HOW I GOT OUR DISPATCHES OUT OF PRISON
A story transcribed from a copy of the hand written details by Charles Parker Card
In February 1863, about one month after the battle of Stone River, General P. H. Sheridan sent for me to come to his quarters. I immediately went there and found the General in company with General George H. Thomas. They began interrogating me in regard to the geography of the country between Murfreesboro and Chattanooga. I gave them such answers was required. Gen. Sheridan remarked that if it was possible for a detail of picked men to get in the rear of the enemys, (between Braggs Army and Chattanooga), that something might be done. I told him I was his man if he would let me pick my comrades. This he agreed to do.
It was about six hours in getting ready, making details, etc, etc, etc. My men were chosen from the 1st Tennessee Infantry, 2nd Tennessee Infantry, Stokes Calvary, and one more from one of the Michigan Regiments belonging to Sheridan's Provost Guard. My men all told as good and true as ever shouldered Muskets.
Bragg's army was in our front at Tullahoma with wings extending from Shelbyville to the Kentucky line. Our outposts were at Readyville, Bradyville, and also to the Kentucky line guarding our line of supplies.
We started our expedition that night a little after dark, leaving our lines at Readyville. The weather was cold and it began to snow heavily. In making a detour through the cedar glades in order to avoid the enemy, we ran upon a lot of cavalry, but discovered them before they found us out, and by crawling upon all fours we passed them. The first night I slipped and sprained my foot but continued on, traveling through the woods with nothing but a small compass to guide us until near daylight when we came to a small farm in the hills and determined to call and see what the chances was to get to stop there during that day. Leaving the boys in the woods with orders if any thing happened to me to charge the house, I went to the house and found only an old man with an old Negro woman, his cook. I went out and beckoned the boys to come on, all was right. The old man was one of the worst Rebels I ever saw, with his sons in the Rebel Army. However, we passed with him for a squad of Rebels and he exited himself to make us comfortable. The house was not visited during the day, and at night we started again. This was the most agonizing night of my life, my sprained foot had swollen and the snow being about one foot in depth. I could only advance by leaning on the shoulders of the boys, however we continued on all night without interruption until daylight when we found ourselves in the neighborhood of old Jacksburgh near Manchester, Tenn. I slipped to a Negro cabin and by questioning the inmates soon found out the country was full of Rebel Cavalry. We put up that day in an old shed that the Methodists or some other Religious denomination had formerly used for camp meeting purposes. We passed the day unmolested except by the cold. Next night we started again and continued on to the Cumberland Mountain crossing over a "space" (illegible) of the mountain that night and a part of the next day. We came to the Rail Road near Crow Creek, here we waited until night. About 10 o'clock that night we ran upon a guard at a bridge on the N and C RR who fired upon us and wounded one of our men, shooting him through the arm and shattering it in a frightful manner. Out of revenge and just for fun we charged the camp of the enemy, ran them off and carrying a lot of rails and pouring turpentine upon them set fire to the bridge to warm ourselves by for it was a fearful cold night. By the time we got the bridge burning nicely we heard the whistle of a locomotive far down tracks and, concluding to leave matters in their hands, we left returning to the mountains again crossing over into Sweetens Cove. We left our wounded man and continued our journey going back to the top of the mountains. while waiting on the brow of the mountain for night so that we might make our decent into the Sequachie Valley unmolested, we discovered a couple of Rebels coming up the mountain in our direction. I determined to capture them. Placing my men behind a short bend in the path, we waited until they arrived into the bend. When they was not more than thirty yards distance from us, we jumped to our feet and commanded them to halt. 0f course they surrendered. We treated them clever and taking them with us down the mountain into the Sequachie Valley. We so far gained their confidence that they voluntarily piloted us to where there was a boat in which we crossed Little Sequachie River. We now had no further use for our prisoners and was somewhat at a loss what to do with them. Some of the boys suggested one thing and some another, arguing that it would not do to turn them loose as they would raise the alarm and we were now some twentyfive miles in the rear of the enemy's lines we would be captured, and that the necessities of our cause was such that we had better dispose of them in a summary manner. I was now sorry that we had captured them but determined to save their lives cost what it would, I argued with the disaffected ones that it would be atrocious in us to take their lives. Finally good counsel prevailed and after swearing them to secrecy as regarded us, we turned them loose and let them go, continuing our journey up the Sequachie Valley to Captain Fryers, arriving there about midnight. Captain Pryor (he was afterwards an officer in our army) set us all over Big Sequachie River on his horses, fording the river three abroad on horse back is not the most pleasant way of navigation but we got there all the same without accident. We traveled on the rest of the night, weary and worn, arriving about daybreak at the house of one of my men, Bill Hollaway, getting something to eat here (for we were almost famished, not having had a square meal from the time we left camp at Murfreesboro). We continued our journey to Peacock's on Waldens' Ridge. (Peacock was an Englishman and in sympathy with the Union cause). He and his good wife got us up a splendid dinner, and also filled our canteens with pretty good whiskey made from sorghum seed. I paid him $30. for our dinner and $50. for our whiskey (Confederate money). Also I gave him $1. per mile to carry me on his horse a distance of five miles. We started after eating and drinking at Peacocks and that night got lost in the gultches of the mountain, however we made up a fire of pine knots and camped until morning. Next morning we started at break of day. We had no supper the night before and nothing to eat that morning but still the spirit of the boys was equal to the occasion. In crossing a foot log over a creek, one of the men named Hodge fell off the log into the creek and it being terrible cold his clothes froze stiff. In this condition, worn out by long travel, exposure, and hunger, Hodge said he was like a bob tailed dog. He never could steer himself safely across a mud puddle. After traveling a distance of about eight miles we arrived at the house of a Union man named Reynolds. We were now within twenty-five miles of Chattanooga. Here I was to meet the celebrated Dr. G. A. Gowin (who afterwards raised and commanded a Regiment for the Union Army) to meet and confer with this gentleman was one of the prime objects of this adventure.
Up to this point we had lost two men, one wounded and left, the other (Holloway) left at his home in Sequachie Valley. All the rest of my men except the Michigan man lived in this neighborhood and all dispersed and went to our homes to see loved ones that most if us had not seen for about two years. Before disbanding we agreed to rendezvous in one week at a certain point known as Soddy in the Tennessee Valley about twenty miles from Chattanooga. I met my man (Colonel Goswin), copied his dispatch and repaired to the rendezvous at the appointed time but some of the men failed to put in their appearance. Here a laughable occurrence took place. While waiting for our men to come we saw some armed men coming up the road riding some very sorry horses. One was riding a mule. A spirit of mischief took possession of us and we concluded to frighten them. Crouching in a ravine by the side of the road, we awaited their coming. Soon they were opposite us. Rising simultaneously we fired our pistols in the air. they seemed to pause for an instant, then turning their nags, they rode in mad haste down the road helter skelter The one on the mule bringing up the rear. Soon the dogs all over that Community Was yelping and barking and as we learned afterwards the news spread like wildfire that the Yankee Army was coming and all the Rebels in the County took to the woods.
The missing men not coming, we concluded to wait one more day and then if they did not come, to return without them. That night one of my comrades, a brother, and myself were captured in the following manner: After leaving the rendezvous we went to the mountain (Walden's Ridge), and took up our quarters for the night in an old deserted house. Sometime in the night we was awakened by an order to Surrender.
Springing to my Feet I saw the shinning muzzles of three guns presented at us from the only avenue of egress. To fight under such circumstances would have been madness. Of course we surrendered. We found we had fallen into the hands of some of General John Morgan's men and the worst of it was one of them knew me personally. He also knew that I was a Federal Soldier. If we had have known who the enemy was, we would never have surrendered but now without arms, Prisoners in the hands of our most deadly enemy, it began to look pretty dark for us. Our captors was so cautious that two of them walked behind us with cocked pistols, the others leading their horses. In this condition we was taken about five miles in the direction of Chattanooga to a place called Poe's Tavern. There Our captors stopped for breakfast. They also ordered breakfast for us. When the hour for the meal drew near one of them guarded us outside the room to wash ourselves. I first, turned to the towel to dry myself but instead of taking towel, I caught hold of the gun of the guard and tried to wrench it from his hands but he, being a large and powerful man resisted held his gun and we had a tussle for it but finding I could not wrench it from him I suddenly let go of it and he came near falling. During this little tussle my brother could have run off but failed to do so because as he said he had left his hat in the house and did no Want to run off bare headed but the facts in the case was he Would not leave me a prisoner in their hands. We tried to laugh this occurrence off with them and succeeded in making all of them believe it was a little joke except the one I had the tussle with. After breakfast they began making preparations to start to Chattanooga with us. Some of them went to the stables to see about their horses, some went out on the porch to load pistols etc, etc, etc, and one man went up stairs for some purpose while 'two of them remained to guard us. The chances for escape looked a little favorable for us. My brother and myself was setting side by side, the guards were sitting opposite with guns laying across their knees. Suddenly I turned to brother and simultaneously we were upon them, knocking them down with our fists and capturing their guns. They run out of the house to their comrades on the porch. The one up stairs jumped from the top to the bottom and joined his friends on the porch. If there had any way been open for us to have retreated we would have done so at this junction but there was no escape, only through the porch and there were seven armed Rebels there. We were desperate men in the prime of life at that time and we determined to fight out with them. The officer in command of them, Lt. Darnell, ordered us to lay down the guns we had captured for we could not fight four men to one. Our answer was, come and take them if You can. Darnell was a brave man, whatever may be said of his comrades, he advanced to the door with a pistol in each hand, holding his arms across his face as if he expected to be shot in the head. As he darkened the door I pulled trigger, my gun did not fire, he commenced firing and my brother was shot through his hand between the thumb and middle finger causing his gun to go off, not doing any damage to anybody. Darnell charged supported by his friends. As they came in the door brother knocked Darnell down with his gun and I struck Condry, (the guard I had a tussle with on the porch), breaking the stock from my gun leaving me the naked gun barrel, a remarkable weapon in a close contest. From this to the end of the fight every fellow was for himself. They could not shoot anymore for fear of hitting each other, so we had a pretty good chance with them until they finally out powered us by excessive numbers.
The next move on their part was to bind us. This they accomplished after a desperate struggle. In binding my elbows the fellow was on his knees against my side and pulled with all his strength. This was very uncomfortable to me but it seemed to please him and of course he had his way about it. After binding us they then coupled us together, binding us elbow to elbow. In this condition they kicked us out of the house into the yard. Darnell then came up and putting his pistol against the head of my brother, told him to say his prayers as he was going to kill him. My brother proceeded to pray after the fashion of the man who slipped on the banana peel and finally wound up his prayers by calling Darnell a damned coward. I confess that up to this period we had acted in a very reckless manner. Looking back now beyond the years that have intervined I can see that two men cooped up in a small' room, prisoners zealously guarded as we was by seven or eight determined men, must have been almost insane to have made the attempt that we made but it was a matter of life or death with us. It was well known that we were scouts for the Union Army; in fact Our captors told us that we would suffer as Spies as soon as they got us to Chattanooga and I am glad today that we made the fight although we failed in regaining our liberty. But to return to my story, Darnell acted very badly in the way he treated my brother, and I could not excuse his conduct at the time. In fact, I thought it very cowardly but now after all these years I feel that my judgement against him was too harsh. My brother had beat him with his gun and crippled him considerably and under the excitement of the moment he acted as a coward acts, threatening helpless humans. Finally his manhood asserted itself, he lowered his pistol, thereby disappointing some of the others who had urged him to shoot.
There was a woman present during the fight and afterwards when they had bound us, she carried on so far, forget her womanhood as to urge them to kill us. This was no uncommon thing for a woman to do though for the feeling encountered by the war extended not only to some of the women, but even the children were embered with the same spirit.
(The woman described in the above statement was Celia Poe, the wife of Hasten Poe, owner of Poe's Tavern. She was 71 years old at this time and was a loyal southerner. Her great grandson, Byron Copeland ‘Coke’ Poe married Charles P. Card’s daughter, Pearl Varner Card, in 1903).
After binding up their wounds, they started to Chattanooga with us, they riding and us walking bound together. After proceeding in this manner some five or six miles we stopped and refused to go any further unless they would unbind us, this they refused to do for a time, threatening us with their pistols. Finally an old man living in a house by the side of the road come out and told them if he had charge of us and we did not go, he would kill us. But still we did not budge. Darnell, who had fallen behind, came up at this juncture and I suppose feeling a little sorry for us, uncoupled us from each other still leaving us bound by the elbows and wrists. We then started on, arriving at the Tennessee river opposite Chattanooga about 3 o'clock p.m. The river was up and there seemed no way of crossing. All the watercraft having been destroyed some time previous by order of Geri. Leadbetter. Finally they procured a small dugout from the island midway in the river a little above Chattanooga and in this they crossed us over, taking us at once to the Provost Marshall's office. I at once recognized the officer in charge of the office as on old school mate and advanced toward him with a look of recognition and would have offered my hand if it had not been tied. But he stared over my head and failed to recognize me. Here a description of us was taken and a guard was sent with us to the prison. Upon arriving in the prison, our bonds were cut, and we found ourselves in a large room with about fifty other prisoners. Some of them roaming around the room at will, while others of them were chained. And one man was hand cuffed. Presently three or four officers came into the prison accompanied by a guard of three or four men and Singling brother and myself out proceeded to hand cuff us. We had been feeling pretty good before this, having our hands and feet at liberty, but now it began to look pretty dark again. However I kept a stiff upper lip and after dark borrowed a knife from another prisoner named McRoy (with whom I had formerly been aquatinted) and using my teeth to take out the screw, proceeded to pick the lock and take one of the cuffs off my brother. His was the kind that had links of chain holding them together. Mine went together with a spring holding my hands close together. I used the knife with both hands twisting it around in the lock until it took hold. After getting his off, he picked the lock of mine and we were there in a condition to sleep a little, not having any or but very little the night before. In the morning we put our handcuffs on again in order that they might find us alright. That day, three of Gen. Sheridan's escorts were brought in prisoner. The boys recognized us at once. We had left them safe at Murfreesboro but the fortunes of war had transferred them to a Rebel prison. However they were exchanged in a short time and after getting back to camp, it was discovered one of them was a girl and she was sent back north. This girl had belonged to the escort for some time and had made a good soldier.
We began to look about us to see if there were any possible chances for escape. The prison was a large three story brick building. We were in the second story, there was only one way of escape and that was
a narrow stairway. A sentinel was kept at the head of the stairway and another on guard at the foot. while the relief guard had their quarters in a room at the foot of the stairway. There were two large windows in the end of the room facing the street and a room partitioned off at the other end with two windows in it. In this room was kept an old man named Madux, a political prisoner. Also a Rebel captain was kept in here handcuffed. The second day they put us in this room placing a sentry at the door. The chances for escape looked very gloomy. I will relate an incident that occurred on the third day showing the license given by officers to private soldiers to kill prisoners.
The officers of the guard came into the prison and calling the attention of the guard, inquired for the two spies, we was pointed out to him and drawing his saber and making passes with it at us, abusing us shamefully with his tongue he then tried to take the gun from the hands of the sentinel to see as he said if it had a fresh cap on. He then ordered the guard to shoot us if we crooked a finger remarking that he would shoulder the responsibility.
That day a guard came up stairs and ordered us down below, saying that we had a visitor to see us. The visitor proved to be my wife and mother. When our mother saw us manackled with the accursed handcuffs, she sank back fainting. My brother sprang forward to support her and was prevented by the officer who ordered him back upstairs. The officer then searched my mother, taking her pocket book from her and treated her rudely. This was the most painful scene of my life to see my mother abused and not able to help her. My wife did not dare give me any words of encouragement but she smiled encouragement and this moved me to a determination to escape if possible. They soon ordered us back upstairs and I was glad this painful scene was over. This officer was named Oliver, he was a brute and was afterwards killed.
About this time my brother in law D. R. Grafton, a man of some influence with the Rebel authorities, hearing of our capture, came to see us and believing he could do something for us, went to see the Marshall in regard to the charges against us. He worked like a. hero for us, visiting us often and also sending us something to eat for the rations supplied by the Rebels would hardly keep a man alive. Finally he came into the prison one day and taking me by the arm commenced talking about the fortunes of war end the (illegible) 's of 'life etc, etc, (he was a preacher). Finally after circumnavigating the globe he said the next day they had decided to execute us as spies. This didn’t surprise me for I was expecting Such and so I told him. After some good (illegible) he left us .
That day, in the evening, some more Union prisoners were brought in. Among others was Lt. Cobb of General Hazens staff. I had frequently met with Cobb at Gen. Hazens headquarters. He was a carnival fellow and soon got on the good side of the officer of the guard who permitted him to sleep in our room along with us. About midnight we packed ourselves away for a snooze. Cobb first getting permission from the officer of the guard to close the door, shutting the sentinel outside. He then made his bed down against the door (this Was all according to a previously arranged plan between Lt. Cobb and myself). After we had been quiet for some time except the pretended snoring of the Lt., my brother proceeded to tear his blanket into strips and taking the pieces to stop the holes in the wood partition to keep prying eyes from seeing what was going on inside our room. After this was accomplished, I took an old shovel that old man Madux used to shovel coals on his oven with to bake his bread and going to the window (I had examined it during the day and found that one of the planks that the window was barred with was split open and that by removing one half of it there would be room for a man to squeeze through) I placed the blade end of the shovel behind the plank and using the other plank as a fulcrum, tried to pry the plank off. This was no easy matter for it was spiked on with 20th spikes. Besides I was afraid to make any noise for fear of alarming the sentinel at the door. However I fetched a pretty good surge on it and the spike gave way making a noise like a pistol. This alarmed the sentinel sure enough and making an effort to get into the room he found he was barred by the Lt. who had his bed against the door. Finally the Lt. who was pretending to be asleep quit snoring, moved his bed and let the guard in. In the mean time, I had got into my nest and the guard discovering nothing wrong, returned outside the door. Shortly after this the guard was relieved and the new guard, getting cold, went around to the fire. This was playing into our hands. I immediately got up, soon removed the loose plank, and felt the cool zephers fanning my face. The door of entrance to the prison was just under this window and upon looking down I was somewhat non-pleased to see a sentinel standing outside the door. My brother came and looked also and we decided to wait awhile and see if he would not go inside the house and shut the door. We had prepared a rope out of blankets, tied one end of it to a post inside and had made our calculations to slide down on it. After waiting sometime we grew impatient and finally I proposed to get out on the windowsill and jump off together. My brother, being a large heavy man thought this would not do as the distance was so great we would surely break our necks in the fall. I told him it was a small matter whether we broke our necks now or wait a few hours and let the Rebs break them. So we finally agreed to make the jump together for liberty. I noiselessly got out upon the windowsill. My brother followed. Touching his hand we made the leap together, out into the air, down, down, we went. I picked myself up instantly. In fact, it seems to me I struck the ground running. I ran about eighty yards and gaining the corner of an old warehouse and not seeing my brother with me, I stopped, looked back and saw my brother coming. He fell three times between where he was when I first saw him and the point where I was waiting for him. The guard must have been terror-stricken for when I looked back I could not see him anywhere. It was supposed he was bribed but if I was to guess, my guess would be that an avalanche fell upon him for my brother was pretty heavy. We now made the best speed we could for the river. I had Bill by the hand (this was my brother's name) and was running like a quarter horse. We finally reached the river and began to search for something to cross in. Nothing presented itself for a while but after a while we found a small canoe locked to a raft of saw logs. We soon broke the lock and breaking a fence rail into for paddles headed across the river and landed on the north side without any opposition. We traveled on as fast as possible for the mountains, arriving there a distance of fifteen miles about daylight. Making but one pause in the journey and that only long enough for me to take the remaining handcuff off my brother. We were now comparatively safe and my brother, being unable to proceed any further, I left him hid and went on a distance of six or seven miles further and sent some friends back after him. After recuperating in the mountains a few days, we returned to Murfreesboro without any adventures worth relating. Traveling by night hiding in the woods by day. Our comrades on this expedition most of them returning before us and reporting us gone up. Nothing remains
now for me to relate except I carried those dispatches all the way through even in the Rebel prison, not withstanding my brother frequently urged me to destroy them and delivered them safe in the hands of General Sheridan.
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