DUGANNE - TWENTY MONTHS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF
C H A P T E R X X X V I I .
ABOUT the "ides of March" exciting rumors came to us from the Red River. We became aware that General Banks, with a new and powerful army, had advanced from the Mississippi, captured Fort De Russey, occupied Alexandria, and was marching up on the Texas borders. How our pulses beat wildly once more! how we talked of liberty by day, and dreamed of it by night! How some of our gallant fellows resolved that they would strike for it; or, at least, endeavor to strike some path that might lead to it!
There had been much "underground" work proceeding within our stockade lines during a month past. We had speculated -- or, at least, numbers had -- upon attempting a stampede from the prison corral, through a tunnel, and thence dispersing to the woods and swamps. The project was hazardous; for, though an escape from the yard might be comparatively simple, there was an "undiscovered country" outside of our camp which threatened many an obstacle between us and deliverance. But some among the leaders had been prisoners sixteen months, without a word from "home" to tell them whether their dear ones were alive or dead. Others had been so often disappointed in the hope of an exchange that any risk seemed preferable to awaiting tardy action by our government.
So, big with secret preparation, weeks had passed. Alternate gangs; in regular reliefs, were digging in the tunnel. Ground had first been broken in a large "shebang," or log-house, occupied by stalwart Western officers, who rejoiced under the soubriquet of "Hawkeye Mess." The shaft was sunk some eight feet deep, and it was proposed to tunnel out below the northern stockade to a small enclosure, just beyond the line of sentinels, where we had buried poor Lieutenant Kimball, the quartermaster, in the shadow of two lofty trees. Our work went on incessantly, and we disposed of all the excavated earth by dragging it in a box to the shaft-opening, thence transporting it in water-buckets to the different cabins, and depositing it in fire-places, to raise the hearths. This process awakened no suspicion, and the work proceeded from day to day.
There were some, however, who had little faith in "underground railroads" or a general stampede. Lieut. Col. Rose, and several other officers, determined upon attempting their enlargement in small squads. The scheme was confined to but few beyond those actually contemplating escape. I did not feel great confidence in the successful finale of this undertaking, but accorded it my sympathy and help, of course. An old box coat, a hundred dollars, and some odd ends of disguise were my own contributions to the stock of preparations. Six officers were in the party, but this number grew to fifteen before the "break" was made.
Our "band" and "singing club" were wont to practice in my cabin, which was a more pretentious edifice than most of our "shebangs," built as it had been by log-raising "experts," and by "days' work" (as carpenters say) for cash, in Confederate currency. Here, before a fire of hickory logs, and with a dip candle or grease lamp upon my table, covered by a Mexican blanket, the sons of Massachusetts and Connecticut, with "bassi" and "tenori" from the Great West, would meet in harmony, with a violin, two banjos and a triangle; and here, "soon as the evening shades prevailed," the rafters rang with "Glory Hallelujah," "Massa's Runn'd Away," and "Rally Round the Flag, Boys!" rendered in such vocal thunder as no rebel throats might ever master. Meanwhile, recumbent in my hammock, stretched between two logs, I smoked my calumet and mused on Northern friends and fortunes.
This night, however, calls the "band" to other quarters. It has been raining, and thick clouds are lowering still. It is a night for enterprise, and the word comes that our comrades have concluded that their time is "now or never." So, as the evening darkens, we steal, one by one, to a "shebang" hard by our southern stockade, where the "break" is to be made. Our would-be fugitives must creep across the spring, or brook-bed, thence crawl up some thirty feet to the stockade, and then, by main strength, lift a sixteen-foot post out of its socket, and so separate it from a contiguous one as to create a gap sufficiently wide to give a human body passage through it. All the while a line of rebel sentries guards the outside of this stockade. The tread of each man, as he walks, the ringing of his piece, strike momently upon our ears. A single false move on the part of one among the escaping prisoners may jeopardize the lives of all. Should a suspicion of the plot be entertained, the guards may all be watching. They might peer through all the interstices and detect a moving body even in the shadow. If the dirt crumble noisily, if the uplifted post fall or strike against another, if the sudden width of space be observed by eyes accustomed to all "signs of woodcraft," woe be to our venturous comrades! Half-a-score of rifles may give tongue at once. Nay, we might have a volley fired at random into our midst.
But these Yankee boys have made up their minds to "take the chances." One after another they emerge from their respective cabins and rendezvous in the rear of Col. Leake's "shebang," which is the nearest to the southern stockade. Inside of this hut our "band" and lusty singers, have already collected. They tune their instruments and voices. They strike preliminary notes. At length they burst out, in a jubilant African chorus:
"Ole mass's runn'd - aha!
De darkeys stay -- oho!
It mus' be now dat de kingdom am a comin',
An' de year of Jubilo!"
The rebel guards, not forty feet away, tramping their beats in mud and darkness outside of the stockade bear this unusual din from Col. Leake's "shebang," generally a quiet one. They peep between the stockade posts and discern nothing -- remark nothing in the wet corral out of doors. But presently the music -- fiddle, banjos, triangle, voices, all combined in an orchestral "norther" -- sweeps across the brook gully with tenfold vehemence. The Yankees are on a musical spree, "reckons" the Texan "Johnny," as he listens, on his gloomy post, to the really-melodious execution of our vocalists. Presently he "orders arms," and gets his ear in closer contact with the stockade, wishing, perhaps, that he were in that Yankee cabin, listening to good music by its blazing hearth, instead of being an "outsider" waiting for the "first relief," and shivering beneath his ragged blanket.
Very soon, our "Johnny," hearkening to the Yankee banjos, forgets about stockades and prisoners. Quite unconscious of a trick, he calls out - "Give us Dixie, Yanks!" -- and presently that "patriotic" melody regales him. "Johnny" is enraptured. "Johnny" joins in the refrain --
"O we all will sing together --
In Dixie's land I take my stand,
To live and die in Dixie!"
Meantime, covertly stooping through the gloom, a Yankee form glides from behind our musical "shebang." It is Col. Rose, doubling his six-foot length, as he crosses the spring and crawls on hands and knees to the stockade. He carries a bag of flour and sugar, mixed and burned in pellets, with some twists of dried beef and hard tack, as provisions for the road; a blanket and a pair of socks as extra clothing. Following him, creep Captain Adams and Engineer Mars, and, one by one, a dozen other aspirants for liberty, each with his little bundle and big stick -- time-honored helps to fugitives in Dixie's land. They gain the stockade, and lie down, in shadowy silence, at its base, to listen for the sentry's tramp.
But rebel "Johnny," with his ear inclined, still listens at a gap some twelve feet distant. Meantime, a brace of stalwart "sympathizers" with our fugitive boys have lifted up a post, and, leaving one end partly in its socket, bend the tall log inward, leaving room for egress. Round the post a cord is fastened, with a loop outside. Col. Rose peers through the aperture, and takes one step past the post. Just then a loud burst of the vocalists, a choral swell upon "Dixie," rises from our "shebang." The long colonel's figure disappears; another glides behind him; one by one, our fugitives dart out and lose themselves in murkiness. The last one is to pull the cord, and thus draw back the post into its socket. But he forgets, or fears to linger, and flees outward, after his comrades,
"Huzza!" we almost shout, mentally, without a tremor of the lips. -- And now for a rousing chorus! Now for 'John Brown' and 'Rally round the Flag, boys!'
"Have they escaped?" "Did all get out?" The eager questions pass from lip to lip. Our younger captives wish that they had seized this chance. Old prisoners wag their beards and smoke. Croakers prophesy misfortune.
Two hours wear on, and taps have sounded. It is dark and cloudy yet. Our music is dispersed. We hear the rebel call for "second relief" to turn out. Presently a heavy shower descends. We think of our poor comrades drenched and wandering.
"Happily," one says, "the rain will make pursuit more difficult."
"Should there be dogs --"
Ah, dogs! the negro-dogs! the bloodhounds! the manhunters!
"Oh, there is no danger in that quarter!" cries a young lieutenant. "Colonel Allen says he would never set a dog on a white man's trail."
"And I heard him say," says another officer, "that a prisoner's right was to escape if he could, and he should only use civilized means to recapture him."
"That speaks well for Allen, if he is a rebel," asserts another speaker. "But you never can depend on the word of a traitor, gentleman! I shouldn't be surprised to hear the hounds out to-morrow, when the rebs discover this stampede."
"What's that?" suddenly asks a western man, pricking up his ears, as the tramp of men came to our ears, through the door of the cabin which was wide open.
"Only the second relief going its rounds," was the answer.
But at this moment a sound of some wind-instrument arose on the night air.
"That's a cavalry bugle!" exclaims a young infantry lieutenant. "Wouldn't I like to see Grierson dashing down on the rebels here!"
"Cavalry bugle!" cries an old dragoon. "It's more like a cow-horn! What sort of a call is that, I'd like to know?"
"I'll tell you what it means," responded a Massachusetts captain, captured at Galveston, who loved the rebels as Satan is popularly said to love holy water. "Cow-horn or bugle, it means that old Allen is a cursed liar, and that he's going to set the dogs on our boys -- that's what it means!"
We started up directly, for the truth of this observation flashed upon us. The horn continued to sound, shrill and loud, and presently the deep baying of dogs began to answer it. We looked out into the rainy darkness, and could see lights moving to and fro on the hill, at rebel head-quarters.
"They've got track of the stampede," says our Massachusetts man. "See the pine-knots dancing on the hill! That's young Allen and the officer of the day, I'll bet a shad! They're mounting horses and calling the dogs, I tell you."
And to this conclusion we all arrived, without contradiction; for a jargon of oaths and exclamations sounded on the hill, and at the guard-house gate; while the horn was wound incessantly, and dogs barked furiously. In a few moments, we could see, by the glare of pine-knots outside the stockade, a number of mounted men riding down the road, followed by a pack of hounds. We began to fear that it was all over with our fugitive comrades.
That night was an anxious one to many in the corral. Rain poured down, at intervals, in torrents; the thunder rolled; the lightning flashed so vividly, and with such rapidity, that it seemed like an unbroken cannonade. I lay awake, in my hammock, thinking of the dreary night, as I listened to dashing floods upon my cabin roof.
At roll-call, next morning, Lieutenant Ross, a rebel officer, whose heart was more in his vine-yards and grapevines than in politics or camps, read off the list of prisoners. Whenever the name of an "absconded" one was reached, some wag would shout out "furloughed," or "on leave," while, as the number swelled, this poor lieutenant's eyes grew larger with astonishment. We thought the rebel commandant's shrewd son, Lieutenant Allen, had departed with the hounds, but he appeared before roll-call was over, and began to check the absentees. I can recall his look of ludricrous dismay when fifteen officers were reported "missing." "Fifteen-!" He closed his comments with a Southern oath, and then, like a true "Christian gentlemen," sprang on his horse and rode away for a new pack of bloodhounds.
We learned soon that our boys had a start of nearly thirteen hours. The bush had been beaten with men and dogs; but the pack was put speedily at fault, it appeared, by the rain, and no traces of the runaways had been found. We gathered news by scraps from friendly guards or growling sentinels. It seemed that the stampede was discovered scarcely fifteen minutes after it took place. The new relief had passed, the sergeant carrying a lantern, and its light, reflecting on the stockade, revealed the post displaced, with a rope hanging from it. The bewildered sentry could explain nothing; his muddy brains were still full of "Dixie," which our courteous Yankee band had played for him; so "Johnny" was "toted" to the guard-house, there to answer for his lack of vigilance.
But now the rain had ceased; the clouds disappeared; a Southern sun rode high. We heard the tramp of horses. Lieutenant Allen and another rebel officer, and half-a-dozen mounted privates, armed with guns and pistols, rode off swiftly from headquarters. In advance galloped "Chilicothe."
"Chilicothe" was an "expert" among rebel scouts and forest-men. It was his boast that he could "out-Indian Indians." Never was a truer shot, a tougher campaigner, a more unerring hunter either of beast or man. Little cared "Chilicothe" whether dogs led or followed. His own infallible craft, half skill, half instinct, guided him by sun or stars. On him, this prairie-scout and woodland-spy, devolved the task of tracking our poor Yankee officers. White man on white man's trail, with a new pack of staunch sleuth-hounds, from Tyler, made up a pleasant hunt for rebel officers. We saw them set off at a canter, and awaited anxiously that day's developments.
Night came again, and with its shadows came some three or four poor Yankee officers, recaptured, fatigued and leg-weary. Col. Rose was one of them, and Lieut. Lyons, of my regiment, whose rosy face bore sundry weather-marks. They had been floundering all the night in swamps; had gained a score of miles, and lain down for a nap, to be awakened by the voice of "Chilicothe" calling his hounds. Next day, another batch of runaways arrived; on the third, more were captured; till, at length, thirteen rejoined their bantering messes. All had been run down by "Chilicothe" and the dogs. All were in woful plight; their scanty clothing shredded off by contact with the thickets; their feet and hands sore and wounded; their skin scratched in a hundred places. They had lost their route; had doubled on their trail; had vagabonded from a score to sixty miles; and yet not one had crossed the Sabine, which was scarcely one day's march from camp. So much for the stampede.
Yet two of the fifteen escaped, in spite of dogs and "Chilicothe." They lost their clothing, food, and even their canteens; but, with dogged obstinacy, kept the swamps, emerging only in the night, to glean a corn-field. Thus, for days and nights, and weeks, they plodded forward, till the Louisiana line was reached, and Red River. We heard from them at last, through prisoners taken at the fatal fight of Mansfield. They had gained the Union lines, on Red River, some days before the battle, and were forwarded to New Orleans in safety. Afterwards we heard the story of this bloodhound chase from many lips. Lieut. Collins, a fine western officer, was nearly murdered by them. He had stopped to rest, when the deep howl of dogs apprised him of pursuit. Ere he could make away, two rebels rode upon him. A brace of sixshooters were levelled at his breast, and the accustomed threat -- with a huge oath -- of shooting on the spot, was flung at him.
"I am unarmed, and hardly strong enough to stand," said Collins.
Another oath was hurled at him. "We'll give the dogs a taste of your infernal Yankee blood. St-boy! smell of him, boy! St-boy! Seize him -- shake the Yank! Stuboy!"
The furious hounds, thus encouraged, sprang at Lieut. Collins. Their glittering teeth, with white foam gathered on the fiery gums, met in his ragged uniform. He felt the tearing of his garments, and expected momently to bleed; when the rebels, with malicious laughter called off their hounds.
"You see, Yank! they'd as soon eat Yank as nigger! If we had old Kangaroo Abe out yer they'd got him, shore, hide, har, and tallow! Now, jes' tote yer carcass, Yank, or we'll shoot yer on sight, by --- --- !"
So marched Lieut. Collins back, thirty miles, at horse tail, with his weary pace accelerated by curses. And, to tell the truth, our officers themselves "swore terribly" when their reminiscences were mixed with bloodhounds.
To fully realize and appreciate these "dogs of war," one ought to be hunted and fugitive, like Lieut. Collins and his compatriots. While sinking with fatigue, spent with privation, hopeless of escape, to hear the wolf-like yelp and long hyena-howl of these trained men-hunters, is something to experience, even for "used-up" Sir Charles Coldstream. I warrant it as a "new sensation" for the most languid disbeliever in emotions. Some hounds will track a human being, day and night, for weeks, and follow his scent, especially if it be a negro, hundreds of miles through swamps and woods, and over water-courses. They run at times, like game-dogs, smelling the ground, at intervals making deer-leaps, springing up to touch the overhanging leaves and branches with their noses. They double and dart round in circles, cross a stream, and then, with a few sniffs of the air, rush up or down the bank to find their broken scent again.
The quickness of their smell is quite as wonderful as its tenacity. When a negro, or a white man, is to be pursued, the dogs are simply taken to the trail and made to nose it. On the night of the stampede, a pack, as we discovered, was called immediately, and placed upon officers' tracks, just outside of the gap by which they had passed through the stockade. This pack of hounds was not a good one. Though the breed was fair, the dogs had been permitted to run after deer and foxes. Consequently, though they opened on the human trail, their scent was soon diverted by the tracks of animals in the miry woods and fields. This was the reason the nocturnal hunt had been unsuccessful. In the morning, a fresh pack of real man-dogs was procured from Tyler, and these tracked our officers, even after eight or ten hours' rain had intervened. The real hounds are never allowed to hunt down any game inferior to man. When not in use, they are chained up and kept on starving rations. They grow fierce as tigers, with forced abstinence, and their scent becomes acute in the extreme. Woe to the hunted man if hunger-maddened hounds overtake him, in swamps or timber, while the mounted pursuers are too far behind to call them off or moderate their savage eagerness. Woe be to a fugitive if the sleuth-dogs once taste his blood!
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