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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
How many rooms with doors at the end I went through that afternoon, I will not trust my memory to tell; to me they seemed interminable! But there was a last one and it was not far to some woods, into whose friendly cover I hastened. How I walked, almost ran at first! I began to have all the fears of a hunted creature, and perhaps in a faint measure to comprehend the terrible agony of a runaway slave; to whom the north star, forever beckoning onward, yet as surely receded when the land of promise seemed just within his grasp.
I put several miles between me and my whilom captors, going first westerly and then towards the north to reach the railroad again. It was dusk when I began to look for a place in which to spend the night. There were four or five houses in sight, which one should I try? One a little more apart attracted me most, and that I might take a nearer view I passed by at its rear, when, oh joy! there on a post of the fence was a tiny stars and stripes.
No longer timid I went around to the front of the house and asked permission to tarry over night. A suspicious look came over the face of the woman, and glancing nervously about she said: “No, we don’t keep strangers,” and was turning away.
“But,” I boldly replied, “you are Union people and—”
Not waiting for me to say more, she demanded how I knew that. “By the little flag on the fence,” I told her.
Instantly calling one of the children, she sent him to take it down, scolding him well for having put it there. Blessed little flag! God’s messenger of love to me that weary day.
Then at length she invited me in, apologizing meanwhile for her lack of courtesy, since now they did not know whom to trust. Kentucky was then divided against itself, not out of the Union, because more than half of her citizens were loyal though held in fear by the strong minority. Moreover the bitterness of the conflict was carried into the very homes, two neighbors often being on different sides.
During the night I was awakened by the arrival of a large party of the “Home Guard,” the country being now in arms to prevent another such a guerrilla raid as had just taken place. They offered large inducements if I would only join them and were not well pleased with my refusal to do so.
In the morning, this was Thursday, my host, being unable to go with me himself, took me to a friend’s near by, who would conduct me to another safe harbor further east, thus again making a detour to get above the burned trestle. An underground railroad I was upon now, avoiding all towns, and passing directly from one true Union man to another. Everywhere among this people was I treated with the utmost kindness, and was given the best they in their poverty had to offer. Not unfrequently did they refuse pay for their hospitality and only as I slipped a gold piece into the hand of the wife, when leaving, could I render any compensation.
My guide for this day unfortunately obtained some apple-brandy where we stopped for dinner, and when we had gone but a few miles fell from his horse completely overcome. Opportunely a man, who proved to be a friend of my helpless companion, came from the opposite direction at that moment and together we carried him back where we had dined. I set out again with the new-comer for a traveling comrade, reaching the contemplated resting place after dark.
Here I found myself in the midst of a very gay party, a “meet” of the neighboring families. One of course had brought his violin and dancing was the feature of the entertainment. There was much hilarity and the men were rough. They ascertained that I was unarmed and commented freely upon the danger I thus ran in these troublous times. They not only carried pistols but many of them bowie knives as well.
The evening’s experience was not conducive to peaceful slumber. Sleep was long in coming and it seemed to me I had only dozed when I was thoroughly wakened by a hand passing over my face. All the horrible stories of dark deeds in lonely places I had ever heard rushed through my mind. I remained perfectly still, since I knew not what else to do, and after a moment the hand was withdrawn. I tried to convince myself that it was only the involuntary motion of my bed-fellow in his deep sleep, but though there was no occasion for further alarm I was very thankful to see daylight through the chinks between the logs.
Pressing on in a northeasterly direction, the next day we had much difficulty in crossing the Green River, which was very high, our horses almost swimming in the deepest part. I passed the night at the home of an old man, who claimed to be a lineal descendant of Daniel Boone. He had many traditions of his family to relate during the evening and I was much interested in him and his wife.
It was now considered safe to try once more the usual modes of travel so the next morning, Saturday, my aged friend himself took me a few miles to the turnpike, a regular stage route to Lebanon. I was able to meet the stage as it passed and reached Lebanon at noon just in time to take the train for Lebanon Junction, a short branch railroad connecting these two places.
Lebanon Junction was on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad above Muldraugh’s Hill, so once more I had reached an open door to the North. Best of all there was here a strong force of United States soldiers.
When we stopped at the station every available place was quickly taken by soldiers going up to Louisville on a furlough, the guerrilla raid having called out the militia upon such short notice they were not suitably prepared. I remember two sat in the seat with me, so crowded were we.