John J. Hight.

History of the Fifty-eighth regiment of Indiana volunteer infantry. Its organization, campaigns and battles from 1861 to 1865 online

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Online LibraryJohn J. HightHistory of the Fifty-eighth regiment of Indiana volunteer infantry. Its organization, campaigns and battles from 1861 to 1865 → online text (page 45 of 47)
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prisoners were marched in and counted off. There were
about two hundred and thirty to each floor.

The rations for ten days was onl}' bread, but the quantit}-
had increased a little. Then the bread was cut down, but a
better ration of beef issued. About three weeks after com-
ing here they began to get some soup. The rations were
better than at Richmond. In December some rations from
the Government reached them. On Christmas day about ten
crackers, in addition to the usual rations, were given to each
man, and about the same time some clothing was received;
it was regular army clothing, and a full suit had been sent
for each prisoner. Some was issued to those who were
worst off, and the rebels stole the remainder. Crackers were
issued twice after this, five to each man. At one time they
got some vinegar oft' of pickles, which were issued extra.
Some beans and bacon, sent from the North, were cooked
and issued, as if furnished by the rebels. Most of the food
sent from the North was stolen by the rebels. Most of these
rations were issued to the citizens of Danville. How fallen
tiie F. F. V.'s must have been, to feed on the rations stolen
from starving prisoners ! Before leaving Richmond, the
prisoners had been informed that they might have an3'thing
that they chose sent them from the North, and these pack-
ages began to arrive. The rebels kept most of them, and
broke open and r()l)bed many others.


Just after the clothing from the North arrived, a rcl^el
sutler was permitted to set up a shop in a little room adjoin-
ing the prison. He had tobacco, rice and salt to exchange
for clothing or money. He would pa}^ $20 in rebel money
for a pair of shoes, $4 for a cap, $40 for a great coat and
$20 for a blanket or a pair of pants. He purchased only
new clothing. He would exchange his little stock in trade
for these articles. This Shylock, who carried on this trade,
retailed the articles procured from the suffering prisoners to
the citizens. There are no words to express the immeasur-
able meanness and the inconceivable littleness of the soul of
a fellow who could engage in a traffic so contemptible.
Judas Iscariot was a gentleman compared with him, for he,
after selling his Lord, had conscience enough to hang him-
self; but this scoundrel continued in the trade.

Thoughts of escape continued to enter the minds of the
prisoners. They had lost all hope of being exchanged.
Shortly after arriving at Danville some of the men cut
through into the cellar, and then crawled under a small
building adjoining. Here, they began a tunnel. It was
designed to run it under an adjoining alley and come out
under a house, and hence the exit would be in another 3'ard.
This yard was surrounded by a tall fence, made of planks,
standing on the end ; the guards could not see them. All
the prisoners might have escaped by this means, but some
traitor revealed the plot. They were caught digging and
were bucked for a few hours.

After this, another tunnel was commenced under the sut-
ler's shop. The exit was to have been in a stable, on the
adjoining lot. It would not have been more than twenty-
five feet long. At this same time a lengthy tunnel was being
dug from Prison No. 4. It was to have been at least eighty
feet long, reaching under the street and into a garden on
the other side. Some traitor betrayed this. A search was
then ordered about all the prisons. The floors of all the
adjoining buildings were torn up. In this way the tunnel
commenced under the sutler's shop was discovered. It was


about half done. The men detected* in digging were not

It was now thought that all efforts at tunneling were at an
end. Every place seemed to be watched; some other plan
must be adopted. An organization was then effected.
There were some of the prisoners who were brick masons,
and were doing some repairing about the different prisons.
Through these, notes were sent from prison to prison, and
all the details of the plot were thoroughly arranged. In
each prison the men were divided into Companies of ten.
These were commanded by a Sergeant, then all the men in
each prison had a commander. An Irishman, from the reg-
ular army, commanded in Prison No. 3. He was a smart
and intelligent man. Being a boss at the cook house, he
had an opportunity of seeing men from other prisons. He
said there were some Union citizens of Danville engaged in
the plot. There were four prisons near together, and two
in a distant part of town. A break was to be made simul-
taneously when the signal — three lights, to be placed at the
window — were removed, overpower the guards and take
their arms. Each prison had its work. No. 3 was to cap-
ture the guard house and guards, another was to take the
armory, another a battery, and another the bridge. They
would then go to our lines in force. If they could not, they
would scatter. About the time the arrangements were com-
pleted, all the prisons were emptied, except Nos. 3 and 4.
The guards were also strengthened. Some person had
probably betrayed the plot. It is impossible to keep a secret
if many men know it. There are always traitors who will

Some other plan must now be devised. Sergeant Craw-
ford thought of the sink, which was the only place that was
un watched. He, Sergeant Kimmel, of the 51st Ohio, and
Color Sergeant Rodgers, of the same Regiment, went into
the sink one day to make an examination. The sink was
about six feet wide, eight feet deep, and twenty feet long.
It was boxed over the top. The Sergeants found this an


exceedingly vile place to push their investigations. But
they were amply repaid for their trouble. There was a
drain at the bottom ot the sink that conducted the tilth into
a sewer in the street. This drain had to be enlarged. The
sewer, itself, was large enough to crawl through. In about
thirty feet the sewer became an open ditch. After coming
out of the sink from their labor the men would wash them-
selves in tubs of water. The prisoners, by standing around,
would conceal them from the guards. On one occasion the
Major in command, and some other officers, came around
on an examination, while some were down in the sink labor-
ing. They examined everywhere, but their suspicions were
not excited. A difficulty existed from the fact that the pris-
oners could not escape in day time, and at night but six-
could go to the sink at once. They might have gone, a few
every night, for a long time before being discovered. But
liberty is sweet and men are greedy for it. The first night,
after all things were ready, Sergeant Crawford and his
fellow laborers packed up their traps and were ready to
leave, but they were in the third story, and there were men
just as eager to escape in the second story. The guards
were not careful to count those going to and returning tVom
the sink. But on this night there was such an eager throng
desiring to go to the sink, and so few came back, that the
attention of the guard was called to the fact. Sixteen men
• had passed quietly and successfully through the sewer into
the street. But the seventeenth man stamped his feet and
made a noise as he emerged. He was challenged by the
sentinel, but ran off. The escaping was detected, a sentinel
was stationed at the sink, and Sergeant Crawford was among
those who did not escape.

Thus, by over effort and eagerness, but seventeen men
escaped, when many might have done so by carefulness.
This ended the tunnel campaign, in the month of Feb-
ruary, 1864.

The next day Sergeant Crawford was taken sick ; two
weeks afterwards he was taken to the hospital. Here, lie


received better treatment than in prison. He designed to
escape trom tlie hospital, but a comrade, desiring popularity
with the rebels, informed them of his design. He was
therefore returned to the prison, though not well. After
remaining a week in the prison he was again returned to the
hospital, and in about five da\'s he was sent to Richmond to
be exchanged. He was then barely able to sit up. This
was April 23d. Only sick men were sent from the hospitals,
and all were verj^ happy when the announcement was made
that they were going.

At Richmond they were placed in a hospital, and informed
that the exchanging of the sick had ceased. He remained
under this impression until the 29th of April. During this
time the prisoners were dying off very fast, and Crawford
gave up hope. But on the day named he was selected to go
North, and the next morning he marched down to the boat,
and after a few hours' floating down the James the}' came to
the Acw Tork^ the regular flag-of-truce boat, with the stars
and stripes floating from the flag staff. The "banner of
beaut V and gl()r\'" never looked more glorious than that
April afternoon. As Crawford stepped on board, he
thought, "Home again." Here they lay until next morn-
ing. About twelve m.. May i, the boat steamed down the
river. Just at this time, the summer campaign was com-
mencing, and several gunboats were met, whose crews gave
the newly released prisoners rousing cheers, but the emaci-
ated men were able to make only feeble replies. A sight of
indescribable grandeur opened on their vision as they neared
Fortress Monroe. As far as si^-ht could rc^ach might be seen
vi'ssels of war, with "helm and mast and pennant fair," and
transjiorts loaded with thousands of troops, just starting on
the grand campaign against Richmond. At Fortress Mon-
roe they were detained six hours. They then continued the
journey to Annapolis, where they arrived May 2, at twelve

They were taken to College Gre(>n Hospital, where they
washed themselves and put on new clothing. They were


then taken into a ward as line as a parlor, and partook of a
splendid dinner. The passage from rebeldom was like enter-
ing into the better land. The skies never looked so blue, nor
the billows never rolled so grandly. The dashing of the
waves against the hull of the steamer, and the whipping of the
sails of shipping was like the clapping of angel hands. Those
they met seemed like brothers. The grass resembled a car-
pet of brilliant green. The works of man and of nature, and
every living creature, seemed to rejoice with the prisoners ;
it was like the hour of one's conversion, or the quiet gran-
deur of the eternal Sabbath. But many had long sustained
life on the hope of freedom and home. Now, that they had
escaped, exhausted nature could endure no longer. In ten
days one third of those who had escaped the horrors of rebel
incarceration were lying beneath the sod. We can but drop
a tear to the memory of those gallant men, who perished, just
as the}^ were prepared, by a long baptism of sufl'ering, to
enjoy home and freedom. Sergeant Crawford was taken
worse, but survived his illness. On Ma}^ 20th he left the
hospital for Camp Parole, and on June 20th he started for
Chattanooga, arriving there June 25th, and soon aftei' (July
19th) joined the Regiment, while we were at Vining's Sta-
tion, on the Chattahoochee.

Such is the brief record of the captivity of a Union soldier,
and his horrid treatment at the hands of a heartless foe.
Others less fortunate lingered longer in loathsome prisons,
and many sleep in exiles' graves. Many an account, more
thrilling than this, will never be written, many a sad tale will
never be told, until the revelations of the great day.




Relates an Unpleasant Experience with Wheeler's
Cavalry, while out Foraging in North Carolina
— Capture and Escape — Perilous Journey through
Swamps — Through Rebel Camps — Back to the
Union Lines.

BY w. J. redburn,


The morning of March 5th, 1865, found part of Sher-
man's arm 3^ camped at Cox's Bridge, on a river in
North Carolina. While our colored troops were engaged
in a skirmish with Wheeler's rebel cavalry, on the
Bentonville road, on the north side of the river, Alonzo
Stewart and the writer saddled the horses we had captured a
few days previous and crossed the pontoon bridge into the
enemy's country, in searcli of forage. We wanted food for
our horses, and whatever would satisfy a soldier's appetite,
for at that place Sherman's army had to live on what they
could get, and the soldier who was not afraid to risk his life
for something to eat fared the best, providing he was not
picked up by the "Johnnies." We had ridden several miles
and visited a number of houses and hen-coops, but got noth-
ing, because the rebs had been just ahead of us, and it is
always dry picking after they have been through the country.
On our wav we fell in with a man from an ()liio Regiment,
whom I will call "Ohio," having forgotten his real name.
He cheerfully joined us in our expedition, and we had pro-
ceeded together but a sliort distance when we came upon

* This article was first published in the Princeton Clarion in 1SS5, and
is a true account of a thrilling adventure of the writer. It Is re-published
here to illustrate the great risk taken b}' the foragers in that memorable
campaign. Very many did not escape so well as did those in this narrative.



some men digging sweet potatoes near the roadside, while
ten or twelve mounted soldiers awaited the fillin

Online LibraryJohn J. HightHistory of the Fifty-eighth regiment of Indiana volunteer infantry. Its organization, campaigns and battles from 1861 to 1865 → online text (page 45 of 47)