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Chapter 11: bloodhounds.

  • A Provoking Dilemma.
  • -- a chance for Tyndall. -- swim ming rivers by night. -- Concealed in a pile of rags. -- a new trouble. -- almost starved. -- starve or Steal. -- hopes Growing brighter. -- a familiar sound. -- caught by bloodhounds. -- rather die than go back to Andersonville

We crossed Flint River, turned the boat loose, for fear of being tracked from it by hounds, struggled up the bank, and toiled through a dense thicket. The ground was low and had been washed by floods. The old growth of cane and willow had been washed down and stood at a slight angle from the ground, and the new had grown up through it. Imagine a lapped willow hedge, covering acres of ground, with two men going through it in the dark, and you have a true picture.

After working through the tow-head for [99] thirty or forty rods, we found we were on an island. Our boat was gone. There was nothing with which to make a raft. We had crossed the main stream, but before us was a channel sixty or eighty feet wide, and of unknown depth.

I have known theologians to discuss, the question, “Who has a right to pray?” I think it is one of the natural rights; and that any one in mental health does pray sometimes. He needs revelation to acquaint him with the Being he addresses, but he will pray whether he knows Him or not.

If any one doubts my theory, swimming a river where alligators abound is a good way to test it. Here's a chance for Tyndall. As we plunged into the dark waters, our souls cried out to the Invisible One, not in audible words, but in earnest breathings. I'll never forget it. We knew such channels were favorite resorts for these monsters, and that one crash of their powerful jaws would end at once our sufferings and our hopes.

Across. Up the bank; through a thicket. A fence, and broad meadows beyond. We [100] pulled off our clothes, rung out the water, and put them on again. But I fear I will weary the reader with these details. “Prison life,” in which thousands were involved with me, has dwindled down to a personal narrative, and I will not bore you by asking you to go over the whole course of our wanderings.

We kept on our course by night, and hid by day. When we could find nothing to eat in the fields, we were forced to try at negro cabins to beg of their scanty fare.

When this had to be done, one went alone, and the other hid, with this understanding that if the one who went was captured, he should tell that he was traveling alone; and the other, after waiting a reasonable time, should go on by himself. I went once and Tom twice. He came near getting caught one time while waiting for a hoe-cake to bake. The overseer came to the cabin where he was, and he was covered up in a pile of rags in the comer.

In crossing fields, we often encountered a low-running briar, called dewberry vines. My bare feet and ankles were soon badly [101] scratched, and full of thorns, and going through the weeds and fens, were poisoned. During the day they would swell up, and were very feverish. When I would start out in the evening, it was like walking on a boil for a mile or two. I would sweat and shake with the pain, and it required a strong effort of the will to go on at all. After a mile or so they would get numb, and I would get along better; unless I tore them afresh on the briars. In the morning they would throb and ache, and swell again.

A new trouble stared us in the face after we had been out ten or twelve days-Tom was failing. He was about six feet high, and well proportioned. In our lines, he would weigh about one hundred and eighty. Of course it required more food to keep him than a smaller man. He never complained. He was too gritty for that. But at almost every fence we crossed he would say, “Oats, let's rest a little.” During the day he had aching in his bones and head; his eyes were deeply sunken in their sockets, and he could get but little sleep. He [102] would sit for hours with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands. After looking at him, his haggard face and hollow black eyes would stay in my mind when I turned away, and I could not help asking the question: “Will he last long enough to reach home?” or, “If he fails and gets down, what can I do for him?” I could see but two courses to choose from, in such an event-one was to go to the nearest house and surrender us up. The other, to make him a bed in the thicket, and forage by night, and watch him by day, till he mended or died. He did not get down, but kept on till we had been out fifteen nights. During that time we had traveled about one hundred and fifty miles--an average of ten miles per night.

At this time General Hood had started on his Nashville campaign and his Georgia soldiers were deserting in great numbers. The Provost Marshals were ordered to hunt them up and return them to their commands.

Their plan for executing this order was to warn the citizens against feeding or helping [103] the deserters in any way; and in case any one was found about their premises, they were ordered to notify the Marshal at once, so that he could go and arrest them.

We spent the fourteenth day of our pilgrimage in a little thicket on the border of a large plantation. It was not a swamp, but a patch of briars and brambles allowed to grow along the fence, because of the slovenly method of farming. We felt uneasy on account of the insecurity of our hiding-place, and did not dare to move about in search of food, lest we expose ourselves. So we kept still and fasted till dark. When night came we started, determined to hunt food, and make what headway we could. But we had fasted so long that we staggered like drunken men, and that terrible ringing of the head warned us that we must find food or go crazy before long.

Failing in the fields, we approached the negro quarters of the plantation. We aroused the inmates of two or three cabins, and begged, but got nothing. They said they had nothing. My opinion is, that they [104] did not believe we were genuine Yanks, and were afraid to help us. Finally, we found an old darkey who said his wife cooked for the white folks, and that if we would slip around into the kitchen behind the mansion, we could get something to eat. He told us how to get in, and how to find the pantry stores. We wanted him to go and bring us out something, but he refused. There it was, and we could get it ourselves if we wanted it. We sat down in the dark shadow of the fence, and quietly discussed the chances of starving or getting food elsewhere. It was several miles to another plantation. We decided that this was our best chance; and cautiously approached and silently entered the kitchen. We followed the negro's directions, and found bread, meat and milk. We drank the milk, and taking a piece of bread and meat in our hands, we “silently stole away.”

We traveled three or four miles. The ringing in our heads gradually ceased, but our limbs wabbled badly all night. Before day we found a little thicket in the midst [105] of a cotton field, and decided to halt and make it our hiding-place for the next day. So ended the fifteenth and last night of our flight.

From the night that we jumped off the cars till we, all damp with the night's dews, crept into this thicket, our hope had grown higher and higher. Every thicket where we made our lair for a day-yes, every field we crossed, seemed to make our prospect brighter. “If we reach our lines” was gradually changing to “When we reach our lines.” in our thought and conversation. It was still a long way off, but we would not be likely to meet worse obstacles than we had already encountered; and if our strength only held out, we would make it by and by. This was the way we felt on the morning after this nights adventure.

About midday we were sitting in a sunny spot in the thicket, trying to get warm enough to make us sleepy.

Tom was sitting, or squatting, a few feet from me, hugging his knees and resting his chin in his hands. I was reclining against [106] some bushes that I had bent down. Neither had spoken for some time.

My ear caught a sound. I listened. Presently I heard it again a little plainer. I raised up and sat erect, all attention. Yes, I could hear it better now. Every nerve was strained to listen. The blood seemed to all rush into my heart-my heart into my throat. I shuddered, and turned sick. I had heard that sound before. It was often borne to our ears as we lay in Andersonville; especially on the day after the tunnel was opened.

I looked at Tom. He had not changed his position, but his great black eyes were glaring at me with a wild, hopeless expression in them.

“Tom, do you hear those hounds?”

“They are on our track!”

“What shall we do?”

“What can we do!”

Sure, enough! What could we do in our condition? If we had only had our carbines we might have done something. But we had nothing — not even a knife.

The brutes were getting closer. They [107] [108] were coming across the field toward our thicket. We climbed a tree.

Five men armed and mounted, and four bloodhounds soon discovered us. They ordered us to surrender; called off the hounds, and we came down.

The Provost Captain of this squad looked us all over, and said:

Who the are you?

We told him. He was looking for deserters, and was as much surprised at finding Yanks in that part of the country as we were at being found. But somehow he enjoyed the surprise much better than we.

To us it was terrible. All our risk, our toil, our suffering, had come to nothing. When we learned that we would be sent back to Andersonville, Tom begged the guard to shoot him, and end his misery at once.

I felt very much as Tom did. Neither of us thought that we could live through the winter in that pen. Hope was dead. Despair settled down upon us. I cannot describe it. No one who has not felt it would recognize the picture. May God preserve [109] the reader from ever knowing by experience the meaning of the word. [110]

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