CAPTURE, PRISON LIFE AND ESCAPE
OF
George W. Nicholas of Company E, 112th Illinois

Written by himself. Edited by B. F. Thompson.

Contributed by Karen Seeman


On the 15th of November, 1863, while the 112th Illinois was resting at Lenoir, in East Tennessee, and discussing the probability of going into "winter quarters," -- on the strength of which the orderly sergeant of my company and I had built a log cabin, and part of the 9th Army Corps had torn down a church and used the lumber in the erection of shanties, - one of the pickets stations at Park's Ferry, on the Holston River, came into camp sick, and I was detailed to take his place; so I saddled my little sorrel horse, and taking my trusty Enfield, started for the picket post, - glad to get away from camp, - especially as I had been informed there was excellent foraging in the country near the river.

Little did I think, as I left camp, that fifteen long months would elapse before I should again see the officers and comrades of my company, but such was the case.

The picket post was about four miles south east of Campbell's Station, where the battle with Longstreet was fought the next day. There were twenty pickets, divided into two squads of ten men each - on occupying a log cabin on the north bank of the Holston, and one another cabin about forty rods north, on the road to Campbell's Station - both in command of Serg. Solomon Dixon, of Co. E, of the 112th.

The picket post was in a bend of the river; and we were ordered by Capt. Otman, officers of the guard, to hold the position until relieved or driven back by the rebels. We were relieved sooner than we expected. We were enjoying ourselves hugely, shooting squirrels and pigs, and digging potatoes, and had made arrangements to go up the river, the second night after I joined the pickets, to kill "Aunt Susie's" pet bear, and have a general feast. But the fortunes of war changed our plans. Before night came some of Longstreet's Texans made their appearance on the opposite side of the river, and claimed the bear, and told us we had better "git out of thar," or we would be captured. We didn't dispute their title to the bear, but we refused to "git." One very intelligent rebel came down to the water's edge and held a lengthy conversation with us. He said he had formerly lived in Illinois, and had a cousin in the 112th Illinois by the name of Thompson, and was anxious to learn something about him. He said we would all be on our way to Atlanta the next day if we didn't leave there, and advised us to get away while we could. But we died not leave, all the same. Our sergeant said his orders were to remain there until relieved by Union soldiers, or driven back, and he proposed to obey orders whatever might be the consequences. He didn't intend to be relieved by a rebel detail, nor to fall back until compelled to. During the day the Union forces retired from Lenoir. They made a stand at Campbell's Station, but by night were above Concord, and we were doing picket duty in rear of the rebel army.

Serg. Dixon encouraged us by saying we would soon be relieved and he sent two men up towards Concord to see what the rebels were doing. Before they returned our relief squad came. It consisted of one hundred men of the 5th Georgia cavalry. They said we were wanted at Concord. They must have placed a high estimate upon our fighting qualities (as they knew our numbers, and had a trusty guide) to send one hundred men to capture twenty "high privates." While returning from the Saunders Raid into East Tennessee, in the preceding summer, the Union force was surrounded; and this same 5th Georgia cavalry formed in line of battle between the detachment of the 112th and the foot of the mountain to prevent us from reaching the mountain road; and we charged upon them and put them to flight - so we found ourselves among old acquaintances. They were very clever and sociable boys, treated us respectfully and permitted us to ride our horses to Concord. On the road a rebel soldier heard the tick of William Barr's watch, and requested Barr to hand it over to him, but they took no clothing nor money from us. We reached camp about four o'clock in the morning, and we allowed to sit by a good fire until daylight. By sunrise the camp was astir and the troops making hurried preparations to follow Burnside. They said they had burnt his sides in Virginia and they would burn them again at Knoxville. We replied that they would have lots of dead "Johnnies" to bury before they got into Knoxville. They ate their breakfast, replenished their cartridge boxes, and pulled out - but they did not invite us to eat with them.

We saw no more of our horses, but we marched on foot to Campbell's Station. Here we saw some of the effects of the battle the day before. A shell had exploded in the second story of a dwelling house and torn it to pieces, and feathers from beds, clothing, and numerous other articles were scattered over the yard. An old barn in the vicinity was completely riddled. We saw a number of dead Union soldiers lying about, unburied, but recognized none of them until we came to a boy lying in a fence corner, stripped of his clothing, whom we all identified as Robert Piatt, of Co. H, of the 112th - but we learned afterward that we were mistaken.

Our guards wanted to turn us over to another regiment, but they refused to receive us. They then inquired of a colonel who was passing what they should do with us, and he replied, "'Take the d___ Yankee s___ of b___ out in the timber and shoot them."

They finally marched us toward Knoxville. About sunset we came to a crib containing a few bushels of ear corn, and were told to take enough for our supper and breakfast. We were then marched to an old straw stack and ordered to lie there until morning. Having no mill to grind our corn, nor pot to boil it in, we ate it raw. I did not sleep that night. I made up my mind to escape and go to Knoxville, before morning, but the guard was too vigilant for my purpose, and I was compelled to give it up.

In the morning we ate the remainder of our corn and started early towards Knoxville. In reply to our inquiry as to why they were taking us in that direction, the guards said they expected to captured the whole of Burnside's army, and they would have us all together. We reached a large brick dwelling house where Dr. Baker had lived, and were halted and rested some time. A division of Longstreet's infantry was here - Texas troops, I believe - ragged, barefooted and dirty, Dr. Baker had been killed by Union troops during the Saunders raid, and some of our boys unguardedly mentioned the fact that they were among the raiders who had killed him. This brought upon us a storm of abuse and curses. One officer especially, cursed loud and deep, and heaped all manner of vile epithets upon the heads of the "d___ blue b___d Yankees," for killing "the best citizen in East Tennessee." After they had exhausted their vocabulary of oaths, a rebel captain jumped up and said, "Fall into line, you G___ d___ Yankee s__ of b____." We fell in, and dressed in line, and he gave the order, "To the rear, ten paces, march!" We began to think that meant business; that they intended to shoot us, then and there, in retaliation for the killing of Dr. Baker. I felt my hair raising, and began to think of the dear ones at home. We could die in battle, if necessary, without complaining - that would be an honorable death; but to be shot down like dogs, while prisoners of war - murdered - that was terrible. But we were soon relieved of suspense. The next order came, "Pull off your boots!" and in three minutes his dirty, ragged Texans were wearing our boots.

We were about-faced and started back toward Campbell's Station. We marched until night, and slept in a straw stack, without dinner or supper, and the next day continued our march, without breakfast or dinner, to Loudon, where we arrived at dark, and were placed in an old livery stable. We met many stragglers, from Longstreet's army on the road, hard-looking customers, who insulted and jeered at us as they passed. Our guards were fearful of meeting Col. Byrd's regiment - the 1st East Tennessee - which they understood was at Kingston, and might attempt to recapture us; and I heard the sergeant instruct his men, in case they were attacked, to shoot the prisoners and then run. We would have been glad to meet the 1st East Tennessee and run our chances of being shot.

The rebels had captured a deserter the night before, and had him confined, closely guarded, in a separate stall in the stable. He had been in both armies, and deserted from both, and was captured at home. He said he would be shot in the morning, and gave us his money, saying it could do him no good and might benefit us. We lay down on the hard floor, weary and supperless, to meditate upon our unhappy fate, and, perchance, to sleep. The next morning we received a little raw beef and flour - the first rations issued to us since our capture - not more than enough for one meal, if well cooked; but as we had no cooking utensils, and could not eat raw beef and flour, we made a light breakfast, and were then hurried on the train bound for Atlanta. We passed down through Athens, and caught a glimpse of our old camp, and a view of the hill where Capt. Otman and I lay concealed, after we were cut off at Calhoun, on the 26th of September, while the old negro, "Uncle George," supplied us with provisions, and where the 112th Band gave us the first signal of the approach of Union troops; and as I looked, I involuntarily listened for strains of music, and peered through the cracks of the old box car to see if the 112th were not again marching into the town. But, alas! I could hear no music, could see no soldiers in blue, and I turned away home-sick, heart-sick and despondent.

The train stopped at Cleveland, a short time, and we traded our beef and flour to an old lady for pies and cake. This was the first decent food we had after our capture. We arrived at Dalton at night, and were guarded in an old church, or school house, and received a few "hard tack" for supper. The next day proceeded to Atlanta, where we arrived in the evening. Our car was immediately surrounded by a curious crowd of wretched looking Georgia "crackers," whose hair had never seen comb nor scissors, whose faces were strangers to soap and water, whose clothes were dirty, ragged and "slouchy," and whose manners were worse than all the rest. We were marched to the outskirts of the city and turned into a pen called a "military prison." It contained one small shed, which was already full to overflowing, and we slept on the ground outside. On the way out to the pen, one of the guards, who seemed an honest, clever fellow, told me our blankets and overcoats would be taken from us when we left there, and he offered to buy mine. I sold him my blanket for five dollars, Confederate money - worth seventy-five cents - and that night I nearly froze. In the morning they issued to the prisoners some corn meal and meat, with only one old broken pot and part of an old skillet for over two hundred men to cook in. Here we first saw the ball and chain: several prisoners were wearing them for attempting to escape.

We remained here only two days. Seven day's rations were issued to the prisoners, and we were informed that we would start for Richmond. Our commissary was a captain of an Ohio regiment, and in distributing the rations he gave his own men the major part, and the rest very little. That company occupied a car by themselves and we could not get to them, or there would have been trouble.

As we marched out we passed through the "stripping squad," which relieved the boys of blankets and overcoats. This caused a great deal of swearing among our men; but the "strippers" said they could not help it, that they were acting under orders and had to obey, whether they liked to do so or not. We were loaded in box cars, and proceeded to Augusta. Here we changed cars, and, in marching through town to another depot, some of our men were attacked by citizens with knives, but the prisoners were protected by the guards. Here we saw the finest company of militia "home guards" I ever looked upon. The men were all of the same height - about five feet, and four feet through - and all wore high plug hats. They belonged to the "aristocracy, sah." In passing a grocery store we asked the proprietor to sell us some apples. He swore we might starve before he would sell us anything. But Augusta contained some noble kind-hearted women, who secretly supplied the prisoners with pies, cakes and other eatables. Leaving Augusta, we crossed the river and struck into the swampy country of South Carolina. We ran out to Branchville, and stopped there an hour or two.

One of our guards went out and got a basket of corn-bread and sweet potatoes, but refused to sell any until the train had started. We were out of rations and hungry, but we could not prevail on him to sell. Before the train started, however, he fell asleep, and when he awoke his baskets were empty. He was very angry. He said that he had paid sixty-five dollars for the bread and potatoes, and we might go to _____ before he would get any more.

From here we ran to Wilmington, crossed the Cape Fear River on a ferry boat, and stood for hours on the bank of the river, shivering with cold, waiting for the train. They at last made up a train of gravel cars, and loaded us on them. It was windy and cold; the train ran rapidly, and we nearly perished - the wind pierced us through and through. We begged the guard to stop the train, and allow us to build fires. This they did; and we piled on earth and wood and built two or three fires on each car, which made us more comfortable. that night we were put into box cars in which cattle had been shipped, and the cars not cleaned. They were very dirty, but preferable to the open flat cars. After six days of starvation and freezing we were dumped out on Belle Isle, where they were already about five hundred prisoners. The prison camp was on a level, flat, sand-bar, on the lower end of the island, opposite Richmond, in the James River, and contained about five acres, enclosed by a small earthwork thrown up all around it. We were turned in here, on the last day of November, barefoot, with no blankets, overcoats or tents - nothing but the cold sand to sleep on, and no wood for fires. Part of the prisoners already there had some kind of tents, but there were about one hundred who had neither tents nor clothing. They dug holes in the sand and crawled into them to keep warm, and nearly all of them froze to death. Our Co. E boys were exceedingly lucky; for the second day there they drew a good wedge tent. It was a tight fit for twenty men, but we managed to wedge in. We slept "spoon-fashion," and when we wanted to turn over the command would be given, "right spoon," or "left spoon," and all turned at the same time.

For a time the rebels gave us corn bread, meat soup, and occasionally raw turnips; but this did not last long. In a short time we were fed upon corn bread alone, and for eight weeks we had not a mouthful to eat except cold corn bread, and very little of that. The weather was bitter cold, but in all that time we had not a stick of wood nor a spark of fire. During the winter the Rev. D. L. Moody, the great Evangelist, visited us, and distributed clothing, and shoes and socks, and a blanket or overcoat to each man - goods furnished by the loyal, Christian people of the North; but some of the boys were so nearly starved they traded their clothing for something to eat. We were driven out of camp every few days and compelled to stand in line until we were nearly frozen, while they rebel officers counted the prisoners. Some wild onions grew on the island which we wanted to pull, but the request was denied with many loud and blood-curdling oaths. Five of our company, Serg. Solomon Dixon, James Ray, Simon Ray, George O. Marlatt, and John D. Swaim, died from exposure and starvation.

About the middle of March we were ordered out and marched over to the city, and informed that we were to be exchanged. We were so weak from hunger and cold and lack of exercise that we could hardly walk, but the boys were in high glee, as they expected to be exchanged.

We were placed in a building nearly opposite Libby Prison, and remained there until nearly morning, when we were ordered out to be marched, as we supposed down to the river for exchange. But when the head of the column filed right and marched west towards the railroad, our hearts began to sink. We then realized that we had been deceived. We were ordered into the cars, and the train pulled out, south. The train stopped some time at Petersburg, and again our hopes revived - we might be sent down to City Point, for exchange - but again we were sadly disappointed. The train again started south, and about the first of April we were landed at Americus, Ga., and thence marched, between a strong line of guards on either side, to the notorious slaughter-house called Andersonville. The large gate swung open, we marched in, the gate closed, and we were in a hell upon earth, the torments of which have never been equaled in this world, and cannot be surpassed in the next. It was dark, and we were weary, hungry and sleepy; and we spread our blankets and lay down on the (--?--) parcel of ground allotted to us, and we soon asleep. The next morning we took a survey of the camp. It contained about sixteen acres, with a small creek running through it from west to east, on each side of which was a miry swamp, so soft and shaky one could not walk across it. On each side of this the sand hills sloped upward, to the north and south. There were no trees standing except two pines on the east side. there were no barracks, no tents - not even a hospital tent - in the enclosure.

I think there were about a thousand prisoners confined there when we arrived - the hardest looking lot of them I ever aw - poor, ragged, dirty, covered with vermin, and as black as negroes - smoked by the pitch pine fires. The prison was enclosed with pine logs set close together on end in the ground four or five feet, and about sixteen feet above ground. Near the top were the sentry boxes, where the guards stood; and about fifteen feet inside of the stockade was the dead line. This had been made by driving down stakes and nailing poles on top of them; and woe be to the poor fellow who approached too near this line. The young boys on guard frequently shot prisoners who were not near the dead line, "just for fun."

I will not attempt to depict the character of the inhuman monster who was in command of the prison. Abler pens than mine have failed to do the subject justice; no language can express his unfeeling cruelty, his brutal, cowardly and barbarous treatment of the unfortunate men whom the chances of war than thrown in his power. His face denoted the true character of the man, and the rebel authorities selected wisely when they detailed him as the tool to do their cruel work.

I have seen this miserable wretch place men in the stocks or chain gang, for no offense whatever, and leave them in the hot sun until they died, and their comrades were powerless to aid them; in fact, to offer aid, or even to express sympathy for them, would have subjected any man to the same torture.

The rations issued to the men were of the poorest quality, and in small quantities. I have seen bacon issued that was alive with maggots. The corn bread was burned to a black crust on the outside and was raw inside. Sometimes they issued "mush." This they hauled in in a wagon, and threw out with a scoop, as Illinois farmers throw out corn to their hogs. For want of dishes the men used old boot legs, or old shoes, or a drawer or pants leg, made into a bag, or their hats or caps, if they had any, to keep their food in, and to eat from.

We had not been there a very long time until several Co. E boys were down with diarrhea, and began to die. The first to go was Noah Fantz - as good a soldier as ever carried a gun. We did all we could to save him, but our efforts were in vain. He died under a brush shed, called a "hospital," with a stick of wood under his head for a pillow.

The rebels then put up some brush sheds outside for "hospitals," and the rest of the boys who died were in them, and we could not see them. The next to go was John Cole, then William B. Barr, then William W. McMillen, Charles B. Davis, Michael Springer and James Elston - as noble boys and good soldiers as ever shouldered a gun. (The Confederate records showed that Cole died first, then Barr).

I waited upon one poor fellow who lay on the ground near our quarters, with no shelter over him, until he died. All the clothing he had on was part of a shirt and part of a pair of drawers. Every day I had to clean maggots out of his mouth, nose, eyes, and ears, and from between his fingers and toes. The ground was alive with them, on account of the filth. I mention this only as an illustration of thousands like it. Some days during the summer months as many as seventy-five died inside the stockade. This does not include those in the "hospitals" outside. We had no means of knowing the number that died there, but we did know that very few indeed who entered the "hospitals" came out alive.

I was very fortunate. I was determined that I would NOT die in a rebel prison. I exercised as much as possible, bathed every night, kept my mind occupied with occurrences in camp, and endeavored not to think of home or the loved ones there. I well know that if I allowed myself to become homesick, I should surely die, like my comrades around me. It was a terrible experience. I had my childrens' photographs with me, but I could not name them; and it was some time after, before I could distinguish one from another. They were like strangers to me. I forgot home, friends, country, God - everything. I had but one rational object in my mind - to keep myself alive until I could get out of there. I could write a volume upon the terrible sufferings of the men in that hell on earth, but this must suffice.

About the middle of September orders were received for all who could walk to the depot to get to get ready to leave at once; and if any started and gave out on the road, the guards were ordered to bayonet them. Charles Davis, of Co. E, was nearly gone. We carried him to the "hospital," and bad him a final "good bye." He died a few hours after. Jonathan Graves was so weak he could not walk alone, and two of us helped him along.

We embarked on the cars and ran to Savannah, and from there to Charleston, S. C. Here we came in view of the Union fleet off the harbor, with the Stars and Stripes floating proudly in the air, and Oh! how our hearts ached to go out to them. We seemed so near, and yet were so far away.

We were marched into the ruined part of the city, upon a vacant lot, and kept a day and a night under fire from the Union gunboats. Several shells burst in the air over our heads, but no one of us was injured.

From here we were marched out to, and quartered in, the fair-grounds. We received the best fare there that we received anywhere in the Confederacy. Our rations were tolerably good, and were made up of a greater variety than we were accustomed to.

The good Sisters of Charity visited us every day, and brought substantial articles of food for the well, and many little delicacies for the sick, which they distributed with kindly hands and words of comfort to all. We learned that our good treatment here was not voluntary on the part of the rebels, but was caused by threats of retaliation upon rebel prisoners, if we were not well treated.

While here the rebel officers endeavored by every means possible to induce us to enlist in the Confederate army. They promised us good clothing, which we were sadly in need of, and made many other flattering promises; but we invariably answered that we would die by inches, and rot in prison, before we would take up arms against our government. After remaining here a week or ten days we were removed to Florence S. C. On our way there a man in the car next to ours jumped out of the door, just as the train passed through a covered bridge, and rolled down the embankment to the water's edge in the river. Several shots were fired at him by the guards, but the train did not stop, and we never knew whether he was hit or not.

The prison at Florence was similar to that at Andersonville. It had the same miry swamp, but had a furrow for a dead line. There was some wood here; and being among the first arrivals, Jonathan Graves, Charles Hart, Henry Morgan and I procured an old, dull axe, by paying twenty-five cents an hour for its use, and built a nice little log hut, about six by seven feet, and four feet high, and covered it with earth. We then cut a lot of pitch-pine wood, and buried it in the ground by the side of our cabin. We were then "fixed" for winter. But our "house" was so near the dead line that we were in constant danger of being shot, if we stepped outside after dark, which deteriorated somewhat from the comforts of our "house." This reminds me of a case of cold-blooded murder which occurred there. A man named James Lindsay, of our own regiment - Co. D - was very sick; and one bright moonlight night, while he was sitting on the ground, fifteen feet from the dead line, the guard shot him in the back, killing him instantly. The inhuman murderer offered no excuse for his crime, and was not even reprimanded by the officers. (He was promoted.) One evening, as I was going after water, and was not within fifteen feet of the dead line, I heard the click of a gun, and looking up quickly saw the guard with his gun leveled on me. "Hello, Mister," said I, "there is the dead line," pointing to it. He recovered arms, wheeled about and walked on, without speaking. Had I not spoken I would have been shot.

The officer in charge of the prison was a fiend incarnate by the name of Barrett - a lieutenant. If possible he exceeded Wirtz in downright brutality. I have seen him come into the prison and walk up to a group of men and empty his revolver right into the crowd; and I have seen him knock down prisoners with clubs, and beat them, and break iron ramrods over their backs; and many an oath was registered to kill him when the war was over.

I was fortunate enough to be detailed, with about one hundred others, to chop wood outside, for the camp and small-pox hospitals, and for other purposes. We were required to take an oath not to undertake to escape, and worked without a guard; but were counted every night when turned inside the prison. We were privileged to go anywhere we pleased within a mile from camp; but were strictly forbidden to trade with any of the citizens or soldiers, and were searched every night, when we entered the prison, to see if we had any "contraband goods" about us. I became acquainted with the sergeant whose duty it was to search the prisoners, and he told me to trade for anything I wished to, and he would pass me in. I tied strings around the bottom of my drawer legs, sewed up the front, and poured in about a half-bushel of beans; put four large plugs of tobacco in my bosom, and concealed four pounds of beef steak in my cap. I was loaded so heavily that I walked very awkwardly. The sergeant felt all over me, gave me a knowing wink, and said, "Go in, Nicholas, you're all right." This was but one of the many times I returned to camp similarly loaded, and always passed. Some of the boys attempted to tunnel out, but I think none made their escape in that manner. If the rebels suspected anything of that kind, they shut off the rations until it was reported. At one time they starved us forty-eight hours, until somebody "squealed." (Jonathan Graves, of Co. E, made his escape from Florence, and succeeded in reaching the Union lines.)

Here, again, the rebel officers endeavored to induce us to enlist in the Confederate army; to fight Sherman; and they succeeded in raising one or two companies. But they soon learned that this was but a ruse of the boys, to get to the front where they could go over to Sherman's army; and turned them back into the prison.

The sick received much better treatment here than at Andersonville. The camp was more cleanly and the weather cooler, and there was less suffering; but even here it was too terrible to attempt to describe. They had a dungeon, in which prisoners were confined for very slight offences. If one was caught trading with citizens he was sure to go to the dungeon. The officer in command was as brutal, as inhuman, as cruel and barbarous as Wirtz of Andersonville; but the prisoners suffered less by reason of the cooler weather and more favorable camp.

About the middle of February the rebel authorities were fearful that Sherman would release us, and began to ship us north. Our train ran to Wilmington, N. C., then to Goldsboro, where we camped in the woods north of town one day, and then were ordered to Saulsbury; but before the train started they were ordered to send us back to Wilmington to be exchanged. This was in the night; and we unloaded from the cars and stood in the streets until another train was made up to take us to Wilmington. We were not guarded closely after the order to exchange, and might have made our escape; but we had no motive then to undertake it. We preferred to be exchanged. We finally reached Wilmington, where we waited a night and a day for the "truce boats," very loosely guarded, and with nothing to eat.

About two o'clock one afternoon the long-looked for "truce-boats," as we supposed, arrived: but instead, they proved to be "gun-boats," and opened fire upon the town.

When the captain in charge of the prisoners heard the firing, he came back among us crying - great tears rolling down his cheeks - and informed us there could be no exchange, and he must take us north again. They had cars for only one-half of the prisoners and the rest, myself among them, marched on foot. We had not proceeded far until we saw dense clouds of smoke rising from the town. The rebels had set fire to the cotton and other property, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the "Yankees."

That night I made up my mind to escape or die in the attempt. We were guarded by cavalry, old soldiers, who appeared to be fine fellows. Just after dark we were crossing a pond of water, which extended on both sides of the road, and the prisoners crossed, in single file, on foot-logs, on either side, placed there for foot-men to cross on. When I was about half way across, I stepped quickly off the log into the brush, unobserved by the guards, and lay down in the water. This was the night of February 20th, 1865. I lay there in the water, within six or eight feet of the foot-log, until after midnight, while the rebel army - infantry and artillery - retreating from Wilmington, was passing. I could hear distinctly all they said. Their conversation was mostly about the "___ Yankees," and the "___ ____ ___ gun-boats." They talked as if the war was about ended and the Southern Confederacy "busted," which was cheerful news to the listener in the water.

The last squad that passed stopped at the edge of the water, about thirty feet from me, set fire to an old, dry stump, and swore they were going to rest. The light of the fire shone on me as bright as day. My heart beat loud and rapidly - I was afraid they would hear it - but the did not discover me. It was amusing to hear them curse the "Yankee gun-boats" and the "_____ nigger troops." They rested half an hour - which seemed to me a week - and then moved on.

I crawled out, listened, found the road clear, and made my way west to the Cape Fear River, and lay there all the next day and night. This made three days that I had been without food. On the 22nd of February several squads of deserters from the rebel army passed, and one came to me. He gave me some bread and meat. On the 21st there had been considerable skirmishing on the road I had left between the advance of the Union troops and the rebel rear guard; and on the 22nd heavy cannonading was heart at Wilmington. We could not understand the meaning of it, as we supposed the rebel troops had all moved away. We finally determined to go to the city, and had not proceeded two hundred years when we were halted by Union pickets. We told them our story, and were permitted to pass on - the deserter surrendering his gun and accoutrements.

We here learned the cause of the cannonading. The navy was firing a salute in celebrate of Washington's birthday. We traveled about a mile and stopped at a large farm house for supper. We felt safe inside the Union pickets, but were surprised when the door opened and a rebel captain, in full uniform, stood before us. He invited us in, talked very kindly, informed us that he had given up the Southern cause as lost and left the army, gave us a good supper, and invited us to stay all night. The rebel deserter remained, but I declined his hospitality and continued on my way toward the city until I came to a negro cabin, and remained there all night. On the 23d I arrived at Wilmington, and great was my astonishment and joy to find my own regiment, the good old 112th, in camp there, on the west side of the river. It was a great surprise. I had not heard from the regiment for fifteen long months, and supposed it was in the West. That was the happiest day of my life. I was glad to meet the boys once more; and they were glad to see me, and for hours plied me with questions as to my prison life and escape, and made many anxious inquiries about their comrades still in prison. This ended my prison life; and it was undoubtedly shortened my natural life many years.

On the 24th I visited brigade headquarters, and there found Gen. Henderson and Capt. Otman, who were glad to see me and to hear from their captured men. Dr. Milliken, of the 112th, then Brigade Surgeon, advised me to go home as quickly as possible. I took the first boat for Annapolis; arrived there sick, and lay in hospital three days; then was sent to Baltimore, where I remained in hospital three weeks. I then received a thirty days furlough, and in seven days was at home - saved from the horrible fate of many of my comrades; and ever since that time I have felt like one risen from the dead.


Back to Stark County Illinois History and Genealogy