- 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
The other men were on the platform between the express car and the coach that I was in, and they were doing all they could to detach the coupling between the cars. They had sent the two men over on the top of the express car who had to signal when to go ahead and take charge of the engineer and fireman. They must have worked ten minutes at the coupling but could do nothing with it, and the train went into Buffalo without any incident to mar the equilibrium of the passengers or trainmen.
Just as the train slowed up near the depot, we all jumped off, and I released my prisoner. It was then dark, the day hardly breaking. Beall beckoned to me, and we went off into the darkness. We must have walked two miles before we found a place we thought suitable for us to take shelter in. We hid away all day in about such a place as I had gone to before, a little building where the people were all foreigners and which had a saloon below.
Beall was determined to capture that train and said to me during the day, “We will try it again.” It was the understanding with every man that if the attempt failed, and they had to scatter, they were all to meet at Niagara Bridge on a certain night, at eight o’clock, and Beall would be there. We held a meeting and received final instructions. Beall and I were to take a sleigh out to where the effort was to be made to capture the train. According to Beall’s plans, which he explained to me, he was to pile obstructions on the track, believing the engineer would stop the train, and then our company would board and capture it. We were all to meet in a certain place to get into the sleigh. Where that was I did not know, nor did I ask, because I was with Beall and expected to accompany him to the rendezvous. It was late in the evening, near dusk, when we started out from our hiding place to go to the point of meeting, and as soon as we got into the thickly populated part of Buffalo, Beall told me to follow him and not walk with him, and I did so.
While we were passing down some street and I was following him, a great crowd of people, apparently hundreds of them, passed out of a gateway, which opened through a high brick enclosure. They cut me off entirely from Beall. I could not find him at all; so after thinking over the matter, I concluded to take the Lake Shore train that went west about nine o’clock, having made up my mind to come back on the three o’clock train next morning, thus being on the train when it was captured.
I went out to Silver Creek, got off the train at that little station, and spent the night until three in the morning, when the train they had marked for capture came along and I boarded it, fortunately getting the last seat on the right-hand side of the last car. That car and the one in front of it were filled with soldiers, going to the front to join the Army of the Potomac.
About three-thirty or four o’clock we reached the point where the obstructions were on the track. I heard the whistle blow, and I held tight to the seat I was on. The whistle shrieked time and time again, but instead of the train stopping, the speed was quickened and it went through the obstructions, such as they were, without going into the ditch.
There was great excitement on the train and among the soldiers, because the word was passed along quickly that the raiders had endeavored to capture the train, and when we got into Buffalo, some of them said that the tender jumped the track, ran some distance on the rails, and then jumped on again. According to appointment I left Buffalo that night, after hiding out all day, on the train which reached Niagara Bridge about eight o’clock. I saw Beall on the train and also several of the boys, but did not speak to any of them.
When we got into the station, I looked to see if I could see Beall at the lunch counter, but I did not see him. I saw, however, one of the boys from Memphis, Tennessee, Foney Holt. He was eating lunch, and I took a seat a little way from him. All of a sudden there was a great rush to the farther end of the lunch station, and great excitement. Holt went that way and came back in a moment and whispered to me, “My God! They have captured John!” at the same time rushing out of the station.
I was so confused on the instant that I did not know what to do, and it was only a moment before I saw soldiers rushing in all directions. While I was standing there, a train came in from Rochester. I looked and saw the usual rush of passengers coming out of the train, and from the doorway next to me I saw two ladies pushing and pulling at a lot of children. I rushed out and spoke to the lady who was then nearest to me on the platform, and said, “I have a telegram from your husband asking me to see you transferred to the other train.”
I grabbed one of her children, took a basket, and joined them after helping them down, walking through the station to the Michigan Central train on the other side. As I started to ascend the platform to go into the other car, I saw that it was already guarded by a Federal soldier, and he said to me, “You must show your ticket before you can get in. ” He wanted to know where we were from, and I said, “Rochester,” and added, “You don’t want any tickets from all this crowd, do you?” At the same time pushing him gently aside, I walked into the train, the ladies and the children following.