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Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster...for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

-- Friedrich Nietzsche
Prison Break6465 Reads  Printer-friendly page

Civil WarOn the 8th of November, 1864, at 2 o'clock A.M., Captain Turner, of the Sixteenth Iowa, Captain Strang, of the Thirtieth Illinois, Lieutenant Laird, of the Sixteenth Iowa, and myself, made our escape through the guard lines at "Camp Surghum," near Columbia, South Carolina, with a view of making our way to the gunboats near the mouth of the Edisto river.
Having passed through in single file, without drawing a fire from the guard, we struck our way for the timber, and after wandering around an area of some five miles, in search of the Orangeburg road, we at length found ourselves about two miles from camp. As day had now began to dawn, we found it necessary to conceal ourselves. We therefore took refuge in a dense thicket, which was quite narrow, and surrounded by open grounds. Here we remained all day, eating our "corn dodgers," smoking, making pipes, and whispering over the Presidential election, as we could not talk above a whisper without being discovered or attracting the attention of the dogs and negroes, who were within hearing of us all day. We also speculated a great deal on what we would eat and drink when we would reach our lines. Dark at length came on. The moon shone dimly through the flying clouds, and we moved out quietly in search of the Orangeburg road, which ran directly south from Columbia. After wandering around for some time unsuccessfully, we came across two negro boys, who kindly conveyed us to the road, giving us much valuable information. Once on the right road, we started off in high glee, marching in single file to avoid making too many tracks. To avoid being discovered by any white person was now our chief concern, so we pledged ourselves to one another not to speak above a whisper.

We had traveled about five miles, when suddenly we heard talking ahead of us, and soon discovered a buggy meeting us. We were in an open lane, a board fence on each side, and escape seemed impossible. I gave the signal to the others, which was a shrill whistle, and immediately we all jumped to one side of the road, and fell flat upon the ground, trusting to the brown sage to shield us from the observation of the men in the buggy. They drove up unsuspectingly, until they came opposite to where we were lying, when their horses smelling us, scared and became frantic. The driver struck them with his whip, when they bounded ahead and soon conveyed them out of sight, when we again took the road and made rapid strides on our journey southward. We met two or three wagons during the night, but succeeded in getting out of the road until they passed. They were market wagons on their way to Columbia.

We traveled on until day-break, making a distance of eighteen miles, when we turned aside and selecting a hiding place in the woods we laid down and fell asleep. We remained in this place all day, but were frightened several times at dogs, which were running through the woods in search of something to eat. We were not afraid of the dogs, but only afraid they might bark and lead to our discovery. But the day passed off safely to us, and when darkness come on we again took up our march. Our haversacks by this time were rather light for our health, but we pushed on, hoping to find some friendly negroes by whom we could get them replenished.

After marching a few miles we discovered a light ahead, which we supposed to be in a house, and how to pass it without discovery was now a question of serious moment. As we cautiously moved up a little nearer, the light disappeared, which caused us to change our minds, and our next conclusion was, that it was a rebel picket post. We moved up a little closer, and discovered a bridge between us and where we had seen the last light, which confirmed us in the belief that the bridge was guarded. Captain Strang volunteered to move up close enough to see if he could discover the post and how it was situated. Meanwhile the balance of us concealed ourselves in the bushes by the roadside. The Captain soon returned and reported that he saw a man moving about at the other end of the bridge, but could see no others, strengthening our conviction that the bridge was guarded, and how to get around it was a matter that gave us much trouble. As it was an impenetrable thicket on either side, and the banks of the stream very high.

While consulting what we should do, our ears were greeted by the tread of a "darkie." Captain Turner stepped to the roadside and attempted to hail him in a whisper. "Uncle! Uncle!" said Turner. "Who dar?" said Harry, in a tone of voice that would have awakened all the pickets within a mile of us. "Hush! hush!" said the Captain, "the picket guards will hear us." Harry was a little frightened on being hailed so suddenly, and kept on his guard. He had not yet discovered the rest of us. "Who is you?" said Harry, and "what does you want with me?" "We are Yankee prisoners," said the Captain, "and want to talk with you." "O! bress de Lord," said Harry, (Laying down a huge possum which he had suspended by the tail) "Come out, you shan't be hurt."

We learned from Harry that there was no guards at the bridge, but that a citizen who was on his way to the coast for salt had put up there for night, and that the light we saw was the man going to the creek to get water for his mules, but that he had gone to sleep in his covered wagon. So, Harry leading off, we set out again, feeling greatly relieved of our troubles. We traveled about three miles beyond the bridge, when we came to the plantation where Harry's master resided. We stepped into the woods by the road side and set down to rest, while Harry went into the potato patch and grabbled us some sweet potatoes; and after filling our sacks with raw potatoes we renewed our march and continued it till near daybreak.

Before halting, however, we were suddenly alarmed by a signal similar to our own, by the road side, and a man came walking out of the bushes dressed in rebel uniform. He inquired of us something about the roads, supposing at first that we were negroes; but on discovering that we were white he seemed as much alarmed as we were. For a few seconds both parties were afraid to introduce the object of their mission. At length we inquired of him where he was going; he replied that he was going home on a leave of absence. We then asked him what regiment he belonged to. He replied, to a Georgia regiment, but did not recollect the number We then began to see the "Yankee" in disguise, and told him that we were Yankee officers escaping from Columbia prison, which seemed to relieve him greatly, when he acknowledged himself a Yankee also, escaping from Charleston, and trying to reach Sherman's lines in the direction of Atlanta.

We could give him no encouragement, as he would have two hundred miles to march, under great difficulty. He expressed a desire to join our party, which we would gladly have consented to, but feeling that our party was already large enough, and being fearful that enlarging it would endanger the safety of all, we declined; but giving him our best wishes, we passed on our way until it became necessary to put up for the day. We turned into the first favorable looking place for concealment, threw ourselves upon the ground and soon fell asleep.

But we did not enjoy our repose long. At daylight we were suddenly aroused by the rattle of the cars, which seemed as though they were running over us. On looking around us we discovered that we were only a few feet from the railroad track, and train had passed by without any one discovering us. But the train once out of sight, we moved further away from the road, and concealed ourselves in a thicket of undergrowth timber, where we ventured to kindle a fire and boil our sweet potatoes. We remained here all day without molestation, though in sight of a plantation house, where we could see the field hands at work. Our provisions had again given out, and when dark set in we attempted to see some of the negroes, but as there appeared to be too many hounds about, we concluded it would be unsafe to remain there, so we struck out for the Orangeburg road. We had got but a short distance when the roaring of the hounds were heard in our rear, and occasionally the blast of the horn. This alarmed us much, but with cudgels in hand, we made rapid strides toward Orangeburg. We soon became convinced that the hounds were not on our track, but on a fox trail.

As we were evidently nearing the town, we were again troubled to know how we should get around it and reach the river, where we expected to find boats. We struck off on a road which we supposed would take us to the river south of town, but traveling but a short distance we found ourselves in the town, where a retreat was as hazardous as anything else. It was about midnight and the moon shone brightly, so we marched quietly through the village, until we reached the southern boundary, where we chanced to meet a "gentleman of color." The white people "slumbered and slept." Our colored friend informed us that there was no boat at the river, but what was guarded by the rebels. We had by this time became exceedingly hungry and tired, but no alternative was left but to push on to some other point. Branchville was our next hope, which was sixteen miles south of Orangeburg and also on the Edisto river. So off we started, taking the railroad track as the safest route. After traveling in this direction two miles, we met a negro man and his wife on their way toward Orangeburg. We found them to be friendly and trusty. The man, whose name was "Toney," lived a mile further down the road, and his wife lived in Orangeburg. Toney said if we would go on down near massa's plantation and wait, he would help his wife carry up the forage which they had evidently been getting off massa's plantation, and return and show us a hiding place, as it was approaching daybreak. We took him at his word, and sure enough, Tony soon returned and conducted us to a dense forest, where we kindled a fire to warm ourselves, and took a short sleep. About 9 o'clock in the morning Toney came out with a basket of provisions, which I assure you we relished. Pone, sweet potatoes, rice, boiled and fried, fresh pork, were luxuries which we did not often indulge in, except the pone.

Tony gave us all the information he could, and stated that his master was an "ossifer in the Conederick States." He told us if we would remain there until 9 oclock in the evening, he would bring us some more provisions. We waited accordingly, but Tony failed to appear. We concluded something had turned up, which Tony could not control, so we struck out for Branchville. It was Saturday night, and a good time for meeting darkies, but just at the time we most needed their aid, we failed to meet with any. Traveling on until nearly daylight Sunday morning, we found ourselves in the village of Branchville. We hastened with light steps through the village, and marching about two miles beyond, daylight compelled us to seek refuge in a swampy thicket, where we spent the Sabbath in making pipes. When night came on again, we moved out to the roadside to seek an interview with the first darkie we could see, as it would be impossible for us to travel any further without something to eat, and besides we needed information about the boats. Providentially, we had waited but a few minutes when a half dozen negroes came along, to whom we introduced ourselves, and who seemed glad to see us. They conveyed us to a hiding place, and went to their quarters and cooked us half bushel of sweet potatoes and brought out to us, together with some bread and pork, and a lot of raw potatoes to carry with us. After eating a hearty supper, we gathered up the balance of our "grub," and "Mose" and the other darkies leading the way, we soon found ourselves at the river, where there were two canoes. Mose owned one of them and his master the other, but Mose said, "Lord a massy, take 'em and welcome." We paid them a few dollars in Confederate money. Captains Turner and Strang boarded one of the boats, which they named the "Continental," and Laird and I took the other, which we named the "Gladiator." Bidding our colored friends good- bye, we pushed out from shore.

"The moon was shining silver bright, The stars with glory crowned the night," and no happier set of fellows could be found than we were when we first struck our paddles in the water of the Edisto, heading toward our gunboats. We made steamboat speed the remainder of the night, and about day-break we tied up and camped for the day, in the wilderness of the Edisto.

Monday night came on, when we again pushed out, and made good speed until three o'clock in the morning, when we again went ashore and took a sleep until daylight, (Tuesday) when we kindled a fire and cooked our remaining potatoes, and sucked our sugar-cane stalks until they were dry. Tuesday night came on, and we resumed our voyage, but it now became necessary to hunt for more forage. So, passing down the river a few miles, we came to a plantation lying near the river, which was quite a rare thing, as it was principally a wilderness on both sides of the river.

Here we pushed ashore, tied our boats under cover of the bank, and moved up quietly to the negro quarters and made ourselves known to darkies, who were glad to see "de Yankees" they had heard so much about; and after becoming satisfied that we had no "horns" and that we were their friends, they rallied all the negroes on the plantation. Women and children came out to see us, each one bringing some token of their kind regard. Even the smallest child had a potato to give us. By these negroes our haversacks were again replenished with grub, but they could give us but little information about what was ahead of us. We started with our treasures to our boats again. Just as I stepped into my boat it tipped up with me, throwing me into the rapid current, and I should evidently have drowned (being no swimmer) but for a bough of a tree which reached to the surface of the water, and which I chanced to get hold of, pulling myself up and climbing up the limb. I again got on shore, and soon we were in our boats and under way. But as I was wet and the night cold, we only traveled a few miles until we went ashore, made a fire, dried my clothes, and slept the balance of the night.

Next day we resolved to run the risk of traveling in daylight, so we pushed out and run at good speed nearly all day, undisturbed save the occasional plunging in of a huge alligator from the shore, which sometimes endangered the safety of our boats. As night approached we were confident that we were nearing a bridge, which we had been previously informed was guarded by rebel pickets, though we could not learn whether we should be compelled to leave them and flank the guards, ruining our chances to get others below the bridge. Our only chances were to "go it blind," or to see some negroes and get the necessary information. Darkness at length came on, and we had sailed but a short distance until we heard talking on the shore in the woods, near the river. Supposing it to be the voice of negroes, as it is hard to distinguish the difference between the language of the negro and that of the white man in that country, we pushed ashore, tied our boats, and started up to meet our colored friends, but had got but a short distance when the dogs pitched at us fiercely, and the men began to hiss them on; and advancing rapidly upon us, we soon discovered that we were entrapped.

The party consisted of two white men and two negroes, armed with double-barrel shot-guns, accompanied by two dogs. They demanded of us who we were and where going. We represented ourselves as Confederates on a leave of absence, from the Thirty-Second Georgia. They however mistrusted us, and demanded our papers. I took a piece of paper from my pocket to make believe I had a furlough; but none of the party could read, which was well enough, as there was nothing on it to read. They expressed themselves willing to let us go, if they could do so without their officers finding it out; but said they were under orders to arrest everybody traveling without a pass, and sent for a man in the neighborhood to come and examine our pass. We then told them who we were, as escape seemed impossible, on account of the hounds and other difficulties. We were then taken to a house on the plantation and put under guard, and the women went to work, killed some chickens, went into the field and pulled some corn, shelled and ground it on a little hand mill, baked us a pone from the meal, and made us a supper of chicken, pone and sweet potatoes.

We were now a hundred and sixty-five miles from where we started, and thirty miles south of Charleston. The next morning we were taken to Charleston on the first train. The family where we had stayed all night, being of the poorer class, expressed a good deal of sympathy for us. One of the women remarked to Captain Strang, "Youens are better lookin' than our folks."

At Charleston we were introduced to the jail and locked up in close confinement, our rations consisting of a pot of mush a day for all four of us, with nothing to eat it with but our pocket knives and fingers. We were only kept here a few days, however, when we were put upon the cars and returned to Columbia, from whence we started.
Note: by Captain W. W. McCarty.


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