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Escaped from Fort Delaware. From the Richmond Dispatch, August 19, 1900.

A Mississippi Confederate tells how he and a comrade Escaped—Afloat on a ladder, then a tramp.

A story told by Sergeant Warren D. Reid, of Mississippi, for Mrs. J. R, McIntosh, Vice-Regent, Mississippi room, Confederate Museum.

The following thrilling story of the escape from Fort Delaware, by Sergeant Reid, of Holliday, Miss., and his cousin, Joseph G. Marable, now deceased, was written at the request of Mrs. McIntosh, to be placed by her in the Mississippi Room of the Confederate Museum, in this city, where, with relics and mementoes, and other stories of brave Mississippians, carefully and :affectionately placed by the vice-regents, generations to come will read of the self-sacrifices and heroism of the Confederate soldier.

Sergeant Reid's story is as follows:

Captured at Gettysburg.

On the 3d of July, 1863, the Eleventh Regiment of Mississippi Volunteers, A. P. Hill Corps, with the other troops of Lee's army, made the memorable charge at Gettysburg. Company H, of the above regiment, of which I was orderly sergeant, went into that charge with twenty-six officers and men. We had fifteen of that number killed in the charge. The remainder, with the exception of three, were wounded and captured. I was among the latter number. My wound was slight.

That evening, after the charge, those of us who were captured and able to march were corralled (about 1,500) near the battlefield, and that night and the next day marched to Westminster, Md., where we were put on a train and run into Baltimore; marched from the depot to Fort McHenry, where we remained all night—a night never to be forgotten by one of those ragged, half-starved Confederates. It rained all night, [272] and we stood huddled out in the open slush, unable to lie or sit down. We were then put aboard of a canal boat and carried by way of the Chesapeake and Delaware canal to Fort Delaware, where we were landed about the 6th of July.

Fort Delaware was situated on an island of about ninety acres in the upper end of Delaware Bay. We were placed in barrack;, in the northwest corner of the island, with a plank wall around to secure us. We were barely fed enough to keep us alive.

On the outside of our enclosure stood the fort, officers' houses, hospital, and other buildings. However, we were never allowed to go out, except now and then in small details to load or unload a vessel (a service I had never been called upon to do). On the way from our barracks to the wharf was a gate in the wall, about twelve feet wide, through which all communications were carried on. This gate stood open during the day, with a guard at each post, and of course, it was regarded as sure death to attempt to pass it without permission, and I guess no one ever got that, except to do a job of work at the wharf.

Of course, among so many (1,500 or 2,000) soldiers, there were some not entirely satisfied with the board and lodging furnished, and so soon as they were assured that there was no hope of being exchanged began to concept plans of escape. Among that number were your humble servant and a cousin a member of the same company, Joseph G. Marble. Our first plan was to go out by means of canteens, by getting two apiece, corking them very close, stringing them together, and placing them under our arms, and thus making the swim of three or four miles, as we thought. We also intended to pass out by another route. But others had been attempting this, and, in consequence, this route was very closely guarded—in fact, so close was the watch at this point that it was, at that time, utterly impossible to make it.

Game of Bluff.

So, as Bill Arp has it, we did ‘considerable ruminating,’ and finally on the 15th of August, we decided upon Stonewall's plan of ‘taking them in the rear.’ To do this we must pass the gate and make our exit from the New Jersey side of the island, thus going directly from home. [273]

So on the morning of the day mentioned we walked up to the gate and passed out, treating the guard with perfect contempt, and not deigning so much as to look at them. They were thus thrown off their guard, thinking, of course, no one would attempt such a thing without authority. Once out of the pert we met a good many, strolling around the island, some of then our own men who had taken the oath. So we attracted no attention while making a survey of the island. We could find no boat to leave on that night, hence we selected a ladder made of scantling about twelve feet long, at an officer's barn, and after making such other arrangements as were necessary we repassed the gate without any trouble, got a pot, boiled our clothes to get rid of the lice, for we knew we had a long tramp before us, and unless we got rid of the lice they would totally devour us before we reached our journey's end. So, after boiling and drying our clothes, we passed out the gate for the last time, one at a time. After getting out we hid in separate places till good dark. About 8 o'clock we met, as per agreement, at a little building being put up for a doctor's office. We then secured our ladder and tied to it our shoes and a piece of plank, to be used as a paddle. Then came the most dangerous part but it only required bluff and impudence, besides a little nerve, and we were tolerably well supplied with the two former. But to pas a good sentinel, continually walking his post, with his turning points not more than forty or fifty yards apart, laden with the old ladder, and approaching him at almost right angles on a bright star—lit night, in a perfectly open place—not even a shrub or bunch of grass to hide us—was the cleverest work I ever did.

Careful Creeping.

But I should have before explained that there was, and perhaps is yet, a levee thrown up around the island, I guess for the purpose of keeping off tidewater. This was five or six feet high, and in getting the dirt to make the levee a canal about twelve feet wide and about three feet deep was formed. Thus, we had to cross this canal to pass the guard on the levee.

Having arranged everything, we selected our man to slip, and after carefully getting his turning points, or the ends of hi., [274] beat, we proceeded to slip on him, as he went from us, at an angle of about thirty degree. Just before he made the turning point we lay flat on the ground till he made the round and started back. Proceeding in this way for about one hour and a half, we at last made the distance of about 150 yards. We had then crossed the canal, and were quietly lying at the bottom of the levee with our sentinel marching back and forth, passing within five feet of us.

Finally, as he passed, we raised our ladder on top of levee, not more than fifteen or twenty feet behind him, and gently slipped down in the bay. Sinking our bodies under the water. we pushed the ladder far out into the bay. When Marable mounted, unlashed our paddle, and announced everything ready for me to mount, up I went and down went the ladder. Just as we feared, it failed to bear us up. However, I slid off behind and held to the back round of the ladder, while Marable paddled all night long, and till about 8 o'clock in the morning. One vessel passed us in the night, and when off at some distance we were a little uneasy for fear that it might run us down, but we only felt the waves as it passed. We landed, turned our ladder adrift, and after wandering around awhile found that we were on a small island, from which we soon crossed to the mainland of New Jersey by means of a plank.

Here we remained that day and the next, resting up. But we got little rest or sleep for the mosquities. So on the second night we appropriated some farmer's little boat and recrossed the Delaware bay.

I should have stated that when we landed in New Jersey we could see nothing of the fort, and concluded that we must have travelled at least twelve or fifteen miles.

Made for the Chesapeake.

Once on Delaware soil, we made for the Chesapeake Bay. On the fifth day after leaving the fort, in an almost starving condition, we came to a house where the old folk had gone to a harvesting, so the children gave us all the loaf-bread and buttermilk we could consume. This occurred about 10 o'clock A. M. After [275] leaving the house we could scarcely walk 200 yards, we were so full of loaf-bread and buttermilk. However, we continued our tramp, and about 2 P. M. came to a little country store. where we had a short rest, some peaches, and a chat with a ‘blue-coat’—the first we had met. He was very nice, and gave us peaches and some matches, which we needed very much. We then proceeded on our way, till about 4 o'clock in the evening, and having digested our loaf-bread and buttermilk, we called on an old lady at a farm-house and asked for a snack. She gave us broiled bacon and bread. However, she was a little insulting, insinuating that we were ‘Johnnies.’ Of course, we resented the insult in as forcible language as was prudent, and continued on our way until night, when we had a very good rest and sleep.

The next morning we proceeded on our way, having on the night before, as I should have mentioned, secured a map of the country from a little school-house by the way. We learned from a farmer that we could, a few miles above, cross the Chesapeake bay on a coal-boat over to Havre de Grace. We soon came to the coaling station, and found a boat loaded and ready to put across the bay. We stepped aboard without leave, and without speaking a word to any of the crew, passed over the bay in a short time, landing about sundown.

Once across the Chesapeake bay we had no more matter of consequence to contend with. Our boat, however, landed above the mouth of the Susquehanna river, and just after we had landed—about dark—a train came and was passed over the liver on a ferry-boat. We thought this a good chance to cross the river, and stepped on a car, but were soon discovered by the conductor, who very impolitely, and in rather vigorous language, ordered us off. However, we were in a good humor about that time, and as we were on furlough and in the enemy's country, we decided to obey orders. Failing to cross on the car, we proceeded up the river a short distance, where we called upon an old darky, with whom we had supper, consisting of old boiled rooster and green corn, the ‘toughest go’ I ever had. However, he was hospitable and kind and we were ever thankful to the good old man. After supper we proceeded to the river, and soon found a boat, broke the lock, and rowed across.


Found friends.

We then proceeded on our way to Baltimore. One night we travelled some distance with a negro, who was very communicative, and proffered all sorts of information about the country, the Unionists, and ‘Secesh,’ as he called them: but he was too friendly to both sides for us to trust; though we knew we had friends thereabouts, and needed their assistance very much.

In a few days, however, while traveling along in daytime, we were overtaken by a good and ignorant old darkey, with whom we travelled for some distance (this was, perhaps, about twenty-five or thirty miles beyond Baltimore), from whom we learned all about the ‘Secesh’ in the neighborhood. While with the old darky we saw in front a large frame building, standing about 150 yards from the road. We learned from the old man that it was the residence of one Dr. P., who owned slaves, and whose son was not in the Yankee army. With this, and other things told us by the old dark about the country, we were sure that we were at last among friends.

As we passed in front of the house we saw sitting on the veranda three young ladies and a young man. However, we passed on with the old negro some distance beyond, when, to get rid of our new-made friend, we lay down by the roadside for a rest.

Gallantry with bare and sore feet.

After the old negro had passed out of sight, we retraced our steps, and were soon again in front of the house, where the young man and young ladies were still to be seen on the veranda. During the whole of our trip, which had been made mostly at night, I had travelled barefooted. My shoes, which were thoroughly soaked in the salt water in crossing the bay, had become so hard that I could not wear them. But I had not been in the habit of calling on young ladies in that style, and though all the ends of my toes had been knocked off by the rocks, which are so numerous on those macadamized roads, I crammed my feet into the old shoes and proceeded to call on the young ladies.

But, oh, how my feet did suffer! I tried to keep from limping, but it was impossible. Marable was in better shape. His shoes did not hurt him. As we approached the house, the young [277] ladies disappeared, but the young man came down the steps and met us in the yard, with a smile on his face. After passing the compliments of the day, I asked for a drink of water. He asked us to walk around, as we supposed, to the well, but not so. He carried us to the back door of the dining-room, where we entered. The only words spoken on the way to the dining-room?, was a remark made by the young man, that ‘You were not born in these parts?’ ‘No, a good ways from here,’ was the reply. To which he replied: ‘I thought so.’

Whiskey and sugar.

After entering the dining-room he set a decanter of whiskey. with sugar, water, etc., on the sideboard, and told us to help ourselves, and, like Crockett's friend, didn't stand and watch to see how big our drinks would be, but turned off and began putting edibles on the table. The first thing put on was a large boiled ham. I can see that ham yet. Our soldiers know how we felt.

While he was thus engaged, in walked a young lady, then another, and another, till all were helping the young man prepare the table, and, oh, what a table! I never saw a better—with such waiting-maids!

The young ladies, as soon as we were seated at the table, began to show their curiosity by asking questions; but a wink from the brother caused us to deal out but little information at that time. Dinner over we walked out on the veranda, where the young man informed us that it would not be safe for us to remain in the house, as a company of ‘Yankees’ were encamped not far off, and frequently passed. He then walked with us down to the road, where he gave us some information about Baltimore. He induced us to hide in a corn patch nearby until night, as it would be dangerous to travel in daylight. He then blew his whistle for his pointer dog, which had crossed the road, and returned to the house, while we secreted ourselves in the corn patch.

Just after dark, the moon shining brightly, we heard a vehicle leave the house, and when it got opposite the corn patch the whistle blew. We hurried to the road and soon the carriage [278] turned and came back, and the whistle blew again, when we walked out into the road in front of the horses, a fine pair of grays. The young man on the driver's seat threw open the door, and we stepped in and took the front seat, the other being occupied by his sisters, and a young lady from the city of Philadelphia, sitting by the driver.

We had a delightful moonlight ride of about twelve or fifteen miles, and at the same time had been furnished funds enough to supply our needs until we should reach Old Virginia. We then took leave of our friends, they returning to their home, and we continuing on our way to Baltimore.

Should this be seen by one of the above persons, I would be very glad to hear from them. I have for a long time—ever since the war—wanted to write to young Mr. P., or his sisters, or Miss ——, of the city of Philadelphia, but failed to remember their address, and, although I made frequent inquiries, have so far failed to learn their postoffice.

Reached Baltimore.

The second morning after leaving our friends, on Sunday it was, just before day, we came to the edge of the city of Baltimore. Our route was through the city by way of Frederick, Md., to Harper's Ferry. But passing through Baltimore was rather dangerous for a ‘Reb’ at that time; but it was a long way around, and we were terribly footsore and dreaded the march.

So we finally decided to bluff the city, and remained hidden in the woods near the road all day Sunday. We came near being run into several times during the day, but Providence was on our side, and no one saw us. As soon as dark came we hit the road, and were soon in the city.

We called at a stable to get a turnout to carry us through, thinking it the safest, but all their teams were out, and, besides, the proprietor, or some one in the stable, was a little insolent in suspecting us to be ‘Johnnies.’ We gave him some tough jaw and left, making our way through without attracting any attention. [279]

Out at this edge of the city were many tents, occupied by United States soldiers. We passed many of them on the sidewalks, but they took no notice of us, or we of them. We passed on altogether at night after leaving Baltimore, avoiding cities and towns, and met with nothing worth relating until we reached the Patapsco river, where we passed over the bridge without being seen by the guard standing at the end, whistling merrily. From here we went on by way of Frederick to Harper's Ferry.

We did one mean trick over in Maryland, near the Potomac, which I regret, but it could not be avoided at that time. We broke into some gentleman's spring house, appropriated a little piece of veal and some milk and butter, for all of which we ask his pardon. If he was a good Rebel, as he should have been, it was all right; otherwise, we don't care a cent.

We reached the Potomac, just above Harper's Ferry, before midnight, and with a stick to feel our way were soon on Virginia soil. We called at a house close by, got something to eat, and continued on towards Charlestown. Before reaching Charlestown we lay over one Sunday with a family, who gave us directions how to proceed.

We found that Charlestown was occupied by United States cavalry, with their outpost about three or four miles on the road to Front Royal. We kept clear of the road till we passed the outpost, then took the road and reached White Post, just after day, got breakfast and proceeded on our way to Front Royal.

About a mile before reaching the latter place we met citizens running out, saying that the Yankees were coming in on the Culpeper road. However, we went on to town, and learned that there was a little raid on the Culpeper road, so we turned our course up the Luray valley to Luray Courthouse, where we met the First Confederate cavalry. We put up at a hotel, where a generous cavalryman paid our bill. The next morning we got transportation on the stage to Culpeper, and stayed over night, and the next day went down to Orange Courthouse, where we found the noble old Eleventh Mississippi, with a few of Company H. on hand.

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