The Arkansas Hills - The Hum of the Spinning Wheel - Last Match - Roast Pumpkin and Parched Corn - Almost Home - Re-Captured - Bound With Ropes - A Retrograde Movement - Another Unfortunate Yankee - On Exhibition - Entertained by Young Ladies - The Old Lady's Lecture on the War - Sent to Washington, Arkansas - The Guests in the Parlor - In the Court House - Offer of "Jewelry " - Rebel Officers on a Spree - On the Road to Camden - Battle-Field of Prairie d' Ann - Eating Two Days' Rations for Supper - Slaughter of the Colored Troops - No Quarter.
SEPTEMBER 1st. We started at daybreak, and made another attempt to get through the swamp before us. After a two hours' tramp we reached cleared land, and found plenty of grapes and muscadines. We forded a stream at about 8 o'clock, A. M., and reached the Arkansas hills about an hour afterward, In traveling through the woods we could hear the hum of the spinning-wheel, at intervals, on all sides, which enabled us to give the houses on our route as wide a berth as necessary. That day we heard more of them than usual, on account of the country being more thickly settled.
About noon, we halted at a small creek, near a corn-field. By referring to our maps, we found we were 225 miles from the prison, and about 75 miles from Little Rock, Arkansas. Lieut. Srofe made a fire with the last match, while I procured some corn from an adjoining field, of which we parched a sufficient quantity to last us until we would reach our lines, which we thought, if nothing happened, would take us between three and four days. Feeling confident of success, we even talked of what we would eat and drink when we got through, and the good times we were going to have generally. We were also going to do all we could to have the poor fellows released, whom we had left in Texas. But such is the uncertainty of human calculations.
After we had finished parching corn, we attempted to eat a roasted pumpkin, in which, hungry as we were, we failed. We now pursued our journey once more, in high spirits, and traveled far into the night before we halted, a distance, in all, of twenty-three miles.
September 2d, we were on the road bright and early, and halted at a cool spring at 7 o'clock A. M. We, however, did not tarry long, being now in a hurry to get home. An hour afterward, while traveling through the woods, we discovered a road ahead of us, which crossed our route. We were about fifty yards from it, when we halted to listen. Hearing a wagon coming on our left, we held a hurried consultation, whether to attempt to cross the road before the wagon came in sight, or to run back and hide in the underbrush until it had passed by. Knowing that we could not cross the road without being seen, we ran back a short distance and hid in the brush.
The wagon came rumbling along slowly, and when opposite us I looked up cautiously, and saw two men in it, busily engaged in conversation, and slashing the whip at the oxen they were driving. I was convinced that they had not seen us, so I laid down again to wait until they were out of sight, before we would venture any farther. They had passed but a short distance, however, when they halted. We thought they might have broken something about their wagon, and had stopped to repair it. They were still talking very loud, when we heard some one approaching through the brush toward us. I began to feel uneasy, and raised up cautiously to see what was going on. As I looked up, I saw a rebel on a mule, with his gun pointed toward us, not more than thirty yards off. At the same time he ordered us to "come out o' thar!" Had a thunderbolt from a clear sky descended in our midst, it could not have dumbfounded us more completely. In the meantime the rebel had lowered his gun; but as we did not stir, he raised it once more, and again ordered us to "come out o' thar!" I requested him not to shoot - that we would surrender. He then ordered us to march to the wagon, where the two men were awaiting our arrival.
My first question to them was, "how, did you happen to see us when you passed by?" The rebel on the mule, overhearing my question, replied, that the two men in the wagon did not see us, but that he had been on picket, and was just going home from the opposite direction, when he saw us come near the road, and watched us until we ran back and hid in the brush. We were so taken up with the wagon, that we did not think of looking to our right, where the rebel, not a hundred yards distant, was a silent spectator of the whole proceeding. He heard the rumbling of the wagon at the same time we did, and concluded to wait until it came up, and get assistance to capture us.
In reply to their questions, we informed them who we were, and where we came from, but they did not seem to believe our statement, and searched us to see whether we had any weapons concealed about our persons; but they found nothing more than an old case-knife. They then tied our arms behind our backs with ropes, and with another rope tied us together. The rebel on the mule then took charge of us, and said he was going to take us to Lieut. Shote's house, about seven miles from there, and the men with the wagon continued their journey in the opposite direction.
This was all done so suddenly, that it seemed like a dream to me, and more than once I found myself, as I have often done when dreaming a horrible dream, trying to arouse myself, to find it all an illusion; but this time it was impossible - the stern reality was before me. The excitement that had kept me up so far was now over; I felt weak and hungry, and begged our captor for something to eat. The first house we came to we halted, and the guard procured us some corn-bread, then took us to a blacksmith's shop, near by, and partially loosened the ropes with which we were bound, while he and the blacksmith kept a vigilant watch over us. After we had eaten our corn-bread, the ropes were re-adjusted, and we resumed our journey.
It must have been seven very long miles that he marched us, as we did not reach the Lieutenant's house until the middle of the afternoon. The house was situated in the midst of a dense pine forest, with no cleared land around it. As we stepped into the house, some one said in a loud voice, addressing my partner: "How are you, Srofe ?" I was astonished, and Lieut. Srofe did not understand it either. I looked around the room, and saw a young man, dressed in the rebel gray, lying on the floor, reading a book. I asked him who he was, and where he came from. He replied that his name was John Baker, and that he belonged to the 130th regiment Illinois Infantry, and had made his escape from Camp Ford, Texas, but was recaptured about an hour before. Miserable as we felt, we had a good laugh over our meeting. This convinced the rebels that we were Yankees, and no mistake.
His story was soon told. He had bribed the guards and made his escape with the others the evening before we did, but, became separated from them, and had made the trip alone. That morning he ran against this house in the woods, and was confronted by the inmates before he was aware of it. Being confused, he could only stammer out, "How far is it to Little Rock?" - just the very question he should not have asked. The Lieutenant, who was in the house, overheard him, and came to the door, his hand resting on his revolver, told him to walk in and make himself comfortable, which he did, saying that he was beaten this time. Hence our strange meeting. This same soldier made his escape at two different times afterwards; was re-captured each time, and the close of the war found him still in prison.
But to resume our own adventures. The rebel Lieutenant had us untied, and gave us our dinners, after which a wounded Confederate soldier, from Lee's army, who had just returned home on furlough, entertained us with an account of the military operations east of the Mississippi River. Towards evening, we were put in charge of four or five rebel guards, who took us about six miles farther, to Serg't. Luther's house, to stay all night. They had now three live Yankees, as they called us, to exhibit around through the country. They took great pride in showing their prize to all their friends on the road, but we were a hard-looking set to exhibit.
Our clothes were all in shreds, from traveling so long through the brush, and not very clean, at that. We were considered quite a curiosity wherever we were taken. At one place the guards halted us at a house to get some water, and told the family to come and see their live Yankees. They came out, expecting to see a great sight, no doubt. An old lady, in particular, ran back into the house, and returned with her spectacles, which she hastily, in her excitement, pushed up on her forehead, and then planted herself right before us, and took a good look. After she had gazed at us in silence for some time, she exclaimed: "Well, if these be Yankees, they look almost like we 'uns." It is very strange what queer ideas some of the Southern people had, in regard to the appearance of Northern soldiers.
About dusk that evening, we reached the log cabin of Serg't. Luther, where they intended to keep us for the night. The family consisted of the mother and her two young daughters. Serg't. Luther had taken some deserters to a neighboring town that day, and had not yet returned. They prepared supper for us, consisting of green beans, pork and corn-bread, which we ate by the light of a pine torch. After supper, the ladies entertained us by singing some songs of "Ante Bellum" days. Their favorite seemed to be the "Bold Buccaneer."
After they got through, they requested us to teach them some new ones, but as we were not on a singing excursion, we respectfully declined. The fact of the case was, we had not learned many new songs since the war, excepting such as "John Brown", "Rally Round the Flag," and that style of patriotic airs, which we were not very anxious to sing in the presence of so many armed rebels. Not knowing what disposition they were going to make of us for the night, we informed them that we were very tired and sleepy. The old lady then made a bed on the floor, in the only room the cabin contained, while she and her daughters occupied the beds, and the guards, with loaded muskets, stood at the doors.
Before the old lady retired, she gave us a bit of her mind. She inquired: "How much longer is this war going to last?" To which we replied, that we did not know. She said: "Dog my cats, I think it has been going on long enough, and this thing of the women having to raise the 'craps,' while the men are riding around the whole year, with their guns, will have to be stopped mighty soon. I am getting tired of doing all the work." We half-way agreed with her, but were too tired and sleepy to stay awake and listen to the lecture, and fell into a sound slumber while she was yet talking.
Up to this time, according to our maps, we had traveled two hundred and fifty-three miles. The air-line was two hundred and twenty-five miles from prison, thirty miles west of Hot Springs, and eighty miles from Little Rock, Arkansas. To have all our trials and sufferings terminate thus, with perhaps still worse in store, made our future look very gloomy and discouraging.
Sept. 3rd, long before day, the guards awakened us, saying that we must get ready to march, and we would eat our breakfast on the road. Their orders were to take us to Washington, Ark., 45 miles south, and turn us over to the authorities there. Towards evening, the guards requested, at each house on the road, permission to stay all night, and get supper for themselves and prisoners, and feed for their horses, but at every house the reply came, "we have nothing to eat ourselves."
It was getting dark, and we had marched 27 miles since morning, when we halted at the house of a wealthy planter, near Center Point, but he turned them off with the same answer they had received elsewhere. We then begged the guards not to march us any farther, telling them we would be perfectly satisfied with a little parched corn, if they would only stop for the night. After a short consultation among the guards, they entered the house, which was a large brick mansion, and took forcible possession of the premises, and ordered supper for the guards and prisoners, which was served up with reluctance. After supper, we were put in the parlor, with a sentinel stationed at the door.
The next day, we passed through Temperanceville and Nashville, and reached Washington in the evening. Here we were confined in the second story of the Court House. The next morning, a rebel officer called on us, and, after inquiring who we were, asked me whether I was fond of jewelry. I replied, "I don't know that I am, particularly." He said be would procure some for us before night. I did not then comprehend him, but learned afterward, that he intended to give us a ball and chain to carry. They had sent off some Union prisoners a few days previous, who carried off all the shackles and chains in the town, which was all that saved us.
The day following, a rebel Colonel, from Missouri, paid us a visit. He treated us very gentlemanly, and took out his pocket-book and asked us whether we wanted any money. We thanked him, but declined. He then asked us whether he could do anything for us. We replied that all we wanted was to be sent back to our old prison, as soon as possible, so that we would be in time for an exchange, if any took place. He said he would send us forward as soon as be could get the guards ready, which would be three or four days. At the same time, he remarked that there was then an exchange of prisoners taking place at our old prison, and that we would have to hurry up to be in time. We were all excitement now, to get back to Camp Ford, for we had strong hopes of being exchanged if we arrived before it took place. That day three more Union prisoners, belonging to an Indiana regiment, were brought in. One of the poor fellows died, a few days afterward, from the exposure of the trip.
September 8th. This was the day set for us to be sent to Camden, Arkansas, sixty miles distant. Early in the morning, several rebel officers from Missouri, with whom we had become acquainted, came and took Lieut. Srofe and myself out of the guard-house, to show us the town and give us our breakfast. Washington was then the capital of Arkansas, and all the rebel work-shops for the State were located there. After a walk through the town, we visited a saloon, where all they had was very mean "pine-top" whisky, at one dollar a drink. The rebel officers, excepting one, got most gloriously drunk in a very short time. In our army, the rule among the great drinkers seemed to be, to get drunk only when in good spirits, after a victory. We had nothing to rejoice over, therefore, I am happy to say, we did not follow their example, but reminded them that we had not had our breakfast. They then took us to their quarters, where breakfast was waiting, consisting, of, fried beef liver, very sad-looking biscuits, and corn coffee. We cleared the table of everything within our reach, in a remarkably short time.
The rebels were getting boisterous, declaring that they were going to fight us as long as they lived, to gain their independence, and said that what we saw on the table was their regular fare, but they would live on sweet potatoes, before they would give up. We were not in a fighting condition just then, therefore let them have it all their own way.
At 11 o'clock A. M., we, with three other Union prisoners and several rebel deserters, were turned over to a squad of rebel cavalry, under Lieutenant Whitehouse. We had to march thirty miles a day, but otherwise we received fair treatment from them. We traveled over the same road that Gen. Steele had fought the rebels on, the previous spring. The marks of the fierce conflict that raged over that narrow country road, were still visible on all sides. In the afternoon we crossed the battlefield of Prairie d' Ann, and reached the home of Lieutenant Whitehouse in the evening. For safe keeping, we were placed in the village store, and received rations to last us two days, which we cooked and ate during the night, from the effects of which I felt very uncomfortable all the next day. Two days Confederate rations of corn-meal and bacon, was more than I could stand at one meal.
We made an early start the following morning, and soon reached
Poison Springs, where a portion of Gen. Steele's supply train
had been captured by the rebels. Among the train-guards was a
regiment of colored soldiers, five hundred strong. They were surrounded
by the rebels, no quarter given, and every one killed. Their bodies
were still lying where they fell, and their bones scattered along
the road. A Southern historian mentions the slaughter of the colored
regiment, and states that "among the material fruits of the
battle, was an uncounted number of dead negroes."