In the Cotton-Shed at Camden - Pandemonium - Sent to the Hospital - On the Road Again - Guarded by Blood Hounds - Prisoners Lassoed - Wading Through a Stream by Request - Arrival at Shreveport - Meeting Our Regiment - Homeward Bound - Our First Mail - No Water for "Yankees" - Camp Ford - Home Again - Sentenced - Our New Cabin - Northers - Presidential Election - Tramping in the Ring.
September 10th, we arrived at Camden, traveling the entire distance, sixty miles, in forty-eight hours. Here we were turned over to one of the meanest men in existence, whose name has slipped my memory. He was a Captain and Prison-Adjutant. Although he did not misuse me individually, I have seen him vent his spleen on more than one poor fellow. His chief amusement consisted in flogging slaves, who were found away from home without passes, putting Union soldiers in the stocks, or chaining them together in pairs, and making them work on the corduroy roads, near town. After he had taken our names, he put us in the second story of a long and very narrow ware-house, with only two windows at each end, for ventilation, in which were confined between two and three hundred prisoners. Quite a number of them had also been re-captured in attempting to make their escape.
That night I could hardly find sufficient space on the floor to lie down, the room being so crowded, and the heat so oppressive that it was impossible to sleep. The next day they took all the worst men of their own army, whom they had confined for various offenses in the neighboring guardhouses, together with the Union prisoners and quite a number of slaves, that had attempted to escape from their masters, and put us all in a cotton-shed.
It was a low building, and occupied nearly an entire square, with a hollow court in the center. This was decidedly a hard place, as hot as an oven, with next to nothing to eat, and a very scanty allowance of warm river-water to drink. In the center of the shed, the cooking was done for all the inmates. We had but very few cooking utensils, therefore those who did not get to cook their rations by daylight, had to keep up the fires and do their cooking after nightfall. About one-fourth of the prisoners had a ball and chain to their legs, or were chained together in pairs. To awake during the night, and hear the yelling and cursing, the rattling of chains, and see the air filled with sparks and ashes, as the fires were stirred up by the cooks, was enough to make one believe that he was in Pandemonium.
With insufficient food, bad weather, and worn out from traveling so far, I was afraid it would bring on sickness, which, in such a place, would be equal to a through ticket to eternity. I learned from the guards, that there was a Union hospital in town, containing several hundred wounded soldiers, that had been captured from Gen. Steele's command, in charge of two of our own Doctors. We managed to send a note out to the Surgeon in charge, telling him how we were situated; that we had no clothes fit to wear, and scarcely anything to eat. He sent us word to keep quiet; that he would have us paroled and sent to his hospital. Among other articles sent through the lines by our Government, for the use of the wounded, was a barrel of whisky. By using it occasionally among the officers in charge of us, he gained their consent to have Lieut. Srofe and myself paroled, and sent to the hospital.
When we reached the hospital, we thought our happiness was complete, we were so kindly greeted by all. We both received a suit of army blue, and plenty to eat. Here we met Maj. McCauley and his comrade, of whose capture, near Rock Comfort, Arkansas, the three slaves had previously informed us.
September 30th, all the Union prisoners that were able to travel, numbering about three hundred, were ordered to Shreveport, Louisiana, one hundred and ten miles distant. We were guarded by a company of cavalry, in command of Captain Montgomery, whose very name was a terror to the Union prisoners. I had heard of his brutal treatment of Federal soldiers, and was continually on my guard, not to incur his displeasure. Behind the last file of prisoners rode five rebels, with lariats, with orders to lasso and drag every one by the neck that did not keep up with the cavalry guards.
Many a poor fellow was thus terribly punished for failing to keep ahead of the "ropers," as they were called. One young soldier was lassoed so often, and failing to travel with the rope around his neck, as fast as the mounted "ropers," he was dragged so frequently that he died from the effects of it, about a week after he reached Camp Ford. Capt. Franz, of the 9th Wisconsin Vols., whose arm had been amputated but a short time previous, and who was still suffering from the effects of the operation, was unable to keep up one day. He was told by the "ropers" that, unless he marched faster, they would put the rope around his neck. He halted where he stood, and replied, that he was marching as fast as he could, and that they were welcome to do their worst - he could do no better. They made no reply, nor did they molest him after that. Capt. Franz informed me afterward, that he felt so miserable, that had they taken his life on the spot he would have considered it a deed of mercy.
Behind the "ropers" were another set of tormentors, consisting of three rebels, with a pack of blood-hounds, to hunt down those who attempted to escape. It was almost impossible to get away from them, and yet two of our men were so fool hardy as to make the attempt. As soon as they were missed, the rebels put the hounds on their trail, and in the course of four or five hours afterward the rebels, with the dogs, caught up with us again. When asked by their comrades whether they had caught the "Yankees," they replied that the dogs had killed one of them before they came up, and the other was so badly torn that they had to leave him in a hospital on the road! That was the last I ever heard of either of them.
When we halted for the night, after the first day's march from Camden, Capt. Montgomery laid out our camping-ground by driving stakes at the four corners. One of the prisoners, not knowing how the stakes came there, pulled one of them up to kindle a fire with. The Captain saw him in the act, and came rushing up, took the stake out of his hand, and without saying a word, struck him on the head with it and felled him to the ground.
It rained nearly all night, and as we had no protection from the weather, we spent a miserable night. The next morning it was very muddy traveling, and the small streams on the road were out of their banks. In trying to avoid wading through the water of a small stream, by crossing on a foot-log by the road-side, a guard called me back, after I was half-way across, and ordered me to wade through the water in the middle of the road; at the same time he halted his horse and aimed his gun at me. Consequently, I hurried back and floundered through the water, to his entire satisfaction. This is a fair specimen of our treatment while on the road to the stockade.
We arrived at Shreveport on the 5th of October, having marched one hundred and ten miles in four days and a half. Shreveport was the headquarters of the rebel army, west of the Mississippi River. I counted eight steamboats and two gunboats at the wharf, and the streets were crowded with rebel soldiers.
We crossed Red River on a pontoon bridge, in front of the city, and marched up Main Street to the Provost Marshal's office. While our names were being taken by that officer, Capt. Birchett, the rebel Assistant Agent for the Exchange of Prisoners, with whom I was well acquainted, came walking along the side-walk. As soon as he saw me, he stepped up to where I stood, and said, "Where in the world did you come from?" I replied that I had made my escape, but had been re-captured in Arkansas. He said, "you missed it this time, sure; your regiment has just arrived at the Four Mile Springs, paroled, and are on their way home. " I had never thought of an exchange taking place so soon. I tried to smile and pretend I did not care, but I think I made a failure of it. He stepped back and began talking with the rebels who crowded around him, and from the manner in which they stared at me, I supposed he was giving them my history.
From there they took us about two miles out of town, to a rebel camp. Here we remained four days, and during that time they kept telling us that we would be sent home with our Regiment, which was as hard a punishment as they could have inflicted, as it raised our hopes of release, only to disappoint them.
On the 8th day of October, we were ordered to start immediately for Camp Ford, 110 miles west. We were still guarded by the same cavalry, and in the same manner as before. A few hours march brought us to where our Regiment was encamped by the roadside, waiting for the rebels to repair their steamboats, to take them to the Mississippi River. They had heard that Lieut. Srofe and myself were on our way back to prison, and had collected all the spare change in the Regiment, which amounted to twenty dollars in green-backs and two dollars in silver. As we passed by, Capt. Thomas Montgomery, of my Regiment, gave the money, and the letters that had arrived for us during our absence, to one of the guards, who handed them over to me. In a few words I gave Capt. Montgomery instructions what to do with my private property that had not been captured, and to do all he could to have us exchanged. The paroled prisoners had received strict orders, that if any one of them conversed with us as we passed, they would be sent back again to the stockade; consequently, the conversation was necessarily carried on entirely by myself.
All the hardships and suffering of my three years' service seemed to dwindle into insignificance when compared to the utter despair I felt on that memorable day; and it was with a heavy heart and weary footsteps that I resumed my westward journey after my brief interview.
The incidents of the march, the perusal of the first letters received since my capture, in which I received the first intimation that I had been reported among the killed, in the official report of the battle of Sabine Cross-Roads, and that little word, "Hope," all tended toward wearing off the first disappointment, at missing my chance of exchange with my Regiment. After a tiresome march of twenty-five miles, we camped in the evening near a deserted cavalry camp, where I found a lot of corn-cobs, with a few grains of corn at each end, which the horses had not eaten off. I began to gather them up, and had quite an arm-full, when a rebel seeing me, asked what I intended to do with those cobs. I replied that I was going to parch the corn for my supper. He seemed surprised, and told me to throw it away and he would get me some good corn. That evening he brought me four large ears, which I was almost tempted to keep for myself, but upon second thought, I divided it equally with my mess-mates.
The pint of corn-meal, and the small slice of bacon, that we received daily, was insufficient food on which to march from 25 to 30 miles a day, and but for stray ears of corn that we picked up on the march, and the few crumbs begged of the guards, some of the prisoners would never have reached the stockade.
The next morning, when Lieut. Srofe awoke, be discovered that one of the rebels had stolen his blouse while he was asleep. He found the soldier that had taken it, but no amount of persuasion could induce him to return it to the rightful owner. Lieut. Srofe then delivered a free lecture on stealing, for the benefit of the guards. As the blouse was not returned, Lieut. Srofe resumed the journey in his shirt-sleeves.
That evening we camped near a rebel's house, who refused to let "Yankees" have any water from his well, without which we could not prepare our corn-meal. After trying in vain to eat it raw, we parched it slightly, which made it more palatable. Some time in the night the guards discovered some stagnant pools of water near camp, which they permitted us to use.
October 12th, we arrived at Camp Ford, Texas, our old home. We had marched the distance from Shreveport, one hundred and ten miles, in four days. After calling the roll, we were turned over to the prison-commander, Col. Brown. In our absence, the old guards had been relieved, and State troops had taken their place. Before we were turned into the stockade, Lieut. Srofe and myself received our sentence from Col. Brown for attempting to escape. The sentence was, "never to be exchanged, but to remain in prison until the close of the war."
This was a hard blow, and we did not rest until we appealed to the rebel Assistant Agent of Exchange. He gave us poor comfort, and said there was no appeal from the decision that had been made, consequently the sentence would be carried out. He even went farther, and ridiculed us for being recaptured. I met this same Captain after the war in New Orleans, and he had the impudence to tell me that I had not been treated right! I answered him that he might have done a great deal for me at one time, but he failed to do so, therefore I did not want to hear any apologies on the subject.
After we were turned into the stockade we were greeted on all sides by our friends, saying they were very sorry to see us, and the reader can rest assured the feeling was fully reciprocated. In the evening, while surrounded by our old comrades, and relating to them the adventures and misfortunes of our trip, Lieut. Cone, with his glee club, surprised us with a serenade, in honor of our return. The singing had a cheering effect on our drooping spirits, but when they closed the entertainment with the following song, the audience and singers could scarcely suppress a smile:
"Home again ! Home again ! from a foreign shore,
And oh, it fills my soul with joy,
To meet my friends once more!"
That night, weary and completely worn out, after an absence of one month and twenty-two days, we slept once more in our old bunks. During that time, we had traveled five hundred and seventy-five miles, lived on parched corn a good portion of the time, and last, but not least, we had missed being exchanged!
As winter was approaching, farther attempts to escape were impracticable, until the following summer, therefore we tried to make ourselves as comfortable as possible and "bide our time." Our old cabin which we had occupied before we left, was over-crowded with strangers. We therefore did not reclaim our property, but accepted an invitation to live with Mess No. 11, which was composed of the following prisoners: Engineers Bradley and Fales, of the Navy; Lieut. Harkness, 77th Ill. Infantry; Joseph Day, of the Chicago Mercantile Battery; Maj. McCauly, 1st Indiana Cavalry; Lieut. Srofe and myself. Our shanty was a very poor affair, but before winter set in we built us a new log cabin.
The prison-commander had given the control of all privileges granted to the prisoners, to Capt. J. M. McCullock, 77th Ill. Vols. He was well suited for the position, and did justice to all the prisoners, without fear or favor. Through his influence, we secured the use of a yoke of oxen, to haul logs for our new house. When we had all our timber ready, we tore down the old shanty, and raised our new log cabin, and moved into it the same day. It was ten by twelve feet, and had no windows, depending altogether upon the door for light. We had a clay fire-place but wood was scarce, and we had to carry nearly all of it over a half-mile, and only had that opportunity a few hours every two weeks.
The weather was very pleasant during the winter, excepting when the Northers raged. They generally came up very suddenly, without any warning, and changed the temperature from a sultry heat to a wintry blast. The wind penetrated through our scant clothing and sent us shiving to our shanties, where we crawled into our bunks and waited until the Norther subsided. They generally lasted from twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
Prison-life had not changed much during our absence. We received our pint of corn-meal and a small piece of beef, daily, excepting on rainy days, when we had to wait for fair weather. Occasionally the arrival of a mail broke the monotony of prison, but it was very seldom that we received any communication from the outside world. I have known cases where prisoners received no word from their families after they were captured, and none of their own letters ever reached home, during their entire imprisonment. On returning home after their release, they learned that they had been mourned as dead, and their families broken up and scattered.
The rebel papers generally gave very glowing accounts of military matters from their stand-point, and converted every defeat into a victory for their arms; therefore the prison authorities sent us their papers regularly, for our perusal, but as we knew what allowance to make for their statements, we were very seldom misled in regard to the true state of affairs.
When I was first captured, I bought two yards of ingrain carpet, for eight dollars, to use in place of a blanket, but when the Regiment was exchanged it was disposed of, which left me without any bedding whatever. In the first days of my captivity I had sold my buck gauntlets to a rebel officer for thirty dollars, and did not know the value of Confederate money until I expended it for ginger-cakes, at one dollar each! The brass buttons on my coat went one at a time, at one dollar each. My watch I had long ago parted with, for forty pounds of bacon. The money received when we passed our Regiment was soon spent, and I was once more penniless, but fortunately I met with an opportunity to borrow one hundred dollars in greenbacks at fifty per cent interest, payable as soon as I was exchanged. While the money lasted, our mess purchased as much provisions daily as the rebels supplied us with, but after the money was spent we had to fall back on our regular allowance again.
When the day of the Presidential election arrived, Nov. 8th, 1864, the rebel authorities, to ascertain the sentiment of the prisoners, offered us the necessary paper to hold an election in prison. The offer was accepted, and the election was held in due form. I was selected as one of the judges, and still have the original list, with the number of votes of each of the thirteen wards into which the prison was divided. Lincoln received 1,504 votes, and McClellan 687.
Soon after the election, quite a number of roughs, under the leadership of some desperate characters from New York City, armed themselves with clubs, for the purpose of plundering the camp. In open daylight, they drove the peaceful portion of the prisoners out of their quarters, and robbed them of everything found in their cabins. For three or four days they had full sway, but very quietly the "Regulators" prepared their heavy clubs, and the two factions met one afternoon on the principal street. It was a sight long to be remembered, when the two opposing parties, brandishing their clubs, rushed at each other with a yell, and the noise and confusion that arose, as the huge mass swayed back and forth during the melee, was fearful. The roughs were finally overpowered and driven to their quarters, and did not cause any more trouble afterwards. The wounded on both sides were numerous, but none were fatally injured.
Every feasible plan was tried to pass away the time, which
hung heavily on our hands. The unvarying sameness of our existence,
day after day, bore down upon the mind like a heavy weight, but
the suffering incident to the extremes of heat and cold and insufficient
food, could be borne better than the mental strain, caused by
the close confinement and the ever-recurring thoughts of freedom
and home. Our only relief at such times, from an overcharged mind,
was to "tramp in the ring," as it was called. The track
was in the upper part of the prison, and was 100 yards in circumference.
The steady tramp of the prisoners was heard from early morn until
late at night. They marched singly and in squads around the circle,
until completely worn out, when others took their places, and
the endless tramp was continued. As winter approached, the cold
weather and scarcity of fuel helped materially to swell the throng.