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Chapter 16:

  • The rebel reveille
  • -- a horrid dinner -- a Reinforcement of little rebels -- the Darkie's explanation -- an Exciting trial -- hope of Release -- Retribution -- my old chains doing good service.

The dawn came at last, bringing with it the reveille of the rebel drums, and the yelling of rebel guards. Our rations, however, took a longer time to reach us, for it was not until about eleven o'clock that the negro brought us a mess of the stereotyped greens and corn-bread. A glance into the pan showed us that the maggots had received heavy reinforcements; but so, also, had our hunger gained strength, and we were glad to receive even the repulsive maggots and spoiled-bread, and thank God we fared so well. I could not forbear questioning the negro concerning this outrageous food, and from him I received the following explanation:

The jailor had some time before purchased a lot of meat at a lower figure than it could now be bought for, for the reason that a portion of of it was tainted. The worst of this meat had [200] been thrown aside into a large box used for holding soap grease.

“He tole me, sah,” said the negro, “to go to dat box and get dat meat, an' when I tole him it stink like de debbil, he swore de tallest kind o‘ swore, dat I lied, an‘ fur me to go git it, as it wus plenty good ‘nuff for dem d-d Yankees. I'se sorry, sah, but I had to do as massa tole me.”

We were satisfied with the poor slave's explanation, and shutting our eyes, demolished our horrid dinner to the last atom, and were still as hungry as ever, for the quantity of the food was as meagre as its quality. As yet I had received no reply to the letter I had sent out by the hands of the negro, to whom I have previously referred. Days and nights passed successively in monotonous misery, and still I beheld the face of no friend save that One which beamed down from above, and supported me in all my trials. Whenever we got the opportunity, we used to question the negroes as to their opinions and ideas concerning the war and slavery. In so doing, we assumed a great risk, as a white man who is caught conversing with the slaves, receives the most rigorous treatment. One day I asked the slave, who brought [201] us our scanty supply of loathsome food, what he thought of the war.

“God bless you, sah,” he answered, in the same whispering tones of caution as I myself had used, “I knows all ‘bout it, an' all us niggas knows all ‘bout it. Why I couldn't tell you half what we knows an' what we says ‘mong ourselves, sah!”

“God grant that more light may be sent into the land of the slave, and salvation to the downtrodden inhabitants thereof!” prayed I, as the negro, seeing his master, hurried away from our cell.

Our rest was much disturbed at night by the howling and yelping of a dog, which was doubtless as much ill treated and starved as we were ourselves.

Time rolled on, but still no event occurred to dispel the gloom that surrounded me, until I learned that the man I had met on the cars, and who, it will be remembered, asserted that he had known me in Cincinnati, had arrived in Macon. I learned, also, that he was reporting it about the town, that in Ohio I was possessed of some degree of influence. The faithful slave who told me this added:

One of you is a gwine to be taken out, for [202] I heard de sheriff say that a lot oa people went to the Major, and wanted him to let you out.

This was, of course, like a star of hope in a dark horizon, and day after day I awaited the appearance of some deliverer who should bid me walk forth free. But, alas! it was a delusive dream, for none came, and I was no nearer liberty than ever.

About this time, an occurrence took place which I here record, to show the workings of that pernicious system which is the real root of all our national troubles. I was standing at the bars of my cell, looking out into the prison yard, and saw Woods, the jailor, order the negro, who used to wait on us, to bring him an ax. Upon receiving it, he deliberately broke off the lock of a trunk that belonged to Captain Clay Crawford, and took therefrom a watch and several cards of jewelry. Soon after the darkey brought us our rations, and upon our speaking of the affair, he was quite surprised that we knew of it. He said the trunk was Mr. Crawford's, and smiled knowingly.

Two days after, a party of men came for the trunk, and found it broken open, as I have stated. They, of course, called the jailor to account, and he was fairly implicated in the matter. Without hesitation, however, the vile [203] robber accused the poor negro of having committed the act. Of course the latter denied the charge, and told the whole truth about it. This enraged Woods, and he tied him up to a rough timber cross so that, while his arms were stretched to their utmost extent, his toes barely touched the ground. He then took a heavy whip, with three thongs, and lashed the unfortunate negro until his shirt was actually soaked in blood.

Occasionally the monster ceased a moment, and bade the victim of his brutality to confess to the deed; but with the most heroic fortitude the poor slave refused to comply, and Woods, finding that he could not succeed thus, untied the bleeding man, and threw him into the cell next to our own.

Between us there was only an iron grating, so that we could converse with the negro, and see with our own eyes the horrible treatment to which he had been subjected.

As chance had it, Captain Clay Crawford himself had been a witness of all the proceedings, and upon seeing the negro so unmercifully beaten, he lost his temper, and uttered a torrent of oaths, swearing that he saw the jailor do the deed. As he was regarded, however, as a Yankee, his word had no more effect [204] than the negro's. As I gazed upon the quivering back of that poor, downtrodden African, I exclaimed, in the words of Thomas Pringle:

Oh, slavery, though art a bitter draught,
And twice accursed is thy poisoned bowl,
Which taints with leprosy the white man's soul!

In the power of such monsters what might not we expect at their blood-stained hands? There was but one Deliverer for us, as well as the slave, and that deliverer was God, and on Him we cast ourselves, feeling that He was all powerful. Job truly wrote:

The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days, and the number of years is hidden to the oppressor.

And with equal truth did the prophet exclaim:

So I returned, and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun, and beheld the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comfort. And on the side of the oppressed there was power, but they had no comfort.

Oh, may the hand be stilled in death that would raise itself to defend such a system!

While the jailor was in the midst of his trouble, the star of hope that had arisen on the coming to Macon of my Ohio friend, and then [205] set so suddenly, came up once more, but with more cheering brilliancy this time; for, through the hubbub that he had raised, I was released from my prison cell the very day on which the poor negro, who had been so unmercifully lashed, was to have his trial. I was scarcely fit to be seen, for I was yet clothed in the wretched rags in which I had lived for several months. Yet, notwithstanding this, when I appeared before the Major, whose opinion, since having heard of my real character and position, was wonderfully changed, he began to bow and scrape in his best style.

“Oh, sir,” he exclaimed, “I did not know that you were a minister, or I would not have had you put into that cell. And now,” added he, “I will give you a parole of the town, and you may report here every morning.”

As commissioners had come to terms concerning the exchange of prisoners, the only object that the contemptible Major had in view, was to induce me, upon my return home, to speak well of him and his friends. I must confess that I lost my temper. However, I said nothing, but, called, in very positive tones, for a guard to accompany me to the military prison, which was near at hand. As I was going thither, the thought that the poor negro was to be tried [206] that day for the offence which had been really committed by his master, shot across my mind, and I resolved that I would do my duty in the matter. I instantly returned to the commandant, and asked him to give me a parole of the town. This he forthwith did, as he imagined that I wished to purchase new clothing. He furnished me, also, with two guards with loaded muskets. I then went to the building where the trial was being held. Upon entering the room, I saw the poor, friendless slave, loaded with chains, sitting in the culprit's dock, while the brutal Woods sat confidently near him, fully expecting to have him condemned. When I mildly requested the court to allow me to speak a word in defence of the accused; Woods sprang to his feet, and swore that they would not listen to any d-d Yankee. This brought the owner of the negro to his feet, with the exclamation, that I was a white man, and, consequently, entitled to speak. A long debate ensued on this point, which was settled finally in my favor, and I took the stand.

“Gentlemen,” I began, “I am a Yankee prisoner. I have been in some three or four of your county jails, and several of your penitentiaries; but still your commandant has confidence in me, and has given a parole of the town, and [207] your surgeon has made statements which prove me to be a man of some little credit at home. If, therefore, I shall find any favor in your eyes, I will make a statement in reference to the matter on trial.”

I paused until I was assured by the court that what I had to say would receive credence, and then resumed:

I saw that man, Woods, who sits here at my right, force the prisoner at the bar to bring him an axe. Upon receiving it, he deliberately broke open the trunk referred to, and took therefrom a watch and a card of jewelry. Subsequently, that he might extort from the prisoner a false acknowledgment of guilt, he tied him up, and beat him most inhumanly.

This brought Woods to his feet once more, livid with rage.

“You don't mean to say that I broke open that trunk, do you, sir?” he ejaculated, shaking at me his clenched fists.

“I do; and you know you did it!” was my prompt reply.

The villain thereupon lost all control of himself, and, drawing a bowie-knife, swore vengeance upon me. I quietly stepped back, and placed myself between the two guards, who, [208] lowering their pieces, prepared to protect me, should my assailant attempt to do me violence.

I then made a statement that my testimony could be corroborated, if necessary, by Captain Clay Crawford himself, and Lieutenant Collins, both officers in the United States army. He quibbled, and protested, and reasoned, and raved alternately; but it was all useless, and when at last I told the minutest particulars about the affair, such as where the negro took the axe from, et cetera, he was forced to give in, and was accordingly found guilty, while the poor black fellow was released amid the most tumultuous excitement.

To show that Providence was retributive in this case, I need only state that the crest-fallen culprit was taken from court, placed in the same cell in which I had been incarcerated, was chained with the same irons, slept on the same filthy bed, and I have no doubt was bitten and tormented by the identical little inhabitants of the last, by which I had been long annoyed, so much to his merriment.

Before my time was out, I reported at the jail, and then went over to the military prison, where I had a bone removed from my wounded hand. I then passed in among the prisoners, and while conversing with them, I was obliged [209] to repeat the story of my escape and recapture many times. That night, on account of the pain I suffered, I was unable to sleep, and so I spent the still hours in reflections on my situation, God's mercy and goodness, and on those dear ones at home, who were then, most likely, peacefully slumbering and dreaming of a soldier of the Union, far away in a Southern prison, wounded and weary, and no one even to speak a word of kindness to him.

The next day I heard of many deaths which had occurred during my absence. Quite a number of the names were familiar to me, and my heart was indeed sad. Some of these noble fellows died shouting for God and their country with their last breath. Think of it, reader, and let it awaken your grateful remembrances for the heroic martyrs. They had left pleasant homes, fruitful fields, beloved relations, and cherished friends, to fight and suffer for the Union. And there, in a loathsome prison, without a pillow for their dying heads, without a covering, without proper food, without medicine, without water even to slake their burning tongues, they died, a glorious sacrifice on a glorious altar.

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