General John Morgan
was honored with an ovation on the seventh of January, 1864, on his arrival at Richmond
The following account of his escape from the Ohio Penitentiary
, and subsequent adventures, was published in the Enquirer
Their bedsteads were small iron stools, fastened to the wall with hinges.
They could be hooked up or allowed to stand on the floor; and to prevent any suspicion, for several days before any work was attempted, they made it a habit to let them down and sit at their doors and read.
superintended the work, while General Morgan
kept watch to divert the attention of the sentinel, whose duty it was to come round during the day and observe if any thing was going on. One day this fellow came in while Hokersmith was down under the floor boring away, and missing him said: “Where is Hokersmith?”
The General replied, “He is in my room, sick,” and immediately pulled a document out of his pocket, and said to him: “Here is a memorial I have drawn up to forward to the Government
; what do you think of it?”
The fellow, who perhaps could not read, being highly flattered at the General
's condescension, took it and very gravely looked at it for several moments before he vouchsafed any reply; then, handing it back, he expressed himself highly pleased with it. In the mean time, Hokersmith had been signalled and came up, professing to feel “very unwell.”
This sentinel was the most difficult and dangerous obstacle in their progress, because there was no telling at what time he would enter during the day, and at night he came regularly every two hours to each cell, and inserted a light through the bars of their door, to see that they were quietly sleeping; and frequently, after he had completed his rounds, he would slip back in the dark, with a pair of Indiarubber shoes on, to listen at their cells if any thing was going on. The General says that he would almost invariably know of his presence by a certain magnetic shudder which it would produce; but for fear that this acute sensibility might sometimes fail him, he broke up small particles of coal every morning, and sprinkled them before the cell-door, which would always announce his coming.
Every thing was now ready to begin the work; so, about the latter part of October, they began to bore.
All were busy--one making a rope-ladder by tearing and twisting up strips of bedtick, another making bowie-knives
, and another twisting up towels.
They labored perseveringly for several days, and after boring through nine inches of cement and nine thicknesses of brick placed edgewise, they began to wonder when they should reach the soft earth.
Suddenly a brick fell through.
What could this mean?
What infernal chamber had they reached?
It was immediately entered, and, to their great astonishment
and joy, it proved to be an air-chamber extending the whole length of the row of cells.
Here was an unexpected interposition in their favor.
Hitherto they had been obliged to conceal their rubbish in their bedticks, each day burning a proportionate quantity of straw; now they had room enough for all they could dig. They at once commenced to tunnel at right angles with this air-chamber, to get through the foundation; and day after day they bored, day after day the blocks of granite were removed, and still the work before them seemed interminable.
After twenty-three days of unremitting labor, and getting through a granite wall of six feet in thickness, they reached the soil.
They tunnelled up for some distance, and light began to shine.
How glorious was that light!
It announced the fulfilment of their labors, and if Providence
would only continue its favor, they would soon be free.
This was the morning of the twenty-six day of November, 1863.
The next night, at twelve o'clock, was determined on as the hour at which they would attempt their liberty.
Each moment that intervened was filled with dreadful anxiety and suspense, and each time the guard entered increased their apprehensions.
The General says he had prayed for rain, but the morning of the twenty-seventh dawned bright and beautiful.
The evening came, and clouds began to gather.
How they prayed for them to increase!
If rain should only begin, their chances of detection would be greatly lessened.
While these thoughts were passing through their minds, the keeper entered with a letter for General Morgan
He opened it, and what was his surprise, and I may say wonder, to find it from a poor Irish woman of his acquaintance in Kentucky
, commencing: “My dear Ginral, I feel certain you are going to try to git out of prison, but, for your sake, don't you try it, my dear Ginral.
You will only be taken prisoner again, and made to suffer more than you do now.”
The letter then went on to speak of his kindness to the poor when he lived at Lexington
, and concluded by again exhorting him to trust in God and wait his time.
What could this mean?
No human being on the outside had been informed of his intention to escape, and yet, just as all things were ready for him to make the attempt, here comes a letter from Winchester, Ky.
, advising him not to “try it” This letter had passed through the examining-office of General Mason
, and then through the hands of the lower officials.
What if it should excite their suspicion, and cause them to exercise an increased vigilance?
The situation, however, was desperate.
Their fate could not be much worse, and they resolved to go. Nothing now remained to be done but for the General
and Colonel Dick Morgan
to change cells.
The hour approached for them to be locked up. They changed coats, and each stood at the other's cell-door with his back exposed, and pretended to be engaged in making up their beds.
As the turnkey entered they “turned in,” and pulled their doors shut.
Six, eight, ten o'clock came.
How each pulse throbbed as they quietly awaited the approach of twelve!
It came — the sentinel passed his round — all well.
After waiting a few moments to see if he intended to slip back, the signal was given.
All quietly slipped down into the air-chamber, first stuffing their flannel-shirts and placing them in bed as they were accustomed to lie. As they moved quietly along through the dark recess to the terminus where they were to emerge from the earth, the General
prepared to light a match.
As the lurid glare fell upon their countenances, a scene was presented which can never be forgotten.
There were crouched seven brave men who had resolved to be free.
They were armed with bowie-knifes made out of case-knifes.
Life, in their condition, was scarcely to be desired, and the moment for the desperate chance had arrived.
Suppose, as they emerged from the ground, that the dog should give the alarm — they could but die.
But few moments were spent in this kind of apprehension.
The hour had arrived, and yet they came.
Fortunately — yes, providentially — the night had suddenly grown dark and rainy, the dogs had retired to their kennels, and the sentinels had taken refuge under shelter.
The inner wall, by the aid of the rope-ladder, was soon scaled, and now the outer one had to be attempted.
, (who, by the way, is a nephew of old Zack
,) being a very active man, by the assistance of his comrades reached the top of the gate, and was enabled to get the rope over the wall.
When the top was gained, they found a rope extending all around, which the General
immediately cut, as he suspected that it might lead into the Warden
This turned out to be correct.
They then entered the sentry-box on the wall and changed their clothes, and let themselves down the wall.
In sliding down, the General
skinned his hand very badly, and all were more or less bruised.
Once down, they separated — Taylor
going one way, Hokersmith, Bennett
, and McGee
another, and General Morgan
and Captain Hines
proceeding immediately toward the depot.
The General had, by paying $15 in gold, succeeded in obtaining a paper which informed him of the schedule time of the different roads.
The clock struck one, and he knew by hurrying he could reach the down-train for Cincinnati
He got there just as the train was moving off. He at once looked on to see if there were any soldiers on board, and espying a Union officer, he boldly walked up and took a seat beside him. He remarked to him that “as the night was damp and chilly, perhaps he would join him in a drink.”
He did so, and the party soon became very agreeable to each other.
The cars, in crossing the Scioto
, have to pass within a short distance of the Penitentiary.
As they passed, the officer remarked: “There's the hotel at which Morgan
and his officers are spending their leisure.”
“Yes,” replied the General
, “and I sincerely hope he will make up his mind to board there during the balance of the war, for he is a great
When the train reached Xenia
, it was detained by some accident more than an hour.
Imagine his anxiety, as soldier after soldier would pass through the train, for fear that when the sentinel passed his round at two o'clock their absence might be discovered.
The train was due in Cincinnati
at six o'clock. This was the hour at which they were turned out of their cells, and of course their escape would be then discovered.
In a few moments after it would be known all over the country.
The train, having been detained at Xenia
, was running very rapidly to make up the time.
It was already past six o'clock. The General said to Captain Hines
: “It's after six o'clock; if we go to the depot we are dead men. Now or never.”
They went to the rear and put on the brakes.
Off he went, and fell heels over head in the mud. Another severe turn of the brake, and the General
He was more successful, and lighted on his feet.
There were some soldiers near, who remarked, “What in the h — l do you mean by jumping off the cars here?”
The General replied: “What in the d — l is the use of my going into town when I live here; and, besides, what business is it of yours?”
They went immediately to the river.
They found a skiff, but no oars.
Soon a little boy came over, and appeared to be waiting.
“What are you waiting for?”
said the General
“I am waiting for my load.”
“What is the price of a load?”
“Well, as we are tired and hungry, we will give you the two dollars, and you can put us over.”
So over he took them.
“Where does Miss
“Just a short distance from here.”
“Will you show me her house?”
The house was reached, a fine breakfast was soon obtained, money and a horse furnished, a good woman's prayer bestowed, and off he went.
From there, forward through Kentucky
, every body vied with each other as to who should show him the most attention — even to the negroes; and young ladies of refinement begged the honor to cook his meals.
He remained in Kentucky
some days, feeling perfectly safe, and sending into Louisville
for many little things he wanted.
Went to Bardstown
, and found a Federal regiment had. just arrived there, looking for him. Remained here and about for three or four days, and then struck out for Dixie; sometimes disguising himself as a Government cattle-contractor, and buying a large lot of cattle; at other times, a quartermaster, until he got to the Tennessee River
Here he found all means of transportation destroyed, and the bank strongly guarded; but with the assistance of about thirty others, who had recognized him and joined him in spite of his remonstrances, he succeeded in making a raft, and he and Captain Hines
His escort, with heroic self-sacrifice, refused to cross until he was safely over.
He then hired a negro to get his horse over, paving him twenty dollars for it. The river was so high that the horse came near drowning, and after more than one hour's struggling with the stream was pulled out so exhausted as scarcely to be able to stand.
The General threw a blanket on him and commenced to walk him, when suddenly, he says, he was seized with a presentiment that he would be attacked, and remarking to Captain Hines
, “We will be attacked in twenty minutes,” commenced saddling his horse.
He had hardly tied his girth, when “Bang!
went the Minie balls.
He bounced his horse, and the noble animal, appearing to be inspired with new vigor, bounded off like a deer up the mountain.
The last he saw of his poor fellows on the opposite side, they were disappearing up the river bank, fired upon by ac whole regiment of Yankees.
By this time it was dark, and also raining.
He knew that a perfect cordon of pickets would surround the foot of the mountain, and if he remained there until morning he would be lost.
So he determined to run the gauntlet at once, and commenced to descend.
As he neared the foot, leading his horse, he came almost in personal contact with a picket.
His first impulse was to kill him, but finding him asleep, he determined to let him sleep on. He made his way to the house of a Union man that he knew lived near there, and went up and passed himself off as Captain Quartermaster
's regiment, who was on his way to Athens, Tenn.
, to procure supplies of sugar and coffee for the Union
people of the country.
The lady, who appeared to be asleep while this interview was taking place with her husband, at the mention of sugar and coffee, jumped out of bed in her night-clothes, and said: “Thank God for that; for we an't seen any rale coffee up here for God knows how long!”
She was so delighted at the prospect, that she made up a fire and cooked them a good supper.
Supper being over, the General
remarked that he understood some rebels had “tried to cross the river this afternoon.”
“Yes,” said the woman, “but our men killed some un um, and driv the rest back.”
“Now,” said the General
, “I know that; but didn't some of them get over?”
“Yes,” was her reply; “but they are on the mountain, and can't get down without being killed, as every road is stopped up.”
He then said to her: “It is very important for me to get to Athens
by to-morrow night, or I may lose that sugar and coffee; and I am afraid to go down any of these roads for fear my own men will kill me.”
The fear of losing that sugar and coffee brought her again to an accommodating mood, and she replied: “Why, Paul
, can't you show the Captain
through our farm that road down by the field?”
The General says: “Of course, Paul
, you can do it; and as the night is very cold I will give you ten dollars (in gold) to help you along.”
The gold, and the prospect of sugar and coffee, was too much for any poor man's nerves, and he yielded, and getting on a horse, he took them seven miles to the big road.
From this time forward he had a series of adventures and escapes, all very wonderful, until he got near another river in Tennessee
, when he
resolved to go up to a house and find the way. Hines
went to the house, while the General
stood in the road.
Hearing a body of cavalry come dashing up behind him, he quietly slipped to one side of the road, and it passed by without observing him. They went travelling after Hines
, and, poor fellow!
he has not been heard of since.
How sad to think that he should be either captured or killed after so many brave efforts, not only in his own behalf but also in that of the General
, for the General
says that it is owing chiefly to Hines
's enterprise and skill that they made their escape.
When he arrived at the river referred to above, he tried to get over, intending to stop that night with a good Southern man on the other side.
He could not get over, and had to stop at the house of a Union man. The next morning he went to the house that he had sought the night previous, and found the track of the Yankees
They had been there all night, expecting that he would come there, and had murdered every body who had attempted to reach the house, without hailing them.
In pursuing this brutal course, they had killed three young men, neighbors of this gentleman, and went away, leaving their dead bodies on the ground.
After he had crossed Okey's River, and got down into Middle Tennessee
, he found it almost impossible to avoid recognition.
At one time he passed some poor women, and one of them commenced clapping her hands and said, “Oh!
I know who that is, I know who that is!”
but, catching herself, she stopped short, and passed on with her companions.
The General says that his escape was made entirely without the assistance from any one on the outside, and, so far as he knows, also without their knowledge of his intention; that the announcement of his arrival in Toronto
was one of those fortuitous coincidences that cannot be accounted for; that it assisted him materially, no doubt.
In fact, he says that his “wife's prayers” saved him, and, as this is the most agreeable way of explaining it, he is determined to believe it.
The above account may be relied on as correct; and, although much has been left out, yet enough is printed to stamp it as one of the most remarkable escapes in history.
An appeal from Morgan.