The following story of the escape of Colonel Montgomery from the Confederate authorities at Vicksburg, was given by him at the Union League Rooms at Washington, in April, 1864:–
“One year ago last November I was in jail in Vicksburg, condemned to be shot. I escaped one day; I ran home to my wife and little ones. It was about noon; a train would leave the city at three o’clock. I told my wife to pack up our trunks, and we must go. She packed them and sent them to the depot by a negro, and then followed with our little girl, and boy, while I went around outside the town, met the train going through a cut, jumped aboard, and all went well till we got to Holly Springs. I must go to Memphis, fifty miles, and no railroad, and most of the way through rebel pickets. I must get a pass and a conveyance if I could. I went to the General’s office; he was away, but his Adjutant was there, and said it was of no use to ask for a pass; if I was Jefferson Davis’ son, and had my mother with me, I could not be passed in that direction. I talked with him about other things; I asked him down to take a drink. He drank, and I talked. I told him how many adjutants I had known, and what smart men they were, and that i thought him the smartest of all, and was sure, when his merits were known, he would be at the head of all the adjutants in the Confederacy. The General came at last, and the Adjutant begged him to grant a pass to this very particular friend of his, to take his wife and children to Memphis and return. I was particular about the return. he gave the pass, but it did not cover a conveyance, and there was none to be had. Then the telegraph brought news of my escape, and orders to have me sent back to be shot. The Adjutant had the order, and he told me to git. Do you know what git means? Well, I tell you in such a case it means to—git! The Adjutant had indorsed me as his friend: he was afraid he had hfoot in, so he wanted me to git, and I did. My wife made a bundle of what clothes the children must have. I put it on my back, took my little boy by the hand, she took the little girl, and we started on foot for Memphis. It was a day of scorching heat; the thermometer above 90 degrees; the burning sand six inches deep; my little ones both barefooted; my little boy with no hat; and my wife with only thin-soled slippers on, worth about forty cents, but for which I paid ten dollars hard cash. There was no getting out of that burning sun and burning sand; and, as we went on, O my God! the screams of those little children! The red, fiery streaks ran up their white ankles; every step was agony, and every breath. We dragged them on. Every moment we expected to hear the couriers behind, coming for me. My wife and little girl were before me, the little boy was too young to keep up with them. At every rise of ground my wife would turn and look to see if a messenger were coming for me. One time, as she stood so, my little boy reached her, his poor feet all red and blistered, his curls matted to his head with perspiration, with both hands clinging to her dress, and his dusty, tearful face lifted to hers, he cried out, ‘O mamma, can’t you see our home now?’
“So we went on all one day. At night we stopdan overseer’s house, where we were permitted to stay. They were poor, but kind. A bed was made on the floor for us, but the agony the children suffered a great they could not sleep, exhausted as they were. We bound their little feet in cloths, and I sat by all night to keep them wet with cold water; then they could sleep. If in my stupor and exhaustion I chanced to forget myself, their shrieks quickly wakened me again. In the morning we had to start; there was no staying here. Those poor little feet, burnt all day and sad all night, looked as if they had been parboiled;y blistered as they were, swollen shapeless, and streaked with red and purple and blue, they must go into that burning sand again. O my God! my God! those cries! will thine avenging angel gather up the tears that bedewed that fiery path, tears from those helpless little ones in their awful agony! (He covered his face with his hand an instant, and then resumed.) But we dragged them on! I don’t know how it happened that i did not notice when the little hand slipped from mine, but, from whatever distraction of mind I was in, i was startled by a shriek that is ringing in my ears yet, and looking back I saw my little boy lying in the sand in the road behind me. He could not walk another step, and thought I had left him to die. I put my pack over on one shoulder, and laid him across the other with his burning cheek to mine, and his hot breath fanning my face. His mother and sister had gone on, and were sitting on the grass under a tree waiting for us. Little Freddy saw them, and said:
“‘Papa, do mamma and sister see our home now?’
“I said, ‘Yes.’
“‘Well,’ said he, ‘if Ponto sees them, he’ll know I’m coming, and he’ll run past them, and I’ll ask him, and get on his back, and ride home, and then you won’t have to carry me–will you, papa?’ Ponto was a great dog we had at home.
“I laid the child down on the grass beside his mother; she told me then that she could go no farther. There we were. Presently my wife saw a cloud of dust in the distance. I saw it too.
“‘It is the courier coming for you,’ she said. ‘He will take you from us; and what will become of you? what will become of us?’
“I looked and saw that the man was in a small buggy–just room enough for him and me–no provision for my family. My poor wife was on her knees. Her face was white as marble, and cold. She was trying to pray, but she only repeated ove er again, ‘O my God! O my God!’ Not another word would come. I put my hand on her shoulder, and said, ‘My dear, there is but one man, and no one man takes me from you to-day!’
“The man in the buggy drove up. He stopped and looked at us. Said he, ‘I see you are travelling.’ ‘No, sir,” said I; ‘travelling and I have quit.’ ‘Well, you don’t live hereaos.’ ‘No.’ ‘What is your name?’ ‘Montogomery.’
“He looked at the feet of my little ones, lying on the grass ‘Have those children got the small pox?’ ‘No.’ ‘The measles?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well, what have they got?’ ‘My dear sir, they have got just as near nothing as it is possible for a human being to get.’ I found he was the rebel mail carrier. I showed him my pass, and asked what he would charge to take my wife and children through the lines. He said, ‘Fifty dollars in gold.’ My wife and her mother had saved fifty dollars in gold, and fifty cents in silver, all of it I had, and it was all. I put yfe in the seat beside him, the little boy in her lap, the little girl at her feet, my bundle under the seat, gave the man the fifty dollars in gold, put the fifty cents in my pocket, and they drove off. I followed. When I came to a picket, I showed my pass, and asked about the buggy. The answer was always, ‘Yes; the mail carrier, with a woman and two children, went by about an hour and a half ago, and reported a man coming with a pass covering the woman and children. All right.’ I went on. At last I asked, ‘How many more picket stations are there?’ ‘Only one.’ ‘How far is it?’ ‘Three miles.’ ‘That is the last?’ ‘Yes.’ I had on such boots as the slaves wear. I had paid thirty dollars for them and I made them earn every cent of the money in that three miles. I came in sight of the picket so soon that I was frightened. I thought of the telegraph wires. What might they not have told before this? Who knew but that man held my life in his hands? There was no help for it. I walked up to him as he sat on his horse, and handed my pass, and asked about the buggy. Yes, it had gone by an hour and a half ago. But why did the man not give me back my pass? Would he never be done reading it?–or, instead of giving it back, would he level his pistol and shoot me? There I stood, on the border of Rebeldom. The United States was before me–the free glorious United States, and wife and little ones; and what was behind? O God! would the man never be done reading that little scrap of writing? That a our flag was before me, and freedom. My heart beat so loud I was afraid the the man would hear it. I tried to stir. Was he reaching down his hand to shoot me? No; it was only to give back the pass, as he said, ‘All right!’ and I was a free man again–free, and in the United States, and under the flag of stars! I was not long in getting to St. Louis with my family. We walked the streets of that city barefooted. There was a political meeting that night–a republican one. I happened in. The chances are that something was said. The next morning the copperhead paper stated that there was such a meeting, and t was entertained by the blatant ravings of a southenrenegade. That meant me. Since then, i have been in many of your Northern cities and States, and without a pass. Here is the difference: at the South you cannot turn round, cross the street, kiss your wife, or go to market, without a pass. Here, where Abraham Lincoln tyrannizes like a military despot,–where he usurps all the people’s rights and puts them in his pocket,–every one can go where he pleases, like sheep without a shepherd. Jeff Davis takes better care of the liberties of his people!
“Now I must say a word about that little wife of mine. I am going to take her home to die! (Here the tears almost choked his utterance; but he crushed them back, and went on. His simple, touching narrative had already brought tears to many eyes, and there was scarcely a dry one in that crowded room.) Yes, I am going to take her home to die! The doctors have told us she cannot live long, and she wants to die and be buried among her own people; so we are going. The ladies of one of your Northern cities have given her a beautiful silk flag–a l with all the stripes and all the stars upon it. We will take that with us, and if our old home is standing, the flag shall float above it. If it is not standing, then we will plant the flag upon its ruins, or over the place where it once was; and as we sit beneath its folds, we will think, with rs of gratitude, of all the kindness of these free and happy Northern people to the wandering, homeless refugees.”
Originally posted 2009-09-05 19:57:09.