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Chapter 14:

  • On the cars
  • -- an old acquaintance -- his reasons for being in the army -- meeting the slave we chased -- rebel account of our pursuit -- interesting advertisement -- in jail again -- Captain Clay Crawford -- prison fare -- rebel barbarities -- taking comfort.

In due time me took our places on the train, and recommenced our journey. At the next stopping-place, a man in rebel uniform approached me, and said:

I think I know you, sir.

I made no reply, supposing his object was merely to quarrel with me. He repeated his remark, and still I refused to notice him. The third time he spoke, he said:

Your name is Rev. J. J. Geer, and you come from Cincinnati, Ohio. You used to preach there in the George street Methodist Protestant Church. I am--, who studied medicine with Dr. Newton of that city.

He extended his hand, and I instantly grasped it, and shook it heartily. I would state his name; but, for the same reason that I suppress the sheriff's, I must also omit his. Stepping back to where he had set down a basket, [183] my old acquaintance brought me some biscuits and roast chicken. After this welcome gift had been properly attended to, the donor introduced me to his lady, who was a fine, intelligent looking person. Her husband then taking his seat beside me, we fell into conversation, the chances of being overheard being small, on account of the noise made by the train. Said he to a question of mine:

I should never have taken any part in this war, could I have helped myself. But when the conscription law was passed, I knew there was no chance for my escaping it, nor could I remove with my family. If I remained, I must go into the army as a private. This I could not endure, and so I obtained an office.

At this moment, the cars suddenly stopped, and an officer attended by a guard, who must have partially overheard the last portion of the speaker's remarks, ordered him to leave me, and take a seat in another part of the car.

Presently, we reached a place where we were detained three hours. While waiting here, the master of that negro whom we chased in the swamp, and whom I have before mentioned as having a basket of corn strapped to his back, stepped aboard of the train. He came forward smiling, and, taking us by the hand, told us [184] what a fierce chase he had had after us. He then asked us if he should call the negro in, and on receiving an affirmative answer, did so.

I asked, with the permission of his master, why he ran from us in the swamp.

“Kase, sah, I thought you wuz Tom Jimmerson, an' he said he'd shoot me if he ever had a chance.”

This negro seemed excessively ignorant; but this is a habit with them all, as a general thing, when their masters are present.

“Where in the d-l did you hide,” asked the owner of this slave, “when we were after you?”

“Where did you look?” queried I.

“Well,” said he, “when the boy came in and told me that he had seen you in the swamp, I went down to the soldiers who were hunting you on the river, and put them on the lookout. Then I returned and started out all the dogs in the neighborhood. One of these, an old hound, that belonged to Tom Brown, never before failed to bring to us his game within a short time after he took the tracks. In two hours, sixteen of us, with the two negroes and the hounds, were after you hot-footed. Not long after we put the dogs on your track, they got confused, and ran my own boy up to the house. [185] I called them back, and in returning, Brown's old dog struck round a fence, as we thought, on your track. He kept on the branch back of my field, and there crossed and went up the creek, with the whole pack at his heels. We followed after, and found that he crossed the water again, and came down the other side to where he crossed the first time. There the scent was lost, and the dogs gave it up. We hunted round there till nearly night, and not finding any one, went down to the river to guard it. When we got there, the corporal advised me, with six or eight others, to go up the river and take another hunt; but, of course, it brought no good.”

My comrade here informed the narrator how we had been lying concealed under the palmleaves, and watching all their motions, at a distance of not over a hundred yards or so. This astonished him very much; so much so, indeed, that he seemed to doubt it, until Collins repeated to him the identical expressions used on that occasion by himself, his companions, and the soldiers. He then turned to the sheriff, and said with an oath:

“I've hunted bear, and deer, and fox, and never failed; but these Yankees fooled me bad.” [186]

The sheriff told him we were Virginians, which seemed to relieve him, as he exclaimed:

“Well, I thought Yankees couldn't have so much pluck.”

One fact he was rather curious about, and that was, how we had thrown the bloodhounds off our track so easily. But this knowledge, which had been imparted to us by the negroes, we refused to divulge.

“Well,” said he in conclusion, “I wish you a long life; and if I had the say in it, I'd let you go free, for you're none of these d-d Yankees.”

At this moment the cars started, and he, bidding us another good-bye, leaped off, and we saw him no more.

Soon after this little incident, my friend, the sheriff, got a paper which he handed to me. In it I noticed an account of the recapture of Captain Clay Crawford, who was in prison with us, and had escaped at the same time, but had been separated from us in the alarm of that occasion. I read also an advertisement of one J. J. Geer, described as follows: “Six feet and three-fourths of an inch in height, black hair, and blue eyes.” Lieutenant A. P. Collins was also named, but without any description.

I knew instantly that I had been reported by [187] the man that I mentioned in the beginning of my narrative as having been a deceiver. He had measured me in Columbus jail, Mississippi, and, as I was in my bare feet at the time, this measurement was short, as by all military standards I always measured six feet two inches.

There were other unpleasant items in this paper, the principal one of which was that in reference to McClellan's retreat from before Richmond.

In due season we arrived at the end of our journey, Macon, Georgia. In conferring with the sheriff on the subject of our future course, I told him it would be best for his own safety to take us to the prison as soon as possible. This he did; and it was but a short time after, that we were again face to face with the tyrant Rylander. He sent us under a guard of four men to our cells, where the jailor came and robbed us of our money. He took also our watches, which until now we had succeeded in carrying. We were then heavily ironed, and left in those filthy cells with only a little straw to lie upon, and this full of odious vermin.

We ascertained that it was true concerning Captain Clay Crawford's recapture. He belonged to a Missouri regiment, and was a [188] genteel, manly comrade, never, like most of his companions, jeering at religion or its advocates. He was a graduate of West Point, and consequently a man well versed in military matters.

Hearing of our return, Captain Crawford, who was confined close to us, made himself known, and a conversation was shortly opened. We learned from him that he had succeeded in making his escape at the same time we did, dressed in a rebel uniform. Going boldly to the Provost Marshal's office, he passed himself off for a Confederate officer, and obtained a pass to Savannah, where he hoped to be able to get aboard a United States gunboat. His knowledge of the South and Southern officers, and the fact that there was a Captain Crawford in the rebel army, assisted him greatly. In one or two places through which he passed, he was in peril from Union sympathizers, who looked upon him as an enemy. In all these localities he found that all the young, able-bodied men had been swept into the army, while the old men who were left behind were very decided Unionists. This I may add was exactly my own experience.

I asked him what fare he got in prison.

“Oh,” said he, “nothing but corn-meal and maggots!” [189]

That he stated truth in regard to the food, I had ample proof, when at night a negro brought us some boiled colards, a species of cabbage. He carried it in a dirty-looking bucket, mixed with corn bread, made of meal and water. Producing two tin plates, he put a mess of the colards on each, and then pushed them through the grating of our cell to us. The greens appeared to have been boiled with something like meat, or rather scraps of refuse fat, certainly not fit for anything save soap-grease. On close inspection of the mess, we could see the maggots, which, by way of curiosity, we commenced to pick out. By the time we had picked out half a teaspoonful of large fat ones — not skippers, but, maggots-our stomachs, hungry as they were, sickened, and we could not touch the horrid food. We then examined our haversacks and a pillow-slip that old Aunt Kate had given us. In the latter, as much to our gratification as surprise, we found two fine roasted chickens, and plenty of elegant corn-bread made with molasses. After enjoying this good fare, we knelt and raised our voices in thanks to the Lord, who still watched and guarded us. We felt very happy, and made the misty old prison ring again with our hymns of praise.

The night passed slowly, for my wounded [190] hand and foot pained me exceedingly. With the return of daylight, conversation with Captain Crawford was resumed, and we learned that in his cell with him was a man named Rowley, who was from Florida. He, like ourselves, had attempted to pass the lines, but was recaptured in the act.

Originally residing in Florida, taking no part in the war, and attending quietly to his own business, he had been suddenly arrested. The circumstances thereof were as follows:

On the night of August 20th, 1861, a party of ruffians surrounded his dwelling, and without the slightest warning, battered in the door, and rushed into his house. So unexpected and so fierce was the attack, that his wife, who was in a delicate condition of health at the time, sank swooning to the floor. The astonished husband, not stopping to defend himself, sprang to the assistance of his wife. While thus engaged, his assailants seized him, and roughly binding his hands behind him, dragged him from the house, and mounted him upon a mule, which they immediately drove off with them. When thus ruthlessly torn from the bosom of his family, he was looking forward with a husband's fond anxiety to the moment which was to make him a father. And now, more than eleven [191] months had passed away, but he had never heard any tidings of his family or property. He owned several slaves. Whether his loving wife had survived the shock she had received on the night in question, or whether the angels of a merciful God had carried her own soul, and that one yet unborn, away to heaven, he did not know.

His captors had taken him to a negro jail, and cast him into a filthy cell, in which he laid for three or four days, eating nor drinking nothing. By this time, they deemed him sufficiently reduced to become subservient to their will. They accordingly took him from his cell, and brought him to a man they styled “Colonel.” By this man he was ordered to take a certain oath. Upon his refusal, he was shown a rope that had been used in the execution of four of his neighbors, and he was informed that it was still strong enough to hang him. The man who held the rope strode toward him for the purpose of placing it around his neck. Thus convinced that there was something more than menace meant, he attempted to reason with his brutal captors, informing them that he was so bewildered that he did not comprehend what they wished him to do.

The person called Colonel thereupon ordered [192] him to be remanded to his cell. The next day, hearing that the Union forces were approaching them, they hurried their poor prisoner to Macon.

This man gave me accounts of the most horrid scenes that he had witnessed. At one period, he said that it was certain death for a man to refuse to volunteer.

Our second day of imprisonment passed dully enough, and indeed it would have been much worse, but for the converse we held with Captain Crawford and Mr. Rowley, whose principal theme was the lightness of their rations. Their allowance of corn-bread, for instance, was a bit about one and a half inches square twice a day. My wounds were exceedingly painful, but I was obliged to suffer on without obtaining any relief. Before I lay down for the night, however, I comforted myself with joining my comrade in singing those beautiful lines-

From every stormy wind that blows,
And every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a safe retreat;
'Tis found beneath the mercy-seat.

God's blessing made us happy, and we could exclaim with faith, “These chains will not always hold us here.” How insignificant were our sufferings when compared to those which [193] had been endured by the followers of Christ in ancient times! Again, while on our wretched couches, we sang:

My days are gliding swiftly by,
And I, a pilgrim stranger,
Would not detain them as they fly-
These hours of toil and danger.

The next day I penned a letter to Major Rylander, exhorting him, if he had any fear of God before his eyes, or any spark of humanity in his breast, to have me released from my miserable cell, though it were to take me to execution. I committed it to the care of a negro, who was to convey it to the guard, who in turn was to present it to Major Rylander. Whether the latter ever received it, I never knew, but certainly if he did, he never noticed it.

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Clay Crawford (7)
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