Narrative Of An Escape From A Rebel Prison Camp


But after a while we were aroused to a very realizing sense of our situation by a new danger that we had no previous intimation of; this was an earthwork mounting two guns that we came to, on making a bend in the stream. We discovered it, fortunately, before the sentinel on the parapet (whom we could plainly see in the moonlight) discovered us; but the moonlight that disclosed the danger to us increased the danger of our being seen. How to pass this obstacle was now the problem, and as was our usual custom when in doubt, we paddled ashore for a smoke and a council.

On reaching the bank (opposite, of course, the one where the earthwork was) the problem was soon solved; the cypress swamp I have mentioned still continued here, and the immense festoons of the moss reaching very nearly, if not quite, to the water, from the trees and limbs projecting in the stream, made an almost close drapery or curtain; and between this and the low swampy bank of the river we found sufficient water for our narrow craft to float in safety. So protected in this strange manner, we worked cautiously and silently down the stream, crouching low in the canoe when the moss was thin, and peering through the curtain at the sentinel who passed away in the moonlight keeping a good lookout but little dreaming of the two pairs of eyes that were keeping a brighter watch than he.

So we passed this danger, and went once more on our way rejoicing; for we were satisfied this battery was placed there to keep boats from coming up the river from our gunboats, and it could not be very far from the river’s mouth.

But our adventures were not over this night; it was destined to be a still more eventful one. We commenced looking now for the place where the river branched, for we knew from our map and previous information, that not far from its mouth it divided, and two streams were formed called the north and south Santee; the north or main branch was the one we wanted to take to bring us into, or near Winyah Bay, where we expected to find the gunboat; so we kept close to the north bank.

The stream was now getting wider and the night grew foggy as it wore on towards morning; after a while we came to a stream, or branch, which I thought was merely a bayou from its size and general appearance; my comrade thought however it was the north fork so after a little discussion we paddled down it, but soon, discovering it was a bayou, we returned to the main stream.

We now paddled vigorously to make up for lost time, and dropping our usual whispered tones we indulged in conversation, feeling comparatively safe in doing so now, as we thought we had passed the last obstacle and felt that we must be somewhere near the mouth of the river. At the first faint indications of dawn we concluded to stop, as we were tired, so went over to the south bank of the stream to find a hiding place for the day; thinking, if we had passed the forks, the island between the two would be the safest place. When we reached the bank we found a thick canebrake, and turning the bow of our canoe upstream, we worked slowly along close to the shore to find a good landing-place.

We went quietly along in that way for a few minutes, when suddenly I heard low, almost whispered voices, that seemed to come from the air, or the thicket near; it appeared hardly possible for people to be near enough for me to hear such low tones without seeing anyone; and then how did any human beings but ourselves happen to be at that particular place in the wild lonely swamps of the Santee at that hour of the night, and if there, why were they conversing in whispers? To make it more mysterious, there was something about the voices that seemed in a way familiar; they did not sound like the voices of Southern men or Negroes, but rather like our own Northern people. The whole thing was strange and rather uncanny. I leaned over and whispered to my comrade; and when he told me that he heard nothing, I thought that possibly the continued mental strain we had been subjected to for many days, might have affected my mind in some manner, and what I heard, or thought I heard, was my imagination.

We had stopped the boat when I spoke to my comrade; then we moved on and turned a slight angle in the bank, when just before us, within a few yards, was a canoe with four persons sitting in it. They were motionless, and we stopped at once; neither party spoke or moved; it was too dark to distinguish more than figures, and for a few seconds it was a peculiar tableau; then came a hail from the strange canoe, “Boat ahoy, who are you?”

The tones seemed to have a familiar ring. I connected them with the whispered voices; that “Boat ahoy” was no Southern soldier’s hail, and I felt that the people before us were no enemies. I answered, “Friends. Who are you?” The reply came “That’s Foote. I know his voice.”

Our canoes were side by side in an instant, and we found we had met in this singular manner four of our officers who had escaped from prison about the same time we had, and had taken nearly the same route. The officer who had hailed us and recognized my voice was Major McDonald of the 106th N.Y. Vols. This meeting, it is needless to state, was a very happy one.

We now had a good strong party, and we knew we must be near the mouth of the river and all felt encouraged. We drew our canoes well up out of sight, detailed one of our number as sentinel to keep watch at the river and then went well back in the dense canebrake for the day.