He informed us than that we were in Franklin County, and within fifteen miles of the county seat (Rocky Mound). He said that it was directly on our road to the Blue Ridge, but advised us to leave it to the right or left, as it was not safe for us to go through, as there were two companies of cavalry always stationed there. We thanked him for his information, and proceeded on, crossing another small mountain called Chestnut Ridge, and then for the first time took the road. When we thought we were near Rocky Mound, and had come to a fork in the road, we aimed to take the road that would not take us through that place. But we took the wrong road, and directly we crossed a river on a bridge, and found ourselves right in the heart of a considerable sized town. It was too late to back out; so we moved on as noiselessly as cats. We looked every moment for some one to halt us; but, thank God, we went through undisturbed. We learned next day that we had actually come through Rocky Mound. We travelled on that night, crossing Grassy Mountain and Blackwater River, wading it, and turned into a house for breakfast just at daylight.

Friday, November 20.–We felt very sore, having walked thirty-five or forty miles in the last twenty-four hours, and not having slept any. There was none but a woman and children in the house, and she took us to be rebel deserters, and we said nothing to the contrary. We ate our breakfast, and then went into a thicket and slept sweetly all day. At dark we went to a house near by, where we got our supper. There we were taken of rebel deserters again, and the old man let on to be a rebel himself; but I have since thought him to be a good stanch Union man. But he was fearful of us. We were soon off again, and took the main road, and by midnight reached the Blue Ridge. There we passed some splendid natural scenery; but we did not waste much time in stopping to admire it. This night we were pursued by a wildcat or catamount for over three miles. The mischievous little creature gave us a great deal of uneasiness, for we had no arms to defend ourselves. We then proceeded safely, and about three o’clock it set in to rain, and we were compelled to stop and take shelter under some pine bushes.

Saturday, November 21.–It rained all day. This morning we had to go without any thing to eat. All the houses looked too fine for us to make a venture. We got into an old barn, and hid ourselves in some hay, so as to see and not be seen. We noticed through the day several rebel soldiers pass the road, but we felt safe. In the afternoon, as it was raining so hard that there was no travel, we ventured out, and went back from the road a mile, and found a house where we got some bread and beef, and also learned that we were within three miles of the East Tennessee Railroad. We proceeded on cautiously through the rain, and got within a half a mile of the railroad, and then waited for the shades of night, so as to pursue our way. As soon as it was dark enough, we proceeded on, and every place was a sea of water and pretty cold. We crossed Roanoke River by wading, and the railroad half a mile south of what is known as Lick Spring Station. We then proceeded up the valley parallel to the railroad, and through one of the finest and the most fertile and well improved sections that I had seen in the Confederacy. The plantations were large, and appeared in the highest state of cultivation. After going up the valley about eight miles, we were compelled by hunger to enter a small cabin for something to eat. We then learned that we were in Roanoke County, within a mile or so of the county seat, Salem; and were advised to flank the town, as it was not safe for us to pass through, and also to avoid the road over Salem Mountain (a spur of the Alleghanies), as it was constantly watched, night and day, to catch rebel deserters who were making for the Union lines. We also learned that Salem was one of the hottest nests of secession in the whole valley, but it was their principal depot for army stores, and that there was at that time on hand an abundance of corn, flour, meat, &c. But since our visit there I have learned that General Averill has been in there and damaged their hive, to their great discomfiture.

We proceeded on that night, making direct to the mountain. We soon reached its foot, and began our weary ascent, through brush, and over ledges of rocks, and climbing places almost perpendicular; and the night was as dark as pitch, besides being wet and cold. Our lot was then a trying one, so much so that we at last became completely bewildered. We called a halt and camped for the night, building a large fire out of dry chestnut, and contrived to dry ourselves, but slept none.

Sunday, November 22.–As soon as it was light enough, we fell back about half a mile, and found a house in which we had a very welcome breakfast set before us by a good old Quakeress, who appeared as if she could not do enough for us. After eating and thanking the good woman, we made for the top of Salem Mountain, which we reached after a two hours’ walk, climbing nearly the whole way by pulling ourselves up by the bushes. We built a fire, and spent the day in returning thanks to Almighty God for his protection in our perilous undertaking. We slept some through the day, but always kept one out on guard while the other two would sleep. From our refuge we could see all around for miles. It was a beautiful sight; we could see directly down into the rebel town of Salem, and see the people promenading the streets. Little dreamt they that they were watched by Yankees; but, as for us, we felt secure, for I felt as if a kind Providence had a hand in our escape. We began our descent an hour before sundown, and dark found us again in the road making pretty good headway for Yankeedom.

Our course led about ten miles up that valley (Catawba). This was also very fertile, and, in travelling along the road, we had to pass near some very fine houses. All these we endeavored to avoid by taking across the fields. And, as a general thing, we never went near a house but what a dozen dogs would come baying out after us, and they would keep up their yelping as far as we could hear. I often remarked to my comrades that I could never have any more friendship for the canine creatures. That night a man chased us for nearly two miles with his dogs. We would have stood and given battle, but we did not want to leave any tracks behind, We crossed another small mountain known as Catawba, and came into Craig Valley. After midnight it became cloudy, and, as our road led up Craig Creek, and we had to wade it in several places, and it turned cold, and as we were wet and very much fatigued, we bagan to look around for some place to sleep and rest. But, as every place was wet and muddy, we could do no better than to chase some pigs from their bed, and, for the time being, take military possession of their snug and comfortable quarters–comfortable, if we did rise up covered with creepers. But we were willing to do or pass through anything to regain our freedom.

Monday, November 23.–We rose feeling pretty well, except our empty stomachs; but we soon found a nice warm breakfast at the house of a Mrs. Brillhart. While at the table, she informed us of a band of deserters was near by, who, she thought, would do all in their power to aid and assist us in getting through. We got the direction, and found their headquarters about noon. We were cordially received, and treated with the best they had. The news of our arrival spread fast, and by dark not less than twenty persons came in to see us. They thought it was a great curiosity to see “live Yankees” in their midst. We found them all true Union men in principle, and would be so in action, if it was not for the iron rule of tyrants that keeps them down

There we found deserters from the rebel ranks who had been there, hid in the mountains, for over eighteen months. We were assigned a room that night in the stable loft, and received visitors until nearly midnight. I was heartily glad when they quit coming, for I needed some rest. I slept that night as sweetly, and felt as safe, as if I had been at home. I knew I was among friends, and that not a few.

Tuesday, November 24.–We arose in great glee. A Squire Somebody had sent us a bottle of home-made liquor, which we did not object to, as we thought a little refreshment would not go amis, if it did cost six dollars a pint. Visitors camr flocking in all day, and I was getting fearful, lest the thing was getting too public, and might arouse suspicion. We coaxed four deserters to fix up and go along with us, for we know they would be excellent pilots, from their knowledge of the country.

We also found that they had been running deserters from that place across to our lines. And for doing this, they had established a route with a number of posts on it–a kind of an underground railroad. And besides this, they had a secret organization, with its grips, signs, and passwords; and for a person to be a member, he had to sign an obligation, and take a solemn oath, the punishment for violation of which was death.

Under an old shed near by, we were all three of us initiated into this mystic lodge; and thereafter we could tell our friends at first sight; and it was a great help to us during the balance of our sojourn in Dixie. We found there men of all ages–from the beardless youth to the gray-headed old man–praying day and night that the Yankees might come and take possession of their country. They had felt the gall and bitterness of secession–they knew its aim–the subjugation of the poor, and to lift up the rich into despotic chairs. O ye butternuts of the North, who voted for exiles, and outlaws, and friends of secession, if you could but half feel the fruits of disunion, how soon you would change your principles! We spent one happy day in the Confederacy. They brought us in great baskets of provision. It appeared as if they could not do enough for us and when we went to start, they filled our haversacks to overflowing, and gave us also fifteen dollars in money (Confederate). Everything being in rediness, and with many adieus and God speed you well, from both men and women, we started off, accompanied by four deserters and about twenty of the citizens, who went with us a couple of miles. Such true types of Unionism are hardly found here in our midst–certainly no better.

The deserters went ahead as our guides. We were soon across Craig Mountain, and in the SiniCreek Valley, and were proceeding along, as we thought, in all security. As we were going down a small creek, which led out to a public road, we had not more than got out into the road, when all in an instant we heard the words, “Halt, halt, halt!” coming from a sentinel not over twenty-five yards in front of us. We then saw, tght of the road, eight or ten camp fires, and saw in an instant our danger. We made off at full speed, and ran on for a mile until we were completely exhausted. The sentinel never fired at us, nor made the alarm in camp. I have always thought that he did not suspect who we were. It was a narrow escape, and also a lesson of caution.

After getting over our fright, we made off again, over fields and through woods, wading Sinking Creek, and then over Sinking Creek Mountain, through the brush; then across John’s Creek Valley, and wading John’s Creek, which was very deep and cold, and made the top of John’s Creek Mountain by daylight.

Wednesday, November 25.–We took a good day’s rest, and were off again at dark, down across a large valley, thence over Peter’s Mountain; the last and highest of the Alleghanies. This night was very cold, and we suffered, for our clothes were so thin, and my shoes were now about gone; and i was compelled to tear up some of my other clothes to keep my feet safe, for I knew our success depended upon them. We stopped that night about midnight at the house of a Mr. Smith, at the west foot of Peter’s Mountain. This was a post on our route, and as the next one was twenty-five miles ahead, we wanted to take a whole night for it. Mr. Smith gave us a very hospitable reception, but informed us that it would be impossible for us to get through, as General Averill had been pitching into the rebels at Lewisburg, and had scattered them all along down the Greenbrier country,–and we also had in our pathway the two bushwhacking companies, commanded by William and Philip Thurman, who were doing great mischief, taking their spite out on the Union men in the country for their defeat at Lewisburg.

His tales were so horrible that we could not persuade the rebel deserters to come another foot with us; they started back immediately that night. Their courage lthem after coming forty miles with us, and we were then within eighty miles of our lines.

Thursday, November 26.–After a good nap on the floor, and a warm breakfast before daybreak, we went into a thicket, and lay concealed there all day in perfect security. Mr. Smith went ahead that day several miles to learn the true state of things, as to the safety of our going forward, and returned at night with the news, that it might be barely possible. At night, after a hearty supper, we set forward to make Greenbrier River before daylight, with a recommendation to a Mr. L. Guinn, our next post. That night’s travel took us directly through Monroe County, and our road led through Uniontown, the county seat, and as that was another hot secesh hold we were told to flank it. We came in sight of the town about ten o’clock. As there were a great many lights there, we struck off to the left, and by so doing got upon the wrong road, but did not find our mistake until we had gone eight miles. We then altered our course, and made Greenbrier a little before daylight. I entered a cabin, and inquired for a man by the name of L. Guinn. I was informed that a man by the name of Layton Guinn lived a mile down the river. Without stopping to ask whether he was union or not, we started down the river to Mr. Guinn’s. We soon came in sight of the house; and as it was Sergeant Stookey’s turn to make the venture, the other two of us lay hid. Sergeant Stookey went up to the yard fence, as it was breaking day. The folks of the house were up. He hallooed, and a man came out. Stookey asked him “if Mr. Guinn lived there,” to which the man replied, that was his name, and residence, but he had only got home the night before, for he belonged to one of Thurman’s independent companies–a kind of genteel name for bushwhackers. Stookey soon saw the difficulty he was in, but gathered up courage and played off. He immediately replied that he was the very man he “wanted to find, for he wanted to enlist in one of them independent companies,” and probably now he could get some information how to get to them. this appeared to please the man, and he immediately asked, “Who are you? a deserter? What regiment, Twenty-second, Forty-fifth, or Sixtieth Virginia?” Stookey answered him that he used to belong to the army, but as his regiment was a long way off, he thought he would try one of his companies for a while. To this Mr. Guinn proceeded to inform him where the two companies were. One was at such a ferry on New River, and had scouts scattered here and there, &c., the other one was up on Muddy Creek, with directions how to go to it, where to cross the river, and what roads to take,&c. Just the very kind of information we so greatly desired. He then invited Stookey to come in and get his breakfast. Stookey politely thanked him, as he had plenty in his haversack; so he bade him good morning, and hastily rejoined us. After this news, we set out wits to work to make the best of it. We had struck the wrong man, and to make any more ventures we thought would not be safe, and we must manage to get across Greenbrier the best we could. We made immediately for the river, and went down it a mile, to a place where there were no houses in sight. There we built a fire. We were compelled to do so, for it was a very cold night, and I had my feet and fingers partially frost-bitten. After we had thawed out a little, and eaten the last mouthful in our havsks, we began to look for some way to cross the river. In a pile of drift-wood there was an old canoe. This we got out and launched, and all three of us got into it, and began to paddle over, but were no more than one third over when the little, frail thing upset, and threw us into the water. It was a cold baptism, and we swam back, dripping with wet and trembling with cold. We rebuilt our fire, wrung and dried our clothes, and in two hours were ready to try it again. This time Stookey went over in the canoe alone, and Thompson and myself went down about half a mile to a riffle, stripped, and waded. It was a bitter pill, but there was no alternative. After being safely over we made for the Snell Mountains, whose sme reached a little after dark. A bed was soon made out of some leaves, in which we snugly slept all night.

Saturday, November 27.–Hunger drove us this morning to a cabin for something to eat. We met, as usual, with a good Union man. We were now aiming for New River, and he advised us to keep along the top of the Snell Mountains, and that they would take us there in fourteen miles. We started off, but as it was raining and sleeting we made poor headway, stopping at several houses, and keeping ourselves well posted as to the dangers of the country.

By the middle of the afternoon we had reached the residence of Mr. Thomas Richmond, one of the best Union men in the counyd a man of wealth. He advised us to go no farther in daylight, but told us to stay with him until midnight, when he would go with us as far as New River; then he thought we should be safe. We passed our time very much at home at Mr. Richmond’s, who was a whole-souled gentleman. He interested us by giving an account of his family and connections, which were very numerous, and good Union. But they had suffered severely from the hands of the bushwhackers. His brother, who owned a ferry on New River, had been shot dead in his own yard, andhis two sons taken thirty miles off and shot. He also had one brother who had been in Castle Thunder for over two years, and he did not know whether he was alive or not. Besides, a great many of the family had to flee to the North, leaving all of their possessions behind. It would make any one shudder to listen to his tales of the sufferings of the loyal people. He told me there would be a great many grudges to settle after this war was over, between them and the treacherous and murderous rebel bushwhackers of the country.

Sunday, November 29–This was the third Sabbath we had passed in making our escape from Rebeldom. By three o’clock we were up, had our breakfast, and were off, Mr. Richmond acting as our guide. By daylight we were at New River, at what is known as Richmond’s Ferry. There Mr. Richmond parted with us. We proceeded down on the right hand bank of the river for ten miles, and then got a man to take us across in his canoe, and then down the left bank, travelling pretty briskly until dark, when we stopped with a man by the name of Samuel Kincade, who turned out to be a notorious bushwhacker. When we entered the house he took us to be men of his own order. He proceeded to tell us about the success of the freebooters in that part of the country, &c. He was getting under pretty good headway, when Sergeant Stookey told him he had better be careful how he was talking, for we were Yankees. This put the old fellow “on nettles;” he was restless all night, and was not very communicative thereafter.

To be continued:

About admin

I'm a lover of God and His Son Jesus Christ. In addition I love to make yesterday's words come alive through the republishing of good and profitable books of old. The Civil War project is an ongoing labor of love. - Karan
This entry was posted in Recent Entries. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply