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Escape From Charleston
Trapped by the outbreak of the Civil War, a young schoolteacher fled the rebel city—and ran into hair-raising adventures
April 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 3
I have always believed in special providences. As I have told to friends the story of these weeks of my life, again and again has it been remarked how numerous and wonderfully clear were the instances of God’s interventions in my behalf. At this very juncture there was a marked one. Two officers of the law had each a writ for my arrest; one, the Deputy Marshal of the Confederate States, summoning me to answer the charges of the Committee, the other a State Sheriff to issue upon me a writ of garnishee on complaint of the landlord for non-payment of rent, above referred to. Of these two, awaiting my exit at the front entrance of the store, I had not the least intimation when in going to dinner, I that day went out at the back door, something I rarely did. On my return I walked boldly in at the front, and almost immediately out again in the same way, to keep my appointment with my lawyers, the two officers in meantime carefully guarding the back door. Thus twice did I slip through their fingers, greatly to my advantage as the result proved. For while talking with me, my lawyer glancing out of his window said: “There are two officers without doubt waiting for you. Now this is what you had better do. Let the Confederate States Marshal arrest you here, because the District Court is now in session and your case can be decided at once; while if the other officer places you under arrest, the State Court does not sit until January.”
This was accordingly done; the Marshal served his summons but granted personal liberty on my verbal parole, not to leave the city until my case was settled. Walking home from the lawyers, while passing through City Hall Square, someone touched me and said “I arrest you.” “But I’m under the arrest of the Confederate States Marshal,” I said.
Of this he would not be assured until taking me to the sheriff’s office in the Court-House near by, one of my lawyers came and certified to it. He reluctantly relinquished his claim upon me, and I was once more free on my former parole. Thus ended my birthday experiences.
I was called to appear at Court the succeeding Thursday, September 5th, where was given the sworn statement prepared for me by my lawyers. By this I gave up to the Confederate States the stock remaining in the store, the furniture and fixtures, the lease of the store, the books of account, the last bill of exchange on Liverpool I had purchased, the bills uncollected, and the money on hand except about $600 which I reserved as my own salary for the months of service since father’s departure. The document closed with these words: “And this respondent having answered all and singular the matters and things in said Information suggested, prays to be hence dismissed, with the costs and charges in this behalf sustained.”
Judge Magrath, who had resigned his office as United States Judge even before the passage of the ordinance of secession by South Carolina and had quickly accepted a similar position under the Confederate States, dismissed the case from Court, adding, however, that I should report to the District Attorney and when he was satisfied I could g°-
This case being the first under the Sequestration Act, the proceedings were published entire in the Charleston Courier of the next day and quite widely copied throughout the South.
For nearly a week of those precious remaining days of the original forty, I hovered around the office of the District Attorney, William Porcher Miles. From day to day I was put off, now because he was too busy to attend to me, now this and now that reason given for delay, his manner and speech getting more and more discourteous and even abusive. The last day I went to him he said: “Young man, your father had the reputation of doing a much larger business than you have shown and we believe you have been sending money north.”
If he had not been very angry he would not probably have thus clearly indicated the danger in which I stood. It was no longer the property only they desired but myself to make an example of me.
As I ascertained afterwards the Attorney had been to the bank where the bills of exchange had been bought and demanded to see their books. But they resolutely refused to betray business confidence, strong secessionists though they were. It was only this which saved me from the full working of this law, whose proceedings Judge Petigru, one of South Carolina’s noblest citizens, characterized as “no better than those which made the English Star Chamber and Spanish Inquisition odious to every lover of liberty.” A; I walked away from the Attorney’s office that morning I determined to make one effort to escape from the net closing about me. My parole was to stay until my case was settled, and was it not settled since I had given up everything? To remain longer would be suicidal.
I could take nothing with me, so putting together a few books I especially valued I carried them to a friend for safe-keeping. Among these was one containing the pictures and autographs of my classmates at Yale, and this through all the vicissitudes of a long bombardment and many removals, this dear friend kept and sent to me at the close of the war.
I bade no farewells, thinking it better that my friends should know nothing of my movements. One only knew of my departure. He it was who carried my hand-bag and a ticket to Augusta, Georgia (I considered it would be wiser to buy for a short distance only), into a car agreed upon and left them in a seat for me.