Monday, April 30, 2012

I was wrong.


Early today, I was digging around and came across something that I've been telling folks did not happen: escaped slaves on the "underground railroad" in western North Carolina. It's not so much that it did not happen, it is just that it VERY seldom happened. I have a post-war account here someplace that speaks on escaped Union soldiers telling slaves they could not come with the fleeing soldiers. A slave would be missed and sought after immediately. While escaped Union soldiers were always being sought after by the home guard, it is not the same as a master getting together a posse to hunt for an escaped slave.  

The account below was written by Dr. Steadman O. Pine (sometimes listed as Oran Steadman Pine). Pine served as a private in the 14th Brooklyn and in the 5th New York ( Duryea's Zouaves).  Pine was captured at Cold Harbor in June 1864.

This account was written more than forty years after the event, so, we should not take it as gospel. Pine probably would have traveled through modern-day Avery or Mitchell Counties to join up with Federal soldiers. Of interest is his description of his escape in Charlotte.
     At the battle of Cold Harbor, June 2, 1864, during a charge and by a flank movement of the enemy, I was one of the fourteen of my regiment to be captured, marched to Richmond and lodged in Libby prison. Our beds were on a level with the floor, and our meals, consisting of a strip of bacon, a piece of corn bread and a dish of pea or bean soup, daily, was considered much better than that served at the "Hotel" at Andersonville. So when after a two weeks' sojourn, a cattle train load of us were started southward, four of my regiment (myself included) entered into a conspiracy to escape and "save carfare." When we reached Charlotte, North Carolina, on the evening of June 18, 1864, we were taken from the train and put under guard near the railroad crossing in the open field during a severe rainstorm which lasted the greater part of the night. We had all loaned our blankets and surplus clothing to our Confederate brothers in the field, as they said they needed them more than we did, and, having no fires, or wood to make them, we concluded to stand together in the mud until morning. This we did in very close ranks. When our picnic breakfast had been served squads were sent to an adjoining grove, fires were built, and our appreciation of southern hospitality somewhat increased. The four conspirators held a caucus and decided that we would endeavor to run the guards that night. Our plan was for each to make his escape alone at different points and meet in the morning by a large tree which was plainly visible to all in the forest about a half a mile distant. About two-thirty o'clock, while a group of comrades were seated about a couple of logs with some fagots burning between them, near the corner of the camp, which was indicated by a large tree, I observed quite often both guards going from the corner at the same time. I passed the word around that I intended to escape at the next favorable opportunity and asked the cooperation of the boys at the fire to attract the guards' attention when the attempt was made. At about three o'clock I saw my chance and flitted past the big tree into the darkness. At the same time one of the boys at the fire, whose name I never learned, jumped up, swinging a large poker, and, separating the logs so that the fagots were dropped and the sparks flew into the air, sprang upon one of the logs and crowed like a genuine twenty-pound Brahma rooster—and the deed was done. My absence was not noticed by the guards and I was making my way in a southeasterly direction to the railroad track south of the crossing. I bore too much to my left, for I suddenly was halted by a sentinel who was guarding a pile of cotton, which I had intended to avoid by passing more southerly between him and the camp line. However, I softly took to my heels and for some reason was not followed. I thought afterwards that the sentinel believed himself mistaken, or that the noise he heard was that of a razorback hog in his night prowlings. When I had proceeded south far enough to believe myself out of hearing, I crossed the track, going southeast toward the big tree spoken of as our rendezvous. My entire possessions were a pair of trousers, a blouse, a pair of shoes and stockings, a shirt, cap and a tin cup. The morning was near at hand, the faintest signs being visible in the east. I heard a cow bell at a distance through the woods, and my earliest instincts in life were at once aroused. I decided that if the cow were willing I would interview her with my tin cup, with the result that she divded her treasures between me and her owner. I have often thought that that cow and Captain Castle's army mule were alike in one particular. Either would give service to or kick a Union soldier as willingly as a Confederate. The sun was clear in the east as I came to the big tree, only to find no comrades there to greet me; but down at the camp all was activity. A train stood on the track and our boys were loaded on like cattle and started on their journey to Andersonville prison. But three, besides myself, of the fourteen captured at Cold Harbor ever returned.

I was indeed alone in the enemy's country and my only way of escape was to flee to the northwest towards the mountains. I followed the general course of the railroad, crossing the northwest corner of Gaston county to Lincolntown, through Catawba county and on to Morganton, the county seat of Burke county, about eighty miles from Charlotte, traveling this distance and reaching a ford on the Catawba river on the evening of the 22d, having covered about forty miles during the day and night of the 20th. Resting in the woods during the daytime of the- 21st, I proceeded in the evening and my night's travel brought me to a place called Connolly's Springs. Here again I took to the brush and waited the approach of night. I broke cover about four P. M. of the 22d, and having learned that there was a conscript camp a few miles from Morganton and having decided that it was safer to leave the railroad line running west to Marion, I must cross the Catawba river. I also learned that the bridge across the river was guarded by the forces at Camp Vance, but that a ford was available about a mile below the bridge. I reached the ford just at dark of the 22d, and, though a good swimmer, decided to wait for daylight. With the coming of morning, I forded the river, holding my clothes above my head. I found the water four or five feet deep in some places, and was thankful I had not made the attempt in the night. About 3 o'clock on the afternoon of the 20th, my first day of travel I found in a lonely cabin (where I stopped to rest and try and get something to eat) an old lady who had formerly lived in New York, and who was hiding an only son in the woods from the conscripting officers. When I made bold to tell her I was an escaped Union soldier she took me in her arms and said "God bless you! I will divide with you," and she took an old flour sack, cut and made it smaller for a haversack, and gave me some boiled eggs and bacon with some corn pones she had just made for her own boy to take to him in the brush. This served me well for two days, for she could only spare a little. I had eaten the last while camping at the ford, so when I got across the river I must needs meet some friendly cow or a cabin of colored folks. I was nearing the foot hills of the Blue Ridge, which, when crossed, would bring me into Tennessee, so, as the country was being scoured by conscription officers and Home Guards, I must be strictly on my guard or recapture would be my inevitable lot. I traveled on and about a mile from the ford I espied a plantation house with some darky quarters near by, and I thought it safe so early in the morning to go to the cook-house and get something to eat. When I opened the door I found in a bed two soldier boys from the camp before mentioned. Luckily they believed my story that I was a paroled Confederate prisoner from Camp Chase, Ohio, on the way to my home near Table Rock, so I was given a good breakfast and sent on my way rejoicing, but trembling from my narrow escape.

During the day of the 23d I traveled in by-paths, avoiding the main highways, and as night approached I was in a quandary as to. how I was to cross the Iron Range of the Blue Ridge Mountains with no knowl

edge of the passes or mountain roads, but again a guiding hand came to my relief, as in the case of so many poor prisoners seeking to escape, in the form of the colored man.

While endeavoring to flank one of several large plantations found in those rich valleys near the head waters of the Catawba, I came suddenly upon two colored boys, eighteen and twenty years of age. They were brothers, and with hoes in hands were sitting on a fence waiting for the supper horn. The following conversation ensued: "Good evenin', Massa; 'spects you's far from home. Is you a soldier from camp?" "Yes, going home on pass to see the folks before going to the front." This answer was made on the impulse of the moment, not having satisfied myself that it was safe to tell the truth. Then the elder boy, who said his name was Andrew, remarked: "I hear dey's draftin' all the young white boys in de country to fight for Jeff Davis; wish de wah was ovah; it makes mighty hard times around heah. Dat Massa Lincoln has freed all de niggahs but de freedom don't come heah yet and-we don't 'spect it will." I could see the human longing in their breasts as manifested by this discreet little speech, so I did not hesitate to inform them of the true state of things and to ask their aid in getting my freedom as well as theirs. They were bright boys, above the average, and said: "Ef de ole folks is willin', we'll go with you to Tennessee." So it was arranged that I hide in the brush until the old father should come down the road for the cows, when, if he were alone, I would know the result. True to their word, about dusk, the white headed old negro came along, and my whistle brought him to the brush. He said to me: "De boys want to go wif you to Tennessee and find Mass Linkum's soldiers; me and the ole woman too ole to go but we want dem to be free." And then, as the darkness came on, the darkies came also, bringing fried chicken, bacon, cornbread, a canteen of sorghum, and such other goodies as the faithful Mammy could give them. Then, with the blessing of both parents, we made tracks for Tennessee and liberty. Such a chase as those frightened boys led me that night, wading streams and up those stony mountain roads! The memory is as vivid after forty-six years as though it were but yesterday. The morning of the 24th found us well on our way, but still many miles from safety. We rested in a rocky cave until nightfall, fearing the approach of hunters or any who might betray us, and well I knew that vengeance would fall heavily upon me if I were caught spiriting slaves from their master.

Past dusk we resumed our journey and the early dawn of the 25th found us on the mountain summit. Looking east, we could see the valley of the Catawba river. The small farms and larger plantation in that beautiful country spread out like a panorama. We descended the western slope, probably eight miles, coming into mountain settlements and better roads. We now felt quite safe, for eastern Tennessee was considered within the scope of Union occupation, although Knoxville was the nearest military post, with out-posts at Strawberry Plains and other railroad points within a radius of twenty miles eastward.

1 comment:

spinelabel said...

Thank you for this interesting narrative. It confirms what David Williams says in _Bitterly Divided_ (2008) about black Southerners being willing to help any Union escapee.

It was big of you to admit a mistake. It only strengthens the confidence I put in everything else you say here.