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Chapter 27


Those who succeeded, one way or another, in passing the Stockade limits,
found still more difficulties lying between them and freedom than would
discourage ordinarily resolute men. The first was to get away from the
immediate vicinity of the prison. All around were Rebel patrols, pickets
and guards, watching every avenue of egress. Several packs of hounds
formed efficient coadjutors of these, and were more dreaded by possible
"escapes," than any other means at the command of our jailors. Guards
and patrols could be evaded, or circumvented, but the hounds could not.
Nearly every man brought back from a futile attempt at escape told the
same story: he had been able to escape the human Rebels, but not their
canine colleagues. Three of our detachment--members of the Twentieth
Indiana--had an experience of this kind that will serve to illustrate
hundreds of others. They had been taken outside to do some work upon the
cook-house that was being built. A guard was sent with the three a
little distance into the woods to get a piece of timber. The boys
sauntered, along carelessly with the guard, and managed to get pretty
near him. As soon as they were fairly out of sight of the rest, the
strongest of them--Tom Williams--snatched the Rebel's gun away from him,
and the other two springing upon him as swift as wild cats, throttled
him, so that he could not give the alarm. Still keeping a hand on his
throat, they led him off some distance, and tied him to a sapling with
strings made by tearing up one of their blouses. He was also securely
gagged, and the boys, bidding him a hasty, but not specially tender,
farewell, struck out, as they fondly hoped, for freedom. It was not long
until they were missed, and the parties sent in search found and released
the guard, who gave all the information he possessed as to what had
become of his charges. All the packs of hounds, the squads of cavalry,
and the foot patrols were sent out to scour the adjacent country.
The Yankees kept in the swamps and creeks, and no trace of them was found
that afternoon or evening. By this time they were ten or fifteen miles
away, and thought that they could safely leave the creeks for better
walking on the solid ground. They had gone but a few miles, when the
pack of hounds Captain Wirz was with took their trail, and came after
them in full cry. The boys tried to ran, but, exhausted as they were,
they could make no headway. Two of them were soon caught, but Tom
Williams, who was so desperate that he preferred death to recapture,
jumped into a mill-pond near by. When he came up, it was in a lot of
saw logs and drift wood that hid him from being seen from the shore.
The dogs stopped at the shore, and bayed after the disappearing prey.
The Rebels with them, who had seen Tom spring in, came up and made a
pretty thorough search for him. As they did not think to probe around
the drift wood this was unsuccessful, and they came to the conclusion
that Tom had been drowned. Wirz marched the other two back and, for a
wonder, did not punish them, probably because he was so rejoiced at his
success in capturing them. He was beaming with delight when he returned
them to our squad, and said, with a chuckle:

"Brisoners, I pring you pack two of dem tam Yankees wat got away
yesterday, unt I run de oder raskal into a mill-pont and trowntet him."

What was our astonishment, about three weeks later, to see Tom, fat and
healthy, and dressed in a full suit of butternut, come stalking into the
pen. He had nearly reached the mountains, when a pack of hounds,
patrolling for deserters or negros, took his trail, where he had crossed
the road from one field to another, and speedily ran him down. He had
been put in a little country jail, and well fed till an opportunity
occurred to send him back. This patrolling for negros and deserters was
another of the great obstacles to a successful passage through the
country. The rebels had put, every able-bodied white man in the ranks,
and were bending every energy to keep him there. The whole country was
carefully policed by Provost Marshals to bring out those who were
shirking military duty, or had deserted their colors, and to check any
movement by the negros. One could not go anywhere without a pass, as
every road was continually watched by men and hounds. It was the policy
of our men, when escaping, to avoid roads as much as possible by
traveling through the woods and fields.

From what I saw of the hounds, and what I could learn from others,
I believe that each pack was made up of two bloodhounds and from
twenty-five to fifty other dogs. The bloodhounds were debased
descendants of the strong and fierce hounds imported from Cuba--many of
them by the United States Government--for hunting Indians, during the
Seminole war. The other dogs were the mongrels that are found in such
plentifulness about every Southern house--increasing, as a rule, in
numbers as the inhabitant of the house is lower down and poorer. They
are like wolves, sneaking and cowardly when alone, fierce and bold when
in packs. Each pack was managed by a well-armed man, who rode a mule;
and carried, slung over his shoulders by a cord, a cow horn, scraped
very thin, with which he controlled the band by signals.

What always puzzled me much was why the hounds took only Yankee trails,
in the vicinity of the prison. There was about the Stockade from six
thousand to ten thousand Rebels and negros, including guards, officers,
servants, workmen, etc. These were, of course, continually in motion and
must have daily made trails leading in every direction. It was the
custom of the Rebels to send a pack of hounds around the prison every
morning, to examine if any Yankees had escaped during the night. It was
believed that they rarely failed to find a prisoner's tracks, and still
more rarely ran off upon a Rebel's. If those outside the Stockade had
been confined to certain path and roads we could have understood this,
but, as I understand, they were not. It was part of the interest of the
day, for us, to watch the packs go yelping around the pen searching for
tracks. We got information in this way whether any tunnel had been
successfully opened during the night.

The use of hounds furnished us a crushing reply to the ever recurring
Rebel question:

"Why are you-uns puttin' niggers in the field to fight we-uns for?"

The questioner was always silenced by the return interrogatory:

"Is that as bad as running white men down with blood hounds?"

John McElroy