previous next

A Yankee in Dixie.

by Corporal Purdum.
I will endeavor to give a short account of what I saw and heard while in the hands of the rebels, beginning with my capture when I was first introduced to the inside of the great Southern humbug.

It was on the evening of the 20th of September, 1863, that myself, in company with a number of others from the 33d and other regiments, was taken prisoner by a part of Longstreet's corps. We were taken a short distance to the rear of their first line, and camped for the night. The rebs used us very well at first, and were very civil and polite. At daylight on Monday morning we commenced our pilgrimage south in the direction of Ringgold, where we arrived about 2 o'clock P. M., and were brought up in front of the Provost Marshal, surrounded by his numerous clerks, and our names were taken, which business occupied about two hours. This being done we were started forward again, bound for Tunnel Hill Station, which place we arrived at about 9 o'clock at night, and were turned into a field to remain the rest of the night. We were very tired and hungry, having marched twenty-two miles and had no rations. We lay down to rest ourselves and get some sleep, but were called up at 2 o'clock to draw some rations, (if it could be called such.) They consisted of a little meal and bacon, which was so strong the boys said it could almost walk alone. After disposing of our meal as best we could, some making mush in tin cups, some ash cakes, and some, who were fortunate enough to get ovens, made something resembling bread. They then brought us up in line, preparatory to taking Our rubber blankets, knapsacks, and canteens from us; but as soon as the boys found out what was to be done, we commenced to tear everything to pieces that we could not sell; so they got but few things from us; and by the time they were done the place had the appearance of an old deserted camp, as strips of blankets, knapsacks, and broken canteens were strewn all over the ground, for we were determined that the rebs should not be benefited by them. Here we expected to get on the cars, but were disappointed, and started on foot for Dalton, seven miles distant from Tunnel Hill; and the road being very dusty, and we not being in the best of humor after having our things taken from us, we struck out almost on a double-quick in order to tire out the guards, and several times we were stopped for them to rest and get to their places.

On this trip I stopped at a house to get some bread, and had to pay one dollar for three small biscuits; but the money being of but little value, I paid it with a good grace, and went on my way, rejoicing that my lot was not permanently cast in the land of cotton and starvation. On arriving at Dalton we again drew rations of flour and meat, and after getting our supper — or rather partaking of a mixture of dough, flour, and tainted bacon — we were marched through the town, as we thought, to get on the cars; but I guess it was done in order that the citizens might satisfy their curiosity by seeing the “Yankees,” as we were taken back to the same place and kept till morning. Then they put us on the cars and started for Atlanta. On the way we were subject to a great many insults, not only from the men, but the women. They came out as we passed, and threw clubs and stones at us, and did everything they could to express their hatred of the “Yankees;” but they soon got tired, for the boys were not in the humor to be outdone by these so-called Southern ladies, and paid them back in their own coin, till they would go back into their houses, or silently look on and wonder at the impudence the “Yankees” had to insult them.

Arriving at Atlanta we were met by crowds of men, women, and children, both white and black, and of all ages, from old grayheaded men and women down to the little urchins that could scarcely walk — all gazing with the greatest eagerness to get a sight of us, to see if we did really look like human beings. Many appeared surprised at seeing us, and I could hear them saying, “Is them Yankees?” One old woman came running out and asked me if we were really Yankees. I told her we were, “but as we had come from the West, and were younger ones than those in the East, our horns had not yet appeared.” This answer seemed to satisfy her, for she went off and said no more about Yankees. In every direction we saw the young negroes and white children running about hallooing, “Yanks, Yanks!” and the scene was quite amusing to behold.

Leaving the depot we were taken to the rear of the town and put in a lot which had the appearance of having been used for a hog lot, and left to spend the night as best we could, which was none the pleasantest, I can assure you. The next day we were formed into companies of one hundred each, our names again taken, and we marched into the barracks to spend the night. Here they took our woollen blankets and pocket knives from us, but they got but few of the latter, for we concealed them. There we got five days rations of hard bread and meat, which was to last us till we got to Richmond.

After leaving Atlanta we made but few stops till we got to Richmond. We passed through Augusta, formerly the capital of Georgia. It had the appearance of once being a beautiful and prosperous city; it is situated in a fine country on the west side of the Savannah River, though like all other towns of the South it is behind the cities of the North about a half century in civilization. The next place of any importance we came to was Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, which is near the centre of the State, but in a very poor country and among hills, so that a person, to view the place, must go through it. Leaving this specimen of Southern cities, we went south till we came to Branchville, forty-five miles from Charleston. Here we struck the Raleigh and North Carolina Railroad, and were soon in North Carolina. Arriving at Raleigh, the capital, we went into camp for a while.

There are a great many Union people in Raleigh, but they have to be very cautious, as they are closely watched by the military authorities. North Carolina is a better country than either South Carolina or Georgia; it looks more like the North; but in South Carolina the soil is the poorest that I have seen in any place. In some parts of the State they have tried to raise grain, but it has been almost a complete failure. What little corn I saw was very poor, it being so thin over the field that I could almost count the stalks as we passed in the cars. Their farming implements are of a very poor [11] quality. They break up their ground with a small plough with one horse or mule attached. What grain they raise is not enough for home consumption, let alone to supply an army with bread and meat. The principal timber through the South is pine, which grows in great abundance. On arriving in sight of Richmond, we got off the cars and were taken to Belle Island on the morning of the 31st of September, being just ten days on the way; the distance we travelled over being 850 miles. The island is situated in James River, at the foot of the falls, and opposite the upper part of the city. That part of the island we were on is a very low sand bar, over which the chilly air comes from the river, and almost every night and morning we were enveloped in a dense fog. Here we were exposed to all kinds of weather, without any shelter from the cold rains and chilly winds. Our rations here consisted of a small piece of bread and a few mouthfuls of meat or soup, over which we would hold a consultation to determine what it was made of, and came to the conclusion that it was intended for bean soup, although the greater portion of the ingredients were sand and bugs. But we must eat it or do without anything, and as the bugs were well cooked and the sand well settled to the bottom of the vessel, we managed to eat it without any great inconvenience. In this way we lived for five days, when we were taken over into the city, and took up lodgings in a large tobacco warehouse, opposite Libby Prison, and in the lower part of the city. In this building they crowded eleven hundred of us. I was fortunate enough to get up in the third story, and it was much more comfortable than either of the others. We were so crowded that we had scarcely room to lie down without getting on top of each other. Here I remained about forty days. We were not allowed to go out of the house except to get rations. In this way I managed to get out twice while there. When first put in we got about one half rations, which I thought was doing well; but it soon got less, until we were scarcely able to keep from starving. On the day after we were put in the prison the Provost Marshal came in and took our names for the third time since being captured, and told us that if all those who had any greenbacks would give them up to him, he would return them when we went away. All who did not give them up would be searched, and if any money was found it would be confiscated. By this means a great many of the boys were induced to give up their money, thinking that we should go away in a few days, and then they would get it back again. But some were not to be fooled in that way, but were determined to keep their money if possible; so they went to work to conceal it, which was done in various ways, some by sewing it in their clothes, others by putting it in their tobacco, and some would take the buttons of their blouses apart, put a bill in, and then fix it together to look as if it had never been touched. In this last-mentioned way I kept ten dollars, and gave two to the Marshal. After getting all they could in this way, they commenced to search us; but finding that they were not getting enough to pay them for the trouble, they soon quit it, and issued us some rations, as we had not had any for thirty-six hours, and were getting pretty hungry! The guards were strictly forbidden to sell anything to us, but they would do almost anything to get our greenbacks, and at night would smuggle in bread to those who had any money; and in this way I managed to get bread for four of us for several days by being economical. For a one dollar greenback we could get eight or ten loaves of bread, but for one of Confederate money, sometimes we could get two loaves. Others would not have it at all; said they had their pockets full of it. After we had been there about two weeks some of the men came so near starving that they would trade off their clothes for bread — their shoes and socks, and some even traded their shirts, and any little thing they could find; and some days the door would present the appearance of a toy shop. There were handkerchiefs, pocket knives, finger rings, combs, buttons, spoons, knives and forks, and everything a soldier could find about his person was offered for bread. “Bread!” “Bread!” was the cry, and indeed it was a sorrowful sight to see men of all grades of society, from the college professor down to the ignorant and unlettered, all brought to the verge of starvation by the inhuman barbarity of their captors. In passing around the room I could see men once stout and hearty made helpless as infants, their cheeks of a pale death color, their eyes sunken and the light that once sparkled in them gone, and their skeleton-like forms all saying plainly that unless soon aided their time was short for this world. The sight was enough to draw pity from the hardest of hearts, unless they were so <*>ped in crime that nothing could affect them. The anguish and suffering here endured can never be told. Future history will fail in its endeavors to picture the noble heroism here displayed by men when they were suffering all the misery possible for man to endure, yet true to their country's cause, and would rather die than sacrifice their honor and patriotism, by turning traitor to their country. Almost every day there were from eight to ten taken to the hospital, there to linger on for weeks, and perhaps months, before receiving any benefit by the change, if indeed they ever recovered.

But there was still another evil to contend against; and that was the vermin, which got so numerous that we could in no way rid ourselves of them; and when a person once got down and was unable to help himself, there was danger of his actually being killed by the lice. It makes me shudder now while I think of it. What a terrible condition we were then in! but how much worse must it have become by this time, as it has been near six weeks since I left! But I will not dwell longer on so horrible a scene. After having used what little money I had, and trading my knife and haversack for bread, and seeing what there was in store for me if I remained longer in that place, I resolved to effect my escape or die in the attempt, as it was death any how if I remained there. I mentioned it to my comrades, but they did not approve of it. But not minding what they said, and finding a young fellow from Pennsylvania who was as anxious to get away as myself, we went to work to contrive some means of escape, which was no easy job, for we were closely guarded on all sides. The house we were in is a four-story building; and by going on the upper floor we could get a view of a good part of the city, and there we marked out the course we would pursue if successful in getting out. We were to go directly east for about four or five miles, and then incline more to the south, so as to come to our lines at Williamsburg, Virginia. [12] We tried several plans, but could not succeed. One was to tear off some plank at the rear of the building where they had been nailed up to the window, then lay them over on to the fence near by, and get into a lot. We worked at it several nights until we were detected, and had to abandon it. But not in the least discouraged we went at something else. After examining the house all through we could find no place but what was closely guarded. So we came to the conclusion that the only way left was to go out at the door past the guard; and as there had been several of the rebs in cleaning up the house, or rather having it done, we thought it a good time. Without saying anything to the boys as to what we were about to undertake for fear we might not be successful, as they had been making sport at our not having succeeded before, we went down to the lower floor to get ready for the trial of our new plan. Whichever got out first was to go to a small hill, about three squares from the prison, and wait for the other. Just about dusk, I got a rebel suit from one of our boys, without much trouble. My partner had got his a few days before. After rigging ourselves in rebel costume, I told my comrade that we would wait till after the relief came on at seven o'clock before going out, and in the mean time look around for a little sport.

Well, we walked round through the house, and all the boys took us to be rebels, which was just what we wanted. One of them took me to one side, and wanted me to try to get him out of the ,prison; he said that he had been conscripted, and did not want to fight against the South, had never been in a battle, nor fired a gun at the Southern people. I told him that I would see about it, and left him. Some of the boys wanted us to bring them in some bread. I told them that the guard would not let us trade with them, but I would try to get some if he would let me bring it in. Seven o'clock came, and I started out, passed the first guard without saying a word, came to the one on the street; he halted me, and asked where I belonged; I told him I was Police Sergeant, and had been in having the prisoners clean up the house. He did not like to let me pass, but I finally got off, and went directly to the place agreed upon for us to meet. Getting up on the bank, I concealed myself where I could see down the street.

When my partner started, the guard would not let him pass; so he had to go back into the house. But he was determined on being out; so he got the boys to attract the guard's attention at the window, and he went back to where some boards had been taken off, and where the guard had been stationed, and crawled out and got away safe. He came directly to where I had been waiting an hour and a half, and was nearly frozen. I will not attempt to describe our feelings at once more finding ourselves free, at least for the present. But we still had dangers to encounter, being in a strange country, without a guide, and our enemies all around us. But we were resolved to push ahead as best we could; so, shaping our course in an eastern direction, we struck out, guided by the stars. We crossed the fields and woods till we came to the fortifications, which were not very formidable. These we passed very cautiously. Coming to a house we tried to rouse the inmates, which we supposed to be negroes, but we could not get them to answer us, and we started on. We soon came to a road which ran in the right direction, and we followed it till about two o'clock, when we got so tired, and being so weak, that we had to stop and rest. Going into an old stable, we lay down; but it was too cold for us there. So we got up and went to a house close by, and found an old crippled negro by herself. We went in and warmed, and remained till daylight. Then we found we had travelled ten miles during the night, and were on the right road. This we followed all day, occasionally meeting some citizens and some few soldiers. But being dressed in rebel clothes, they did not molest us. At noon we stopped at a small cabin to get something to eat, and found a woman whose husband was in the army. Here we got some bread and milk, and learned a great deal about the road. We came to the Chickahominy River, twenty miles from Richmond. This we crossed on some logs where the long bridges had been, but were destroyed at the time McClellan advanced on Richmond.

Soon after crossing the river we met a man whom at first sight we took to be a rebel soldier; but we were mistaken. He came up and began to question us pretty closely. He asked where we belonged; we told him, in Richmond, to the 19th Virginia Battalion, which was guarding prisoners at Richmond. He then wanted to know where we were going. We said, “Home on furlough.” He looked at us a while, and began to laugh, saying, we need not try to fool him; that we were escaped prisoners, trying to get to the Federal lines. This we stoutly denied. So, finding that he could get nothing from us, he told us that we had better turn back to Richmond, that we never could get past the pickets. We told him that when our furlough was out we would go back, and not before. So he rode off and left us. We did not stop long to consider what we should do, but started off as fast as we could walk for about five miles, when we found a negro. From him we found out where the pickets were stationed, and how to get around them. He also told us where to find a free negro's house, and as we were very tired, we concluded to go and stay all night. He put us in the house that the owner had left in his charge, made us a good fire, and got some corn bread for us to eat. We got a pretty good rest, and daylight found us again on the road. We had gone but a short distance, when just ahead of us, we saw a squad of cavalry coming. There was no time to lose; so, bounding into the woods, we ran as fast as we could for about half a mile; but finding they were not following us, we ceased running. After that we did not venture on the road, but kept in the woods all the time, occasionally going to a negro cabin to find the way; and we always found them willing to aid us in any way that they could. Night coming on, and as we could not well travel in the woods after night, we looted around for a place to stop. We found a large house near by, and concealing ourselves in the bushes, we watched to see if there were any white folks living in it, but could not see any; so, after it got dark, we went to it, and found no one but a negro and his family. They gave us some sweet potatoes for supper, and some blankets to keep us warm, and we did very well that night. We were out bright and early the next morning. We had to be more cautious now, as we were among the scouts. The negroes showed us by-paths through the woods, which we followed all day. We saw several scouts, but managed to evade them. [13]

Our road was very rough, and we made slow progress. We missed our way, and travelled about three miles before finding it out, then had to go back and start anew. We had to go through woods and across swamps almost impassable. We finally came to the place we had been told to go; got permission to stay all night, a first-rate supper and good bed. Upon inquiry we found that we were within seven miles of the Union pickets, and that there was no more danger; so we felt at home. In the morning, after partaking of a good breakfast, our host went with us about two miles, and set us on the main road. We here thanked him for his assistance, and bade him good by.

We went forward with light hearts that morning, thinking that we were soon to be in the midst of friends. We soon came in sight of the pickets posted on a hill. They saw us coming, and came out to meet us, thinking we were rebel deserters. We soon told our story, and were warmly received and well provided for.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Yanks (2)
Purdum (1)
Longstreet (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
September 20th, 1863 AD (1)
September 31st (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: