Three Times a Prisoner

My Second Capture

By Reub Williams, Editor

t was in the gloomy days of 1862 that it occured. The loyal people of the Union were terribly cast down, throughout all the Northern States. The rebels, it must be confessed, were very successful during the earlier part of the war; more, perhaps, from the fact that for years before the firing on Ft. Sumpter, they had been steadily preparing for the conflict, that the foreseeing knew would eventually take place, than from any other cause. Nearly every village and hamlet throughout the South had its independent military company, and military tactics, so far as "company drill" was concerned, in the States that finally seceded in 1861, were much better known than in those that when the tocsin of war reverberated through the length and breadth of the land; resolved to fight for and maintain the Union bequeathed us by the `Fathers of the Country.' This gave them a decided advantage in the outset of the rebellion, and in looking over the history of those gloomy years it is not to be wondered at that for the first year or two, those who had resolved upon the overthrow of the Union, were more successful than the people of the North, who were entirely unprepared for the conflict, and who were naturally much slower to be aroused to action than the hot-blooded, impetuous sons of the warmer portion of the Union, but who, when awakened to the situation, were men of brave nerve; undaunted courage, iron will and perservance.

History shows that those of the warmer clime, in all ages of the world, when a contest came, were in every instance, compelled to succumb to the cold, and impassive people of the North, and that when a conflict arose between the Latin race and that of the Anglo-Saxon, the latter was invariably the victors. The late war for the Union adds only another proof of the truth of the assertion. The people of the North were descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers; slow to anger, and reluctant to enter a contest, but when decided upon, nothing could withstand the persistent, untiring bravery with which they threw themselves into the support of a principle. On the other hand, the Southern people, a majority of whom were descendants of the Huguenots, of France, were impulsive; hot-blooded, quick-tempered. Easily persuaded into a conflict, they lacked that persistence so necessary in a war such as the one that shook this country to its center only a few years ago. I have said that it was in 1862. The loyal people of the North were much cast down and discouraged; no success worth counting as such, had crowned the efforts of the Union soldiery in the East, while in the west Gen. Buell was slowly falling back from Nashville to Louisville on one road, while the rebel Gen. Bragg was advancing with the same objective point in view, on another, and it is said that often the two armies were about parallel with one another, and only a few miles apart. At the same time the rebel General Kirby Smith, with a force of thirty thousand, had entered Kentucky from East Tennessee, through Pound Gap, with a view of forming a junction with Bragg at some point agreed upon by these two able rebel leaders. Disaster had followed disaster, until it was no wonder that the Union-loving people of the North were sadly discouraged.

In my first article I informed the reader that the command to which I was attached was the 12th Indiana Infantry. The time of its enlistment was twelve months, and it had been mustered out at Washington City and ordered home to re-organize "for the war." This was accomplished on the 16th day of August, 1862, the writer being promoted to a field office in the new organization. The day following this last event, I came home to make the purchase of a horse, and I had scarcely left Indianapolis before marching orders were received by the Regiment, its destination being Lexington, Kentucky, and its object being to assist in opposing the advance of the rebel forces of Gen. Smith, before referred to. As speedily as possible I set out to join it, and arriving at Lexington, I found that it had, on the day previous, gone to Richmond, Kentucky, On the day following I set out, with three or four enlisted men, to join it, and arrived late in the evening, just before the battle or series of battles, I should say which took place. Gen. Mahlon D. Manson, of this State, was in command of the six new Regiments from Ohio and Indiana, with four companies of the 18th Kentucky, and with this force he was to retard the approaching force of Gen. Smith, thirty thousand strong, and composed of men, too, who had seen considerable service in the rebel cause. Very early on the morning of the day of the fight, Wm. H. Link, who was Colonel of the Regiment, and who had seen service in the war with Mexico, was detailed to command a brigade, and I found myself being the next officer in rank for the first time in command of an entire Regiment of men, and what was still worse, one that was on the eve of going into its first battle. That I would gladly have shirked such a responsibility, all who have any knowledge of military matters, and the cares and perplexities of the position I was thus suddenly called upon to fill, especially when it is known that three-fourths of its members were "formed in line of battle" that morning for the first time in their lives, will, I think, readily admit. It was not time to indulge in speculations of this character, however, and I resolved to do the best I could, with the limited knowledge I had gained in the year's service in the Army of the Potomac.

Metcalf's Kentucky cavalry were scouting in the direction from which the enemy was approaching, and reported him to be advancing in large force. On the reception of this knowledge, Gen. Manson committed the blunder of marching his little force out to meet him, and at about ten o'clock in the forenoon a sharp engagement took place with the rebel advance, followed soon after by a more general engagement. It is not my purpose in these sketches to give the details and incidents of battles. I started out to relate the circumstances connected with the three times I was taken prisoner during the late war, and were I to undertake to describe the many incidents and scenes that came under my observation, it would take a long time to relate what I had in view when I began them. So, deferring a description of such scenes as these to some future time, I have only to say that after making four or five different stands during the day, in each of which our forces were compelled to retire before the overpowering number of the enemy at about four o'clock in the afternoon the entire command of Gen. Manson was formed for a last, desperate effort in the very suburbs of the town of Richmond. Up to this time the men had fought with most remarkable coolness and bravery; they had marched out in the morning to meet the enemy, without having time to eat their breakfasts; had fought all through that intensely hot August day without a drop of water, not making a single complaint. Every one knew that the struggle then coming on meant victory or entire defeat, with the prospects very flattering for the latter. Not long were they kept in suspense, for on came the rebels, outnumbering us fully five to one, and the contest began; ending, as every one knows who has read the many histories of the late war, in a total route, and a precipitate retreat, every man for himself. I had been in the region only from the night before as I have previously stated and consequently knew nothing about the "lay of the land," so that when the route began I was left to pursue whatever course I saw fit. My horse had been twice wounded early in the day, and I was on foot.

I had been a prisoner once before, and I shuddered at the prospect before me, not knowing but that another long and weary imprisonment was in store for me in case I was captured, which at that moment seemed more than probable. I had no taste for a "second term," and no time to discuss the question at that time for the rebels were at that very minute within a stone's throw of me and whatever was done must be done quickly. Weary and worn as I was by the day's duties, and almost exhausted from the fact that I had tasted neither food nor drink since the day before, I set out to make my escape if possible, and came very near succeeding. I have said that the rebel army was close upon me; they were so close, in fact, that my only hope of escape was in concealment until, at least, their advance had passed. This I determined on, and climbing into a field of corn, I laid down, and there remained until they had passed. On emerging from the cornfield on the side opposite from that on which I entered it, I found myself near a farm-house, the most notable surrounding of which to my eye was an old-fashion well-sweep used for the purpose of drawing water. At once I determined to have a drink of water, if it could be procured, regardless of the risk I ran in being captured by approaching the house. From the direction in which I proceeded to the house, I could not see the well-curb, only the long `sweep' being in view. The reader can judge of my surprise when on turning the corner of the house I discovered a rebel soldier in the act of drinking from a freshly drawn bucket of water; his musket was leaning against the curb; I was unarmed, save with a sword, and I was too near him to undertake to retreat. Making the best of the matter, I approached him, and after he took the gourd from his lips, he passed it to me asking the question if "I wanted a drink?" I told him that I did, and while I was drinking, he picked up his musket and started off at a brisk pace to regain his command, then in pursuit of our routed and swiftly flying forces over on the Lexington Pike, about a half-mile away, but in plain view. How it was that he did not compel my surrender, I cannot to this day imagine. He could not help knowing that I was a "Yankee," for I was dressed in the full uniform of a Federal officer, and why he did not capture me, is still a mystery to me.

Regarding this as a favorable omen that I might succeed in escaping, I resolved, notwithstanding my weariness, to place as much territory between myself and Richmond as possible. The sun was nearly down when I left the well; it was ten miles to the Kentucky River, and I thought that if I could gain that stream, and place it between me and the rebels, escape would almost be assured. So taking another drink of water, I set out, totally alone taking the Nicholasville Pike, so as to avoid that leading to Lexington, on which the main part of the flying and demoralized Federals were retreating, hotly pursued by the rebels. I had proceeded perhaps a mile, when I met with another little adventure, that for a few moments led me to believe that all hope of escape was gone. In emerging from the scrubby bushes, I suddenly discovered about twenty-five mounted men quite near me; some of them saw me as soon as I did them. Noticing this fact, and surmising from their appearance, though the now fast approaching darkness prevented me from judging correctly, that they were rebels, I hailed them with the question: "What cavalry is that?" The reply in the peculiar Southern dialect, that we all now know, that it was "Col. Stahn's," led me to believe that I was about to fall into their hands; for now I knew them to be the enemy. Receiving a peremptory order, accompanied by the leveling of a half-dozen carbines in my direction, to come over to them, I was just beginning to descend my side of the ravine for the purpose of complying, when, all at once, the discharge of three or four pieces of artillery over on the Lexington Pike caused the troopers to look in that direction; taking advantage of this, I rapidly descended into the ravine, and when at the bottom I turned and ran down the dry bed of a little stream, and made my escape in the gathering gloom. I was greatly encouraged; the two incidents which I have related, in both of which I escaped, after giving up in my own mind, tended greatly to nerve me to perserve, and strengthened the hope that I would succeed in getting within the Union lines at least in crossing the Kentucky River, which would be the same thing.

The sequel showed that I made a mistake in attempting to reach the river that night, and that my proper course would have been to have laid up, no matter how or where. It was now dark, and being totally alone, and wishing to make as good time as possible, I concluded that it would be safe to take to the pike, as up to this time I had avoided it, fearing to meet with squads of rebel cavalry which I knew was prowling around in large numbers. After trudging along the pike till near midnight, meeting with no special obstacle, save occasionally the passing of a trooper that I took good care to step aside and let pass "without challenge," I was growing confident of my ability to elude the rebels, and make my escape. These thoughts were occupying my mind, when in descending quite a hill in the road, I reached the bottom, I suddenly found myself surrounded by at least twenty soldiers, whom it afterward turned out were on picket duty at that point. After meeting with the extraordinary good luck which had thus far attended me, it is perhaps useless to inform the reader that I was considerably crestfallen, and deeply chagrined, because this is a self-evident fact. However, there was no use in giving way to lamentations, and I speedily made up my mind to take things as they came. A guard was detailed to take me in charge and, mounted on one of the horses they had concealed at some distance from the road, I was taken through the devious windings of the ravines, over rocks, and through tangled undergrowth, to headquarters, where I found Gen. Manson, the late Gen. Reuben C. Kise, and about a hundred others, who had been captured before me. Previous to leaving Indianapolis, Gov. Morton had given me a private letter to deliver to Col. Link, as well as two or three other officers of my Regiment. These, with a number of other papers, including my own commission as Lt.-Colonel of the 12th Indiana Infantry, were in my side pocket. Not knowing the contents of Morton's letters, of course, I resolved they should not fall into the hands of the enemy, so while lying on the ground that night, I quietly dug a hole under me, and buried them; as I could not distinguish one paper from another, my commission was buried with them, and they are there to this day or at least what remains of them.

By daylight the next morning we were taken by our guards back to Richmond, where we found the public-square just as full as it could be crammed with our troops, and a guard surrounding them. I had no sooner saw them in that sweltering sun of a hot day in August, than I made up my mind that I would not be placed in there, if by any sort of strategem I could prevent it. I, therefore, peremptorily told the officer in charge of the guards over us to take me to Gen. Kirby Smith's headquarters, as I had something of importance to say to him.

Whether he thought I really had, or just complied with my demand because of its superlative impudence, I do not know, but he acceded to it, and when in the presence of the General, I told him I desired a pass to pay a visit to the battle-field of the day before, and the request was granted, after placing myself under parole not to endeavor to escape until all who were captured were regularly paroled. What I "conjured" up as a mere excuse to keep out of the multitude confined within the public square, turned out to be a fortunate thing, for, after getting the pass I did visit the battle-field, and found a number of men badly wounded, and had them brought to the hospital in ambulances, among them being Harmon Beeson and Henry Wescot, both of this county, the former having both of his legs broken below the knee, and the latter severely wounded by a minnie-ball in the hip; both of whom afterwards died. The paroling of all who were captured was completed on the second day after the battle, and all of them were turned loose to make their way home as best they could. With few exceptions, they all took their way back to Lexington, and thence along the railroad from that place to Cincinnati, and we presumed the sufferings the poor fellows underwent will never be told. Gen. Manson, Gen. Kise, then a Captain, Major Kempton of my own Regiment, and myself, left in a party together going from Richmond to Winchester, instead of Lexington, and from there to Paris. We arrived at Winchester early in the morning, and found a large crowd assembled around the hotel, and as we were the first prisoners they had seen, the inquiries were many. During a conversation which ensued, a good-looking fellow approached me, and told me that if I would step up to a fellow, pointing him out, and familiarly call him Jeff Thompson, he would treat my entire party to whatever they wanted to drink. I did so, and I never hear so much laughter over a joke that I did not comprehend, or had as little point to it, so far as I was concerned, before. Evidently the joke was local to the place, and I never found out what it meant. I know, however, the gentleman I called Thompson was tremendously bored over the fact that a perfect stranger called him by that name. Both drinks and our breakfasts were furnished us free, and there was the beauty of the joke on our side, for I had only a dollar and a quarter, while the remainder of the party were quite as bad off, and some of them worse. From Winchester we proceeded to Paris; here we were compelled to leave Gen. Manson, the wound that he received having become so painful that he was unable to proceed farther, and Kise remained with him. It was nearly sundown when we reached the place, tired and hungry, while everybody in the town was wild with excitement over the news of the battle and the defeat of the Union arms. Paris was noted for its disloyalty all through the war. Major Kempton, to whom I have referred, was considerably of a talker, and was making things lively by his boasts about the prowess of the Union soldiers; a large crowd was in the meantime gathered around him, and I could see both both by their looks and actions that trouble was brewing. I called Kempton to one side, and showed him the situation, and that it would be unsafe to remain at that hotel. He took it in at a glance a thing not hard to do, by the lowering looks of the crowd and it sobered him in a moment. We at once resolved to leave, and decided to avoid the routes by which the paroled troops were wending their way homeward, and take the pike for Maysville, which is sixty miles above Cincinnati, yet by going there and taking a boat down the river would save us thirty miles of traveling on foot, the river being that distance nearer to Paris at Maysville than at Cincinnati. We stopped in the suburbs of that town and inquired of a woman the right road. She proved to be the wife of a man who was then in service, and politely gave us the desired information, adding that there was a man at a mill which stood across the street, and whose old-fashioned "carryall" stood at the door, who lived about four miles out the road we wished to travel, and that perhaps we could ride with him that distance. No sooner was the suggestion made than we took advantage of it, and forthwith stowed ourselves in the back seat of the vehicle, the owner being in the mill after his grist. I think I shall never forget the look of consternation and utter disgust of the old gentlemen when he discovered two Federal officers stored away in his carriage. He was "secesh" to the back-bone, and peremptorily ordered us out. We refused to obey, he insisted that we could not ride with him. I finally told him that if he was going along he should climb in, as we were in a hurry and did not like to drive off and leave him behind. This had the desired effect, for the thought of losing his horse and "carryall" glided before his vision, and he grumblingly got in. I have neither the space nor the time to mention the many incidents in detail, that occurred in the next few days. How the Major and myself slept in fence-corners some night, and took the best beds and rooms at hotels on others, coolly informing the landlords on the next morning that he had neglected on the night previous to tell him that we had no money; how, when we got within twenty miles of Maysville, foot-sore and weary, that I engaged a liveryman to take us to that place, agreeing to give him fifteen dollars therefore, and when about half the distance was traversed, succeeding in convincing him that it was to his advantage to get his horses out of the way of the advancing rebels, who would certainly have no compunctions in appropriating them to their own use, and by our exceeding friendliness caused him to carry us to Maysville for nothing, etc., etc. When we arrived at Maysville we got supper, informing the landlord previously, this time, that we had no money, but it was cheerfully given, and soon after the Forest Rose landed at the Wharf bound for Cincinnati. We went on board, and told the captain who we were and that we wanted to go to Cincinnati. It was al right, and on the next morning we landed in the Queen City, then a "deserted village." Gen. Lew. Wallace was in command; martial law was in force, and a glass of beer, lemonade, an ice-cream or a shave, were out of the question. Everybody was in the trenches on the Kentucky side, and every train that arrived was full of the squirrel-rifle militia hastening to the defense of Cincinnati. I still had my dollar and a quarter, but now, through the kindness of friends, we borrowed a sufficient sum to pay our bills. For several days following, our paroled troops were arriving, hungry, weary, and many of them entirely exhausted. I was ordered by Gen. Wallace to take command of them as fast as they arrived, and after I had gathered them together to proceed to Indianapolis with them. The loss in the battle of Richmond had been severe. In my own Regiment the casualties were one hundred and thirty-nine in killed and wounded, and about two hundred escaped capture, making their way to Louisville. I want to correct an impression that prevailed about that time in regard to myself. It was currently reported that I re-entered the service without being exchanged; this is not so. Through the influence of the late Billy Mitchell, then a member of Congress, and Hon. Schuyler Colfax, a special exchange was procured for me, soon after leaving Richmond after my first capture. At the battle of Richmond this report gained credence from the fact that "Mac," then the correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial, in describing the battle, spoke of Lt.-Colonel Wolfe, of the 12th Indiana. Col. Wolfe was of the 16th Indiana, and was killed there, and "Mac" had only got the number of the Regiment mixed. From this, it was argued that I had changed my name, but the facts are as stated. This was the second time I had met the enemy, and again I was theirs. The third and last time will be described in a future number of The Indianian.

Northern Indianian January 28, 1875

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