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Chapter 2:

  • First sight of a rebel Camp
  • -- arraigned before Generals Jackson, Bragg, Hardee, Beauregard and Johnson -- a storm in Camp -- Bayoneting a sleeping man (?) -- inside view of a rebel prison -- “Calico Bill” -- an escape -- rebel Exaggerations.

In due time, I was conveyed to General Jackson. What a scene was opened to view! What a motley, mongrel, nondescript crowd did rebeldom here present! Old and young, bond and free, small and great, black and white, with countenances forlorn, agonized, or ferocious, with limbs mangled and torn. Sorrowful were the wailings of the wounded, and bitter the imprecations of the chagrined and discomfited crew.

Colonel Gladden and four privates were my escort to Jackson's tent.

“I have brought you a Yankee, General,” said Colonel Gladden.

The rebel general inquired of me my rank. I declined telling him. I was then asked for papers, and upon making examination, they found with me maps of the Hamburg road, [31] and a small rebel fortification. As soon as they made this discovery, Jackson inquired:

Sir, what is the number of your men?

“We have a small skirmishing party, General,” I replied. “You have not captured them all to-day, and you will not tomorrow.”

“Sir,” he answered sharply, “you know the number, and if you do not inform me, and that promptly, I shall have you punished.”

“I shall not inform you,” said I, coolly; “you affirm that you are going there to-morrow, and if so, you can then see for yourself.”

Somewhat, enraged at this, he again threatened that he would punish me.

“Proceed with your punishment, sir,” was my rejoinder; “but I shall reveal to you nothing that I think it my duty to withhold.”

“I will refer you to General Bragg,” said Jackson.

“Refer me to whom you please.”

I was then taken before General Bragg. On our way thither, much excitement prevailed in the crowd, to many of whom the sight of a Yankee was as great a curiosity as one of Du Chaillu's famous gorillas. Various remarks saluted my ear, such as “What a big man he is.” “Why! Do Yankees look that thar way?” [32] “Why! golly, they're better looking fellows nor we are.”

Such expressions are significant of that stratum of society which exists in the South to an almost incredible extent.

When we arrived at General Bragg's quarters, some men were engaged in placing in a rude box, the body of a man who had been shot by Bragg's orders, for attempting to escape to our lines. I was not without apprehensions that such would be my own fate. Still, my mind was more occupied as to what was to be the result of the battle that had just begun. The long-haired monster in human shape stood over the dead man's remains, swearing that “it was good enough for him.” Just as we were entering Bragg's tent, a rough, uncouth-looking fellow, exclaimed:

Tarnation! are you going to shoot this ere fellow?

pointing to me.

“No,” said one of the guards, “we are going to keep him for a show, by golly.”

I began soon to realize that the chances for my life were growing less and less. The charges arrayed against me, were for firing and killing six men, after I had been surrounded. I neither affirmed nor denied. The full results of my firing I did not know. I made up my [33] mind, however, that whatever fate was before me, I would exhibit no shrinking or fear. It seemed probable that my doom was to be shot, and I felt impelled to answer their interrogatories in a somewhat defiant manner. The following dialogue ensued:

Bragg. “Well, sir, you are a prisoner.”

Geer. “You have me in your power, sir.”

B. “You have not surrendered, they say.”

G. “But you have me in your possession.”

B. “Well, sir, what is the number of your troops at Pittsburg Landing?”

G. “That I do not feel disposed to communicate.”

B. “But we will make you communicate.”

G. “You cannot do that.”

B. “We will punish you, and that severely.”

G. “Punish if you will, I shall not reveal to you anything I deem it proper to withhold.”

B. “Well, sir, I will refer you to General Hardee, and there you will get justice. You abolitionists think you are playing h-ll over there, don't you?”

G. “We are only sending home some of her stray inmates.”

B. “Be careful how you talk, sir.” Turning to a rebel officer, the speaker continued: “Colonel, take this man to General Hardee, and [34] give him all the particulars.” (Handing him a note addressed to Hardee.)

I was thereupon placed on a stolen horse, and conducted to General Hardee.

On my way from Bragg'sto Hardee's quarters, my mind was busied with singular fancies. I thought of rebel treachery and oppression; I thought of the arch-conspirators at Montgomery, the disgraceful bombardment of Sumpter, the murder of United States troops in the streets of Baltimore, the enslavement of four millions of Adam's race, all by the hateful power that now had me in its clutches. These atrocities made me the more willing to suffer in the defense of the Government that I had volunteered to serve.

Hardee is a noble-looking man, and on this occasion was dressed in full uniform of blue cloth.

“General,” said my conductor, “here is a Yankee officer, referred to you by General Bragg.”

“For what purpose?” asked the General.

“For examination, sir.”

The General, with a look of surprise and indignation, replied:

I shall ask the young man no questions that I would not answer myself under similar circumstances. [35] But,

added he, after a moment's consideration, “I shall send you to General Beauregard:”

I could hardly repress a smile at this decision, for now, thought I, I shall see the chiefest rebel of them all.

We passed through motley crowds of longhaired “butternuts,” to a place called Monterey, The General-in-Chief's headquarters were in a dilapidated cabin. I was immediately arraigned before a bony-faced old man with a gray moustache, not at all prepossessing in personal appearance. Yet, on closer observation, I could detect a cunning shrewdness and a penetrating forethought in his tones and manner.

Beauregard. “You have been rather unfortunate to-day, sir.”

Geer. “Yes, sir, a little so to-day, but not so much on other days.” (I referred to the four days skirmishing prior to the Shiloh fight, in which we had seriously worsted the rebels.)

B. “Sir, they tell me you have not surrendered.” G. “No, sir; but you have me in your power.”

B. “What are your reasons for not surrendering?”

G. “I decline telling you, sir.” [36]

B. “But you shall tell me!”

C. “If you press me, I will tell you. I surrender to no foe that can not look me in the face nationally.”

When I had uttered these words, great excitement prevailed. In the din and confusion, I could discover the cry? “Cut his head off!” But in the midst of the melee, General Beauregard ordered silence, and said he would refer me to General Johnson.

As I was leaving Beauregard's quarters, I heard that gentleman say:

We intend to go on from victory to victory, till we drive you invaders from our soil.

“Yes,” replied I, for I felt his remarks keenly, “just as you did at Fort Donelson.”

I left in the midst of the bitterest imprecations, escorted by a heavy guard. By this time it had grown quite dark; and as my clothing was very wet, I began to suffer with the cold.

Still conducted by the colonel, I soon came to Johnson's headquarters, which were upon the battle-field. In a tent adjoining that of Johnson, a court-martial was in session, presided over by the General, and into this tent I was taken, where the following colloquy ensued: [37]

Col. G. “General Johnson, I have brought you a Yankee prisoner, sir.”

Gen. J. “Yes, sir.”

Col. G. “General, what are you going to do with him?”

Gen. J. “Treat him like a man. Bring in the surgeon and dress his wounds, and give him something to eat.”

A colored boy was immediately called, and I was soon engaged in discussing the merits of a warm supper. After finishing the meal, I was taken out and seated by a fire near the tent, still closely watched and heavily guarded. I heard the General say to the court-martial that “the charges against the prisoner were, 1st. For firing after he was surrounded; 2d. For injuring our men by firing; and 3d. That he never surrendered.”

“Now,” said Johnson, “if he had first surrendered, and then fired and injured our men, he would have been guilty, and the court-martial might have condemned him. But inasmuch as he did not surrender, he is not liable to the death punishment. In regard to this third charge, I will remark that you can not legally court-martial a man for not surrendering. And now,” continued he, addressing the officers, “do you know that, if I had been placed in similar [38] circumstances, I would have done just as he did?”

It would be impossible for me to describe the emotions I then experienced. Until I heard this, I had not indulged the faintest hope of life. Johnson handed me a paper, and said:

Will you please sign this parole that you will report at Corinth to-morrow?

I declined to do this, for I hoped that if I could make my escape to the Union lines that night, I could impart information of great value to our army.

When I declined, the rebel Colonel said, “There, General, I told you what he was.” General Johnson replied:

Detail a guard of six men to take charge of him, and treat him well.

The guard was brought, and amidst their guns and bayonets, I was led away.

They conducted me to a tent on the hill, near a small ravine, whose waters flowed into the Tennessee. From the locality of the ground, I thought that if I could run the guards that night, I could find my way to the river, and thence back to my brigade. Lying down in the tent, which was now my prison, I awaited patiently the development of events, hoping the while that the guards might soon be blest by [39] the gentle embrace of slumber. I feigned sleep and snored prodigiously.

“How sound that Yankee sleeps,” I heard one of the guards remark.

About midnight a storm arose, and threatened destruction to my tent, which was shortly after blown over by an auspicious blast. It instantly occurred to me that perchance there was now an opportunity to escape, in the darkness and noise of the storm. I attempted to roll quietly away from the wreck, and might have succeeded had I not encountered a guard, who thrust me with his bayonet, exclaiming, “Halt, dar!” I inquired as innocently as I could, “You wouldn't bayonet a, sleeping man, would you?”

“Oh!” said he apologetically, “I thought you was awake.”

“Why! Our tent has blown over, don't you see?”

The tent was soon put up, and I again safely ensconced within its canvas walls. The next day I was taken to Corinth, in a mule wagon, and deposited in a rickety old warehouse. Among the prisoners here were about twenty slaves, some of them almost white, and all clad in rags. Also in the company were ten or a [40] dozen Tennesseeans, yclept “political prisoners,” together with a few rebel soldiers.

Among the latter was a droll genius, who answered to the name of “Calico Bill,” who was under sentence of death for flogging his captain. By some means he had procured an old United States uniform, in which he donned the dignity of a brigadier. In this garb he would frequently assume the position of drillmaster, and the poor imbecile clay-eaters would obey his orders with the menial servitude of slaves. His conduct, while it was highly tyranrous, was nevertheless amusing. He seemed to have these ignorant soldiers completely under his control, and I refer to this illustration of slavish fear to “point the moral,” if not “to adorn the tale.” It does not require very profound penetration to ascertain the fact that all through the South “the schoolmaster has long been abroad.” I have sometimes thought that if our present conflict resulted in no other good, it would send light to many a benighted spot, and, perchance,

Pour fresh instruction o'er the mind,
Breathe the enlivening spirit, and fix
The generous purpose in the glowing breast.

Not a man in the prison with us could read! [41] Bill practiced largely upon their credulity, and when he desired a little “contraband” fun, he would go to the window, which was always crowded outside with “secesh,” and cry out:

What will you have?

“We want to see a Yankee,” they frequently answered.

“Well, now you see me, and what do you think of us?”

“What are you 'uns all down here fighting we 'uns fur?”

Bill would reply: “For a hundred and sixty acres of land and your negroes.”

“Calico Bill” was a genuine, shrewd and intelligent Yankee, from the State of Maine. He gave me a sketch of his history, in which I learned that he was teaching in a private family in Florida, when the war broke out, was pressed into the Confederate service, and had quarreled with his captain, who undertook to exercise an authority over him, incompatible with his native freedom. He said he would rather meet his fate there than to die in the rebel army. He said there were many Northern men in their army, and that three-fourths of them would vote for the old banner and Constitution, if uninfluenced by their leaders. “But,” he added, “you see how this fellow does” (referring [42] to the man he had been drilling); “and there are thousands in their army just as ignorant as he.”

When he went for a bucket of water, he would call out, “Come on, about thirty or forty of you infernal rebels, and go with me after some water!”

In this way he would drill these guards, so that those on the outside thought him a Federal, while those on the inside believed him to be a rebel officer.

In the rear of the warehouse was a countingroom; and the entire prison could boast but one bed, for which I, being the only officer, got the preference. It consisted of an old coffeesack, filled with “body-guards,” and I reluctantly accepted its use.

While standing near the door, two men came in who were dressed in Federal uniforms. They came to me and asked me if I was a Federal officer.

“No,” said I, “not now; but I was a few days ago. I am a prisoner now.”

In conversation with them, I ascertained that they were northern men, but, being in the South when the war broke out, were pressed, like thousands of others, into the rebel army. At the battle of Belmont, they deserted and [43] joined the Fourth United States Cavalry, but were afterwards taken prisoners at Shiloh, and had been recognized as deserters. That day they had had their trial before General Bragg, who sentenced them to be shot on the following Tuesday. I at once became interested in their escape; and, forgetting my wounded and painful hand, and the disagreeableness of my situation, I pondered the fate of these men late into that dismal night. On the evening of the same day, a piece of file and a knife had been found upon a shelf in the prison. We converted the knife into a saw, and with this sawed off one of the planks of the floor, thereby making an aperture sufficient to permit a man to pass through. By this means, these two men, in company with “Calico Bill,” made their escape. The hole I afterwards carefully concealed by placing the bed over it. We had agreed with the Tennesseeans that they should answer to the names of the escaped prisoners when the rebel officer came to the door to call the roll of the inmates of the prison. This they continued to do until Monday, at which time I was taken to Columbus, Mississippi.

We had only one meal of victuals during the forty-eight hours we remained in the prison, and there were quite a number of men there [44] who did not get anything to eat. But for this we had some apology, in the fact that the armies were fighting very near us, and about all these rebels could do was to lie and boast about their success on the previous evening. They brought us the news that our whole army had been captured, that they had got between our forces and the river, and had taken twenty-seven thousand prisoners, and that the remainder of the army had been driven to the gunboats. So incredible and exaggerated were their reports, that when they afterward informed us of the capture of Prentiss and his division, we placed no confidence whatever in the story. On Sunday, at three o'clock, the Texan Rangers came in greatly decimated, themselves declaring that they had been cut to pieces by our sharpshooters.

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