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Chapter 18

SCHEMES AND PLANS TO ESCAPE--SCALING THE STOCKADE--ESTABLISHING THE DEAD
LINE--THE FIRST MAN KILLED.

The official designation of our prison was "Camp Sumpter," but this was
scarcely known outside of the Rebel documents, reports and orders.
It was the same way with the prison five miles from Millen, to which we
were afterward transferred. The Rebels styled it officially "Camp
Lawton," but we called it always "Millen."

Having our huts finished, the next solicitude was about escape, and this
was the burden of our thoughts, day and night. We held conferences, at
which every man was required to contribute all the geographical knowledge
of that section of Georgia that he might have left over from his
schoolboy days, and also that gained by persistent questioning of such
guards and other Rebels as he had come in contact with. When first
landed in the prison we were as ignorant of our whereabouts as if we had
been dropped into the center of Africa. But one of the prisoners was
found to have a fragment of a school atlas, in which was an outline map
of Georgia, that had Macon, Atlanta, Milledgeville, and Savannah laid
down upon it. As we knew we had come southward from Macon, we felt
pretty certain we were in the southwestern corner of the State.
Conversations with guards and others gave us the information that the
Chattahooche flowed some two score of miles to the westward, and that the
Flint lay a little nearer on the east. Our map showed that these two
united and flowed together into Appalachicola Bay, where, some of us
remembered, a newspaper item had said that we had gunboats stationed.
The creek that ran through the stockade flowed to the east, and we
reasoned that if we followed its course we would be led to the Flint,
down which we could float on a log or raft to the Appalachicola. This
was the favorite scheme of the party with which I sided. Another party
believed the most feasible plan was to go northward, and endeavor to gain
the mountains, and thence get into East Tennessee.

But the main thing was to get away from the stockade; this, as the French
say of all first steps, was what would cost.

Our first attempt was made about a week after our arrival. We found two
logs on the east side that were a couple of feet shorter than the rest,
and it seemed as if they could be successfully scaled. About fifty of us
resolved to make the attempt. We made a rope twenty-five or thirty feet
long, and strong enough to bear a man, out of strings and strips of
cloth. A stout stick was fastened to the end, so that it would catch on
the logs on either side of the gap. On a night dark enough to favor our
scheme, we gathered together, drew cuts to determine each boy's place in
the line, fell in single rank, according to this arrangement, and marched
to the place. The line was thrown skillfully, the stick caught fairly in
the notch, and the boy who had drawn number one climbed up amid a
suspense so keen that I could hear my heart beating. It seemed ages
before he reached the top, and that the noise he made must certainly
attract the attention of the guard. It did not. We saw our comrade's.
figure outlined against the sky as he slid, over the top, and then heard
the dull thump as he sprang to the ground on the other side. "Number
two," was whispered by our leader, and he performed the feat as
successfully as his predecessor. "Number, three," and he followed
noiselessly and quickly. Thus it went on, until, just as we heard number
fifteen drop, we also heard a Rebel voice say in a vicious undertone:

"Halt! halt, there, d--n you!"

This was enough. The game was up; we were discovered, and the remaining
thirty-five of us left that locality with all the speed in our heels,
getting away just in time to escape a volley which a squad of guards,
posted in the lookouts, poured upon the spot where we had been standing.

The next morning the fifteen who had got over the Stockade were brought
in, each chained to a sixty-four pound ball. Their story was that one of
the N'Yaarkers, who had become cognizant of our scheme, had sought to
obtain favor in the Rebel eyes by betraying us. The Rebels stationed a
squad at the crossing place, and as each man dropped down from the
Stockade he was caught by the shoulder, the muzzle of a revolver thrust
into his face, and an order to surrender whispered into his ear. It was
expected that the guards in the sentry-boxes would do such execution
among those of us still inside as would prove a warning to other would-be
escapes. They were defeated in this benevolent intention by the
readiness with which we divined the meaning of that incautiously loud
halt, and our alacrity in leaving the unhealthy locality.

The traitorous N'Yaarker was rewarded with a detail into the commissary
department, where he fed and fattened like a rat that had secured
undisturbed homestead rights in the center of a cheese. When the
miserable remnant of us were leaving Andersonville months afterward, I
saw him, sleek, rotund, and well-clothed, lounging leisurely in the door
of a tent. He regarded us a moment contemptuously, and then went on
conversing with a fellow N'Yaarker, in the foul slang that none but such
as he were low enough to use.

I have always imagined that the fellow returned home, at the close of the
war, and became a prominent member of Tweed's gang.

We protested against the barbarity of compelling men to wear irons for
exercising their natural right of attempting to escape, but no attention
was paid to our protest.

Another result of this abortive effort was the establishment of the
notorious "Dead Line." A few days later a gang of negros came in and
drove a line of stakes down at a distance of twenty feet from the
stockade. They nailed upon this a strip of stuff four inches wide, and
then an order was issued that if this was crossed, or even touched, the
guards would fire upon the offender without warning.

Our surveyor figured up this new contraction of our space, and came to
the conclusion that the Dead Line and the Swamp took up about three
acres, and we were left now only thirteen acres. This was not of much
consequence then, however, as we still had plenty of room.

The first man was killed the morning after the Dead-Line was put up.
The victim was a German, wearing the white crescent of the Second
Division of the Eleventh Corps, whom we had nicknamed "Sigel." Hardship
and exposure had crazed him, and brought on a severe attack of St.
Vitus's dance. As he went hobbling around with a vacuous grin upon his
face, he spied an old piece of cloth lying on the ground inside the Dead
Line. He stooped down and reached under for it. At that instant the
guard fired. The charge of ball-and-buck entered the poor old fellow's
shoulder and tore through his body. He fell dead, still clutching the
dirty rag that had cost him his Life.

John McElroy