DUGANNE - TWENTY MONTHS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF

C H A P T E R   X L I I .

PRISON ASSOCIATIONS.

 

WITH our privations and hardships there were mingled many consolations in the corral. Friendly converse, mutual good offices, music, sports, and gymnastic exercises, enlivened the monotony of prison life. While the quiet ones re-read or studied a few old books, played chess, or talked; our athletae practised at "parallel bars" and "turning poles"; our "industriels" worked at the lathes and carpenter's bench; our music-lovers met for rehearsal; and our "dancing-men" waltzed or quadrilled. We had base-ball, cricket, and quoits; promenades, woodchopping, and -- sink-digging, moreover, to fight against ennui and dyspepsia.

Many good hearts were among us; many kindred spirits became knit together. It would gratify me to dwell upon the traits of better natures developed under the ordeal of captivity; but the compressed limits of my book denies that indulgence. Of a few I may only recall a pleasant memory.

Harry Western, of the "Undaunted Mess," was a type of the generous young sailor. I do not know who claimed him not, some hour in the day, for a friendly helping hand. Like sea-boys, generally, he was expert at a hundred little arts of skill and industry; now shaping out a fancy cap, now fashioning new garments out of rags, now finishing a set of chess-men, now denuding hirsute chins of bristling superfluity, and now exsecting too-redundant locks from polls of fellow-prisoners. Harry was a genius, with notable contempt for land-lubberism, and with more than a dash of poetry in his genial composition. He would give us "Tam O'Shanter," with all its broad Scotch humor, and quote love-lines from Tom Moore with true Catullic fervor. Many a "yarn" was spun when our nautical circle gathered about my hearth-fire; and Harry could twist his thread with the most intricate; for he had been a sea-wanderer before his teens, and had trodden remotest strands, and passed through many a strange experience, though scarcely yet the beard of manhood fringed his nut-brown cheeks. He had sailed as mate of an ocean clipper ere he turned his twentieth year, and was now, at twenty-two, a veteran naval officer, with a record of service that might compare with many who wore more embroidery on their uniform sleeves.

Harry Western, as before noticed, was latest in command before the surrender of the gunboat Diana, captured on the Atchafalaya by waylaying rebels. Brave Lieutenant Mars, who kept his post in the engine-room till all the steam connections had been shot away by cannon-balls, and clouds of scalding vapor filled the space between decks; gallant infantry Lieutenant Bulkley, who has since found a soldier's grave in the Shenandoah Valley; these and many another choice young officer were wont to gather in our mess-circles, when Harry "spun his yarn."

Captain Dillingham, of the "Morning Light," ever in radiant humor, drew, for our amusement, on his endless fund of anecdote and experience; Captain Crocker, of the "Clifton," -- dignified and spiritua -- shared with us the treasures of his well-cultured mind; while the blunt speech and sound judgment of Captain Johnson, of the "Sachem," were relied upon to sever any Gordian knot of argument. These naval gentlemen, with signal-officer Dane, whose brilliant spirits defied even fever and ague to keep them under; and our leading gymnast, Lieut. Dana, who was a Gabriel Ravel on the "turning bars," with Col. Nott, the philosophic and erudite colonel of our "Ironsides," made up "Fifth Avenue" mess; at which I took hospitable rations, for a few weeks, till I lapsed into house-ownership.

The 42nd Massachusetts mess, with brave Colonel Burrell at the head, maintained domestic status in a "shebang," which boasted a detached cook-house. Around its bounteous board gathered stout Captain Sherive, who, with Lieut. Hibbard, of the 23d Connecticut regiment, performed the onerous duties of volunteer commissaries, to divide our prison rations; busy Captain Proctor, ever on the alert to be useful; polite Captain Savage; balmy Lieut. Newcomb; sweet-singing Lieut. White; soberminded Lieut. Stowell; modest Lieut. Humble, of the Mass. 4th; high-reaching Lieut. Cowdin: and that dashing sworder, Captain King, of N. H. Cavalry.

In my own cabin I received, originally, but a single mess-mate -- Captain Van Tine; whose quiet demeanor covered sterling qualities of taste and sense. Our family circle became afterwards enlarged by the admission of Major Anthony's mess, which gave up its quarters to some of the poor fellows from Shreveport, who had a "builders' lien" upon them. Thereafter, having removed my house -- by tearing down and rebuilding -- in one day; so that I dined under its roof some forty rods from the site on which I had breakfasted within its walls; we settled down to a mess of six that continued till our final exodus. Major Anthony became general caterer -- and a provident one; while Lieuts. Morse and Sampson, and Dr. Brennan, shared in our simple menage.

The "Ironsides" officers were dispersed among various messes. Captain Coe, always cheerful and attractive, with Lieut. Stevenson, were mates of Lt.-Col. Leake and his officers -- our studious Lieut. Wellington, and chessconquering Lieut. Lyons, combined with another circle; while solid Lieut. Babcock migrated to rural districts, near the gate; bright-eyed Lieut. Petrie carried his good heart elsewhere; and that indefatigable "book-collector," Lieut. Robens, built his plank domicile nearly opposite my own verandah. But, I am warned to abbreviate description.

So, therefore, with brief notice of what I would willingly dilate upon, I must pass to the closing chapters of our prison experience. I must advert merely, "en passant," as the French say -- to kind-hearted Capt. Washburne; quaint engineer Fox, of bird-fancying habits; jovial Major Gray; and thrifty Captain Hammond; to the ingenious Chambers, whose model of the "Morning Light" was a trophy of Yankee naval architecture; to kindly and active Bridges, who, with Lieut. Delemater, devoted his labors to our sick in hospital; and McLaughlin, whose stories of Shreveport prisons might furnish matter for a romance. Nor can I give more than allusion to many incidents and episodes involved in attempts to escape by our comrades; to the punishment of Capt. Reed, who, on recapture, was forced to stand, for eight hours, upon a barrel, at our north-gate -- with naked feet and head exposed under the blazing summer-day sun; till his brain became fevered nearly to delirium; or to the brutal treatment of prisoners who sank under sabre-strokes, or were dragged by lariats fastened to their necks, behind mounted rebels; nor to the stories that intersperse my notes, rehearsing the trials and sufferings of loyal Texans -- the panics, persecutions, and massacres that marked the first years of Rebellion in Texas. Among the last-mentioned local events, however, was the "Match Plot," which deserves a paragraph.

The breaking out of fires in several stores, at Tyler and other places, awakened a suspicion that two merchants from the Northern States, (who had purchased patent matches, which ignited almost spontaneously,) were incendiaries. The usual senseless hue and cry followed; the traders were thrown into prison; and hundreds of hapless blacks were arrested and tortured -- in order to get evidence of the "Yankee Conspiracy." Free negros and poor white settlers from the North fell under the ban at once. Scores of the latter were hanged by the mob. More than a hundred negros, free and bond, were executed, as I have been informed, on suspicion alone. Several were burned at the stake. Thirty white men were lynched, in and about Tyler and Palestine; one of the unfortunate merchants who had introduced the matches undergoing this fate -- the other escaping by timely flight. Blood flowed in all quarters, till the enlightened "Regulators," finding no more poor whites to kill or banish, decided that "order reigned" again.

Burning men and women at the stake is a relic of aboriginal amusement. A negro was thus executed at Tyler, while our prisoners tarried at Camp Ford. The occasion furnished a gala-day for all the good people of Smith County, our guards included.

I heard one day a story of lynch-law executed in our camp neighborhood; my informant being a friendly guard, who, like many others, was Union at heart, although conforming outwardly to rebel service, as a volunteer.

During the winter, an old lady, living in Van Zandt County, was plundered by a gang of soldiers in Confederate grey, who beat her shamefully, and (as she told the story,) tied her up by her thumbs till she disclosed the place where was concealed her specie (some three hundred dollars) and about two thousand dollars in Confederate currency. It was asserted that Jayhawkers had done this deed, though sober people shook their heads; well knowing that squads of Sibley's men, with some of Richardson's guerillas, and the scattered miscreants of Quantrell's gang, were ranging through these upper counties. But "black flag" rebels charged the crime, as they would any crime, on Union men -- of whom hundreds, former citizens, were fugitives in swamps and timber, hiding from conscript hunters. It was easy to accuse such outlawed wanderers; so the chase became set after "Union men." Four individuals were speedily run down: one Reed, a former sheriff of Collin County; an aged citizen, McReynolds, or McRunnells, who bad been chief-justice of that district; and two young men, Holcombe and Davis. They were arrested at their homes and dragged to Tyler.

This was in May, when our prison-numbers, at Camp Ford, had been increased some thousands, after the battle of Mansfield. The rebels were exultant everywhere, but with characteristic cowardice the people of these counties feared an outbreak from so large a body of incarcerated Yankees, and affected to discover insurrectionary plots continually. Three noble-hearted Texans, who refused to bow the knee to Davis, were imprisoned in our guardhouse at Camp Ford -- two brothers, Whitmore, one of whom had been a prominent member of the Legislature, and Rosenbaum, a former attorney-general of the state. It was the policy of rank Secessionists to fix as many new crimes on the Union men as could be believed, in order that some pretext might be found for general massacre or the enacting of terror laws.

Hence, when Sheriff Reed and Judge McReynolds were thrown into prison at Tyler, it was decided that they should never go at large again. So, one May morning, fifty mounted "Regulators" clattered into Tyler, halted at the tavern door, and "liquored round;" held confab with the provost-marshal, galloped up and down the town awhile, and finally drew rein before the prison, with a yell:

"Bring out them Jayhawkers!"

The doors were opened, and the men delivered up. A rope being slung about them, they were dragged behind the Lynchers to a piece of timber, scarce half a mile out of Tyler. There, almost within gun-shot of camps, where fifteen hundred cavalry and infantry were guarding Federal prisoners, these Lynchers began their mockery of a trial. The first victim pleaded "not guilty."

"You lie, Jim Reed! You're a heap wuss Jayhawker than Gineral Banks!"

"Silence in the coort!" cries Justice Lynch, a bullheaded whiskey-still proprietor. "Keep still, you all, while I fix his flint. Prisoner, Jim Reed, what have you got to say why you oughtn't to be black-jacked?"

REED. -- I am not guilty. I've been hunted and persecuted for my sentiments ever since the State seceded. I never fought against the State. My house was burned over the heads of my family in the town where I lived, an honest man, and served the country. I had to fly, by night, with my wife and seven children, to Van Zandt, and they hounded me out of that. I declare before Heaven that --

LYNCH, C. J. -- Shet up! You know yer an old scoundrel, and yer was three ye'rs in Missouri Penitentiary --

REED -- I never was in the State of Missouri.

LYNCH, C. J. -- Blast yer, then, yer an old deserter from General McCulloch's army. The papers was found on ye, and yer can't swar 'em down.

REED. -- I deny it. I was regularly commissioned by General McCulloch, as an officer. He gave me a position because I preferred to go back to the army rather than be hunted down. I was preparing to join my command when arrested.

LYNCH, C. J. -- Yer a skulkin' liar and a thief, Jim Reed, and we've jest had palaver enough out o' yer. I pronounce judgment of the coort. Yer to be hanged at once, till yer dead, dead, dead! and Lord have marcy on yer soul!

Five minutes after, Sheriff Reed was dangling from an oak-limb above his murderers.

Judge McReynolds was then dragged forward and reviled by the "coort" in like manner. The old man's son, who was one of the rebel soldiers guarding us at Camp Ford, heard about the Lynchers visiting Tyler jail, and, mounting a horse, galloped from his quarters to the town. He there learned that the ruffians bad taken their prisoners to the woods. He followed their trail with all the speed he could command, but arrived in time only to find his father swinging on the tree, from which Reed's dead body had been just cut down. This wretched son was forced to beg the remains of his parent from the assassins; and so great was the terror inspired by the boldness and cruelty of these "Regulators," that young McReynolds was unable to hire a wagon to convey the corpse to Kaufman county, where his family lived.

Young Holcombe -- like each of the others -- stoutly maintained his innocence, and was hanged with the same noose that had strangled his predecessors; for the ruffians had provided only rope enough to hang a single man; and were obliged to wait until one was dead before proceeding to execute another.

This lack of mechanical means to murder was a fortunate circumstance for one of the accused, young Davis. His fellow-prisoners had been hanged before his face, their bodies laid out, stark and still, before him, and the rope was drawn about his own devoted neck, when some one rode up -- a passing traveller on horseback, who happened to be an officer in the rebel service. He spoke a word or two with the "coort," and the "coort" ordered stay of proceedings.

"Thar's been a mistake, I reckon!" quoth Judge Lynch.

"That yer young chap is a good soldier, and belongs to this yer officer's rigiment -- so the coort clar's him."

The rope was taken from the neck of Davis, and he was allowed to depart with his officer for Camp Ford; while the three other victims were left under the shadow of those "black jacks." The Lynchers rode away, about sunset, over the hill-sides of Smith County, with no compunctions for their crime, no fear of punishment or pursuit.

"How long, how long, O Lord!" whispered a Union Texan in my ear, when we listened to a recital of this story, the day following. "When shall WE have our turn?" He compressed his lips, and a dark look came over his face. "There will be a terrible reaction -- a bloody retribution -- in this State of Texas some day! WE bide our time!"

But I am drawing to the close of my Camp Ford life. I must soon part from comrades in captivity; and I am rejoiced that with none shall I part in unkindness. The little differences inseparable from gregarious habitation are things of a moment, of trifling importance. The arrows of humorous satire, or the darts of friendly badinage, will never rankle in good hearts or clear minds. We, who have been thrown together by common mischances -- who have endured common trials -- will remember one another, in the future, with more fraternal emotions than can be awakened by a retrospect of mere neighborly relations. The bond of mutual loyalty -- the golden link of patriotism -- will be brightened when we shall look back upon Camp Ford, by beams of Friendship, Love, Truth -- and that "greatest of all" which is CHARITY.

Yet, though my hopes and heart turn northward, I leave regretfully so many friends behind. I feel warm-hand-clasps, I hear fervent good wishes, from men who a few months ago were strangers. I return the strong grasp of stout Western veterans -- of men from the loyal South: of gallant comrades out of every Union State, from Maine to Louisiana. Soldiers and sailors! God bless you all! We may never meet again in this world, face to face; but we are all marching to that yet more glorious Union, in a better world, where the Stars never fade, and where there is neither strife nor captivity!

So, good bye, "Undaunteds!" Farewell, "Fifth Avenue!" Adieu, "Big Mess!" and all kindred of good-fellowships! Good bye, honest genial and manly Major Mann, of Kentucky. Good bye, citizens Haley and Clark -- Don Quixote and Sancho! Farewell, all! May you speedily leave Camp Ford as desolate as you found it, and may you follow our foot-prints to the homes where your loved ones await you. God bless you all!



 

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12/23/2000