SWIGGETT - THE BRIGHT SIDE OF PRISON LIFE

C H A P T E R   V I I I .

AN ESCAPE.

 

About the first of August our remaining officers decided that parole or exchange was very unlikely, and we concluded to attempt an escape. Captains Miller and Lambert, with Major Hamilton, had already gone. They had slipped out of the stockade and had finally succeeded in getting home, but the hardships of the journey caused the death of two and nearly killed Hamilton. The result, of course, we did not know at the time, so Captains J. B. Gedney and Thomas M. Fee, Lieutenants Charles Burnbaum and Walter S. Johnson, Adjutant S. K. Mahon and myself made our plans to follow their example.

After considerable diplomatic work we finally closed a deal with one of our guards to secure us an opportunity to let out, for $150 in Confederate money, and he picked out a couple of his companions to help him. We watched and studied the methods of guard-mounting, and selected what seemed to be the most favorable point for our egress. We then informed our friend the guard of the time and place decided upon and instructed him how to have himself and friends fall in at guard-mount, so that they would get the posts which coveted our chosen ground.

When the appointed time came we were all nervous and somewhat excited, for we could not tell whether our guards would prove true to us or not, but we were determined, and we made our preparations with the utmost secrecy. We had secured some provisions and an axe, and when we finally started Captain Gedney led the way as pioneer, carrying the axe. I came next, with a pail containing our provisions, on top of which was a large boiled ox heart, and the others followed. As we approached the stockade our hearts beat quickly, and we were in a state of dreadful suspense until we saw that the nearest guard was aware of our presence and found that he was not disposed to see us. We had picked out a spot where the soil was loose, and, when we found that our guard was sincere, it was the work of a very short time to work and separate two slabs of the stockade so that we could squeeze through.

The night was dark and rainy, and fitful flashes of lightning but partly illuminated the scene, yet caused us to crouch close to the ground to avoid discovery. I shall never forget the interval of dread, hope and nervous excitement consequent upon our delay at the fence while forcing an outlet, although it could not have been more than a very few minutes. Between the rumblings of thunder we could hear the low sough and moan of the wind in the trees outside of the stockade, like the suppressed wail of human beings in pain; then would come a flare of flickering lightning through the clouds, like the striking of a match that would not burn, at which we would flatten out against the fence or on the ground, with our hearts in our mouths; then, with the darkness, would come the low roar of distant thunder, like the anathemas of a disappointed match-striker, and we would desperately renew our efforts for fear the successful match would be struck before we got away, our fears being heightened by the evident approach of the worst of the storm. My similes may not be poetic or grand, but it is a fact that it seemed to us as if each flash of lightning was an attempt to find us and each roll of thunder the growls of our captors at the failure.

At last we got through the fence, and at once struck a pace for the woods, which would have carried us to Iowa in short order if we could have kept it up.

We had scarcely started before there came what seemed to me to be the greatest flash of lightning that I had ever seen. For an instant you could have seen to read in the open spot across which we were making all the speed of which we were capable, and then came a yell from one of the guards, the roar of a musket and a rattle of thunder that fairly caused us to become frantic in our efforts to put a proper distance between ourselves and that stockade. In the darkness which followed the glare I plunged head over heels into a small ravine, hugging my bucket of food desperately, but when I arose and hastened on my ox heart had disappeared. We had no time to bewail the loss, however, for our danger of recapture was more serious, and we fairly flew along.

Just what efforts were made to overtake us I do not know, but we finally reached a place where we could hide and take a breathing spell, and no sounds of pursuit disturbed us.

 

 

Swiggett and his companions, over the course of ten days and with considerable suffering, managed to make their way over 100 miles from Tyler to within a few miles of Boston, Texas, near the Texas-Louisiana border, before they were recaptured by men hunting runaway slaves. After being confined for a few days in Boston, they were returned to Camp Ford, the return journey taking some 30 days to complete. The narrative of their escape and recapture is detailed in the remainder of Chapter VIII and Chapters IX through XII.


 

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3/19/2001