James M. (James Monroe) Wells.

With touch of elbow; or, Death before dishonor; a thrilling narrative of adventure on land and sea online

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Online LibraryJames M. (James Monroe) WellsWith touch of elbow; or, Death before dishonor; a thrilling narrative of adventure on land and sea → online text (page 1 of 27)
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James M. Wells, at the Age of Sixty-five.




A Thrilling Narrative of Adventure on I^and and Sea






Copyright 1909 by
James M. Wells


The work herein contained is a simple memoir or nar-
ration of events coming within the personal observation of
the writer, beginning just before the breaking out of the
Civil War and continuing through those years now desig-
nated as the ^Teriod of Eeconstruction ;" the whole
covering a decade in the history of our own country
unequaled for stirring and dramatic events and remarkable
for the influence it has exerted in the world's enlightened

The story is concluded with a description of a voyage
at sea and an extended sojourn among the Azorean Islands.

So far as relates to the Civil War, its leading features
are already familiar to the reader. The names of the
great generals commanding, the battles lost and won, the
numbers engaged and the losses sustained, are all set forth
in the text-books of our common schools and do not need
repeating in a work of this character. But of the soldier
himself who, with gun on shoulder and knapsack on back,
tramped the bloody and sodden fields ; who rode the horse,
wielded the pistol and saber, did the fighting and won
the victories; upon whose valor, patriotism and fidelity
everything depends in time of war, very few details have
been given in history. And, while it is impossible to write
up the individual prowess of the two million or more men
who took up arms in defense of the Union, the writer, in
the course of this narrative, offers his own experience —
with which he is most familiar — believing it constitutes a
fair representation of the whole, for what one soldier saw,




so far, at least, as the same service is performed and like
ground covered, will not differ widely from the experience
of thousands who thus formed the bulwark of the nation's

This is the apology offered for what otherwise may
seem like an effort on the part of the narrator to exploit
himself, and so it is believed higher and better motives
will appear in the progress of the narrative.

Foremost among the objects of this writing is the hope
of inculcating in the minds and hearts of the young who
may chance to read, a higher degree of patriotism and love
of country; that God-given spirit that makes heroes of
cowards and saints of debauchees; that leads men into
battles facing the cannon's mouth; sustains them in dun-
geons, and carries women through perils greater than those
imposed by nature upon the mothers of the human race.

When not so imbued no nation can long survive. With-
out love of country, independence of thought and action,
religion, education and every laudable ambition of which
the average citizen is capable is dwarfed, and, in the end,
tyranny usurps the place of justice, and subjugation and
slavery overtake the peoples who do not pay due homage
to the flag under which they live, and stand ready at all
times, no matter what sacrifice may be required, to take
up the gage of battle in defense of the soil upon which
they are nurtured and sustained.

Also this opportunity is taken to return thanks for the
many kindly acts bestowed upon the writer, and upon
others, by the men and women whose names are here
written and whose merits are beyond the power of a work
of this character to compensate.

And last, though not least, we hope to aid in perpetuating
and keeping alive the memories that cluster around the

Introduction. iii

perilous days of 1861-1865, that the debt of gratitude the
country owes the men who stood ^Vith touch of elbow^'
in the great conflict for the preservation of the Union may
not be forgotten.

More than a generation has passed since the battles of
the Civil War were fought, and from out the ashes of
those sanguinary fields there has come up on this continent
a mighty colossus, whose liberty-loving precepts and ex-
ample are one day likely to bestride the world. With
bright eye, erect form and elastic step the Union soldiers
marched throughout those terrible campaigns, sharing their
blankets on the cold, frozen earth at night and drinking
from the same canteen, while the bones of their comrades
fallen in that great struggle, lie mingled with the soil of
every State, from the Susquehanna Eiver to the Rio Grande,
and there, sacred to the memory of a grateful people, they
will lie forever,



Introduction i

The Amateur Bull-whacker 1

The Turbulent Missouri 8

"The Pony Express" 19

Salt Lake, The Holy City. 29

An Indian Outbreak » 31

Virginia City, Nevada 38

The Start for the Theatre of War 44

"The Old Sonora" 49

"The Northern Light" 60

Six Brothers Enlisted 63

The Bounty Jumpers 67

The Passing Regiment 73

The Volunteer Soldier 76

The Morgan Raid 81

Battle at Tebbs Bend, Green River Bridge 84

Capture of the Garrison at Lebanon 86

Morgan Crosses to the Indiana Shore 91

Hobson Hot Upon the Trail 95

The Greenwoods, Mitchels and Dominicks of Cincinnati.. 100

The Michigan Brigade Again on the March 102

Battle at Buffington's Island 105

The Wily Chief Slips Through the Federal Lines* 109

The Final Capture Ill

Strips of White Cloth in Token of Surrender 112

Our Victorious Troops at Steubenville 114

From Kentucky Into East Tennessee 119

General N. B. Forest 123

The Retreat and Running Fight 125

Hoping to Make Good My Escape 127

A Prisoner and Compelled to Part with My Boots 130

The Bastile of the Confederacy 136

The Tunneling Process, a Gigantic Undertaking 141

A Vast Amount of Labor Lost 143

A Pair of Stockings Such as Mother Used to Knit 149

Covering for Both Head and Feet 151

From Libby to Liberty 153

But Yet Not Free 156

Randall of the Second Ohio and McCain of the Twenty-
first Illinois 160

The Rescue 162

The Bivouac that Followed 166

The Hunt for Es-caped Prisoners Continued 169

The Story as Told by the Richmond Dispatch 170

At Last Within the Federal Lines 177

Congratulated by Lincoln 178

Home, Sweet Home 181

The Watch and Chain Recovered 190



The Atlanta Campaign 193

Crossing the Chattahoochee River 197

A Mas-ked Battery 200

At the Gates of Atlanta 202

Macon and Andersonville 206

An Act of Vandalism 209

Stoneman Retreats from Macon 211

A Battle at Sunshine Church 212

Stoneman Determines to Surrender 215

A Desperate Effort to Reach the Federal Lines 216

The Mulberry River 220

Again a Prisoner of War 223

Old Acquaintance Revived 228

Under the Federal Batteries at Charleston 230

Captain Charles E. Greble 232

A Death Warrant 236

The Mortality Appalling 238

It Is Either Exchange or Death 239

We Reach Macon and Atlanta 242

Rough and Ready, the Point of Exchange 244

"Safe Within the Federal Lines, Thank God" 247

Colonel H. C. Hobart 251

Sympathizing Friends 253

A Second Home-coming 255

Again Upon Active Duty 259

The Final Muster Out in 1865 262

The Grand Review at Washington 270

The Subject of Pensions 271

The Period of Reconstruction 280

The Story of a Brave Girl 283

Shot Down Without Mercy 291

A Silent and Unwilling Witness* 294

Isaac Landers 299

The Wounded Father and Daughter 301

The Suffering Girl 302

A Dangerous Operation, Death of Carolena 305

Life at the Nation's- Capital 309

The Great Forum 316

How Czarism Was Evolved 319

Assassination of President Garfield 320

The Good Barque "Sarah" 326

Flores, The Isle of Flowers 330

San Miguel 335

The Island and Mountain of Pico 339

The Island of Fayal 346

The Caldeira 349

The Long Tom at Fayal 354

Final Assault and SinMng of the Armstrong 358



James M. Wells, at the Age of Sixty-five Frontispiece

Steamboat Rock, Echo Canyon, Utah 29

Colonel Elisha Mix, Eighth Michigan Cavalry 69

Officers of the Eighth Michigan Cavalry — Adjutant Homer
Manvel on the right, Commissary William H. Mills
on the left 74

Lieutenant Lovinas H. Patton, Eighth Michigan Cavalry 79

Libby Prison. From a Photograph taken in 1865 by

George S. Cook 135

Colonel Thomas E. Rose, at the Age of Sixty 145

Sectional View of Libby Prison and Tunnel 153

Special Order No. 82, War Department, Granting Thirty

Days' Leave of Absence to Lieut. James M. Wells.. 181

Envelope of Letter Addressed to Lieut. James M. Wells

while a Prisoner of War in Libby Prison 185

Captain James M. Wells, at the Age of Twenty-five 188

View of National Cemetery, Andersonville, where 13,710

Union Soldiers are Buried 238

Carolena Clinton 285

Invitation from the Republican National Committee to

Speak in the Campaign of 1884 315

Mount Pico from Fayal, Azorean Islands 339

Fayal, Azorean Islands, and Fort on the Bay, in Front of

which the "Armstrong" was Sunk 346



Since the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers on Plymouth
Rock that bleak December day in 1620 down to the
present time the guiding star of the ambitious young
American has risen steadily in the West, and, in the
subjugation of a continent, Americans have become what
may justly be denominated a race of pioneers. From
New England to New York and Pennsylvania, and
from Virginia and the Carolinas to Kentucky and Ten-
nessee, across the Mississippi and the Missouri, over the
wide prairies, out on the desert plains, over the bleak and
barren summits of the Rockies and the Sierras, and down
the western slope to the sun-kissed shores of the Pacific,
the irresistible tide has moved steadily on for more than
a hundred years.

We are indebted to the Honorable Theodore Roosevelt
for the laconic apothegm : "It is the red blood of achieve-
ment that is needed in this generation, and not the blue
blood of ancestry;" so the writer does not go back to the
Norman conquerors for his ancestral blood, but finds it
first in Connecticut, then in Western New York, where
he was born, and lastly in Michigan, where his young
manhood was reached, and from which State the earliest
movement to the westward on his own initiative took

An expedition whose purpose was the subjugation of the
Mormons in Utah, then supposed to be in rebellion against

2 With Touch of Elbow.

the authority of the United States Government, was the
impelling force that led him forth to conquer. Not that
it was expected the Mormons would yield obedience to his
unaided authority, though the enthusiasm of extreme youth
gave him greater confidence in his ability to subdue insur-
rections than the experience of more mature years has
taught him.

Messrs. Majors and Eussell, at the time and for years
thereafter noted contractors for the carrying trade on the
desert plains, and engaged by the Government to convey
the supplies for the United States Army then on its march
to Salt Lake, were advertising for teamsters, wagoners
and trainmen to aid in this work, offering good wages;
and in answer to the call young men from all parts of the
country were heading for what was then the far West,
where the manipulating and handling of ox-teams had
been reduced to a science, and in the pay and emoluments
of its most skillful artists almost equal to the more learned

Now, among the earliest of my recollections as a boy
on the farm was the 'Tireaking" of a yoke of calves. It
mattered not that the calves were both females, for they
were beauties and well "matched,'^ each having a star on
its forehead, and, in a boy's enthusiastic judgment, in
every way equally efficient with a pair of bulls; and what
greatly enhanced their value to me was the fact that as
calves, at least, they were my personal property, though
time disclosed the fact that as cows the title had changed
and they were reckoned among the general assets of the

From a basswood log I had hewed out a yoke suitable
in size and weight, with bows, staple and ring, without
which a yoke is as valueless as a wagon without wheels.

With Touch of Elbow. 3

By the aid of a lead rope attached to the "near ox" I vv^as
enabled to guide and direct my team to the extent of haul-
ing, from time to time, on a hand sled of my own manu-
facture a sufficient amount of pumpkins to keep the calves
contented and in good order for the work in hand.

During the time the process of "breaking" was going
on my father had been in poor health and confined to the
house, and now that he was out again, I was anxious to
entertain him with an exhibition of the calves and my
skill in handling them under the yoke. Accordingly they
were hitched up in the barnyard when father came out,
no doubt expecting a masterful display of what a boy is
capable in the way of training the brute ,to some useful

But the exhibition was a disappointment, and successful
only in arousing the dominating spirit slumbering in the
breast of pater familias, and in humbling the pride of his
dutiful son.

It had been raining and pools of water were standing in
the barnyard, and while manipulating with the whip and
directing the movement of the calves through a series of
complicated evolutions I lost my footing and fell into a
pool of muddy water. Whereupon the calves, taking ad-
vantage of the moment and already nettled by the extraor-
dinary service required of them, started off on the run,
dragging me at the end of the guide rope. But pride and
anger were both aroused and my reputation as a teamster
at stake, and I held on literally through "thick and thin,"
till placed somewhat in the situation of the farmer who
yoked himself up with an unbroken steer. The steer bolted
and ran, and the old farmer, in order that he might not
be dragged along and killed outright, was compelled to run
with him. But, getting out of breath and fearful of conse-

4 With Touch of Elbow.

quences at the outcome of the race;, he hailed a neighboring
farmer as follows "Hello, there! durn our fool souls!
come and head us off or we'll break our necks."

So around the corral I Avas whirled, through heaps of
barnyard manure and pools of muddy water, till completely
drenched and well-nigh exhausted, before the calves
brought up panting in a corner.

Taking an inventory of myself after this unexpected
denouement, both elbows were found badly skinned, sus-
penders broken and trousers torn, presenting altogether,
as I thought, a sight calculated to make angels weep — but
father only laughed. This increased my pride and resent-
ment, and with difficult}^, holding my temper until father's
back was turned, I proceeded to vent my spleen on the
calves; and, in a great passion, stripping off the j^oke and
striking each calf a furious blow with the bow as he
backed away, I then took the yoke and broke it into frag-
ments across a near-by stump, throwing the pieces in every
direction as far as possible.

Unfortunately for me (or rather, as matters have turned
out, may I not say fortunately), just as this exhibition of
unbridled temper came to a close pater stepped around
the corner of the barn and beckoned me to him. As I
was responding to this call in the affirmative he directed
me to pick up and bring with me a large stick, a sort of
native whip that lay in the pathway. I was accustomed
to obey my father and gathered up the stick, though
reluctantly, and now, beginning to feel the full gravity of
the situation, presented myself before him. Then taking
me by the collar with one hand and the stick in the other,
in a perfectly calm and unruffled voice he said : "Now,
young man, I am going to flog you for allowing your temper
to run away with 3'ou;" and then applied the whip vigor-

With Touch of Elbow. 5

OTisly. It was the first and last time he ever struck me a
blow, and the lesson he sought to convey has never been
forgotten. My father, Samuel D. Wells, a man without an
enem}^ at the age of fifty, died a few weeks later, and I
mourned his loss as I have never mourned since, though
the entire family, consisting of father, mother, sisters and
brothers, have long since passed away.

With all the advantages of this early training on the
farm is it surprising that, now grown '^Digger,^' I believed
myself equal to the task of driving a bull-team across the
plains and thus becoming a helpful instrument in the
prosecution of the Mormon War. Accordingly, in company
with Clem Stone, the eldest son of the Eev. J. A. B. Stone,
President of Kalamazoo College, and another neighboring
boy, David Carlton by name, I left the college where I
had entered on a preparatory course and started out with
the expectation of offering my services as an expert in the
use of the whip and the goad in handling a bull-team on
the plains. But fate seemed to have destined me for
other uses.

The outfitting and starting point for the expedition
against the Mormons was Nebraska City, Omaha at that
time having no place on the map. All the supplies being
shipped for the army and the great host of teams, team-
sters and wagoners; all the feed for stock, provisions,
wagons, chains, ox-yokes, shoes, and all the other para-
phernalia in use on the plains were brought to Nebraska
City — at that time on the extreme western frontier — ^by
steamboat up the Missouri Eiver, from points in Ohio,
Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri.

Aleck Majors, a Kentuckian who did not drink or swear,
a devout Christian gentleman who could neither read nor
write, was the master spirit that organized, superintended

6 With Touch of Elbow.

and successfully carried out every detail of this colossal
contract with the Government.

The material in both men and animals comprising his
stock in trade was of the rawest and wildest which the
Wild West of that period produced. But this giant in
moral and intellectual stature, as well as in physical, proved
equal to every condition.

Long-horned, fiery and untamed steers from the plains
of Texas, New Mexico and the Indian Territory were
driven in large herds to Nebraska City, where they were
corralled, yoked and subdued to become the motor power
of this great caravan. Forty-five thousand head were
taken into this service ; 3,500 big wagons, 3,000 mules and
horses — mostly for the saddle — and 5,000 men were re-
quired to handle the freight, break, drive and care for the
teams; and every man so emplo3^ed was compelled to sign
a contract, the violation of which on his part was a for-
feiture of his pay, to abstain from the use of profane lan-
guage and intoxicating liquors while thus engaged.

The whole mass of freight was moved from time to
time in separate trains, consisting of 10 or 20 wagons of
from 6,000 to 10,000 pounds' capacity, with 6 to 12 yoke
of oxen to a wagon. The men of such an outfit numbered
about 30 — a wagonmaster and assistant, a night herder
who also looked after the riding horses, and a driver to
each wagon. The latter were known as "bull-whackers/'

Prior to the departure of a train the men detailed for
its conduct were assembled in camp to listen to instruc-
tions and a lecture from their employer along the lines
of temperance and general good moral conduct.

But I have before stated the steers or oxen were all wild,
and "How were they made available for this important
work?" is the question we will now undertake to answer.

With Touch of Elbow, 7

A large band or herd was driven into a corral made of
logs six to ten inches in diameter, set deeply in the ground,
the steers being crowded and packed together so thickly
they could not turn or move in any direction. Men with
yokes lifted high in air then went among them, cautiously
slipping the yokes onto their necks whenever and wher-
ever an opportunity presented, until the desired number of
steers were yoked. This was the work of experienced men,
and in its execution required great skill and courage.

These details completed, everybody stood from under,
when the corral was thrown open from different points of
the compass and the whole band of )^oked steers turned at
liberty; and then followed a scene that baffles description.
Any attempt to control their movements at this time would
be both dangerous and futile, though mounted men carry-
ing great blacksnake whips are standing by to follow and
watch them as they rush out over the prairie, with tails
• lifted in air, bellowing and shaking the ground with their
tremendous hoof beats. Some sulked and showed fight,
while others turned the yoke so that the two steers in the
same yoke faced in opposite directions; but all were mad-
dened or frightened beyond control. At length, however,
from sheer exhaustion they begin to quiet down, and with
the assistance of a few yoke already ^'gentled" they are led
or driven to the wagons, hitched up and soon started off
on their long journey across the plains.

The amount of energy and brute force expended from
the time the steers are first rounded up on the range until
their burden is laid down at the end of the route is beyond
comprehension; though, in fact, this expedition, as com-
pared with the general movement across the continent
from 1863 to 18GG, at which time emigration reached its
maximum, was but a drop in the bucket. In those years

8 With Touch of Elbow.

the estimated floating population on the plains was 250,
000. One firm alone — Eussell, Majors & Waddell — em-
ployed 6,250 large wagons and 75,000 oxen in carrying
freight. But this was only one of a multitude of corpora-
tions, equally extensive, engaged in transportation in those

It did not require a great length of time in this stren-
uous service to convince me that my early training in the
management of "steers" was of little practical value, and
that I must turn my genius into other channels, and so
resolved to act without further delay. A new world had
opened up to me, but what to do to keep "touch of elbow"
in the great march of events was a vexed question.
Nebraska City was but a frontier village far beyond the
reach of ordinary civilization, and there would be no
steamboat for the next ten days at least on which one
might engage passage


And if a' boat were to depart every hour, without money
one could not see his way clear for a passage, for roust-
abouts and deck hands at that time on the Missouri and
lower Mississippi were all negro slaves, and in this line
of employment there was little encouragement for "po'
white trash. '^

Experience teaches that in great emergencies man hesi-
tates to act alone, and if he can enlist the sympathy and
cooperation of a congenial spirit before venturing upon
the uncertain sea, the task is already relieved of a large
share of its burden. Accordingly, I sought a companion
like-minded with myself, and together we resolved to start
on foot down the Missouri River, traveling until a more

With Touch of Elbow. 9

populous country was reached, there hoping to find em-
ployment more congenial to our tastes. George Everett,
my fellow-voyager on this expedition, was a telegraph
operator, and, where telegraph lines were in use, could
ordinarily find employment and demand good wages. His
immediate prospects, therefore, were : rach better than
mine, for up to this time I had never ventured upon any
business enterprise involving a greater c.mount of talent
than the breaking and handling of a yoke of calves.

We traveled all one day parallel with the river, through
a wilderness country, never meeting a human being until
nightfall, when we came upon a skiff secreted in the brush
on the banks of the river. Casting about, we could dis-
cover no owner, and resolved to appropriate the skiff to
our own use, for we were tired and desperately hungry —
the scant supply of rations with which we started having
altogether disappeared — so without further ceremony we
entered the skiff and cast it off.

Now, to those unacquainted with its turbulent, muddy
and shifting currents, the Missouri Eiver, in a high stage
of water as it was then, is a very treacherous and danger-
ous stream to navigate, even in daylight with experienced
river men; but for a stranger to entrust himself upon its
surging waters at night and in a small boat is to invite
disaster ; but these facts were thrust upon us when it was
too late to avoid the dangers upon which we had unwit-
tingly entered.

The currents of the Missouri are constantly changing.
While one bank is being washed away the opposite shore is

Online LibraryJames M. (James Monroe) WellsWith touch of elbow; or, Death before dishonor; a thrilling narrative of adventure on land and sea → online text (page 1 of 27)