|THE ESCAPE -- A story of the adventures of two soldiers of the Fifteenth regiment, who escaped from the enemy while being marched to Andersonville, and after wandering in the mountains of Virginia for twenty-three days, and travelling four hundred miles, reached our lines at Harper's Ferry, written for this history by Alvan A. Simonds of this town.
"On the 22d of June, 1864, the remnant of the Fifteenth Massachusetts regiment was captured by Gen. Mahoney's Division, of the Rebel army. Roland E. Bowen and myself found ourselves inside the rebel lines with plenty of "grey backs" wishing to trade jack-knives, watches, etc., etc. We stopped in Petersburg two days, and were thence taken to Richmond, to Libby prison, where for two days we had the pleasure of looking through the grated windows. In Libby they searched us for money, each man being required to remove all his clothing, except his under garments, the rebels taking the liberty to confiscate all money found. Bowen and I had divided our money, and had about seventeen dollars each. I sewed mine very carefully into my pants and blouse in four different places, and they succeeded in finding only two dollars of it, but my friend was more unfortunate, as they took all but three dollars from him. From Libby we were taken to Belle Island. The rebels with great generosity gave us some tents, which although they would shelter from the sun, were worthless in the rain. Our stay here was short, for in three days they started us for Andersonville, Ga., travelling by rail to Lynchburg.
Bowen and I had resolved to improve any opportunity given us to escape. We left Richmond in the morning, and arrived in Lynchburgh in the evening. We were kept in the crowded cars during the night without water, and as they had given us none during the day, which had been exceedingly hot, we suffered much from thirst. At Lynchburg they gave us four days' rations, consisting of sixteen hard crackers and a small piece of bacon, this to last until we reached Danville, seventy miles south of Lynchburg, to whivh place they intended to march us. When they issued the rations, some very mouldy bread was thrown on the ground. Of this we took all we could carry in our haversacks, resolving we would make our escape before we reached Danville. a few moments before we left Lynchburg, I improvised an opportunity to step into a store and buy four bunches of matches, paying for them one dollar in Confederate money.
The first night out we were on the watch to make our escape, but no favorable opportunity was offered. But the second day about eleven o'clock, the prisoners had got well strung out in attempting to get water at a house in our way, and the head of the column was halted in a road leading through a piece of woods. It being very hot and dusty, every man made for the shade.
This was an opportunity not to be lost. Before we reached the woods we had so planned as to have a guard about a rod in front of us, but non for several rods in the rear. Then we slipped into the woods.
When we were safely past the guards, we ran for half a mile or more, until we come to a brook, where we stopped and quenched our thirst and had a good wash, which was a luxury we appreciated after our travels. We rested here for a short time and then started for the Blue Ridge of the Alleghany mountsins, taking the sun for our guide, travelling northwest as near as we could calculate. The mountsins were not in sight the first day. The second morning while passing the woods, we came suddenly upon a man dressed in gray, with brass buttons upon his jacket, and a gun over his shoulder; as we could not avoid him, we walked up to him, and the relief of our minds may well be imagined when he informed us after a few minutes conversation, that he was not a rebel picket, and had no authority to stop any one, but was out hunting squirrels.
In the afternoon, about one o'clock, I should judge, (neither of us having a watch) we came in sight of the Virginia and Tennessee railroad. We were quite a distance from it, but the country being very open we could see men upon the road, but could not tell whether they were friends or foes. After holding a "council," we concluded to keep in the woods until dark, and then cross the railroad. We soon found a little brook and proceeded to make ourselves comfortable. The mosquitoes were plenty, and comfort not to be had. At about ten o'clock we proceeded on our way, and succeeded in corssing the railroad in safety. Several trains of cars passed us during the afternoon. We then attempted to travel by taking the north star for a guide. This did very well until we came to the woods; while in the woods we found it impossible to keep it in sight, so we laid down for the night. In the morning we resumed our travels, but the country being very open, we thought we were running too much risk, and stopped until night, when we again took the north star for our guide. We were more fortunate than the night before and travelled several hours, but before morning we had to stop on account of the woody country.
Next morning we proceeded, stopping at a house where there was a negro woman with several children. She told us she had nothing to eat, but if we would go up to "Massa's house" he would give us something. We asked if she knew who we were? She said she did not. We told her we were yankees. She said we had better keep away from "Massa's" then. She told us where a woman lived whose husband was in the rebel army, some half a mile away. To her house we went. Bowen stopped outside in the woods, and I went to the house. I rapped, a woman came to the door, I asked her if she could get me anything to eat. She invited me into the house and gave me a large piece of bread. She asked about the army; (rebel of course) for her husband had been conscripted, and was serving under Lee at Petersburg. I could give her but little information, but told her I was going home on a furlough, over the mountains. I left her with thanks for her kindness, and we proceeded on our way, after dividing the bread.
At noon we came to the foot of the mountains, but thought it not best to attempt to ascend without more rations. a short distance from us was a field of wheat in the stock. Of this we took as many bundles as we could carry, threshed it out, and went into the woods, and soon had it boing in our cups over the fire. This without salt, and a little mouldy hard bread was our food for the next four days.
We reached the top of the mountains before sunset, but as we wished to take observations, concluded to spend the night there. At sunset we took a stick, pointed it toward the setting sun and placed it across a stone. We then lay down to rest. When I awoke, my friend was placing a stock across the other, thus pointing to the North Star. This showed us how much north of west the un set, and the knowledge was of great advantage to us in travelling, the next three weeks. We traveled near the top of the mountains the greater part of the day, until thirst complled us to go down for water. We always found good water by following down the ravines. The mountains were covered with scrub oak and other small brush, which madde it very hard traveling, and we did not make very rapid progress, but we kept on, up and down mountains, traveling by the sun. In three days we reacched the top of the mountain which overlooked the James river at what is known as Balcony Falls.
The river did not look deep, and we thought we might easily ford it, so we walked down a ravine until we came to the water. We here boiled some wheat which we ha dbrought with us, then took of our stockings, and tried to cross, but found the current so deep and swift that we could not. On the banks of the river we found a small garden which some one had planted, in which we dug a few small potatoes, and went back into the woods and boiled them. We slept well that night notwithstanding our great disappointment. At sunrise we startzed up the river, going a mile or more, when we came to a dam. A high bluff overlooked it, to which I climbed for a fiew farther up. While on this bluff, two rebel cavalrymen passed up the tow-path of a ccanal on the other side of the river. Soon after, three boys came out in a boat just below the dam, and we called them to take us across, which they did. Still, there was a canal between us and the mountains, but we soon found a lock where we corssed. Once more we were in the mountains, having crossed the only river in our course.
After travelling three or four days up and down the mountains, we came to a log house, where a man sat at the door. We stopped an hour or more with him, and he gave us a dinner of boiled pototoes and string beans. For the next three or four days nothing of note transpired.
We got our food by digging pototoes, and taking wheat from the fields. July 14th we came to a neat looking frame house. As it was a much larger one than we had previously visited, we held a "council," whether to go to it, but after walking round so that we could examine all sides, I ventured. Found a young lady with two children at home, and a negro servant; told her was a yankee, had made my escape, and would like something to eat. She gave me half a loaf of bread, a pie, some bacon, and some milk. I asked permission (after eating what I wished) to take the remaineder to my companion. She granted it, and gave me another large piece of bread. She also gave me a Richmond Examiner, of July 12th.
I returned to Bowen, and we went on a mile or more when we stopped to examine the paper. We learned that Gen. Early was in Maryland with a large force. Whether to change our course by crossing the valley and mountains, to Beverley, Western Va., or keep on northeast, was a question in our minds. At our present rate of travelling, it would be a week or ten days before we could reach Harper's Ferry, and the latest news the paper gave was already a week old, so we concluded that Gen. Early would be further north or else back into Virginia before we could get to the Potomac. We had no passed through the counties of Campbell, Bradford, Rockbridge, and were now in Augusta. We left the village of Waynesborough on our left, and crossed the railroad running to Staunton. In the afternoon we overtook a negro with a wooden leg, out picking blackberries. He asked us to his house and his wife cooked us a johnny-cake. We spent two hours with them, then went on, the negro with us for a short distance, telling us all about the country for several miles. He gave Bowen a canteen, which was very useful to us, as we did not have to hunt up water so often; also some meal and pork. We next passed Brown's Gap, but here we had to wait for some rebel scouts to pick what blackberries they wanted to eat, before we could cross the road.
We kept on our way into Rockingham county, getting our living by going to log houses, near the foot of the mountains, which were occupied by the poorer classes, who seldome refused us food. We crossed the mountains into Green county, through Madison, and back over the mountains into Page, down the Luray valley into Warren county. We were informed that Gen. Early was back in Virginia, that there had been a fight at Snicker's Gap, and the rebel cavalry were picketing Chester and Manassas Gaps, as the yankees ere expected down on the east side of the Blue Ridge.
We continued on to the road leading to Chester Gap. When we came in sight of the road, only a few rods off, we saw an old man passing on horseback. Before he was out of sight a boy came along, then two rebel cavalrymen. After they had passed we pushed on, crossing the road and into the woods. We soon came to the road leading to Manassas Gap, which we crossed and kept on through the woods near the road, passing through an open field.
When within a few rods of the woods we looked up and saw a squad of rebel cavalry in the road. We ran into the woods and looked around. The rebels had not seen us. We watched them pass, there were thirteen. We passed Manassas Gap railroad that day, and succeeded in crossing in safety Paris Gap.
The next day we passed Snicker's Gap, but not without an adventure. For just as we were in the middle of the road, two of Mosby's men came around a bend in the road. They saw us. We ran for the woods, the rebels putting spurs to their horses, and as they came up to where we crossed the road, we were in the woods up the side of the mountain. They sent a pistol ball after us, and just as it whizzed past our heads, I stumbled and fell. My companion thought I was wounded, and cried out "we surrender!" No we don't, said I as I junmped up. We ran until out of breath, and then lay down in the bushes. If the guerrillas followed us we have the satisfacction of knowing that they had their labor for their pains. I lost my quart dipper, but we were about through with that, as we arrived at Harper's Ferry the next day and were once more among friends. It as a happy day for us. It as twenty-three days after we made our excape before we arrived inside the Union lines. We had travelled about four hundred miles, and although foot sore and wary, rejoiced that we had so providentially made our escape from the horrors of a Southern prison."