- Historic Sites
Narrative Of An Escape From A Rebel Prison Camp
June 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 4
We told them our story, as we had to the others, and asked where we were. They said we were not very far from the big bridge, where the Charleston and Columbia R.R. crossed the river, near its junction with the Wateree; and that it would be dangerous to attempt to run under it as it was closely guarded and a watch kept for officers that were said to have escaped from the Columbia prison camp. This was not very encouraging information. After a council of war in which the Negroes took a prominent part, we decided, on their advice, to abandon our boat, leave the Congaree River, strike out on foot, flank the railroad bridge, and strike the Santee River, if possible, below where it is formed by the junction of the Congaree and Wateree; trusting to luck, and our faithful allies the Negroes, for a canoe on that stream.
One old coal-black darkey, named Ishmael, said he would guide us to the railway track that night and show us the course to strike the Santee below. So we remained concealed in the woods until it was quite dark; then Ishmael came for us. We shouldered our little packs, bid good-bye to “Old Auntie’s skiff,” and the Congaree, and started off again.
As we tramped along that night, we kept up a conversation in low tones, for our guide asked us many questions. He wanted to know how soon it would be “befo’ de big army would come and free ’em all.”
About midnight we reached the railroad where it crossed a large wagon road near the bridge; here we halted and our guide gave us what information he could about the country. He said the wagon road ran nearly parallel with the general direction of the river and advised us to keep it for a number of miles in order to be sure of striking the Santee a good distance below the bridge, when we left it. Hearing the rumble of an approaching train, we separated, and started down the road feeling much encouraged at the prospects before us.
The night was clear and pleasant and we traveled along briskly without any trouble, until the approach of dawn warned us that it was time to find a hiding place for the day. Some distance from the road we selected a little thicket in a hollow, and alternately napping and watching, we remained until darkness again made it safe to travel in a land where every white man’s hand was against us.
We concluded to keep the road again all night in order to strike the river well below the junction of the two streams, where we knew it would be larger and safer, and more easy to navigate. We passed several houses where dogs barked at us a good deal, and we had to jump in the bushes several times to avoid passing wagons and people. We met an old darkey whom we stopped and questioned. He seemed frightened and stupid, so we did not get any information from him. At daylight we left the road again, taking the direction of the river, and concealed ourselves for the day. At night we started out to find the river and before long came to a plantation. My comrade’s boots were all worn out and his feet were so sore by this time he could hardly walk; so we crawled into an old barn that stood detached from other buildings, in a field, and stayed there the rest of the night, but it was so cold we could not sleep much.
Early in the morning we ventured out to find some Negroes; we struck a peanut patch and dug up some, eating them raw, and filling our pockets, as we were entirely out of food. After a while we saw a Negro at work in a field; we crawled up to the fence, called him to us and going in some bushes had a talk. He seemed frightened at first, and puzzled. We asked him if we looked like Yankees. “Well,” said he, “I kinder spected you was at first by your clothes, but dey done tell us Yankees is queer looking folks wid horns and de like ob dat.”
We then told him we were Yankee Officers, that we had escaped from Columbia and wanted to reach our own free country. He gave us a piece of cornbread that he had for his own dinner, told us we were near the river, pointed out a piece of woods where we would be safe for the day, and said he would get some of the other hands to help him get a boat for us, if possible, that night. Then he pointed out a large tree, told us to be under it at dark, and he would meet us there.
We kept in the swamp through the day, and at dark went to the rendezvous, and after waiting there an hour or two we heard a great shouting, hallooing, and barking of dogs, and saw a party with torches approaching our hiding place. We were frightened at first and started to run, thinking we might have been betrayed; then concluded to remain and take the chances, as the party was so near it would have been useless to attempt to get away. When they were quite near the whole party stopped and one man came forward: he proved to be our friend of the morning and we were soon surrounded by a party of about a dozen Negro men and boys, all curious and anxious to see the Yankees. We then discovered that all the noise, lights, and dogs, were a ruse on the part of our friends, to prevent any suspicion of their real object; they having ostensibly started out on a coon or possum hunt.
They took us to a little bayou, leading into the river; a portion of them went off and soon returned coming down the bayou in a fine dugout canoe. They gave us a good sized cornpone, and with many a hearty handshake, “God bless you,” wishes for our success and speedy return “wid de big army to free us” we parted from our good friends and started down the broad Santee on our way to the ocean. Before long it grew very dark and a cold rain set in; we were soon wet through, and after a while concluded to stop. We found a good place to land where the bank seemed wild and well wooded, fastened our canoe and sat under a tree until daylight.