My Escape From A Rebel Prison, Part Four

By Capt. Mahlon S. Ludwig, 53rd PVI Co. “A”, Meadville PA.

We walked nearly all night for many miles in a cold, sleety rain, which drenched us to the skin, our teeth chattering, and to add to our misery and discomfort we thot we had gotten off the main road. We had to keep moving to keep from freezing. The crowing of a rooster told us we were near a habitation, and turning to the direction as well as we could we soon reahced a clearing and we and it was not long before we were inside an old blacksmith shop. We were thinly clad and wet to the skin. In this uncomfortable plight , and shivering with cold, we waited for the morning and what was to come with it. It was well light when we heard someone whistling. We found it was an old darkey on his way to the barn. We attracted his attention. He seemed scared at first, but the outcome was that we were soon in his cabin before a blazing wood fire. We found we were on the plantation of Col. Lomax, and that the Colonel had been killed in a batlle before Richmond, a battle in which we had taken part. The only whites on the place were the Colonel’s widow and young daughter. Our presence soon became known, and other darkies came to see the Yankees. One light-colored girl threw both her arms around Lieut. Broughton’s neck and gave him a hearty kiss, exclaiming as she did so: “De Lawd hab answered my prayers at last: I’se done been wnatin’ to see de Yankees eber since de wah begun.” All this time the girl was praying and saying, “Salvation hab surely come, bless de Lawd; now if I could only see Massa Lincum, de collud folks’ good friend, I’d be willin’ to die right heah on dis spot.” As she said this Lieut. Rueger took a $10 greenback out of his pocket, which had the vignet of Lincoln engraved upon it. He handed the bill to her, at the same time pointing to Lincoln’s picture, and she kissed it ove and over. By this time a crowd of colored people, 50 or more, had gathered in and about the cabin. Our old friend came in from the barn and I asked him if he did not think it would be better for us to go to the woods, as were creating considerable excitement. He said he had expected just about such a scene, and had built a fire for us out in the woods. After a short walk we reached the place and found a fire burning brightly. We at once lay down and were soon asleep. We awoke about noon, and it was not long before the colored folks brough us a splendid meal of ham, fried potatoes, cornbread, sorghum and hot parched-corn coffee. It was another feast. That night the old negro led the way until midnight when he said he must return home. He had given us quite a supply of grub. He parted with us with a hearty “God bless you” from each one of our party. Next day we hid in the woods and could find no water. Along about evening we ventured out into the road and met a white man. We asked how far it was to Pickensville Court House, which we had previously learned was not very far distant. “It’s a right smart way yet, I reckon’” he replied. I told him we had been conscripted in the eastern part of the State had been ordered to report there. His reply was, “This road leads to that place.”

We now trudged on until we could dimly discern the outlines of a small white house, back 50 feet from the road, and several young white women standing at the gate. As we came abreast of them on cried, “Stop, Yanks, or we’ll shoot.” Lieut. Ruger replied: “ Shoot and be blowed!” We did not wait for introduction, but “hiked” down the road as fast as we could walk. Soon hearing the clatter of a horse’s feet in the road, we jumped a fence and went into hiding. We soon heard the voice of a negro, saying, “Don’t git sceared; I’ll help you. Dat man you saw back in de road, he stopped at de house yous jist passed, and tole dem white girls dat he had jist seen some ‘Yanks’ an’ dat he was going over to Massa Jones’s, Mass Smith’s, and Massa Rice’s, to git dere bloodhounds and ketch ‘em. But doan be ‘fraid ob me, cause I’se de cullud preacher, an’ I’se gwine to help you outen dis scrape, an’ it’s a bad one.” He then went on to say that in August he had met a Rev. Mayberry, a white man, who had been pastor of the village church and lived about two miles from this point; but his license had been taken from him becaused he refused to pray for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy. He was a loyal Union man, but his three sons were in the Rebel army.

The colored man further explained that he had asked Rev. Mayberry if he would assist any Yankee prisoners in making their escape, if they were to pass his place, and he had assured him that he would gladly do so. We soon crossed the field, the preacher leading, toward his house. We presently found ourselves beside a small stream. Our colored friend stepped right into the water and bade us follow suit, to prevent the bloodhounds following our scent. He said if we had cayenne pepper to put under our armpits and in our shoes, or earth out of an old grave, or even mashed garlic and alcohol, we wouldn’t need to wade the stream. But we cosidered the stream-wading by far the most convenient. We had waded in the stream for more than a mile when I asked him why he kept us is the water so long. He replied: “Cause the bloodhounds will cross de water and follow it up and down for a long way befo’ dey gives up de hunt, and I ‘tends to make sure thing ob it; ‘cause dey’l suah be after us.” After a while we left the water, and found ourselves by the side of a pretty spring. Here the negro left us to go and find Mr. Mayberry, and we need not worry about the bloodhounds. We heard their yelps, however, but they went downstream instead of up. It was not long before he returned with Rev. Mr and Mrs Mayberry and daughter, who took us home with them, where we had a good supper. Before parting with our darky preacher, Lieut. Rueger gave hima $10 greenback. Rev Mayberry told us that one of his sons was then at home on sick leave, and was upstairs in bed. Another son was “lying out” in the woods to evade the patrol and avoid being taken back to the rebel army. The third son was still in the rebel service. He took us to a dense thicket, where we found a clearing covered with straw and leaves. This made a comfortable resting place. Mr and Mrs Mayberry stayed with until about midnight. He told us that no less than 20 rebel deserters were hiding in the country around. He said, too , that next morning (Sunday) his daughter would go on horseback to the hiding place of her brother, and bring him home with her. In the evening the brothers were to meet a friend, and then join the rebel deserters in the mountains. Mr Mayberry was to visit the man on Sunday morning and inform him we would be with his sons.

On Sunday Mrs. Mayberry nad her daughter made each of us a haversack of heavy bed-ticking. The son at home, being a shoemaker, mende our shoes, which were almost a total wreck after the long weeks of tramping. Miss Mayberry left home early Sunday morning, returning at about noon accompanied by her brother. After dinner the family visited us. I asked Mrs. Mayberry if she did not dread seeing her sons go with us into Union lines. She stood up, and raising her right hand toward Heaven, said: “Liut. Ludwig, I would rather see my two sons die in the attempt to get thru to where they will see ‘Old Glory’ than to see them dragged back alive into the Confederate army.” Miss Mayberry then stepped forward and said: “I feel and know that you will do all you can for our brothers.” Rev. Mayberry then knelt and offered a prayer for our success in reaching Union lines. They then returned to the house to prepare supper, asking us to follow them. After supper the good-byes were said, and taking up our haversacks ( which we found well filled with cornbread, hard-boiled eggs and fried ham), we at once set out on our journey. At the appointed plave we met the man previously mentioned, and we were soon on our way to the mountains.

After walking what seemed to be 25 miles, but proved to be only 14, our friend stopped, saying we were near the deserters’ camp, but it would not be safe for us to enter before daybreak. At daybreak we entered the camp. We learned that two men had gone to Asheville, N.C., for powder, and would not return till late at night. Those in camp wre busy making bullets from spoons. lead etc. We were tols that women would come a distance of 25 miles or more to bring food to these men. We also found that three other Union officers who had escaped from prison had made their way to this camp, which was stunted on a high mountain, sloping abruptly in every direction. It reminded me of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Pa. only this was very much higher. During the day we formed a military company, elected a Captain from the deserters, and two Lieutenants from the Union officers wh had previously arrived. The deserters were all well armed; but there wre no two guns alike. The Captain at once set out men to procure arms for us. It was my good fortune to carry a double-barreled shotgun.

Our night marching now ceased, at the country was too rugged to travel safely after nightfall. By previous arrangement the women (wives, sweethearts, sisters and daughters) had been notified that on the following day the start was to be made. So, early the next morning, they began to arrive, each one laden with good things to eat, and one would have thot it a picnic; but it was anything else as will be seen later on. At about 10 o’clock the women spread white tablecloths on the rocks, there being no grass, and arranged the food in good, old-fashioned country style, and during the process of the meal there was much merriment among the assembled friends; but I am under the impression that much of it was forced. Finally the Captain announced that he would allow us just one half-hour in which to bid our farewell, at the same time ordering all men who were to join our company to stand up. He then produced a paper which in effect was a most solemn contract, the substance of which was as follows; “We, men of the South and men of the North, have been brot together, as it were, by the hand of Providence, and have this day bound ourselves together by the most solemn oath that each and every one of us will fight until death; for in the event that any of our number whould be taken prisoners, those of the South would be shot as deserters and those of the North hung as spies, being captured within the Confederate lines. We are about to undertake a most hazardous journey; each man is well armed and will do his duty. We pray for the guidance of an Allwise Providence, and that we may reach Knoxville, Tenn., safely”