- Historic Sites
A Confederate Odyssey
All this Florida boy wanted to do was rejoin his regiment. Instead they drafted him into the Confederate secret service.
December 1984 | Volume 36, Issue 1
When we got in as near to the Florida coastline as we could, with this big lifeboat, we found that we had no water or anything to eat, and that there was so much mud that the few oysters we could find were worthless. Two days we were on the coast without anything to eat except a little quinine and a few boxes of guava jelly that Dr. Garnett had in his bag. We were suffering intensely, and had it not been for a little rain that we caught on the sail, we should have been in a much worse condition.
At that time they had under discussion surrendering to the blockaderunners, which were in sight nearly all the time, out at sea; but I told them that I would not surrender; I would take the chance of crossing the marshes. Dr. Garnett agreed that Rahm and I should go out on a scout and see if we could find any habitation where we could get food and water for the party. We took our arms and started at once, and it was not long before we saw the fires of the Federal pickets, who were stationed out a mile and a half from St. Mark’s Lighthouse. They did not hear us, and we passed on, and just a little before sunrise we came to a bold, running stream. There we saw an old Negro, who ran away and told some Confederate pickets about us. They came down, some twenty in number, and made us hold up our pistols and wade the stream. When we got on the other side, they made sport of us and said we were Yankee soldiers, that they would take us to prison, as they did not believe our story.
We had some corn bread and bacon to eat while they dispatched a messenger out to their camp, two miles away. In a half hour fifty men, with an officer in command, came down on their horses. I looked about at their faces with a great deal of anxiety, as I knew the boys were suffering in the boat and needed relief. All at once I saw a face I remembered, and said, “Hello, Hope!” and he said, “Hello, Charlie!” and dismounted from his horse and told his companions, “This boy and myself used to go to school together.”
That settled all points of dispute, and hurriedly bread and water were gotten together and sent with a detail of six men to the relief of the boat crew; and later in the day, to our astonishment, they brought that boat up to the landing. I do not know the name of the river, but I think they called it the St. Marks River, and the boat was sold there to a Mr. Grocenchiers for five thousand dollars in Confederate money, each given his share in the division. We went to Tallahassee, and there the people entertained us lavishly. From Tallahassee we crossed the strip of country west to the Chattahoochee River, then went to Montgomery, where the party all broke up, Mr. Mclnnis going to his home and I on to deliver the dispatches and rejoin my regiment.
Hemming did rejoin his regiment and served until the end of the war, when his unit was paroled at Greensboro, North Carolina, on May 1, 1865.
After our surrender at Greensboro, the remnant of the Florida regiment started on the march homeward, less than five hundred in number, depleted from the original enlistment of some forty-five hundred men. At Mason, in Georgia, we came across a colored cavalry regiment, and they took from us every Negro in our ranks, five or six. My boy, Billy, was among them. I pled for him and he pled for himself, but it was of no avail; they took him anyhow, and from that day to this I have never heard of him.
After I left Mclnnis at Montgomery, I got a train partway to Atlanta, and then walked from there to MiIledgeville, Georgia. There I got a train part of the way to Savannah and one also from Savannah to Augusta, and then walked from there to Charlotte, North Carolina. I passed through Georgia and South Carolina along the desolated tracks of Sherman’s March. The sights that I saw then almost crushed the heart out of me. It was as if a great prairie fire had gone through that country, burning everything as it went. The houses, barns, and fences were all gone, and scarcely an animal was seen alive, but many were observed by the roadside where they had been shot. The women and children whom we passed seemed absolutely dazed by their helpless condition. The men were in the army and they were alone in that trackless waste—some of them without food, all of them without shelter. We divided our little store of bread, and meat if we had it, with the starving people.
Speaking of this devastated country to a cavalry soldier, after the war, a friend who was in Wheeler’s cavalry said to me, “I was glad when the war was over, because we were getting almost to the black flag—which meant ‘no quarter.’ ”
“I was in a command,” he continued, “scouting on the outside of Sherman’s army, and every now and then we would run across little parties of Union soldiers who were burning up the country as well as robbing it; and where they could not carry away what they saw, they always destroyed it; even the mattresses were cut open and the feathers scattered to the wind, or molasses poured in on the bedclothing, and then fire made to destroy it; but when we ran across those fellows, where there was no getting around their acts of vandalism, we did not give them any quarter, but shot them down as we overtook them.
“At one place where they had done more than their usual devilment, we captured forty, lined them up in a lane and told them to run, and we killed every one of them before they got out of the lane.”