previous next


Adventures of Harry Newcomer. A scout and spy in the Army of the Cumberland.

Among the many spies and detectives employed by the commanders of the Union armies, in procuring information concerning the condition, purposes, and position of the enemy, or the evil deeds of rebel sympathizers, none perhaps, has passed through more interesting adventures, than he whose name appears at the head of this sketch. We have compiled from the police record of the “Annals of the Army of the Cumberland,” the following history of some of his adventures and escapes.

Harry Newcomer is a native of Pennsylvania, and was born in Lancaster county, in March, 1829. He was born and brought up in a hotel, and was employed as a bar tender in his boyhood. At the age of fourteen, his mother died, and his father broke up housekeeping, and soon afterward he was apprenticed to a miller in Ohio. After serving out his time, he continued for some years in the business, until his brother-in-law was elected sheriff of Ashland county, Ohio, when he was appointed one of his deputies. In 1857, he removed to Cleveland, and was employed by United States Marshal Jabez Fitch, as a detective officer. He retained this situation for about three years, and was successful in ferreting out and bringing to punishment a number of noted cases of crime, especially of counterfeiters. At that time the authorities had ascertained that a large business was done in the manufacture and sale of counterfeit money in Geauga county, Ohio, but all attempts to obtain any positive evidence to fasten the guilt upon the suspected [74] parties had failed. Newcomer had already acquired a high reputation as a shrewd and successful detective, and it was determined to set him at work upon the case. He was instructed to make the acquaintance of an old blacksmith, named Jesse Bowen, who cultivated also a small farm in the vicinity of Burton Square in that county. Bowen was notoriously a lawless, bad man, and had been for many years engaged in all manner of frauds and crimes, but had managed to escape detection and punishment. He was now seventy-eight years of age, a friendless, unsocial old villain, whose house was shunned by all who cared for their reputation or candor. Newcomer introduced himself to him as William H. Hall, an extensive manufacturer and dealer in counterfeit money. He had with him, as evidence of his belonging to the fraternity, considerable amounts of counterfeit bills on various banks, with which he had been abundantly supplied. After two or three interviews, by that sort of fascination with which he is so eminently endowed, he succeeded in winning completely the old man's confidence, and learned from him the names of all those who were connected with the gang of counterfeiters. He did more than this. Won by the apparent cordiality of Newcomer, who assisted him on his little farm, he unearthed his machinery and engaged with him in the manufacture of bogus coin, gave him the pass-word, and introduced him to all the members of the gang, with whom he was presently on the best of terms. In an excess of communicativeness, Bowen one day called young Newcomer into an orchard and revealed to him, in confidence, that he and his brother had, in early life, murdered their brother-in-law, in Vermont, and that [75] they had only been saved from the gallows, by a man being found who bore a remarkably strong resemblance to the murdered man, and who was induced to swear that he was the man supposed to be killed. This was the celebrated Corbin case so often referred to, in criminal trials.

Having finally implicated the entire gang of counterfeiters, and acquired a thorough knowledge of their haunts and residences, Newcomer plead that urgent business called him away, and repairing to Cleveland, reported progress to the United States Marshal, and officers were sent, and the whole number arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to the penitentiary.

In 1860, he removed to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where he was soon employed in the detection and arrest of a noted counterfeiter, named Charles Coventry, a man of gigantic strength, and the terror of the whole region. This was accomplished with his usual adroitness, and the desperate villain trapped, tried, convicted, and sent to prison for five years. In about a year, he had succeeded in detecting and bringing to justice sixty-eight criminals, counterfeiters, burglars, horse thieves, and villains of all sort. In 1861, his extraordinary success having excited the jealousy of the other detectives of Pittsburg, he removed to Chicago, but finding no employment which suited him, he enlisted as a noncommissioned officer in the Eleventh Indiana Battery. With this battery he served throughout Buell's campaign to Nashville and Shiloh, to Corinth and Huntsville, Alabama, when the old love of adventure coming upon him, he began to act as a scout on his own account, reporting, when any thing of interest came to his knowledge, to [76] Colonel, afterward General Harker, of the Sixty-fifth Ohio Volunteers, who then commanded the brigade to which he was attached. The colonel, pleased with his skill and adroitness, gave him passes and encouraged him to continue to make these scouting expeditions as he had opportunity.

Frequently he would go down to the Tennessee river in sight of the rebel pickets; and one night he concluded to cross the river and get a nearer view of them. Striking the stream at a point three miles from Stevenson, he built a raft of rails and paddled himself across. Crawling up the bank through the bush, he came close upon the pickets, seven in number, without being observed. After watching their movements awhile, and finding nothing of particular interest, he returned safely as he went. Soon afterward, a negro told him of an island in the Tennessee river, some ten miles below Stevenson, on which a company of guerilla cavalry were in the habit of rendezvousing every night. This opened a large field of operations for our scout, and he determined to visit the island forthwith. One afternoon, borrowing a suit of butternut from a negro at Stevenson, he set forth in that direction. The butternut clothes were carried under his saddle until he was fairly outside of our lines, when he exchanged his own for them and went on in the character of a genuine native. Reaching the river opposite the island after dark, he again constructed a raft of rails, fastening them together this time with grape-vines, and shoved across the narrow channel to the island, landing in a dense canebrake. Carefully feeling his way through this, he came soon to a corn-crib, around which twenty-five or thirty horses [77] were feeding. It was now ten o'clock, and quite dark, but clear and starlight. Examining the crib, the entrance was discovered about half-way up, and our adventurer at once clambered up and put his head and shoulders through. Careful listening revealed the presence of sleepers within. Putting his hand down to see how far it was to them, it came in contact with the body of a man. Wishing to know in what direction he was lying, he felt along carefully and came upon a pistol in his belt. Working at this, he soon drew it out, and, finding it a good Colt's revolver, put it into his pocket and got down again. Exploring around, he came to a corn patch and a cabin near by, in which there seemed, from the noise within, to be a family or two of negroes. Crossing to the south or rebel side of the island, he found that the stream was much narrower there than on the other side, and that close to the shore a number of boats and scows, in which the band crossed and recrossed, were tied. It was now time to think about getting home, and he circled around the crib and cabin to reach the place where he had left his raft. When he came in sight of it, there was also to be seen a human form standing by the water's edge and apparently regarding the raft with no little astonishment. In the uncertain light, it was impossible to tell whether it was man or woman, white or black; and there was nothing to do but wait until it disappeared. Crouching down amid the canes, he soon saw it turn and begin to climb the bank directly toward him; as a precautionary measure he took out the pistol and cocked it, though he could not see or feel whether it was loaded or not. The person proved to be a negro, and passed by, unconscious [78] of the presence of any one so near, soliloquizing to himself thus :--“Mighty quare boat dat ar; 'spec's some of Masser John's work.” This danger having passed, our self-appointed spy descended, and re-embarked on his raft. Lest any one should see him, he lay flat upon it, paddling with extended arms, the whole presenting very much the appearance of a floating mass of drift wood. By the time he reached the opposite shore his butternut suit was pretty thoroughly soaked, but without stopping to dry it, he mounted his horse, which he found straying about the woods, rode on to Stevenson, and reported to Colonel Harker. An expedition for the capture of this band-afterward ascertained to be Captain Rountree's company — was just about starting, when orders were received to evacuate the place and fall back to Nashville with the remainder of Buell's army.

The battery went no farther backward than Nashville, remaining there during the famous investment of the city and until the Army of the Cumberland again reached it. Meanwhile, Newcomer was occasionally employed by General Negley as a detective; but most of the time was spent with his command. Early in December the police and scout system was fully organized and in successful operation. Our former scout, thinking that he could serve the Government to better advantage in the business with which he was so familiar, made application to Colonel Truesdail for employment as a scout and spy. The colonel, pleased with his appearance and conversation, at once made an engagement with him, and procured his detail for that special service. Having previously made the acquaintance of one Cale Harrison, a livery-stable-keeper, he now called on him, and, exhibiting [79] a forged certificate of discharge, told him that he was on his way to the rebel army. Harrison, of course, was highly pleased to hear it, and gave him some valuable hints and information for his guidance in the matter. There was, he said, a man living on the Charlotte pike, by the name of Spence, whose son was an aide-de-camp on the staff of General Polk, and who would undoubtedly assist him in getting south and give him a letter of introduction to his son. In this event the road would be clear, and no difficulty need be apprehended in making the trip.

Thus directed, he set forth from Nashville on a scout south, with saddle-bags well filled with fine-tooth combs, needles, pins, thread, etc., and carrying two fine navy revolvers. Going directly to Spence's, he introduced himself, said he had called by recommendation of Harrison, made known his business, and asked for a letter to his son, on General Polk's staff. Spence received him cordially, but would not furnish him with the desired letter. He referred him, however, to J. Wesley Ratcliffe, living about one mile from Franklin, on the Lewisburg pike, as a person likely to render him very material assistance. This Ratcliffe was a rebel agent for the purchase of stock and commissary stores, and was well known throughout the whole country. Pushing on, he accordingly called at Ratcliffe's, and made his acquaintance. When informed of his plan and purposes and shown the goods, Ratcliffe was much pleased, and soon became very friendly, advising him to go to Shelbyville, where such articles were greatly needed and could easily be disposed of. Newcomer accordingly started for Shelbyville, and for some time [80] met with no incidents on the way. Between Caney Springs and Rover, however, he fell in with a band of rebel cavalry belonging to General Buford's command, who, on being made acquainted with his business, advised him not to go to Shelbyville, as considerable trouble might be experienced there. Their bushy shocks of hair suggesting that they were combless, he offered his stock for sale, chatting meanwhile with them about matters and things in general and in that vicinity in particular. Combs which cost two dollars per dozen he sold for two dollars each, and other articles in proportion, and, by the time his trading was finished, had ascertained that General Buford was stationed at Rover to guard a large mill full of flour and meal — the size of his command, the number and calibre of his guns, and other items of importance, and also what generals and troops were at Shelbyville. The cavalrymen now wished him to go back to Nashville and bring them some pistols on his return. This he agreed to do, and, having obtained all the information he cared for at this time, turned his horse about and once more set his face toward Nashville. The two pistols which he had carried with him he had not shown, and still had them in his possession-which circumstance was the cause of a slight adventure on the way home. He had proceeded but a little way when he met with a small squad of cavalry, who halted him, as usual, and demanded his name, business, and where he was going. These questions satisfactorily answered, he was next asked if he had any pistols about him. He replied that he had two, and was forthwith ordered by a rough-looking Texan to produce them, which was hardly d me before they were coolly appropriated by his [81] interrogator. Remonstrance was followed by abuse and threats of violence; and it was only by the intervention of the other parties that the matter was compromised by the sale of the pistols at fifty dollars each, and our traveller allowed to go on his way rejoicing. Without interruption headquarters were reached, and a report of operations duly made.

Remaining two days at Nashville, he started again, with three pistols and the balance of the old stock of goods. The first night was spent at Ratcliffe's, and the next day both went to Murfreesboro in a buggy. Ratcliffe had business to transact with the provost-marshal, and a number of the generals and inferior officers to see, and Newcomer was taken round and introduced to all, as a co-laborer in the cause of the South. During his four days stay, he was all over the town, through several of the camps, in many of the houses, drank whiskey with General Frank Cheatham, went to a grand party at the court house, and made love to a dozen or more young ladies of secession proclivities-aided in all this by a perfect self-possession, an easy, graceful manner, and a winning face. In addition to pleasure seeking and love making, he also drove a thriving business in the sale of pistols and other contraband goods, and, with pockets filled with money and head stored with information, returned with Ratcliffe to his house, and thence to Nashville-having first made an arrangement with the former to accompany him to Shelbyville the next day. Arriving at Nashville after dark, he remained there until morning, and then made preparations and started for a third trip.

With a pair or two of cotton cards, a lot of pistol caps, [82] and some smaller knick-knacks, as passports to favor, he set forth once more to join Ratcliffe; but having been unavoidably delayed in starting, he found him already gone. Nothing was now to be done but to boldly push ahead in the hope of overtaking him on the road, or meeting him at Shelbyville. With the exception of Ratcliffe, not a soul there knew him. Trusting to good fortune, he travelled on, and reached Shelbyville in due season without trouble. The usual questions were asked him by guards and pickets, to all of which he replied that he lived in Davidson county, was going to visit some friends in the 44th Tennessee regiment, and had, moreover, a small stock of contraband goods for sale. These answers proving satisfactory, he was passed through and reached the town early in the forenoon. Most of the day he spent in riding about, looking into quartermasters' and commissary depots, inquiring the names of officers, the number of troops, commanders, etc., until he had ascertained all that he wished. By this time night was drawing near, and it was high time to think about getting out of town; for should he remain after dark, he was certain to be arrested. Ratcliffe was nowhere to be seen, and on inquiry he was told that he had gone to Atlanta, Georgia, on the train, and that nobody knew when he would be back. Here was a desperate state of affairs. Get out of town he must, and to get out he must have a pass. It was easy enough to come in, but very difficult to get out. Nobody knew him; and, in fact, for once in his life, he was at a loss what to do. While thus troubled, he met some citizens of Davidson county who had been over the river to the camps of Cheatham and McCown's divisions, and were [83] now on their way to the provost-marshal to procure return passes. Misery loves company, and with a long face he told them his trouble-dressing it up with a considerable amount of fiction to suit the occasion. By way of adding earnestness to his entreaty and to open a sure path to their sympathies, he bought a bottle of whiskey and invited them all to drink with him. The liquor warmed their hearts as well as stomachs; and while hobnobbing together he asked them if they wouldn't vouch for him to the provost-marshal, and thus enable him to procure a pass. Being now in a condition to love the world and everybody in it, they promised to do so, and in due season all went for passes. His seven newly-made friends found no difficulty in their suit, their names being all written on a single pass; but our scout was left unnoticed. The attention of the provost-marshal was called to him, when that functionary asked if any of them was personally acquainted with him. Though rebels, they would not lie; possibly they thought it was not necessary; and answered, “No,” but they would vouch for him. But that would not do. His situation now was worse than ever. He not only had no pass, but had not the slightest chance of getting one. The whiskey investment had proved a losing speculation; and he knew not where to turn for relief. The loungers bout the office began to eye him suspiciously, and even the dogs seemed disposed to growl and snap at him as having no business there. The place was getting too hot for safety; and his only hope of escape was to hurry out and lose himself in the crowd.

His new friends were still outside, waiting for him; and with them a long consultation was held as to what [84] had better be done about getting away, as every moment added to his already serious danger. Finally, one of the party suggested that he should go with them anyhow — that the pickets would not be likely to notice that his name was not in the pass, there being so many already on it. In default of any thing better, this proposition was agreed to, and all set out together. Newcomer, however, was still far from easy about the matter, and was fearful that the plan would not work. As they were journeying along, he proposed to the one who had the pass that he should be allowed to write his own name on the pass with a pencil, and if any objection should be made to it they might say that he belonged to the party but did not come in until the pass was made out, and that the provost marshal, to save writing a new one, had inserted the name in pencil-mark. This was assented to and done. The amended pass carried them safely through, and the last cloud of anxiety was lifted from his troubled mind.

Some twelve or fifteen miles having been passed over pleasantly, Newcomer purposely lagged behind and allowed the others to get far ahead, when he turned off and struck across to the Lewisburg and Franklin pike. Travelling on this about ten miles, he stopped for the night, with five of Wheeler's cavalry, at the house of a man who had a son in Forrest's command. Starting the next morning betimes, he reached Ratcliffe's the same evening, but found he had not yet reached home. Stopping a few moments, he passed on through Franklin toward Nashville. He had gone some seven miles, and was near Brentwood, when he saw four cavalrymen riding furiously down a lane just ahead of him. They [85] and our hero reached its entrance at the same moment. The leader of the squad — who proved to be Captain Harris, a scout of John Morgan's, and who, as well as his three men, was very drunk-roughly halted him, and riding up, pistol in hand, shouted:

Who are you? and where do you live?

“My name is Newcomer, and I live six miles from Nashville, near Brent Spence's,” was the ready, respectful reply.

Spence was well known to all, and no further trouble was apprehended; but the drunken captain was not so easily satisfied. He soon asked:

Where have you been? and what in the are you doing here?

“I have been to Shelbyville to see Spence's son, and I took along some contraband goods to sell.”

“ You can go back to Franklin with me, sir!”

Protestation was unavailing; and without more ado he turned about and all started toward Franklin. On the way Harris asked if he had any arms with him, and on being told that he had two fine revolvers and some cartridges, ordered him to give them up, which was done. With a savage leer he then said:

I know all about you. You're a--Yankee spy. You have been going backward and forward here so much that the citizens of Franklin have suspected you for a long time, and have reported you. I am satisfied that you are a Yankee spy; and I am going to hang you. Bragg has ordered me never to bring in spies, but to shoot or hang them like dogs on the spot; and I am going to make a beginning with you, now, this very night.


“If you do that,” was the reply, “you'll take the life of a good and true man. I can show by J. W. Ratcliffe that I am a true Southerner, that I have done much good for the cause-very likely much more than you have-and that I am doing good every day I live.”

Captain,” said one of the men, “it may be that he is an important man to our cause; and you had better see Ratcliffe and inquire into his case,”

Harris studied a moment, and finally concluded to go with the prisoner to Ratcliffe's and confer about the matter-at the same time assuring him that it was of no use, for he should certainly hang him anyhow. At Franklin all stopped to drink, and Harris and his men became beastly drunk. Reeling into their saddles, they were once more on their way to Ratcliffe's, but had gone only a short distance, when Harris wheeled his horse and hiccoughed out-

“Boys, there's no use in fooling. I am satisfied this fellow's a Yankee spy; and here's just as good a place as we can find to hang him. Take the halter off that horse's neck and bring it here.”

It was indeed a fitting place in which to do foul murder. Not a house was to be seen; and the road wound through one of those cedar thickets so dense that even in mid-day it was almost dark within them. It was now night, and the sombre shade even more gloomy than ever, as Harris jumped from his horse, and, taking the halter, made a noose of it, and, fitting it around the neck of the unlucky scout, drew it up uncomfortably tight, until, in fact, it was just about strangling him.

Now or never was the time to expostulate and entreat. In a moment it might be too late; and then farewell [87] home, friends, and all the joys of life! It is not hard to die in peace, surrounded by weeping friends, or even to meet the dread king in the shock and excitement of battle; but to hang like a dog!-the idea is sickening, appalling; and it is no sign of cowardice to shrink from it. One more effort, then, for life, even if it be to supplicate for mercy from a drunken rebel.

Captain,” said he, with great feeling, “it is wrong to take a man's life on so slight a suspicion. It is a vast responsibility to take upon one's self; and you may do something for which you will be sorry by-and-by, in your calmer moments, and for which you may be even punished when it comes to the knowledge of General Bragg.”

To which came the rough and heartless answer, “I know my business, and I don't want any advice from a -- Yankee spy. When I do, I'll let you know. Come along,” shouted he, seizing the rope and dragging his victim toward a tree. “I know my duty, and am going to do it, too. Come on, men, and let's swing up this rascally spy.”

They refused to come to his assistance, however, saying that they were as ready as he to do their duty, but they wanted to be a little better satisfied about the matter. It was only half a mile to Ratcliffe's, and it would be a very easy thing to go and see what he said about it. Harris would not listen a moment, and again ordered them to come and help him, which they dared not longer refuse.

The case now appeared hopeless. Death stared him in the face, and life, with all its memories and pleasures, seemed passing dreamily away. Looking into the cedars [88] hanging heavy with darkness. they seemed the entrance to the valley of the shadow of death, beyond which lay the infinite and mysterious future. On the verge of the grave life was yet sweet-yet worth striving for; and, as a last effort, the unfortunate man went up to Harris, placed his hand on his shoulder, and asked him if he would promise, on the word and honor of a gentleman, that he would go to General Bragg and give him a true statement of the affair, narrating every circumstance as it actually occurred. Then, turning to the men, he asked them if they would do it, provided the captain did not. Less hardened than the captain, they feelingly answered that they would; and the earnestness with which they replied was proof enough that they would make good their words. This set the captain to thinking. He evidently didn't like the idea of Bragg's hearing about it, and, after some moments' reflection, concluded to go to Ratcliffe's and see what he would say. The rope was removed, and they resumed their journey — the captain still swearing it would do no good, as nothing could save him, for he was bound to hang him that very night.

Life still hung on a thread, however. In the afternoon, when Newcomer had been there, Ratcliffe had not returned, and if he were not now at home, nothing would prevent Harris from carrying out his threat, which he seemed determined to execute. That half mile was the longest ride Newcomer ever took. No lights were to be seen; but it was near midnight, and it might be that all were abed. Harris left the prisoner at the gate, in charge of the other three, and went up to the house. He knocked on the window, and Newcomer [89] thought it was the thumping of his own heart. Fortunately Ratcliffe was at home, and came hurriedly to the door, without stopping to dress. The two conversed in a low tone for some time, when Ratcliffe was heard to exclaim, “I'll be if you do!” and instantly started down toward the gate. Coming up to the prisoner, and throwing one arm around his neck, while he took his hand in his; he said to him-

“Great God! Harry, how fortunate that I am at home!”

After they had talked awhile together, Harris came up again, and called Ratcliffe to one side, where they had another protracted conversation, in a low, whispering tone. While they were thus engaged, a large owl on a tree near by began hooting, and was speedily answered by another some distance up the road. The three men mounted their horses at once and galloped to the road, shouting at the top of their voices-

Captain, we're surrounded! This is a trap. Don't you hear the signals?”

The captain stepped to the road, listened a moment, and then, with a volley of oaths, ordered them back for a “pack of---fools, to be scared at an owl.” Still quaking with fear, which did not entirely leave them until they were fairly away from the place, they resumed their places, the owls hooting lustily all the while.

Harris and Ratcliffe continued their conversation for a few minutes, when the former came towards Newcomer with a pistol and some papers in each hand, saying, as he gave them to him:

I release you and restore your property on the word of Quartermaster Ratcliffe. He assures me that you are [90] one of the most important men in the south, and a secret agent of the Confederacy. I am very sorry that this thing has occurred, and will make any amends in my power. If you desire, I will go with you to the Charlotte pike as an escort, or will do you any favor you may ask.

“No,” said Ratcliffe; “he must come in and stay all night with me. I can't let him go on to-night.”

While standing at the gate, during this conversation. our released prisoner sold his pistols to the cavalrymen for Tennessee money. Just at this moment, too, a squad of cavalry belonging to Starns's command came by. One of them — to whom Newcomer had sold a pistol some weeks before-recognized him at once, and shook hands with him very cordially. He corroborated Ratcliffe's statement, saying that Newcomer was on very important business for the South, which was rendered still more so by the fight having begun at Stewart's creek. A short time was passed in general conversation, when all left except Newcomer, who hitched his horse to the porch and went in with Ratcliffe. When sufficient time had elapsed for them to be well out of the way, Newcomer said his business was of too much importance to brook delay, and he must be off at once. Ratcliffe said if he must go he could not urge him to stay. “I will go with you t6 your horse,” said he; “meanwhile take this to keep you from further trouble. If anybody stops you again, just show them this, and you will be passed at once.”

So saying, he took from his pocket a large government envelope — of which he had an abundance-and wrote on it: [91]

All Right.

J. W. Ratcliffe.

Armed with this, he started again, and reached the pickets of the Fifth Kentucky Cavalry, who brought him into the city. It was nearly three o'clock in the morning when he arrived at the police office; but the colonel was still up, and immediately telegraphed his report to headquarters.

The next day, nothing daunted, he set out again, and went, as usual, first to Ratcliffe's, where he remained all night-thence the next morning travelled, by way of Hart's crossroads and Caney Springs, to Murfreesboro, reaching that place on the Saturday evening closing the week of battles at Stone river. Riding about the town, he observed that nearly every house in it was a hospital. Every thing was confusion and excitement. Immense crowds of straggling soldiers and citizens were gathered about the court house and depot. Commissary and quartermaster stores, artillery, ammunition, and camp equipage, were being loaded on the cars, and trains were starting as fast as loaded. An evacuation was evidently on hand, and that right speedily; and he determined to leave as soon, as possible. The only trouble was how to get out. After wandering around some time, seeking an opportunity, he came across a train of small wagons, with which the neighboring farmers had come to take home their wounded sons and brothers. Quick to embrace opportunities, he saw that now was his chance to escape. Dismounting from his horse, he led him by the bridle, and walked demurely behind one of these wagons, as though it was in his [92] charge. Clad in butternut, and in every outward appearance resembling the others accompanying it, the deceit was not discovered, and he safely passed all the pickets. It was now nearly two o'clock in the morning, and he rode rapidly on, in a cold, driving rain, until fairly benumbed. Some nine miles out, he came to a deserted school-house, which he unceremoniously entered, leading his horse in after him. Within, a large fireplace and an abundance of desks suggested the idea of a fire, and a huge blaze roaring and crackling on the hearth soon demonstrated its practicability. The next step was to wring the water out of his well-soaked garments, and partially dry them. Both horse and man enjoyed themselves here until near daybreak, when he mounted again and rode on to Ratcliffe's, reaching there about three o'clock Sunday afternoon. Here he remained awhile to converse with his friend, refresh the inner man, and care for his horse-neither having eaten a mouthful since the morning before. Ratcliffe was rejoiced to see him, and wished him to remain longer; but he pushed ahead, and reached Nashville late that evening, well nigh worn-out with hunger, fatigue, and want of sleep. His report was immediately telegraphed to General Rosecrans; but he had been so long in making his way back that the general did not receive it until he had himself entered Murfreesboro.

Late the next night he started again, with a single pistol, and a small stock of needles, pins, and thread. On Monday evening he reached Ratcliffe's, and, staying but two hours, rode on two miles farther, to the house of one M. H. Perryear, with whom he remained all night. Thence he travelled, by way of Hart's crossroads, [93] toward Caney Springs, but before reaching the latter place fell in with some of Wheeler's cavalry, with whom he rode along, friendly and companionably enough. Some of them were old acquaintances, and very confidential. They were, they said, just on their way to burn a lot of Federal wagons at Lavergne and Triune, and, deeming him a good fellow well met, invited him to go with them. Thinking that there might be some chance to save the wagons, he declined the invitation, urging the pressing nature and importance of his mission as an excuse. It was soon found, however, that every avenue of escape northward was guarded, and the whole country filled with the cavalry, of whom there were, in all, about three thousand. There was nothing to do, then, but to leave the wagons to their fate and push on, which he did, and, arriving at Caney Springs, remained there over night. The next morning the cavalry began to loiter back from their marauding expedition, in squads of from fifteen to a hundred or more, and from them he learned the complete success of the enterprise. Making the acquaintance of a lieutenant, he was told that they were going at once to Harpeth Shoals, to burn a fleet of boats which was then on its way to Nashville. This determined him to abandon the idea of going to Shelbyville, and he accompanied a detachment back as far as Hart's crossroads, where they went on picket-duty at a meetinghouse by the road. Bidding them good-day, he started on alone toward Ratcliffe's. Stopping at Perryear's, he was told that Forrest was in Franklin, that the roads were all guarded, and that there was a picket just at Ratcliffe s gate. Perryear then gave him an open letter [94] of introduction, recommending him to all officers and soldiers of the Confederate army as a true and loyal Southern man, engaged in business of the highest importance to the Government. With this he again set out, and, as he had been told, found a picket at Ratcliffe's gate. Requesting to be admitted, he was asked if he was a soldier, and, on answering negatively, was passed in without hesitation. Ratcliffe corroborated Perryear's statement, saying, furthermore, that Forrest was very strict, and that it would be much better for him to remain there until they had all gone down the river.

“But,” added he, “if you must go, I'll go with yon as far as Franklin and help you through.”

The town was found to be full of cavalry, who were conscripting every man whom they could lay hands on. Ratcliffe introduced his companion to Will Forrest-a brother of the general, and captain of his body-guard. The captain was profuse of oaths and compliments, and, withal, so very friendly that Newcomer at once told him his story and business, all of which was indorsed by Ratcliffe. More oaths and compliments followed. The captain was glad to know so important a man, and, by way of business, asked him if he had any pistols to sell.

No,” was the reply; “I have nothing but a single navy revolver, which I carry for my own defence, and which I wouldn't like to part with. But I am just going to Nashville for more goods, and, fearing trouble in getting away, I thought I would come and see about it.”

“Oh, I guess there will be none,” said the captain. “The general wants to know something about Nashville, [95] and will be very apt to send you there to get the information for him. Come; let's go and see about it.”

The two set forth, and found the general, surrounded by the usual crowd, at his hotel. Calling him to one side, the captain pointed out his new friend, and, explaining who and what he was, concluded by remarking that he wished to go to Nashville for goods, and would bring him any information he desired. The general, not just then in the best of humor, swore very roundly that he them as much about Nashville as he wanted to — it was men he wanted-and concluded by ordering the captain to conscript his friend into either his own or some other company. Turning on his heel, he walked briskly away, leaving his brother to his anger and our would-be rebel spy to his disappointment. The captain fumed with great, sulphurous oaths, and consoled Newcomer thus wise:

He's a — fool, if he is my brother. You are the last man I'll ever bring to him to be insulted. But you sha'n't be conscripted. Come with me, and I'll help you through. You can go with my company, but not as a soldier, and I will send you to Nashville myself. My company always has the advance, and there'll be plenty of chances.

Making a virtue of necessity, this proposition was gladly accepted, and all started on the march. By this time Wheeler had come up and taken the lead, Forrest following in the centre, and Stearns bringing up the rear. About eight miles from Franklin the whole command encamped for the night, and our hero slept under the same blanket with Captain Forrest and his lieutenant, --a Texan ranger named Scott, whose chief amusement [96] seemed to consist in lassoing dogs while on the march, and listening to their yelping as they were pitilessly dragged along behind him. Toward midnight, one of their spies — a Northern man, named Sharp, and formerly in the plough business at Nashville-came in from the Cumberland river. Captain Forrest introduced Newcomer to him as a man after his own heart-“true as steel, and as sharp as they make 'em.” The two spies became intimate at once, and Sharp belied his name by making a confidant of his new acquaintance. He had formerly been in Memphis, and acted as a spy for the cotton-burners. More recently he had been employed with Forrest; and now he had just come from Harpeth Shoals, where he had learned all about the fleet coming up the river, and to-morrow he was to guide the expedition down to a place where they could easily be captured and burned. Early next morning the march was resumed, and at the crossing of the Hardin pike General Forrest and staff were found waiting for them. Upon coming up, the captain was ordered to take his company down the Hardin pike, go on picket there, and remain until eleven o'clock; when, if nothing was to be seen, he was to rejoin the expedition. These instructions were promptly carried out — a good position being taken on a hill some eight miles from Nashville, from which could be had a view of the whole country for many miles in every direction. About ten o'clock the captain came to Newcomer and said he was going to send him to Nashville himself; at the same time giving him a list of such articles as he wished, consisting principally of gray cloth, staff-buttons, etc.

As may be imagined, no time was lost in starting, and [97] still less in getting into Nashville, where he arrived in due season to save the fleet. A force was at once sent out on the Hillsboro pike to cut off the retreat of the rebels, and another on the Charlotte pike to attack them directly. The latter force succeeded in striking their rear-guard, and threw them into confusion, when they hastily fled across the Harpeth river, which was at the time very high. Our forces, being principally infantry, could not cross in pursuit, but the troops on the Hillsboro pike succeeded in killing, wounding, and capturing considerable numbers of them. They were thoroughly scattered, however, and the fleet was saved — which was the main object of the expedition.

General Rosecrans had now been in Murfreesboro several days, and Colonel Truesdail immediately on his arrival sent the scout to that place. Here he made a full report, and, having received instructions for another trip, returned to Nashville the next day to make ready for it. The only item of interest on this trip was that at Eagleville he met Wheeler's command, by many of whom, and by the general himself, he was well and favorably known. Here Wheeler employed him as a secret agent, and gave him a permanent pass, which he still retains. Borrowing from one of his officers one hundred dollars in Tennessee money, the general gave it to him, and instructed him to buy with it certain articles which he mentioned-among which were gray cloth and staff buttons, always in demand for uniforms. Stopping at Ratcliffe's on his return, he showed him the pass, and related the circumstances of getting it, at which the former was highly gratified-“as,” said he, “you'll have no more trouble now, Harry.” [98]

At Nashville, he succeeded, of course with the permission of the Union authorities, in filling General Wheeler's order, and charged with such information as General Mitchell and Colonel Truesdail saw fit to impart, he took another trip to the rebel lines. Wheeler was at this time at Franklin, quartered in the court house. The goods and information were delivered, much to the gratification of the rebel general, who forthwith instructed him to return to Nashville for more information and late Northern papers. He was by this time so well known, and so highly esteemed by the rebels, that the cashier of the Franklin branch of the Planter's bank of Tennessee, entrusted to him the accounts and valuable papers of the branch bank to carry to the parent institution at Nashville. This duty he performed faithfully. On his way, he stopped at the house of one Prior Smith, a violent rebel, and extensive negro dealer. He was cordially received by Smith, who tried to interest him in the business of running off negro children from Nashville, to be sold south. Newcomer declined entering upon it; but Smith insisted, and gave him a letter of introduction to his “right bower,” in Nashville, who proved to be a Dr. Hudson, a man of wealth, who professed to be a Union man, but had long been considered suspicious. The Chief of Police, Colonel Truesdail, desired him now to spend some time in Nashville in developing the case of Dr. Hudson, but he deemed it necessary first, to return to Wheeler, and received permission to do so. At Franklin, he found that Wheeler had gone on to Shelbyville, and stopping with his friend Ratcliffe, the two wrote out the information he had received, and sealed it up with the papers in large (rebel) government envelopes, [99] and forwarded by carrier to Wheeler. Having spent the night with Ratcliffe, he returned the next morning, and immediately entered upon the work of following up the Hudson case. Delivering Prior Smith's letter of introduction, he very soon gained the full confidence of Dr. Hudson and his wife, and found them ready to do any thing to further and aid the rebel cause. Dr. Hudson was very wealthy, and possessed an elegant residence in Nashville, with every comfort and convenience to be desired, extensive iron-works near Harpeth Shoals, and a tract of three thousand acres, attached together, with a large amount of other property. He had taken the oath of allegiance, and furnished milk to several of the hospitals as a cover for his plans for furnishing arms, ammunition, medicines equipments, etc., to the rebel armies; aided rebel prisoners to escape, kidnapped negroes, and sold them south; aided and stimulated the burning of Union warehouses, transports, etc., etc. In all these iniquitous transactions his wife assisted to the best of her ability, and the two were in communication with all the principal rebels in Louisville and south of the Union lines. In all these operations, Newcomer soon succeeded in making him commit himself before other detectives, whom he had introduced as officers of Ashby's cavalry, paroled rebel prisoners, Wheeler's spies, etc., etc., and when the proof was complete, caused the arrest of Dr.Hudson and Mrs. Hudson, and several of their accomplices. On examination, there were found at his house large quantities of contraband goods, including numerous pistols (revolvers), muskets, rifles, ballets, and shot, domestic and woollen goods, morphine and quinine, of the latter, ninety-ns. After imprisonment and trial, the Dr. and his Wife were [100] sent south beyond the lines, and their property confiscated.

Newcomer was subsequently employed in ferreting out other cases of a similar character, of which there were great numbers in Louisville and Nashville. In one of these he detected one Trainer, a wagon master in the Union army, and his wife, who were engaged in rendering all possible aid and comfort to the rebels, by smuggling supplies, and placing the trains of the Union army in dangerous positions, and caused their arrest, as well as that of several of their accomplices. From these adroit smugglers was taken about five thousand five hundred dollars' worth of quinine, morphine, and opium, and in consequence of the discoveries made, two drug stores, a wholesale and a retail store, were seized with their contents, to the value of about seventy-five thousand dollars more.

Through his efforts, and those of other detectives in the employ of the army police, the extensive smuggling which had been carried on by rebel emissaries in Nashville and Louisville was rendered so dangerous that most of it was abandoned.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
J. W. Ratcliffe (28)
Harry Newcomer (28)
J. Wesley Ratcliffe (13)
Wheeler (11)
Harris (11)
Forrest (8)
Brent Spence (6)
Hudson (6)
William Truesdail (4)
Kirby Smith (4)
H. Perryear (4)
Braxton Bragg (4)
Hart (3)
Cale Harrison (3)
Jesse Bowen (3)
Rosecrans (2)
Polk (2)
Harker (2)
Franklin (2)
Frank Cheatham (2)
Buford (2)
Buell (2)
Trainer (1)
Stewart (1)
Stevenson (1)
Stearns (1)
Starns (1)
Scott (1)
Rover (1)
Rountree (1)
Negley (1)
John Morgan (1)
Mitchell (1)
McCown (1)
Masser John (1)
William H. Hall (1)
Jabez Fitch (1)
Charles Coventry (1)
Corbin (1)
Combs (1)
Colt (1)
Cleveland (1)
Ashby (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1861 AD (1)
1860 AD (1)
1857 AD (1)
March, 1829 AD (1)
December (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: