Narrative Of An Escape From A Rebel Prison Camp


By this time it was quite dark and we struck a large well traveled road. We ran down it a little way and came to quite a good sized stream crossing it. We jumped into this and followed its course, which took us at once into a swampy thicket, a tangled mass of vines and brambles. It was very dark in there and the mud and water deep, but we plunged on until we were too exhausted to stand, and then realized that our pursuers had evidently kept on the road and passed us, as the noise grew fainter and finally ceased.

About midnight, I think, we succeeded in getting out on the dry land. The moon came out now light and clear through the large trees and we stood for a while looking at each other. Our clothes, bad enough before, now hung in rags and tatters; our hands and faces were scratched and bleeding; we were covered with mud from head to foot, and smarting and aching from the cuts and bruises we had not felt when plunging through the swamp. After resting a while we struck out in a southeasterly direction, guided by the stars, as we knew this course would eventually take us to the Congaree River.

We struck a narrow wood road and followed it until it led us into a kind of clearing with a large ditch or canal running to it, a low queer-looking log hut, and a lot of large barrels lying around. We sat down to rest and pretty soon saw a light approaching, gliding through the woods. Then we heard voices and discovered it was a small boat coming slowly along the canal. We at once hid ourselves behind a large tree. Much to our consternation the boat stopped near the hut. The men went in and after a few minutes one of them came out towards our place of concealment. He seemed to be busy among the barrels, and at one time came fairly up to the big tree behind which we were lying, so near we could have touched him with our sticks.

Presently the man in the hut called out “Put your ear to the bungs Bill and see if they are working.” Soon after the man among the barrels went back to the hut and in a few minutes both came out, got into the boat and then they poled it off in the direction from which they came. We watched until the light was out of sight and then concluded we had no further business in that clearing. I think they must have been Moonshiners and the place an illicit distillery, and I have often wondered what they would think were they ever told that two Yankee officers were so close to them that night.

We wandered on through the woods until daylight and soon after heard the sound of chopping. Walking up to it cautiously we discovered a Negro cutting wood. When we had made sure he was alone we went up to him. He eyed us curiously and when we asked him if he knew who or what we were, he said, “Well, Massa, I spects you’s Yankees.” We said yes, that we had escaped from the prison at Columbia and wanted to get a canoe to go down the Congaree River. He said we were not far from the river and after some conversation showed us a safe place to hide in the woods during the day, telling us that he would come in the evening and give us what assistance he could.

We lay down in the bushes behind some logs, one watching while the other slept. This was our first experience trusting so entirely to a Negro, and we did not know but he might betray us. The day passed, however, and sure enough, at twilight our black friend came along. He had some sweet potatoes for us but said he could get no canoe. We were so near Columbia we were in danger, and it would not be safe to attempt to steal any canoe near there. He said, though, that we could safely trust the Negroes wherever we found them, that none of them would ever betray a Yankee, as they knew we were their friends. He then took us to the main road that ran parallel with the river, and told us there was a large plantation a few miles further on, where we could find plenty of Negroes to assist us, and they could doubtless get a canoe for us.

When it was quite dark we bade our friend goodbye and started down the road. In two or three hours’ time we came to a creek, with a bridge across it, and on the the other side we saw a bright fire. We concluded it was a camp of some kind with a guard, as we could see men moving about. So we left the road and went into the woods on the side we knew the river was. About daybreak we came to the edge of a large plantation. We lay here in the woods all day watching the Negroes at work in the fields.

At dark we ventured out and went up to the Negro cabins. We were soon surrounded by a wondering crowd of two or three dozen men, women and children. We confided in them fully, told them who and what we were said we wanted some kind of a boat and provisions to enable us to go down the river and escape to a free land. After some consultation, they decided that it was too late to attempt anything that night. Boats of any kind were scarce and they would have to hunt one up. It would be better for us to hide until the next night and when they would try to have some kind of a boat ready and would start us off, as we were then near the river.

It was not thought safe for us to stay in their cabins, so we were put in an old corn barn where we made a comfortable bed among the bundles of cornstalks and had a good rest and sleep which we were much in need of. We remained concealed in the barn all the next day, keeping a lookout through the chinks. We watched the overseer of the plantation, heard him swear at the Negroes, and once he rode so near the old barn that we were afraid he would discover us.