During the expedition of Col. Streight through Georgia in the spring of 1863, Capt. T. M. Anderson of Company D, Fifty-first Regiment, of Indiana, was captured by the confederates and imprisoned at Richmond, from whence he escaped in company with Lieutenant Skelton, of the Seventeenth Iowa Regiment, and, reached the Union lines in safety, after much suffering. The following is his account of his experiences:–
I was taken prisoner on the third day of May 1863, near Rome, Ga., with Col. Streight’s command. We were all paroled and sent to Richmond with the expectation of going through to our lines; but judge of our surprise when we were thrust into Libby Prison, and our paroles taken from us. We entered Libby on the sixteenth day of May, and from that day I was not on the ground until I made my escape.
From the day that I entered until I succeeded in getting away, did I watch my opportunity. I soon became satisfied that to get out of any of the upper rooms was an impossibility, and the only room that there was any prospect of getting out of was the hospital room in the east end of the building, which is as low as the street on the north side, but the second floor on the south side. Well,I had to get into the hospital before I could hope to escape; consequently, I was taken suddenly very sick. Of course I was carried to the hospital, where all sick men are taken. I kept my bed three or four days; was visited by the surgeon (a mullet-bearded fellow, that didn’t know beans), regularly, every day. He left me a large dose of medicine, which I found did me a great deal of good, in my vest-pocket. After several days of feigned sickness, I set to work to find a companion to go with me; and, as fortune favored me, I found the man, Lieut. Skelton, of the Seventeenth Iowa Regiment, who had long had the same opinion that I had, that he would get away from there if possible.
We soon commenced our arrangements, and worked very slowly, and everything being ready on the eleventh of this month, we resolved to make the attempt. During the day we went down into the basement story, which is used as a cook-room for the hospital, and cut a small door open into the south-east corner of the room. This we opened with a large beef-cleaver, by drawing the spikes and nails and by cutting off the cross-bars. As we had to work very cautiously and silently, it took us some time to do this, but it was accomplished ere dark. The hour of ten o’clock was the hour we set to make the break. We prepared crackers and dried beef enough to last us through, and then dressed ourselves in citizens’ clothes (which we had received from home), and then everything was ready. We watched the sentinels very closely, and just as the hour of ten was called they all turned and walked to the west, and at that moment we opened the door, and like lightning we crossed the guard-line, and when the guards faced about we were walking coolly and briskly down the street.
We kept down canal street some two squares, and then turned up Main street. We then thought that the boldest step was safest, so we went through the city on Main street, then through Rockets, a little town adjoining Richmond on the east. After passing through Rockets we came to the Williamsburg road. This we kept for about a mile, when we came in sight of their batteries and forts, and we knew that pickets were on the road; so, to avoid the batteries and pickets, we took a by-path leading off to the right and down into a deep ravine, and in this we passed between their forts out into the country. The night was dark, and consequently it was very difficult travelling. We made about seven miles that night, and came to the Williamsburg road again just at daybreak. We filed into a thick clump of cedar bushes and lay down for the day. It was raining very hard, and it was chilling cold; but we were FREE; what cared we for cold rains when we were breathing air of freedom! All day Saturday we were in the bushes. The rebel drums we could plainly hear on all sides of us, guns firing, and soldiers were passing and re-passing; and at one time five rebs passed so near us that I thought we should surely be discovered, but they did not see us, and we, of course, did not hail them. We had been surmising all day about our whereabouts, but could not find out our exact locality, so we concluded to hail the first darkey that passed. We watched the road closely, and about sundown I heard a wagon coming. Lieutenant Skelton said he would go out and stop it if it was driven by a negro. He crawled close to the road-side and awaited the coming of the wagon, when he jumped out and told the negro-driver to halt.
The boy stopped his team, and out came a white man to know what he wanted. He instantly saw our danger, and being ready for any emergency cried out: “Say, Mister, I have lost a black boy, and have tracked him out into this neighborhood, but here I lost him. Have you heard or seen anything of a boy about twenty years old, five feet five and very black? My name is Calloway and if you hear anything of my boy you will do me a grand kindness by having him put in irons. Goo day, sir.” The man promised to do his best, and believing every word, drove on. Just at dark we again set forward on the Williamsburg road leading to Bottom’s bridge, over the Chickahominy river. There is a force of about 400 men at the bridge. We travelled some three miles, and fearing we would run into their pickets if we went further, we turned into the woods again. It had been raining some time, and consequently was as dark as Egypt in the woods. We could not go any further, so laid down for the night again. We could not sleep, for we were by this time as wet as if we had been in the river. Day at last dawned, and ere it was quite light we were on our way. We had only left Richmond some ten miles behind us up to Sunday morning. We now by the aid of a small pocket compass, laid out our course directly north, and kept it for several hours. We then turned directly east, toward the Chickahominy river, and soon found ourselves in one of the most dense swamps that it was ever my fortune to get into, but in this swamp we knew we could travel with safety. On we went through under-brush and briers, through water over our boots several inches, and all of that day did we travel through that miry swamp.
We crossed the Chickahominy about a half an hour by sun, and again fortune favored us, for at the very point where we first struck the river there was a large tree blown across the stream. On this we crossed about three miles north of Bottom’s bridge. Being very weary, we did not go more than a mile from the river where we halted for the night in the woods. We were now close to the main travelled road running from Bottom’s bridge, parallel with the river up to Savages, and we could hear cavalry passing along this road all night. We did not sleep any, for again it rained and it was a cold night, but almost everything has an ending, and so it was with that Sunday night, but I thought it was forty-eight hours long. After feasting on our dried beef and hard tack we set forward and soon came to this road, and just as we were in the act of crossing the fence we spied a rebel scout coming up the road. He had seen us and we dared not run, for then he would be sure to suspicion us, so we stood our ground prepared to club him if he said anything.
He came up and we looked at him boldly and impudently, and without uttering a word. He passed on, never looking back to see where we went. We quickly crossed the road and entered the woods, and if we didn’t do some tall walking then for about ten miles, I wouldn’t be here to say so. On we went, keeping our course directly east, allowing nothing to turn us from it but farm-houses, all of which we were very careful to go around; but through swamps, over hills and hollows we went. About ten o’clock A. M. on Monday, as we were going through the woods we suddenly came in sight of a farm-house, and a negro girl raking leaves close by. I thought likely she could tell us where we were, so I went up and spoke to her. All that she could tell was that we were, in New Kent County. I then asked her whether her master was a secesh, and whether he was at home or not. She said he was both. I then told her that we were Yankees, trying to get home, and that she must not tell her master that she had seen any one all of which she readily promised.
She said, “I am looking for Mr. Bradley (which was her master’s name) every minute, and you had better run.” Again we made good time, and soon came to one of the most intricate swamps I ever saw. It was about two hundred yards wide, and as far as we could see to the right or left it was the same. There were little tufts of grass growing up all over it, some three or four feet apart, and out of these there were little sprouts growing. We had to pull ourselves from one of the bunches of grass to another, and I feel justified in saying that the quicksand and mire was six feet deep in many places, but in about an hour, and after getting very wet, we succeeded in getting over, and then we turned around, pulled off our hats, and yelled, “Good by, Mr. Bradley.” During all of our day’s travel that was a by-word with us, but on we pushed, exerting ourselves to the utmost to put as many miles between us and Richmond as possible.
That night we came within three miles of Dyuscuna Creek, and about twenty-two miles from Williamsburg. We were now in a negro settlement, and stopped for the night. We engaged a negro guide to conduct us to Dyuscuna Creek bridge the next morning, and an hour before daylight we were on our way, arriving at the bridge just at sun-up. We here partook sparingly of our beef and crackers, and then set forward. We had not gone more than a mile before we saw two horsemen coming down the road toward us. We thought that it was perfectly safe to travel the road by daylight then, as we had heard that our troops had been at the bridge late the evening before; so when these horsemen came in sight we quickly jumped into the bushes to await their coming. I saw they were colored men, and felt no hesitancy in coming out to the road and speaking to them. They said, in answer to my inquiries, that there were rebel scouts on that road every day. I then told them that we were Yankee prisoners from Richmond trying to get within our lines. Their faces instantly brightened, and they told us to go back in the woods, and remain there until night or we would be picked up. We knew it to be good advice, so we backed into the bushes again.
One of the darkies lived only a few miles from us, and the other near Chickahominy Church, some eight miles directly on our route. This darkey told us that he would pass there on his way back home in the evening, and said he would show us the way home if we would wait. We remained in the bushes all that day, which was Tuesday, and true to his promise the darkey made his appearance late in the evening. He instructed us how to get round a large plantation that was close by and reach his friend’s house. We accordingly set forth, and in about an hour arrived safely at the house. The old darkies gave us our supper, and kept a strict watch for intruders while we were eating. When it became sufficiently dark our guide harnessed his horse and put him to his cart, putting on the cover and tying it down very tight all round.
We then ensconced ourselves very snugly in the back part of the cart, while the darkey almost filled the front part, and away we went, driving like the wind sometimes. When about half way we came to a picket post. Mr. Darkey told us to lay down and be mute, whereupon he gave his horses the reins and whip and we went past that picket like a whirlwind. If there were any pickets there, they saw nothing but the outlines of a cart, for we were out of sight ere they could halt us. We reached the church about nine o’clock, and after giving us another supper the darkey piloted us for three miles on the road to Williamsburg and then left us. We were now about eight miles from our lines, on a plain road leading to them. We had some fears of meeting with some of the rebel scouts on the road, for our guide told us they were on the road day and night. So we moved briskly but very cautiously. The road was not the mainly-travelled one leading to Williamsburg, but we came into it when within about two miles of the town.
We thought if we met any scouts at all it would be at the junction of these two roads, so we approached the main road very slowly but found no one there. Then we thought ourselves safe. So on we went toward town, not knowing at what unfortunate moment we might come in contact with a party of rebel scouts, and have all our hopes dashed to the ground. We had gone about two miles and walking very fast, when suddenly and unexpectedly the stillness of the night was broken by a gruff voice calling out, “Halt.” We did not wait for a second challenge, but came to a dead halt instantly, not knowing whether we were near our own pickets or a couple of rebs, for we could see that there were two. “Who comes there?” was the next challenge. I answered “friends.” He then told me to advance and give the countersign. Not liking to go up blindly, I asked “To whom I should advance;” and without answering my question, he asked “To whom are you friends?” That was the hardest question I ever had to answer. I knew not what to say, but in a moment answered. “We are friends to the North.” “Come up,” said he; “we are Union pickets.”
I thought those were the sweetest words that I ever heard. We threw up our hats high in the air, and went with such a yell that the sentries thought us crazy. When inside our pickets we turned and said, “Good-by, Mr. Bradley.” We soon explained our boisterous conduct to the pickets, who were looking on with amazement, and then everything was all right. My pen here fails, dear Tribune, to express our happiness; but to know and feel that we were under the protection of Uncle Sam, and standing on the ground over which that dear flag was triumphantly floating, under whose folds both of us had fought on many battle-fields, was inexpressible. We were conducted to the quarters of the Lieutenant of the Guard, and there remained until morning. It was at two o’clock, A. M. when we crossed the lines. We had walked nearly seventy-five miles through swamps, woods, and briers, and consequently our feet were nearly used up.
I had cut my boots off my feet the night before, for my feet were wet from the first night of starting, and my boots had contracted to my feet and were punishing me severely, so on Wednesday morning we were without boots or socks, our feet swollen and bruised, even bleeding, and it was with the utmost difficulty that I could walk. Yet we were two of the happiest boys, I suppose, in America at that time. What cared we then whether we had any feet at all or not, for we had our liberty. We took breakfast with Major Wheeling of the Fourth N. Y. Cavalry, and Provost Marshal of the District. He treated us with the greatest kindness, and after breakfast sent us in his buggy to Col. Forrest’s quarters with a letter of introduction to that officer.
Col. West received us kindly, and gave us stockings and slippers, and in the evening sent us to Yorktown, where we arrived on the night of the great fire and magazine explosion. We had been ordered to report to Gen. Butler at Fortress Monroe, and at Yorktown were furnished transportation by Gen. —– to the fort, with a letter of introduction to Gen. Butler. Immediately on our arrival we went to the General’s head-quarters and were shown to his room, in rather a sorry plight to be sure–clothes torn in many places by the briers, an slip-shod, with sore feet. The old General eyed us very closely when we entered. His military eye ran all over us in a moment. After saluting him, he asked, “Do you wish to see me on business?” Whereupon we gave him our letter from Col. West. After glancing over it he changed instantly. It was not the rigid General Butler of a moment before, for now he grasped our hands, shaking them warmly. After asking us many questions concerning our prisoners, he placed us in the care of the gentlemanly Capt. Puffer, one of his A. D. C’s, with orders to furnish us with clothing, transportation and everything else that we needed, which was all faithfully attended to by that officer.
Originally posted 2009-02-16 23:42:15.