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Chapter 10:

  • Pursued by horses, hounds, and men
  • -- another night in the cane-brake -- an alligator -- a pleasant discovery-the pass-word -- slaves at work -- a negro supper-important information -- a panther -- a chase to avoid a chase -- bloodhounds again -- Fourth-of -- July dinner-dismal night in the Ruins of a meeting-house.

While thus making our way through the forest, we fancied we heard the sound of pursuers, and were once more obliged to take refuge in the dismal, but now welcome cane-brake. Just where we entered the swamp, the water was very shallow, and, consequently, afforded us but poor protection from the bloodhounds, whose peculiar cries we expected to hear every moment. We therefore made our way with as much haste as possible far into our miry retreat, where the depth of mud and water secured us from the scenting of the fearful animals and their bloodthirsty masters.

Presently we came upon a stream of water, which, diverging from the river at a point above, made a circuit, and fell into the river again at a point below us, thus converting the area it embraced into an island. The water looked deep, [132] and we did not relish a soaking, after having our clothes dried during our stay in the woods. But once on the island, our safety was insured for there was no ferry-boat, nor even a skiff, in that silent, murky swamp, by which our wouldbe captors might cross over. Besides, we had seen too many hardships to be frightened by trifles, and we therefore plunged boldly in, my brave comrade taking the advance, and soon reached the island.

That night, June 24th, we made ourselves a bed on the banks of the Ocmulgee, by cutting down the canes which grew around us in luxuriance. We also kindled a fire, after screening the spot so effectually as to prevent its light reaching the eyes of any foe; and by its cheering flames we partially dried our wet and ragged clothing. Casting ourselves upon our rude couch, we watched the beautiful stars in the distant realm on high, and listened to the murmurs of the crystal stream that was protecting us from pursuit, until at last we fell into a deep slumber. Just before closing our eyes, we heard, at some little distance below us, a noise resembling that which might be made by a huge log, one end of which was caught upon a sand-bank, and the other playing loosely in the stream. But we were too sleepy to suppose that there [133] was any danger indicated by the odd sound, and we paid no attention to it.

Protected by that God who watched Hagar in the wilderness, we slept peacefully until daydawn, when we were suddenly aroused by the most terrific noise I had ever heard. It resembled the sound of a heavy steam-whistle, though not quite so loud nor shrill. Remembering at the moment a description by the Rev. Joshua Boucher, who had traveled in Georgia, of the bellowing of an alligator, I at once concluded that this must be one. Stepping from my tent, or rather cane-hut, I had ocular demonstration of the fact, for there, only a short distance from me, lay the hideous reptile in all his ugliness. Thinking it about time that one or the other of us should change quarters, I threw a chunk at him. He took the hint, and crawled away into the water, only, however, to return in about ten minutes to his old post, where, opening his fearful jaws, and keeping them so until they were covered with flies, he snapped them together with a report that chilled our blood. This was Wednesday morning, June 25, and we intended to remain all day in the swamp, for the river was lined with boys and negroes. During the afternoon, we espied a skiff the opposite side, and laid several plans to obtain possession [134] of it, but they were all frustrated. This proved to be a blessing, however, for, while making our last attempt, we were seen by an old negro, who seemed to recognize us immediately. From this lowly slave we learned that the river was guarded for miles, to prevent our escape. Our pursuers were on the watch for us all the way to Hockinsville. This newly-found friend pointed out to us our only path of escape, and appointed a spot where he would meet us at midnight, and bring us some food. We blessed the negro, and, following his directions, reached the place of refuge, where we anxiously awaited his second appearance. But the hour passed on, and so did several more, but he came not. He had, doubtless, been seized by the patrollers.

The sun of the 26th found us still pressing forward. We had gotten thus far, like the old apostles, with “neither scrip nor staves,” but we felt that God was with us, and his servants, the poor, downtrodden slaves, helped us on. Whenever we met one of the latter, who replied to our question, “Can't dis yer day,” he was a friend, but unable to assist us on account of the patrollers. If one answered, “I know you,” he was posted, and all was well.

We passed the night in the pine woods, I remaining awake, and guarding my friend, Collins, [135] who was completely worn out. During the next day, we made a good distance, in spite of numerous difficulties. By the 28th, our rebel clothing was well nigh worn off us, and our hunger began to increase terribly. In the evening, we came upon some slaves in a field, among whom were several females, about eighteen or twenty years of age. The latter were almost naked, having nothing on them save a very short skirt, fastened round the waist, and held in its place by straps, which passed over the shoulders. All the upper portion of the body, and about three-fourths of the nether limbs, were thereby exposed. None of their complexions were black, while one or two of them were nearly white. We agreed with these slaves to hide ourselves in a neighboring lane until night, when they promised to bring us food. Shortly after, one of them brought us the unwelcome intelligence that we were in danger, and warned us to again take to the swamp, which was some half a mile away. This we did, and after wandering some time along the edge thereof, sat down at last beside a clear crystal spring, in which were sporting numbers of beautiful fish. We could hear the negroes singing in the field — which exercise was a signal we understood to mean that we [136] should lie still until it ceased, when we might safely venture out to the lane-until about nine o'clock, when all became quiet. By midnight we returned to our designated hidingplace, where we were soon joined by a black man and one of the girls, a beautiful, modest creature we had seen in the corn-field. They brought us fat meat, corn-bread, greens, and “bonny-clabber,” which was a welcome sight to us. During the conversation we held with these negroes, we learned that their master had gone to the war, leaving them in the charge of an overseer. We ascertained, also, that “the Yankees” had possession of Darien, on the coast, and that, in consequence, the slaves had been removed into the interior of Georgia. Close by there were three hundred rice-farm hands encamped, who were in a starving condition, having been driven to the interior of the State by their masters, in order to prevent confiscation, and being unable to make a living for themselves. Our humble friends informed us that if we continued straight on we would reach Darien in two days, provided we exercised due caution to avoid the patrollers, who, since our escape from Macon, had been searching for us vigilantly. The night was well nigh all spent in conversation with these slaves, and [137] we had not got much further on our way, when the dawn broke upon us, compelling us to leave the road and take to the pines. We were subsequently obliged to leave even these, and plunge once more into the more friendly swamps.

After our slender stock of provisions was exhausted, we became exceedingly hungry, and the day passed away without our obtaining even so much as a frog or fish. We slumbered all the night, which was chilly and damp, in the cane-brake. A fire which we had kindled, we were obliged to extinguish, for fear that its light might point out our refuge to some enemy. During the stilly hours that followed, we were once disturbed by a strange noise, which, I subsequently ascertained, in a conversation with Rev. Dr. Kost, must have been made by a panther.

The next day, being terribly fatigued and hungry, we resolved to make an attempt at replenishing our commissary department. The sun came up bright and very hot, and our journey through the swamp-palms was indeed a toilsome one; but these self-same palms secured us against our pursuers, and we therefore did not complain.

An effort that we made shortly after to leave [138] the marsh, discovered to us our pursuers, and we were once more forced back to our muddy asylum, where we concealed ourselves beneath a muscadine vine until twelve o'clock. While so concealed, a strange noise fell upon our ears, and presently we saw a black man coming directly toward us, blowing a horn to call swine. When he was about thirty feet from us, we called to him, with the expectation of learning from him at what points on the river the guards were stationed, and also of obtaining from him something to eat.

Upon being first hailed, he exclaimed, “Don't know you, sah!” and when, stepping from my concealment, I called to him a second time, he seemed terrified. The next instant he fled madly away from us, we pursuing him desperately, in order to secure him, and thus save ourselves from new pursuers. But, notwithstanding the fact that he carried a bushel basket half filled with corn upon his back, he distanced us. Once he stumbled in a swail, and sent the corn and mud all over himself, but he quickly regained his feet, and was soon after lost to our view.

We were now indeed in peril; and very shortly afterward, the wild bay of the bloodhounds rang upon our ears through the murky [139] air of the morass. Nearer, clearer, deadlier came the dreadful sounds, and we crouched in our retreat, expecting every moment to see the ferocious animals bounding upon us. But, thank God for his watchful mercy, the brutes, misguided by a stratagem which the negroes had taught us how to execute, were deceived, and we had the infinite delight of seeing them dash into the stream, swim to the other side, and then, renewing their fierce cries, bound away, closely followed by fifteen human bloodhounds mounted on fleet horses. The peril was not past yet, however, for, finding themselves thrown from the scent, the well-trained brutes soon came back to the stream, recrossed to the side we were on, and coming to our old track, lay down, snuffing and panting, not a hundred yards from us. Think of that, reader! Peeping through the canes we beheld the glistening eyes of the hounds, saw their long tongues lolling from between their powerful jaws, and saw their large, terrible teeth shining like pearls.

Their savage masters stood on the bank of the swail cursing us, and threatening what they would do if they retook us. Once more the God of our fathers stretched forth His arm and delivered us, for, hearing them post their men, [140] we struck away from them in a northern direction, and shortly had the satisfaction of leaving them some fifteen miles in the rear.

Onward, onward we pushed, until so overcome with fatigue that we were fain to stretch ourselves upon the sand and sleep. This was July 3d. The succeeding day — the Fourthbroke upon us bright and beautifully, and we sped forward with all the power of our limbs. We came at last to a very scanty corn-field, which, as we learned from the slaves who attended to it, yielded only about two and a half bushels to the acre. Cotton was the staple in that region, and with it were bought all the necessaries of life. Poor as was the corn, however, we carefully confiscated some roastingears, on which, with half of a frog, we made our Fourth-of-July dinner, thanking our Divine preserver for the gift. The remaining half of the frog was carefully reserved, with some corn, for a future meal.

The morrow was cloudy and cool. We were now drawing near to the coast, for, as we went along, we espied a turtle belonging to a species that lived only in salt water. His shell was extremely beautiful, and would, doubtless, have been very valuable had we thought about dollars and cents; but some berries, which we [141] found, were of far greater worth to us at that time.

Night found us still wandering in the land of rattlesnakes, scorpions, and traitors. Next day, while hunting a sweet-potato patch for a stray root or two, we saw a negro man, to whom we did not, however, get a chance to speak. Fearing that he might not, perhaps, be friendly, we once more betook ourselves to the pines, where, although we did not know it at the time, we were hotly pursued. Soon afterwards, the rain fell in torrents, while the thunder rolled in heavy peals, and the lightning played sharply about us. When evening came, we were soaking wet, and chilled through; and coming to an old dilapidated building, that was overgrown with Spanish moss, and seemed as though it had been uninhabited for many a year, we hurried into it. By the aid of the lightning, we found that it was nearly filled with half-wild goats, which, on our arrival, hastily evacuated the premises, leaving us in free and undisputed possession. The structure was nothing more than an old church, with some rude benches in one end, and a ruined chancel at the other. I here found some leaves of a Bible, upon which I pillowed my head for the night, and slept the more sweetly that I did so. Adjoining this [142] church was a graveyard, containing some rough tombstones, beneath which slept the dead ones of many years, all unconscious of the events passing above their heads.

The following day we left our retreat, and continued our flight in the midst of a terrible storm. About three o'clock, we discovered a sweet-potato patch, but it had been completely stripped of every root. That night, unable, on account of having got our matches wet, to kindle a fire, we slept in a corn-field, pulling the dried stalks over us to partially shelter us from the descending rain. The next day, we resumed our flight, or rather our wading, for every rivulet was swollen to a good-sized creek. In endeavoring to cross a turbid stream upon the “giddy footing” of a loose log, we were precipitated into twelve feet of water, and were obliged to swim to the other shore, grateful that we escaped with nothing worse than a ducking.

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