December 1984 | Volume 36, Issue 1
All this Florida boy wanted to do was rejoin his regiment. Instead they drafted him into the Confederate secret service.
A FTER HE WAS MUSTERED out of his beaten army in 1865, Charles Hemming went west to Texas and a highly successful career as a banker. But he never forgot the men he served with, and in 1898 he came home to raise a Confederate monument in Jacksonville. A few years later, still full of thoughts of the conflict in which he played so strenuous a role, he set down the long and fascinating account from which this article is drawn. This previously unpublished memoir was sent to us by Hemming’s granddaughter, Lucy W. Sturgis.
Florida seceded from the Union on January 10, 1861; on January 11 Hemming joined the Jacksonville Light Infantry. Two years of hard campaigning brought him, in the fall of 1863, to Tennessee. There Confederate forces under Gen. Braxton Bragg had laid siege to Chattanooga. Three of the ablest generals in the Union Army—Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and George Thomas—moved to relieve the threatened city.
Bragg had placed his forces on the high ground of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. The Federals took Lookout Mountain with little difficulty on November 24, and the next day attacked Missionary Ridge. This was a formidable position, but Bragg had deployed his troops poorly: half were in rifle pits at the foot of the ridge, and other units were strung along the true crest rather than the “military crest.” That meant the Confederates could not depress their artillery sufficiently to cover a dead space on the hillside; and it gave the Union troops enough cover to carry the whole position in a spectacular charge.
The rout of Bragg’s forces meant the defeat of the Confederate effort in the West and supreme command for Grant. For Hemming it meant the beginning of a series of adventures that would carry him from prison to Nova Scotia to the Florida Keys.
His narrative begins in the Confederate line on Missionary Ridge.
When we lined up on Missionary Ridge to meet Grant’s tremendous array of men, our little army must have been somewhat intimidated; and yet I heard no expression of the kind. Just as we were getting our correct alignment, about one-half of the company was obliqued down the hillside and the battery placed in position just over us. I remember I wished at the time that that hillside was in front instead of in the rear, because I saw I could not climb it, it was so steep, some twenty feet of sheer rock, and I could not get farther to the right because of other obstructions.
Our regiments, when in battle line, were conspicuous for our evidences of weakness. One file could scarcely touch another, and we discovered almost at once that in order to deceive the enemy, who could plainly see us on the crest of the hill, our commander was marching and countermarching for some time before the battle commenced, a constant stream of men moving toward our right and then circling back and the same men coming along in the rear.
It was somewhere about one-thirty when we heard the reverberation in the hills around of a tremendous gun, and over our heads screeched the large shells it was sending at us. Then we looked out on the plain, and with the precision of a dress parade their magnificent army came in view.
The officers, all superbly dressed, pranced out on their high-mettled chargers; the bands played, and to the music came the most wonderful array of splendidly equipped soldiers I ever saw. The old flag waved beautifully at the head of each regiment and the smaller flags were in their places with the brigade and division commanders. The atmosphere was perfectly still excepting just breath enough to straighten out the banners.
I loved the old flag dearly when I was a boy, and when the Fourth of July came, I had my miniature cannon lined up on small entrenchments in our game to cannonade the fort and salute the flag. When I looked upon the old flag at the head of that wonderful army, I confess that it drew my silent admiration, as I suppose it did that of many others of our Confederate soldiers.
However, we had a duty to perform and a new flag to serve; so we lay down on the top of the hill, waiting for the coming foe. We did not fire a gun until they got within two hundred yards, and the battery, which had been posted almost over my head, ceased to fire after they started to climb the hill.
When the order was given to fire, it seemed to us that hundreds fell, and at first their line wavered, but brave officers held them to the work and, cheering wildly, they came at us again. All at once I heard someone shout, “For God’s sakes, men, don’t give up the field!” I looked and saw our line wavering in the center, and above the heads of our regiment, where our color bearer Charlie Ulmer was waving the flag and calling to the boys to hold steady, the commanding general of our army as well as that of our brigade, on their horses, were appealing to the wavering line.
The 3d Florida had fallen back, but when such an order was given I do not know, for I did not hear it. Just where I was, there were none left except Kernan and Livingstone.
We dashed out to try to make our escape. In what direction Kernan went I do not know, but I followed Livingstone, as I thought him to be a good runner. There was only one way out and that was in front of the Federal line. I do not think I exaggerate when I say that from seventy-five to a hundred men of the Union army, just climbing the crest of the hill, were to my right, not over twenty or thirty feet away. It seemed that they all fired at me at once. The blaze from their gun barrels scorched my face, and one bullet barely reached my right cheek.
I was not frightened in the least. I held my gun and had my cartridge box, but I certainly was running faster than a young deer before the hounds. When I reached the decline of the hill on the other side, which could not have been more than two hundred yards from the crest upon which we fought, I saw there was no road leading down and, balancing my body with my gun, I sailed out into the air and lit at the bottom squarely upon my feet. Turning slightly to the right, I ran into an old road and, when I got a little farther down, came across Sam Pascoe from Monticello. The brave fellow was putting a tourniquet on his leg below the knee, and he cried out, “Charlie, don’t leave me!.”
I saw the point from which the blood was running and knew he was not dangerously hurt. I answered jocosely, “It’s no time to stop now,” and pushed on. Livingstone was a little behind me.
About a hundred yards farther on I came to some thick brush—so thick I could not see through it—and as I rounded this little point of timber I heard the German command “Attention! Attention!” I looked and saw what I took to be two or three German [Union army] regiments right together and to my left, about two hundred yards or so. I heard further orders given in German. Right then flashed across my mind: “We are fighting the world! Here on this battlefield are foreigners who do not speak English and yet are fighting for the American flag. ”
I looked over to the right of where I was and saw a little hut. In this Livingstone and myself took shelter. I peeked through the cracks at these same Germans, and I saw them shoot several men with their hands up. All at once I made a decision, and that was to load up and fight it out.
I threw the breech up and put in a cartridge while Livingstone said, “What are you going to do, Charlie?”
I replied, “I am going to sell out here and now. ” I did not believe they were going to show us any quarter, and told him what I had seen.
Just then I saw a man coming toward us on a captured horse. He was a Union soldier and was making directly for the cabin door. I was ready and my gun loaded; I peeked through the cracks between the edge of the door and the casing on the logs; I looked at him closely. He was a handsome fellow and looked to be about twenty-two. He was not coming rapidly but steadily. I knew I could kill him as soon as he got close enough. I looked at him again. He had ruddy cheeks and dark brown hair, and was a soldier of whom either side would have been proud. I said to myself, “I cannot kill that boy!” I thought of his mother at once; a strange thing that she came into my mind; but that is just as it happened.
When he got within fifteen feet of the door, he sang out a violent oath and told us to come out. I am sure I surprised him more than he ever before was surprised in his life, for with my gun pointed at his breast, I was within five feet of him in a moment and shouted, “Throw up your arms!” They went up, and his gun went down.
He said, “What do you mean? You are surrounded and cannot get away. ”
I answered, “I want to be treated as a soldier and not murdered, as your men have murdered all around us in the last few moments. Promise me that and I will surrender.”
He said, “I will protect you,” and I said, “Here’s my gun.”
Livingstone then came out, and we were both prisoners.
We walked back along the ridge on the same road we had pursued in getting away from it, but we did not see Pascoe where we passed him earlier, and I suppose he had already been carried away as a prisoner in an ambulance. We climbed the hill and went over the very spot where our regiment had fallen. I saw Randolph Saxons lying there dead, and directly Livingstone called me and said, “Here is Ulmer. ” The dead lay just on the hilltop, and Ulmer’s body was farther to the front than any other we saw.
Livingstone asked the Union soldier, our guard, if we could turn Ulmer over, as he was lying on his face with his face to the front where the battle had raged. The guard gave permission. There was no flag by Ulmer’s side. Someone had saved it, but in his valor Ulmer had added glory and prestige to the courage of an American soldier. Poor Ulmer! The son of a widow and needed at home, he was one of the many sacrifices laid upon the altar of Constitutional Liberty by the Southern army.
I heard someone say, “Orderly Sergeant, come here!” I turned and looked up, and there was General Hazen of the Union Army. He had called me. He was a very handsome man, and with his staff rode splendid horses. He said to me, “Where are all your people?” I said, “General,” pointing in the direction of their retreat, “If you will go over in that timber, you will find them.” He laughed, and I followed the guard down the hill.
After a few days we were taken to Nashville, then to Louisville, and on to Rock Island prison, up on the Mississippi River [between Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa]. It was there I met Jesse Ely, Joshua Brown, William T. Rutland, Ben Hord, John D. Mclnnis, and a great many other very fine young men. Mclnnis escaped with me.
We got together a complete suit of Federal uniforms by trading for the pieces we did not own ourselves with other boys who had picked them up on the battlefield. To have ourselves fully equipped as Union soldiers, we had to have a saber swung at our side as well as a pistol belted on. Kernan was captured at Missionary Ridge at the same time I was and, as he was a fine mechanic, he made for me a wooden pistol surmounted by a piece of barrel hoop for a cap at the end of it. He dyed it black and so burnished it that it looked perfectly natural. A scabbard I got from some other friend, but who made the wooden sword I do not recall; but Mclnnis and myself were rigged up completely enough to deceive even our own comrades. The uniform which I had was too large, and one John Glazer, a tailor by trade, cut it down for me and fitted it, saying, “Charlie, I make no charge except good luck to you. ” (To my amazement, twenty-five years after the war, my attention was called to a piece in the Dallas News , of Dallas, Texas, which stated that only seventeen men had escaped from the Rock Island prison. Some man had written an article saying none had got away; but Glazer in his article denied that and called my name as one who certainly got away, as he had made me a uniform to escape in. I did not wait until the day was over before I sent him a check for twenty-five dollars to pay that debt that he had already canceled with his love and affection.)
On the morning of the day upon which Mclnnis and I escaped from Rock Island, we met at the appointed place and in the line of the Federal companies that had come in to call the roll. When the bugle sounded and they retired from their respective barracks, we followed and fell in. Fortunately it was raining and we were marched out quickly. There were two companies of Federal soldiers in the prison, and I went out with the first.
When the coast seemed clear, we took off our clothing, tied it on top of our heads, and entered the river. We went out some distance and had only to swim about fifty feet before we reached an embankment that led directly to the other shore.
We hid in the bushes and dried our clothing and then started for the city of Rock Island. We had gone but a short distance before we met Colonel Garraher, second in command of the guards at the prison. He was on horseback, and I confess we did not feel very comfortable; but to make the best of the situation we turned and confronted him with the military salute that the soldier always gives to the officer. He returned it very courteously and passed on without a word. I said, “John, we must separate right now or we shall both be captured sure.”
After I parted from Mclnnis on the street between Moline and Rock Island, I was to go to Davenport, where I knew the name of a family. I went at once to the ferry and sat on the bank. After the boat came over and had landed its passengers and freight, I saw several soldiers cross on the gangway plank to the steamer, and each one was required to show his permit for being away from his command. I put my cap under my oilcloth and ran onto the steamer. The sentinel stopped me and said, “Where is your permit?” I took the chance and said, “I showed it to you just now, and ran ashore to tell a friend goodbye, leaving my cap in the cabin. ” He looked at me and said, “Go on.”
I went upstairs immediately and took a seat on one of the benches and had not been there more than a moment when an old gentleman, garbed as a farmer, came up and sat by me. I was more or less disconcerted and frightened, thinking of course he was a detective. He said to me, “What command do you belong to?” I replied, “The 128th Indiana.” He then said, “I would not be surprised if you know my son. He belongs to the 71st and is also in the Army of the Cumberland. ”
I told him that doubtless I had met his son often, but there were so many men down there that I could not remember names and faces very well.
He asked me if I would not join him in a drink; I thanked him and told him I would do so, for I knew I was very shaky and I thought that might steady me.
We went to the bar on the boat and took a drink. He asked about the various branches of the army in Tennessee, and the names of many of the brigades, but as we had come in contact with them on the picket line and in battle, I knew the names and numbers of almost all the brigades in the Federal army of the west.
When we went back to our seats, the steamer was nearly across the river, and I excused myself to him, telling him I would be back in a moment. I made a turn around through the cabin, reversed the course I was walking, and ran out on the gangway plank just as the steamer was landing.
When I got up into the street, a little way from the dock, I began to make search for the family whose name I recalled, but I did not ask any grown people—only children playing about, as I chanced to pass them. After being sent various ways and in various directions, I met some little fellows playing football, and one said, “I can show you where Mr. P. lives.” I thanked him and we went directly to the house. We were then about two blocks away. I carefully took the number but passed on until the boy was out of sight, when I went back to the house and rang the bell.
A nice-looking old lady came to the door and asked what I wanted. She saw that I was completely equipped as a Federal soldier, and seemed to be frightened. I said to her, “Madam, I wish to see your daughter, Miss Emma.”
To this she answered, “My daughter receives no company, sir. ”
I was getting very much frightened then because I knew that the escape of two prisoners would certainly be reported within two hours after the time they got out, so I asked the old lady to kindly let me in and call her daughter, as I wished to deliver a message to her and would do so in her presence.
She opened the door and asked me to enter, and I did so and sat down. She called her daughter, who was a girl of fourteen, very handsome and ladylike in appearance. I said to them that I would like very much to entrust to them a secret if they would bear with me, and that I had come to them through the kindness of Mr. Nims, who was in the hospital department of the prison on the island. The mother said, “I don’t know what you are going to say, but I want you to know that I am a Union woman and would not say or do anything against our cause.”
I said, “You sent an autograph album into the prison a short time ago and, fortunately for me, I was asked to sign my name in it. Now if you will get it and give me pen and paper, I will duplicate what I wrote in it.”
The girl ran quickly and brought back a little desk and put it on my lap. I wrote on it, “Charles C. Hemming, Company A, Third Florida Regiment, Army of Tennessee, captured at Missionary Ridge November 26, 1863.” This was September 28, 1864. The girl went out and brought back the album, and after running through it and comparing the writing I had given her with the name in the album as written by me, she said to her mother, “Mother, he is all right.”
The old lady, with her dear sweet face, looked at me but said nothing. Turning to her daughter, she said, “Emma, call your father. ” The girl was gone perhaps thirty minutes while I waited in the sitting room with great anxiety. I did not know whether the father was to return with a file of soldiers or with some kind word for me.
The door opened after a little while, and a tall, gray-haired man entered with the girl. Turning, he locked the door. I wondered what that was for. Then he came up to me with outstretched palm and said, “My son, you belong to my people, but if it were known that you are here, they would hang me at once.”
I said to him, “I thank you very much for your sympathy, but please open the door and let me go and take my chances.”
He answered, “I will not. I am going to assist you to get away. Did not two of you escape?” I replied, “Yes, sir. ” And he said, “The town is already posted with the reward for you.”
I appealed to him again, “Please let me go. I would not injure you for anything in the world.” He said, “No. Come into the other room,” and there he put up a ladder and sent me into the attic and told me to take off the uniform and all the equipment of the Federal soldier and drop it down on the floor below, that Emma might cut it up and burn it in the stove at once. I did as he directed, and soon everything was in ashes. A little later he returned with a plain outfit of a farmer boy, and I was soon in disguise with thirty-six dollars in my pocket.
He said, “Go to where the hacks start for Eau Claire. The steamers run from there to St. Paul, and you buy a ticket at La Crosse, when you get there, for Milwaukee and then across the lake to Grand Haven and from Grand Haven to Sarnia. When you get to Sarnia, cross the river and you will be in Canada, and safe.”
I went to the dock, as instructed, at three o’clock, and I got on the hack and was off.
We got to Eau Claire about eight o’clock. It was then very dark. When I went into the little hotel I saw it crowded, mostly with a foreign element, and soon heard them tell of the escape of two prisoners from Rock Island that day. During the night, I sat upright in the bed, dozing only occasionally. In the morning the steamer was at the landing and I boarded it with my ticket for La Crosse. After we got started up the river, I was assigned to a room with a great, jolly man who said he was in business in Montana. At dinner they took the sense of the passengers by a rising vote to see how they stood in the contest between McClellan and Lincoln. When they called for the vote, the Montana man voted for McClellan and I thought it would not be bad policy for me to vote the same way; but all the other passengers, and there were some sixty-five or seventy on the steamer, voted for Lincoln.
The boat was a slow one and we were about three days on the river. Because of a wreck, we were laid off at Lansing about one day and a half, and when we resumed our journey the next day we reached Canada. At Sarnia we crossed in the ferryboat, and when I landed, so uncertain was I as to geographical location, I went up to a little Irish depot guard, with a red cap and a red jacket, and said to him, “Are we now on British soil?”
With a smile, he replied in his Irish brogue, “Of course we are! Don’t you see the unicorn and the lion?”
I looked up, and sure enough, there it was—the coat of arms of the British Empire, and I took off my hat respectfully, to the guard and to the British shield.
It was dark when my train got into Toronto. With the dime I had left I bought some ginger cakes, and that was my supper. I had no money for lodging, did not know where the Confederate agency was located, and there was but one person in Toronto with whom I was acquainted. A Mr. Lynch, belonging to some Mississippi regiment, had escaped from Rock Island, was in Toronto, and had written to-some acquaintances there of his success in getting through. He was a shoemaker by profession, and I had intended to look him up. I drifted around that big city of forty or fifty thousand people, went into many stores, and offered to sweep out for them if they would give me enough for lodging. Some were brusque and others were polite, but from all I was turned away. I walked around until after eleven o’clock, when I saw a light from a projecting bay window, which I approached and therein saw the great, good-natured face of a butcher who was preparing his meat for the morning market before he retired. I went in to him, accosted him pleasantly, and offered to help him in return for a night’s lodging, telling him part of my story. He walked back and called his noble-hearted wife by name, telling her to give me a cup of tea and some bread and butter, and fixed the lounge for me to sleep upon. Soon my hunger was satisfied, and I found myself with friends. This little incident has broadened out my life and convinced me that God’s nobility is found in all the walks of creation.
I told the butcher about the escape of Mr. Lynch, whose face was so deeply pockmarked that having seen him you would not forget him. Either the butcher or his wife said, “Next door there is a shoe shop, and it seems to me that same man worked there.” After I had my breakfast next morning I stepped from one door to the other, and sure enough, Lynch had worked there and they gave me the address where I would find him. In a half hour’s time I had found my comrade of the prison, and he helped me to some cash, which I afterward returned, and gave me the address where the agency could be found.
I reported to Col. Jacob Thompson at the Queen’s Hotel, and he turned me over to his principal assistant, who would listen to nothing but enlistment there in their Secret Service Company. I wanted to get back to the army but could not enforce preference under the conditions. Soon after this I was enlisted with Capt. J. Y. Beall, who was preparing an expedition to raid the lakes by armed steamers, which were then equipping at the shipyard at Collingwood. Beall from the first seemed to take a strong liking to me, and we soon became intimate, and every time he crossed the line I was with him, and the same blanket covered us both.
One day I was called to the office of Colonel Thompson, and he said to me, “We want to know how many soldiers there are and what their equipment is at Buffalo, Dunkirk, Toledo, and Cleveland. We cannot detail anybody to go over there because, in that capacity of a spy, if captured, he would he be hung. Now, would you be willing to volunteer for the task?” I answered, “Yes, sir. ” I was given what money I wanted, but not a great surplus, for fear of suspicion if I was captured.
I crossed at Detroit from Windsor, and at Detroit Junction I bought a ticket for Cleveland. I turned around and saw a small man intently watching me. I appeared to be indifferent but kept my mind alert and my eye on his movements. I did not know but that I was mistaken until I saw him buy a ticket and heard him whisper something to the agent.
I walked back in a moment and said to the agent, “You gave me a ticket to Cleveland. I wanted one to Toledo.”
He said, “You asked for Cleveland.”
I said, “Well, kindly exchange it for me,” and he did so.
In a moment my suspicious friend whispered something to the agent, which I could not hear, but I heard the click of the instrument when he changed his ticket also. I knew then that I was caught, and I was frightened.
As we entered the car when the train came along, he was right up with me and had spoken to me before we got into the train. He invited me to take a seat by him, and I did so. The car was not crowded at that time, and after we got started, he told me, “I know who you are, and you are my prisoner. ”
I laughed at him and proposed that we should have a smoke together.
We chatted and smoked almost all day, and whenever he would ply me with questions, as to where I lived and what I was doing, I always said that I lived in Toronto. We traveled along together until we got to the dinner place; then we ate lunch together.
During the day I had frequently gone to the water tank, which was directly behind us, for water, and just as I saw the lights of the city of Buffalo in the distance glimmering through the darkness, I said to him, “I will get a drink of water,” and just as I finished the drink I jerked open the door and sprang from the platform. The snow was about three feet deep on the ground, had partly frozen when the first fall came, and had then fallen later on top of that. I was young and active and, when I struck the ground, did not get hurt. Jumping up quickly, I took a well-beaten path along the track and to the right of it, where men had tramped every day, and I had not gone more than one hundred yards before innumerable tracks divided right and left. Had I jumped off only that short distance from where I did, it is probable that I should have been killed.
I traveled rapidly and crossed and recrossed other tracks in many places, and when I reached the heart of the city I followed the way to the poorest settlements and at last lodged myself over a beer saloon, along about midnight. The inmates could not speak English. I paid some small sum for my bed, and before daylight had crossed the city and, reaching Niagara River just below it, I came across a boatman who was bailing out his boat, as I supposed, to go fishing. Asking him what he would charge to take me across, he said, “One dollar.” I gladly paid that and was soon on the British side.
I returned to Toronto at once, and in a few days was asked if I would complete the mission by making a second effort. This time I went into the camps and spent one day and night at Cleveland with the Federal soldiers, informing myself thoroughly. I got all the information needed at the other points without any trouble, and then went to the Niagara bridge to make my crossing. There I put my foot into it by being ignorant of the fact that under the bridge was a wagon and foot crossing. Just as I turned into the under crossing, I ran into a lieutenant and three guards so abruptly that I was completely unnerved, but it was a life-and-death game, and I had to do something to save myself.
I played deaf and passed the lieutenant and his guards, simply nodding my head. When I got a few feet away from them, I heard the word “Halt!” and I made up my mind that they might call “Halt” as many times as they wished, but if they would let me get fifty yards away I would take all the chances and run for it. I heard the second as well as the third “Halt!” but they did not fire simply to frighten me, as I expected, and I kept on walking as rapidly as I could without showing any undue effort to get away. In a moment I heard feet behind me and directly felt the grasp of a hand on my my shoulder.
When I turned on the man, I threw my hand up to my ear to let him know I was stone deaf. He sang out at the top of his voice, telling me to come back. I nodded my head and went back. The plan was not a bad one; it gave me the advantage of all they had to say, and left me the opportunity to think over what was going on and to meet it with a ready answer.
The lieutenant wanted to know where I had been and where I lived. I told him that I lived in Toronto. He took me into the sentry box, stripped me, and examined all my clothing and said that at twelve o’clock he would take me to headquarters. Before that time came, there passed, crossing the bridge, a great, big, strapping fellow from Michigan. He had been in the Army of the Potomac and had seen many Confederate prisoners. Asking what I was under arrest for, all of which I heard without appearing to do so, this Michigan lumberman, as he afterward proved to be, told them that I was no Rebel, that the fact alone that I was deaf was proof enough, as they would not have a deaf man in either army. When he got ready to cross the bridge, he persuaded the lieutenant to let me go with him, and I was released. As the lumberman was so bighearted, after I got over to Clifton, I told him the story and drank to his health. He said, “Well, boy, good luck to you! It don’t make any difference to me.”
I found more than once that the man on the other side, unless he was under the requirement of duty, was about as generous as you could wish him to be.
I reported promptly to headquarters in Toronto and was selected by Captain Beall to go with him on several other expeditions into New York State. It was the plan to capture a train at Silver Creek, sixteen miles west of Buffalo, which passed there about three o’clock in the morning, heavily laden with gold and currency for the army paymasters at Washington.
We got on the train, and I was instructed to go into the first coach next to the engine and take prisoner any who might be there. I found but one man in the coach, and he was the brakeman. I had him cut the bell rope and lock the door next to the main body of the train. He was greatly frightened when I told him we were Confederate soldiers and had captured the train. He begged me not to hurt him, and I told him we would not hurt anybody if we could help it. With that he got down on the floor between the seats, and I stood over him with my six-shooter drawn.
The other men were on the platform between the express car and the coach that I was in, and they were doing all they could to detach the coupling between the cars. They had sent the two men over on the top of the express car who had to signal when to go ahead and take charge of the engineer and fireman. They must have worked ten minutes at the coupling but could do nothing with it, and the train went into Buffalo without any incident to mar the equilibrium of the passengers or trainmen.
Just as the train slowed up near the depot, we all jumped off, and I released my prisoner. It was then dark, the day hardly breaking. Beall beckoned to me, and we went off into the darkness. We must have walked two miles before we found a place we thought suitable for us to take shelter in. We hid away all day in about such a place as I had gone to before, a little building where the people were all foreigners and which had a saloon below.
Beall was determined to capture that train and said to me during the day, “We will try it again.” It was the understanding with every man that if the attempt failed, and they had to scatter, they were all to meet at Niagara Bridge on a certain night, at eight o’clock, and Beall would be there. We held a meeting and received final instructions. Beall and I were to take a sleigh out to where the effort was to be made to capture the train. According to Beall’s plans, which he explained to me, he was to pile obstructions on the track, believing the engineer would stop the train, and then our company would board and capture it. We were all to meet in a certain place to get into the sleigh. Where that was I did not know, nor did I ask, because I was with Beall and expected to accompany him to the rendezvous. It was late in the evening, near dusk, when we started out from our hiding place to go to the point of meeting, and as soon as we got into the thickly populated part of Buffalo, Beall told me to follow him and not walk with him, and I did so.
While we were passing down some street and I was following him, a great crowd of people, apparently hundreds of them, passed out of a gateway, which opened through a high brick enclosure. They cut me off entirely from Beall. I could not find him at all; so after thinking over the matter, I concluded to take the Lake Shore train that went west about nine o’clock, having made up my mind to come back on the three o’clock train next morning, thus being on the train when it was captured.
I went out to Silver Creek, got off the train at that little station, and spent the night until three in the morning, when the train they had marked for capture came along and I boarded it, fortunately getting the last seat on the right-hand side of the last car. That car and the one in front of it were filled with soldiers, going to the front to join the Army of the Potomac.
About three-thirty or four o’clock we reached the point where the obstructions were on the track. I heard the whistle blow, and I held tight to the seat I was on. The whistle shrieked time and time again, but instead of the train stopping, the speed was quickened and it went through the obstructions, such as they were, without going into the ditch.
There was great excitement on the train and among the soldiers, because the word was passed along quickly that the raiders had endeavored to capture the train, and when we got into Buffalo, some of them said that the tender jumped the track, ran some distance on the rails, and then jumped on again. According to appointment I left Buffalo that night, after hiding out all day, on the train which reached Niagara Bridge about eight o’clock. I saw Beall on the train and also several of the boys, but did not speak to any of them.
When we got into the station, I looked to see if I could see Beall at the lunch counter, but I did not see him. I saw, however, one of the boys from Memphis, Tennessee, Foney Holt. He was eating lunch, and I took a seat a little way from him. All of a sudden there was a great rush to the farther end of the lunch station, and great excitement. Holt went that way and came back in a moment and whispered to me, “My God! They have captured John!” at the same time rushing out of the station.
I was so confused on the instant that I did not know what to do, and it was only a moment before I saw soldiers rushing in all directions. While I was standing there, a train came in from Rochester. I looked and saw the usual rush of passengers coming out of the train, and from the doorway next to me I saw two ladies pushing and pulling at a lot of children. I rushed out and spoke to the lady who was then nearest to me on the platform, and said, “I have a telegram from your husband asking me to see you transferred to the other train.”
I grabbed one of her children, took a basket, and joined them after helping them down, walking through the station to the Michigan Central train on the other side. As I started to ascend the platform to go into the other car, I saw that it was already guarded by a Federal soldier, and he said to me, “You must show your ticket before you can get in. ” He wanted to know where we were from, and I said, “Rochester,” and added, “You don’t want any tickets from all this crowd, do you?” At the same time pushing him gently aside, I walked into the train, the ladies and the children following.
I threw back two seats, getting them all in, and with a child on my lap I sat next to the window. An officer came through the car accompanied by the same sentinel I had seen on the platform. He had evidently sent for the officer in command and made a report of the circumstance; but when he looked at me, so comfortably seated and so much at home with the two ladies and the children, he passed without asking any questions. In a moment more the train was again on British soil, and I was safe. I was greatly amused by the number of questions asked me by the ladies, but I parried them very pleasantly, and before I left they were convinced that I knew them and was only teasing them by not telling my name. At the first stop over the river, which was Clifton, I excused myself and said I would be back in a moment; but I never returned.
With Beall was captured a young man of whose name I am not sure, but I recall it as Yately. In his fright he turned state’s evidence at once and confirmed the captors of Beall in their certainly of the man. Poor fellow! Beall was tried under a drumhead court-martial and convicted of many charges of which he was not guilty. He was hanged at Governors Island in New York Harbor.
When I got back to Toronto, the Confederates had already hatched up one more desperate scheme by which they hoped to involve Great Britain and the United States in war. They wanted all of our company to be dressed as British soldiers and to march to the bridge at Niagara Falls and cross it, shooting into the guards and Federal soldiers on the farther side. When this was outlined to me by Mr. McDonald, I told him that would put us between two fires, the Union soldiers on the other side of the bridge and the British soldiers stationed at that side, who would naturally be aroused by the firing and, when we were discovered, would be shooting at us from the other end of the bridge; as far as I was concerned, I wanted to go back to the army, rejoin my regiment, and have a soldier’s chance for my life while I was doing my duty. He said Colonel Thompson had told him that no man could have a dollar to go away with if he refused to go into those plans. I told him that that made no difference to me, and made my preparations to get away, drawing what little pay was due me, which did not amount to much.
I left Toronto for Quebec, where I took another train for Riviere-duLoup, and then went across the province of New Brunswick. At that time it was a desolate waste, and the snow was seven feet deep on a level. I was bitterly cold but well wrapped up and did not suffer any evil consequences. We went through Dover, Campbellton, Restigouche, Miramichi, Shediac, Moncton, and Truro. At Truro I met a train for Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was in that city the next day.
When I arrived I was suffering with neuralgia from a defective tooth and went into the first dental office I found. I was in a city where I did not know a soul, but while the gentleman, whose name was Dr. Almond, was waiting on me, he told me that he had lived in Savannah, Georgia, and that his sympathy was strongly pro-Southern. He asked me how I got there, and when I told him that I had escaped from prison, he said, “Were you alone?” I said, “No, there was another who escaped with me, and he is now somewhere in Canada.”
I told him that the name was Clarke, which was the name used by Mclnnis, and he said, “There was a party which I attended the other night at some house, and it seems to me that I saw a young man of the description you give of your friend at that party; if you will go to see Mr. Simmonds, whose cigar store is on such and such a street, he can tell you, for the Southern crowd is around his store a great deal and some of them board where he does.”
When he had finished the work, I went to see Mr. Simmonds, and to my astonishment he gave me the address of the house where he boarded and where I would find my friend, Mclnnis. Very soon we were in each other’s arms, and from that day to this, the bond of friendship has grown stronger and stronger with the passing years, until now I feel almost that he is of my own family and I of his.
Lying in the harbor of Halifax while I was there was the Petersburg , a blockade-runner belonging to the Old Dominion Line, which was to sail quickly. The Confederate representative at Halifax was a Mr. Weir, a very courtly English gentleman. He hunted me up about the second day after my arrival, and I went to his office, where he showed me a dispatch from Colonel Thompson in Toronto, telling him to put the dispatches he had from Mason and Slidell, our representatives at the court of Napoleon, into my hands, with instructions to deliver them as quickly as possible and, in case of capture, to destroy them. He was also told to give me a certificate showing the importance of the documents and asking all Confederate officers or agents, wherever I should go, to furnish me with quick transportation for Richmond.
We sailed on the Petersburg for Bermuda. From there we went to the island of Nassau, New Providence, on the ship Echo , and there we got immediate transportation to Havana. I reported at once to the Confederate agency which was in the charge of a Major Helm. I found him full of liquor, insolent and overbearing.
When I asked him for a passport for myself and Mclnnis on the steamer Owl , commanded by Captain Maffit, adding that I was the bearer of important dispatches to Richmond and showing him my papers, he said that he wanted to see the dispatches himself. To this I demurred, stating that my positive instructions were to not let anyone read them and to destroy them before capture. This made him very angry, and he said that he believed I was a Yankee spy and he would not let me go with the ship.
Mclnnis and I held a consultation and concluded to visit the captain of the Owl and see what he had to say. We went aboard and had a very pleasant interview with Captain Maffit, but it did no good, because he said he was under the control of Major Helm, who was a representative of the government, and if he violated instructions, his commission would be taken from him. He was a very courtly man but had the look of a thorough seaman—strong and heavily built, with a strong and kindly face. The boat was to sail two days afterward, and we were very much disappointed. She was a little blockade-runner, belonging to the government, as trim as a bird, but not very large—perhaps three hundred and fifty tons; but they said she could beat anything in those waters, running away from the big Federal blockaders.
The passengers who were going on the ship were all known to us, as we had come all the way from Halifax to Havana with them, and they were splendid fellows. There was Dr. Garnett, a courtly, noble man of the old school, and Dr. Watson of Richmond, Virginia; a Mr. Edward Carrington of the same place, and a naval lieutenant, Edward A. Archer. Then there was Rahm and Godwin and Major; and John D. Mclnnis and myself.
We gave our grips to the party the morning they were to board the ship and told them what our plans were, and all our crowd went aboard together. I was ahead of Mclnnis as we climbed the ladderway and struck the deck. Just then the first officer, whose name was Cook, came to me and said, “ You cannot come aboard this ship, we are about to sail. ” I answered, “We are not going with the ship; we only came down to tell our friends goodbye and see them off.” He then replied, “When you hear the bell you must go ashore,” and I said, “Certainly, we shall do so.”
He went off about his work, and John and I darted down the big hatchway. We crawled back into the piles of coal and there hid ourselves from about ten-thirty in the morning until nearly five in the afternoon. The ship got out to sea promptly at eleven o’clock, and although our hiding place was about the hottest place that I ever got into, I do not think we should have worried but for the fact that under a tremendous pressure of steam it seemed to us that we might be blown up at any minute. The ship shook all over as if she had chills, and every now and then we could hear the sound of a distant gun.
When we came up the hatchway and they tore off the tarpaulin, already nailed down, sure enough there was a Federal cruiser, called the Cherokee , about two miles in our wake, doing the best she could to run us down and shoot us down at the same time. Captain Maffit was up in the pilothouse using his speaking tubes about every moment, ordering the stokers below to fire and give her all she could carry. He looked as mad as a wet hornet, and when his first officer told him about these stowaways, he came down to where John and I were standing, mute and frightened, and said he had a damned good notion to throw us overboard; later he said, “I’ll just buck and gag you and teach you a lesson; but if the Yankees were not after me right now, I’d put you ashore.”
The sailors rustled to get the marlin pin and ropes, and I looked that old salt right squarely in the eye. John did not seem frightened at all, but I know that I was trembling all over. However, I thought I would take a chance, and I said to the captain, “If you are going to buck and gag us, please, Captain, do it in the right way so we can tell the boys about it when we get back into the army.”
Amazed at this impertinence, he said, “Well, you are great boys after all,” and turned around, giving this order: “Steward, bring two cases of champagne to my room, and fix two extra berths for these young men.”
The ship made two efforts to run in to the Florida coast, but every time the fog would lift, the blockaders were in sight and we had to go to sea again. On the afternoon of the third day, about five o’clock in the evening, the captain called us all together, and said this: “You see, I have done the best I could, and have not been able to land. I may be captured any moment. Now you men can take your pick of the lifeboats on the ship, and I will give it to you, supplied with water and provision, and run in just as near the coast as I dare to, and you all can get out and take your own chances.”
We expressed our gratitude with a cheer, and the boat headed for the land; when she got in as near as he could carry her, we all got into the lifeboat, fourteen in number, but as we were about to cut loose, Dr. Watson and somebody else said, “We are too deeply loaded, and we will go back to the ship.” This left twelve in the lifeboat, and Dr. Garnett was immediately elected captain of our party, and we sailed away at once.
When we got in as near to the Florida coastline as we could, with this big lifeboat, we found that we had no water or anything to eat, and that there was so much mud that the few oysters we could find were worthless. Two days we were on the coast without anything to eat except a little quinine and a few boxes of guava jelly that Dr. Garnett had in his bag. We were suffering intensely, and had it not been for a little rain that we caught on the sail, we should have been in a much worse condition.
At that time they had under discussion surrendering to the blockaderunners, which were in sight nearly all the time, out at sea; but I told them that I would not surrender; I would take the chance of crossing the marshes. Dr. Garnett agreed that Rahm and I should go out on a scout and see if we could find any habitation where we could get food and water for the party. We took our arms and started at once, and it was not long before we saw the fires of the Federal pickets, who were stationed out a mile and a half from St. Mark’s Lighthouse. They did not hear us, and we passed on, and just a little before sunrise we came to a bold, running stream. There we saw an old Negro, who ran away and told some Confederate pickets about us. They came down, some twenty in number, and made us hold up our pistols and wade the stream. When we got on the other side, they made sport of us and said we were Yankee soldiers, that they would take us to prison, as they did not believe our story.
We had some corn bread and bacon to eat while they dispatched a messenger out to their camp, two miles away. In a half hour fifty men, with an officer in command, came down on their horses. I looked about at their faces with a great deal of anxiety, as I knew the boys were suffering in the boat and needed relief. All at once I saw a face I remembered, and said, “Hello, Hope!” and he said, “Hello, Charlie!” and dismounted from his horse and told his companions, “This boy and myself used to go to school together.”
That settled all points of dispute, and hurriedly bread and water were gotten together and sent with a detail of six men to the relief of the boat crew; and later in the day, to our astonishment, they brought that boat up to the landing. I do not know the name of the river, but I think they called it the St. Marks River, and the boat was sold there to a Mr. Grocenchiers for five thousand dollars in Confederate money, each given his share in the division. We went to Tallahassee, and there the people entertained us lavishly. From Tallahassee we crossed the strip of country west to the Chattahoochee River, then went to Montgomery, where the party all broke up, Mr. Mclnnis going to his home and I on to deliver the dispatches and rejoin my regiment.
Hemming did rejoin his regiment and served until the end of the war, when his unit was paroled at Greensboro, North Carolina, on May 1, 1865.
After our surrender at Greensboro, the remnant of the Florida regiment started on the march homeward, less than five hundred in number, depleted from the original enlistment of some forty-five hundred men. At Mason, in Georgia, we came across a colored cavalry regiment, and they took from us every Negro in our ranks, five or six. My boy, Billy, was among them. I pled for him and he pled for himself, but it was of no avail; they took him anyhow, and from that day to this I have never heard of him.
After I left Mclnnis at Montgomery, I got a train partway to Atlanta, and then walked from there to MiIledgeville, Georgia. There I got a train part of the way to Savannah and one also from Savannah to Augusta, and then walked from there to Charlotte, North Carolina. I passed through Georgia and South Carolina along the desolated tracks of Sherman’s March. The sights that I saw then almost crushed the heart out of me. It was as if a great prairie fire had gone through that country, burning everything as it went. The houses, barns, and fences were all gone, and scarcely an animal was seen alive, but many were observed by the roadside where they had been shot. The women and children whom we passed seemed absolutely dazed by their helpless condition. The men were in the army and they were alone in that trackless waste—some of them without food, all of them without shelter. We divided our little store of bread, and meat if we had it, with the starving people.
Speaking of this devastated country to a cavalry soldier, after the war, a friend who was in Wheeler’s cavalry said to me, “I was glad when the war was over, because we were getting almost to the black flag—which meant ‘no quarter.’ ”
“I was in a command,” he continued, “scouting on the outside of Sherman’s army, and every now and then we would run across little parties of Union soldiers who were burning up the country as well as robbing it; and where they could not carry away what they saw, they always destroyed it; even the mattresses were cut open and the feathers scattered to the wind, or molasses poured in on the bedclothing, and then fire made to destroy it; but when we ran across those fellows, where there was no getting around their acts of vandalism, we did not give them any quarter, but shot them down as we overtook them.
“At one place where they had done more than their usual devilment, we captured forty, lined them up in a lane and told them to run, and we killed every one of them before they got out of the lane.”
When I heard that story from this man who was reliable, I also said I was glad that the war was over.