- 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
After a few days we were taken to Nashville, then to Louisville, and on to Rock Island prison, up on the Mississippi River [between Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa]. It was there I met Jesse Ely, Joshua Brown, William T. Rutland, Ben Hord, John D. Mclnnis, and a great many other very fine young men. Mclnnis escaped with me.
We got together a complete suit of Federal uniforms by trading for the pieces we did not own ourselves with other boys who had picked them up on the battlefield. To have ourselves fully equipped as Union soldiers, we had to have a saber swung at our side as well as a pistol belted on. Kernan was captured at Missionary Ridge at the same time I was and, as he was a fine mechanic, he made for me a wooden pistol surmounted by a piece of barrel hoop for a cap at the end of it. He dyed it black and so burnished it that it looked perfectly natural. A scabbard I got from some other friend, but who made the wooden sword I do not recall; but Mclnnis and myself were rigged up completely enough to deceive even our own comrades. The uniform which I had was too large, and one John Glazer, a tailor by trade, cut it down for me and fitted it, saying, “Charlie, I make no charge except good luck to you. ” (To my amazement, twenty-five years after the war, my attention was called to a piece in the Dallas News , of Dallas, Texas, which stated that only seventeen men had escaped from the Rock Island prison. Some man had written an article saying none had got away; but Glazer in his article denied that and called my name as one who certainly got away, as he had made me a uniform to escape in. I did not wait until the day was over before I sent him a check for twenty-five dollars to pay that debt that he had already canceled with his love and affection.)
On the morning of the day upon which Mclnnis and I escaped from Rock Island, we met at the appointed place and in the line of the Federal companies that had come in to call the roll. When the bugle sounded and they retired from their respective barracks, we followed and fell in. Fortunately it was raining and we were marched out quickly. There were two companies of Federal soldiers in the prison, and I went out with the first.
When the coast seemed clear, we took off our clothing, tied it on top of our heads, and entered the river. We went out some distance and had only to swim about fifty feet before we reached an embankment that led directly to the other shore.
We hid in the bushes and dried our clothing and then started for the city of Rock Island. We had gone but a short distance before we met Colonel Garraher, second in command of the guards at the prison. He was on horseback, and I confess we did not feel very comfortable; but to make the best of the situation we turned and confronted him with the military salute that the soldier always gives to the officer. He returned it very courteously and passed on without a word. I said, “John, we must separate right now or we shall both be captured sure.”
After I parted from Mclnnis on the street between Moline and Rock Island, I was to go to Davenport, where I knew the name of a family. I went at once to the ferry and sat on the bank. After the boat came over and had landed its passengers and freight, I saw several soldiers cross on the gangway plank to the steamer, and each one was required to show his permit for being away from his command. I put my cap under my oilcloth and ran onto the steamer. The sentinel stopped me and said, “Where is your permit?” I took the chance and said, “I showed it to you just now, and ran ashore to tell a friend goodbye, leaving my cap in the cabin. ” He looked at me and said, “Go on.”
I went upstairs immediately and took a seat on one of the benches and had not been there more than a moment when an old gentleman, garbed as a farmer, came up and sat by me. I was more or less disconcerted and frightened, thinking of course he was a detective. He said to me, “What command do you belong to?” I replied, “The 128th Indiana.” He then said, “I would not be surprised if you know my son. He belongs to the 71st and is also in the Army of the Cumberland. ”
I told him that doubtless I had met his son often, but there were so many men down there that I could not remember names and faces very well.
He asked me if I would not join him in a drink; I thanked him and told him I would do so, for I knew I was very shaky and I thought that might steady me.
We went to the bar on the boat and took a drink. He asked about the various branches of the army in Tennessee, and the names of many of the brigades, but as we had come in contact with them on the picket line and in battle, I knew the names and numbers of almost all the brigades in the Federal army of the west.
When we went back to our seats, the steamer was nearly across the river, and I excused myself to him, telling him I would be back in a moment. I made a turn around through the cabin, reversed the course I was walking, and ran out on the gangway plank just as the steamer was landing.