My Escape From A Rebel Prison, Part Two

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

From Danville we were taken to Macon, Ga, where we were placed on an old abandoned plantation, with a strong guard around. Ten feet inside the sentries’ beat stakes were driven into the ground in short intervals. To step across this line meant death, and every guard who shot a “Yank” was promptly promoted. We remained here during the monthly of July and up to the second week in August, without shelter of any sort to protect us from the intense heat. One morning, at about 2 o’clock we were routed out and put aboard flat cars and sent to Savannah, Ga. We learned that thi sudden change was due to the fact that Union cavalry was near there to liberate us. At Savannah we were lodged in the old United States Marine Hospital yard. This yard had a 15 feet high around it, and on top of that a board fence about five feet high, with sentry boxes at intervals. At Savannah we found more Union sentiment than at any other point in the South. It was not at all unusual for a dead chicken to fly over the fence at night, altho it was so very high. It was only a short distance from Savannah to Fort Pulaski, and Col. Griffith conceived the idea of tunneling out under the wall. We thot that once outside we could easily reach the Union lines down the river. One night, after dark, we began to dig in Col. Griffith’s tent, next to the wall, and the earth which we remoed was put into our hats and emptied into the cesspool. After 10 nights of hard work we had succeeded in digging a tunnel, thru which we could pass beyond the wall, and we decided to make the attempt the following night. We were, however, destined to be disappointed, for as we were laying our plans a cow, grazing outside, roke into the tunnel. This mishap led to an investigation. The rebel officers were soon probing around with ramrods to find the starting point. Finding it in Col. Griffith’s tent, he was arrested and taken down town and placed in a jail cell. After a couple of weeks, he was released on giving his promise not to do anymore tunneling.

About this time we heard an exchange rumour from Charleston, S.C. We put our head together, and began to make other plans of escape. It was our intention, if again placed aboard a train, to capture it as soon as we had crossed the Savannah River. There were among the prisoners several engineers and other railroad men who were competent to handle a train. The train itself on such occasions consisted of dilapidated old box cars which had been used for hauling cotton; generally, there were two armed guards at each door, and these might have been easily overpowered, their arms taken, and the engineer and fireman shot. Sure enough, a few days after this, we were put aboard the old cotton cars and headed for Charleston. Our plans were all arranged, but when we reached the point where the signal to make the attack was to be given we were surprised not to hear it. Looking out the door at the top of the cars, we discovered rebel guards on top of each car, and this was the reason the signal was never given. So we could only swallow our disappointment.

At Charleston we were placed in the rail yard, without shelter of any sort and within fire of our own guns at Morris Island. Shortly after our arrival a shell exploded over our heads, tearing off the right arm of one of our men. Naturally, great confusion ensued. I asked one of the guards what they were going to do with us, and he replied: “Nothing will be done with you fellows, but the ‘Yanks’ in the hospital will be removed to a place of safety.” Soon after this Yellow Fever broke out amongst the prisoners, and our men died at the rate of 40 a day. I saw men crawling to the pump who were so emaciated they were unable to wash themselves. Here the Sisters of Charity did some noble work, calling several times daily and ministering to the sick. Each morning one-horse carts were brought into the yard, and those who had died during the night were rudely thrown in and hauled away liked rubbish. The citizens of Charleston were now alarmed, fearing a spread of the fever, and they sent an appeal to Gen. Sam Jones to send away the Yankees. Anticipating that our removal would follow this appeal, I went around and said “Good-by” to my friend , Capt. Sands of Reading, Pa., fully expecting never to see him again. We were not surprised when we were marched to the old cotton cars. Our destination this time was Columbia S.C. Arriving there we were taken to Camp Oglethorpe, about one and a half miles from town. While on the way to Columbia, several prisoners escaped from the train but were recaptured y bloodhounds. I saw one poor fellow with his ears bitten off and another with his head and shoulders fearfully lacerated. Camp Oglethorpe was an old pine slashing, with some small trees still standing, and a little stream of water flowing along one side. The trees were our only shelter. The sentries were stationed 20 or more paces apart, just outside the camp. Ten feet inside the sentries’ beat stakes were driven into the ground, a few feet apart, making the usual dead-line.

There were in this prison 1,800 Yankees. Each man’s ration consisted of one quart of corn meal, and a piece of bacon one inch square, which constituted his allowance for five days. It is needless to say that many of the men ate their full allowance at one time. It was white meal, with the cob and corn ground up together. There were no cooking utensils of any kind and no salt. I finally found a flat stone about one foot square and an inch or so thick, on which I succeeded in baking a corn cake in the sun. I kept a portion of my ration, which I was obliged to hide under my head at night, in order to know where it was in the morning.

One afternoon we were surprised to see a visitor enter in the form of a 350-pound hog. The guard doubtless drove it in for the purpose of seeing some fun. Be that as it may, the porker had no sooner crossed the deadline when 1,800 starving prisoners were on the run to welcome him. It was not long before he was well scattered. Some men ate their portion of pork raw. Many of the men were injured during the scuttle to get a bite of fresh meat. This incident created such a commotion that the rebel officers had the artillery charged with grape and cannister, ready to fire, thinking we were making a rush for liberty.