The Following Account of Company F's John J. Munnell's Escape from Confederate Prison is a parallel account of William Morehead Gibson's Escape from Confederate Prison in Danville, VA. The account was written in the early 1900s and was transcribed and contributed to the 100th Pennsylvania Website by Munnell's great great great grandson, Andrew Clark.
THE BATTLE OF THE MINE, CAPTURE, PRISON LIFE AND ESCAPE TO THE UNION LINES IN 1864
John J. Munnell
Company F, 100 Regiment
Commander and Comrades of Post 100:
At your request some time since, I have prepared a paper that will read you an imperfect report of some of the incidents in connection with the Battle of the Mine, Capture, Prison Life and Escape to the Union lines in 1864.
I was a member of Company F, 100 Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, serving in the first division of the 9th corps, commanded by Gen. A. E. Burnside; the Army of the Potomac being then commanded by Gen. George G. Mead. Gen. Grant then commanded all the Federal armies and had his headquarters then with the Army of the Potomac.
After the great battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, and the assault on Petersburg, the army settled down to the siege of Petersburg and Richmond.
The 9th Corps was in position before Petersburg, and in front of it stood Fort Mahone, which if taken by assault, if that could be done, would result in a great sacrifice of life.
There was a plan formed to run a mine, something like a coal mine, under the fort, charge it with gun powder and blow it up. It was said Gen. Mead did not approve of the plan, he and his chief engineer, claiming that the history of all wars always showed such plans to be failures.
However, the work was commenced on the last day of June 1864. Lieut. Col. Pleasants, a practical mining engineer and of the 48th Pennsylvania, was in charge of the work. His regiment was from the coal mining region of the eastern part of this state, and many of his officers and men had worked in that line of work. This regiment did all the work. You can see in Bate's History of said regiment a detailed account of the work and of the mine.
We will see later on that the plan was a success and when executed the calculations and direction of the mine were complete. I will say that the work was guarded by secrecy. The dirt was carried out in boxes from the mine and placed in a ravine below, and pine bushes were placed over it so that the enemy had no knowledge what was going on to remove the fort.
On July 29th everything was ready, the mine completed and charged with four tons of gun powder, and on that night the troops of the 9th corps, and some other troops, were formed to make the assault and massed together to break the lines when the mine should be sprung.
The time fixed to explode the mine was 3:30 A.M. on July 30th but the fuse did not carry the fire to the mass of powder and went out. It was said that two men of the 45th went into the mine and repaired the imperfect fuse. This time the explosion came at about 5:00 A.M.
There was a rumble like an earthquake shock, and fort, men, cannons, guns and gun carriages went up in the air. I think the mass of dirt went a hundred feet high, then went down, burying men and the fixtures of the fort in all conceivable shapes. The mine was perfect and the different alleys or rooms were just in the right place to do the work as intended.
The assault was made by the 1st division of the 9th corps after considerable delay, for some reason to me unknown. The charge on the fort, or where it had been before the explosion, was made by our division. This fort as you will understand was an earth work.
The delay in the assault gave the enemy time to rally and get their senses, and while we went into the fort and beyond, the support on our right and left failed for some reason to do their part, and the colored troops who followed us got mixed up and with no commander to control the mass of men all became confusion, and the enemy's artillery and the guns of the infantery were turned on us and many could not reach our lines and were made prisoners. Some were killed and wounded in the assault and others were killed while trying to get back to our lines. The loss in this battle all told was about 4000.
A large number of the 1st division were killed, many wounded and taken prisoner, I being one of the latter.
We were sent back over the hill and marched around from place to place, some of the rebs changed hats and other articles with us, or rather took them from us. I opened a brass button and placed a ten dollar bill in it and closed it up. They did not find it as they left me the coat and the ten-dollar button.
We were only two or three days about Petersburg until we were loaded on some old box cars for, as we supposed, Andersonville, but they landed us at Danville, Virginia which is about 5 miles from the North Carolina line. We were put into the third story of a brick warehouse, and the part our boys had was up next the iron roof. It was August 3rd when we moved in. You can just imagine about how warm it was next the roof at that season of the year, and only two small windows to give us a little air.
Then the "gray backs" were waiting to attack us which they did in their usual style. The boarding was of a very poor quality. We had very little to eat and what we got for a while was corn meal, ground cob and all. We mixed it with dirty water but could eat very little of that kind of grub. Some of the rebel officers came in a few days afterwards and asked us to take the oath of allegiance to the confederacy, promising good fare, and that we would not be sent to the front to fight, but only to do guard duty, and could go out when we pleased. This, of course, was refused; the boys taunting them about their old dying confederacy, that it was about played out, and they need not think we were going to help it up. All kinds of remarks could be heard.
After a time they changed their terms and promised us better rations if we would go out and work on their fortifications around the town. They feared a raid might be made by our men on the place and they wanted to strengthen their works. They were keeping all their able bodied men at the front fighting and had boys and old men doing guard duty around the prisons and places like Danville. Soldiers were not plenty enough in the South at this time to fill up the armies and supply the places of the killed, wounded and prisoners of the terrible campaign of the spring and summer of 1864.
The boys felt that the confederacy was fast going to pieces and the war could not last much longer, and they did not want to assist them, though they were starved. A few went out. The rest of us at first were very much down on them for doing this and abused them for accepting such terms.
One day someone suggested it might be a good plan to go out to work and see if there might be some chance to break away and get out of such a place as that prison was. The idea that it might be done was received with favor, as all knew the best soldiers of the South were not guarding the prisoners.
After this was proposed, we sent out a spy. It was Silas Alford of my company whose home was at Princeton, this county. He put in the next day outside the prison walls investigating the situation. Silas came back in the evening and made a favorable report. He said it could be done. The guards were not the kind of soldiers that we had fought and driven back from the Wilderness to Petersburg. He said everything was lovely and there was a much better chance than he had expected.
The following day another Roundhead, Henry Watson of Company C, whose home was in Portersville, Butler County, was sent out on the same errand. He reported much the same as Alford; he believed that it was possible. We all knew if we stayed long in prison we would be too weak to undertake to escape as many were in that condition already.
It was planned to go out the next day and about thirty were let into the secret. It was agreed that we would go out and pretend that it was hunger brought us to it. The plan was to get near the guards when they were changing about 4:00 o'clock, just before the time for returning the working party to prison, and the evening was the best time to escape as they could not follow so well after night, and our chance of getting away would be better. The plan was to scatter along the line, have about two men near each guard, seize him, get his gun and cartridge box and run. The signal to make the dash was to be: "How are you, corn dodgers”, and the man was selected to give the words. The first three words would call everyone to attention, and all would know what the next word would be. Every man was to do his duty and stop for nothing but death.
Monday morning came bright and clear and quite a large squad now appeared to want to go to work. It seemed to please the rebs who thought our love for the old flag was getting cooled off and that hunger was bringing us to terms. Our squad was near the door so we could get out among the first for fear they might suspect something and not let so many go. We wanted every man in our lot out to do his part. Out we went and kept up a show of doing some work, claimed we were weak and could not work hard, they would say: "All right Yank, when you fatten up some on the better grub you can do better."
We worked a little to make it look all right to them, looked out and viewed the best direction to take if we left on a short notice. Time went pretty slow. Along about 3:00 o'clock the boys passed out along the line of guards and had some friendly chats with them. Each guard had a Yank or two near him, talking in a friendly way. All of a sudden there was a slow, loud cry, HOW--ARE--YOU--CORN DODGER?" Everyone knew his duty. Each man sprang at once at his man, the guns were taken, the cartridge boxes stripped off them in an instant and all were breaking for the woods as fast as their legs would carry them. Some, of course, outran others. We started at first at such a rapid pace that our wind soon failed, but we checked up a little and waited for those that fell behind to catch up. The thing was so sudden it took the guards some little time to get their men after us. They came on after us and they got a piece or two of artillery to give a parting salute.
We have heard they recaptured some that evening, and may have killed some and likely wounded others, but I and some more of our boys left that evening and never knew much more about Danville in old Virginia. When we reached the woods and night had settled down, some of us got together and concluded it best to form small squads, as the chance to escape would be better. The following are the names of our party of the 100th regiment:
Co. B Moorhead Gibson, Joseph Johnston
Co. C Henry Watson.
Co. F Moses Crow, Joseph Nelson, Silas Alford and myself.
Co. M J. W. Allen.
Charles Porter of the 8th New Jersey and Thomas Lother of the 12th Ohio cavalry also went with us to try to reach the Union lines. Ten of us started out and all got to the Union lines except Lother. Of all who broke prison, about 60 men, none reached our lines but our squad of nine men.
We reached the brush and timber after a run of about a mile and darkness soon hid us from view. We bent and broke the guns after we decided that they were of little use to us as they were very old and the cartridge boxes had little in them but tobacco. We had no strength to carry them and must depend on our legs. We travelled all night through brush and swamps, for a good distance. We thought it a good plan to wade through water as it would throw the blood hounds off our track, as we thought likely they would use them. We probably went twenty miles that night and heard nothing of the rebs nor their dogs after we finished the first nights travel.
We decided to make for east Tennessee as Gen. Stoneman of the Federal army was there. The Roundhead regiment had defended Knoxville about ten months before this time and reenlisted at that place. To reach the army of the Potomac was impossible, as Gen. Lee's army was between us and our army.
We learned something of the loyalty of the mountaineers of east Tennessee and western North Carolina when we were there, and no large rebel armies were in that direction, which was in our favor. We were one night's march from the old prison and daylight breaking, we hid in the woods among the logs and covered up with leaves. The country was rough, with hills and valleys lying between. We found some turnips in the valleys which we dined on. One of us stood picket in daylight while the others slept.
We now had our plans laid; travel at night, hide in daylight and live off the country if we could find anything. We appointed a leader to go before and there was to be no loud talking; whisper if you had anything to say. The leader would give two claps of the hand which was the signal to march. We went single file like geese and one clap was also the signal to halt. The rear guard man was on the watch for danger from that direction.
The second night, after darkness came we started on our march again. This time we found Lother unable to go, sick and completely given out; he was too weak, his strength all gone. We did not know what to do, we could not think of leaving him there. There was a farm house a short distance away, we could not take him there as that would put the enemy on our trail. He pleaded with us to leave him and try to save ourselves. He said after we got a safe distance away he would go to the house. He expected to be recaptured. We fixed him a bed in the leaves as well as we could and bid him goodbye; a brave boy only sixteen years of age. Everyone was sorry to leave him there but what else could we do. We felt if he was taken again, that his being only a boy, they would deal kindly with him, and we supposed the rebels were on our trail.
This was the third night that we travelled and we had nothing to eat but a few turnips and left the hills to see if we could find something in the valley to satisfy our hunger. The night was clear and bright; some of the boys saw a farmhouse and we sent out scouts. They found a couple of fat sheep and they took one from the pen and left the other for the owner. We took the sheep to the timber and some of the boys having matches built a fire and killed it, and we ate almost the whole sheep, taking what was left with us when we took up the line of march. We had no pie or cake, just a supper of mutton, but we thought it the best meal we had ever tasted. After eating we started again on our march. Night after night it was much the same. The leaders would be changed from time to time as silently we passed over hills, hollows, steep and rocky ground and streams both large and small.
While it was clear we could keep direction by the north star but on dark and rainy nights no star was visible. I had heard my grandfather say in the early settlement of this country when it was nearly all forest, that if a man got lost in the woods he could get his direction from the trees; that the north side of the tree had much the thickest and roughest bark on it. We found it so and when no stars were visible the boys would say: "Go by Munnell's bark story." It helped us but it was harder to keep on our course on dark nights and we did not make near as good time as on clear nights.
We had heard of a town by the name of Dobson and an old negro warned us to keep away from it, as it was full of rebels. We thought we were doing so but we almost ran into it on account of the rain and darkness. We travelled nearly all night and some of our scouts came across a boy to whom they pretended they were rebels; he told them it was four miles to Dobson. We then went to the woods and covered up for another day.
We appeared to gain nothing for a night or so. We were two or three nights trying to get away from Dobson, crossing and recrossing the Big Fish River; it was so crooked that it helped to put us off our course; hills and mountains everywhere and dark nights to travel. I cannot tell you nor describe the hardships we endured in that mountain region, dining on chestnuts, corn and turnips.
We had now been traveling in the woods two weeks and left Dobson far behind. It was getting cold at night and in wading streams we took off our clothes and held them up over our heads to keep them dry. Sometimes we found riffles, other times we were in water up to our necks and this was about the way things went. Strange as it may seem we were stronger than when we started. Our shoes were worn out and torn on brush and wear and tear were telling on our blue suits.
We had heard of many loyal people of Wilkes County, N. C.; the darkies told about them. We thought we could not be far from it. One evening we saw some people and thought we might be near where we would find friends. We sent two of our number to see what could be learned from them. They came back with the news they were Union men; layouts they called themselves---hunting for rebels. We soon saw there was no rebel in them; they told us we were in Wilkes County. They were going with a party to the squire to get married. We saw the bride and groom; he said when they returned they would stop for us and that there was no danger there. We made a fire, as we all felt safe; they returned and took us to a good Union man. They had sent word ahead that escaped Union prisoners were here. It was a long time since we had seen a table but here it was; it was covered with meat, bread and butter and the like of it to us starved fellows, eating that midnight supper! We had not seen bread of any kind for more than two weeks but here it was and lots of honey to spread on over the butter. To us it was the land of milk and honey; the good people loved the old flag and suffered for its sake.
We went back to camp and were to return for breakfast. It was better than ever; chicken, pork and everything nice; also peach brandy. We thought we had about cleaned up everything the night before but there was plenty more in the morning. They had worked all night, I suppose, to get breakfast for our nine men. They had us all seated and such eating; they could not do enough for us. We had to tell them of our breaking prison, the weary nights of marching, sometimes without anything to eat.
We were told to stay as long as we wished but that it was now safe to travel in daylight. They sent one of their youngsters with us to show us the way over the valley. Word had been sent ahead that we were coming and we were met by some layouts. These men were forced into the rebel army; they ran away, came home and it was dangerous work for rebel officers to arrest them. They came out of the bushes, halted us to be sure that all was right; all they wanted was to know that we were not rebels. They had learned that eternal vigilance was the price of liberty. They could tell a rebel at sight, and also a Union man. We stayed about a week. They gave us all the provisions we could carry. We thanked them for what they had done for us; they bid us goodbye and hoped that we would reach our men. We were yet about 100 miles from Tennessee.
We had several narrow escapes from capture but I cannot give near all the events, as it would make the story too long. We found Union friends and we got among enemies and came near being taken. There was a reb visited us while we were in an old cabin. He pretended to be a Union man but we did not like his looks. This man, when we came near the cabin, pretended to be very busily engaged fixing up a rail fence but he saw us enter the hut and his object was to find out who and what we were. As he neared the door we sent out two of the boys to sound him. He received them very kindly with the remark "Escaped Union prisoners I suppose." "Yes", the boys answered and asked him if he was friendly to the Union. He replied he was and had sons in the Union Army.
Our boys asked him if it was safe to build a fire in the cabin. He said, as there were no rebels nearer than Jeffersonville which was 17 miles away, we would not run a great risk. He did not stop with us very long, but long enough for us to make our minds that he was an Old Rebel and meant mischief. We asked his name and he replied Adams. As soon as he was gone we branded him as an old traitor and a rebel and we quickly left the house, struck through the woods and after a tramp of three or four miles we came to a building. We sent out two of the squad to investigate. They approached the house ready to be either Johnnie or Union men. They were soon in high spirits as the lady of the house said they were Union people.
She told the boys to return to the squad and pilot them to a barn where we must hide. The boys told her about this man Adams who came upon us while we were in the cabin. After he was described to her she became very much excited and alarmed; she said his name was Hartsogg and that he was an old rebel and belonged to the Home Guards or Guerrillas as she called them. She told the boys that Hartsogg would have a force after us as soon as he could ride to Jeffersonville. We learned more of this man as we got further among the Union people.
Hartsogg, after leaving us, rode to Jeffersonville on the "Fly" and reported that ten D--- Yankees were on his farm shooting and stealing his cattle, sheep and hogs, etc.
All we had to shoot with was our walking sticks. He returned with an armed band of rebels, surrounded the cabin, but we were not there. We were in the barn. The lady fed us again and advised us to go to Squire R_________, at White River, as the Squire was a good Union man. We went and found him. He advised us to leave a part of the squad on this side of the river at a Union house. He took Nelson, Crow and myself across to his house. We had supper; Crow and I went out for we knew there was danger. Nelson got some tools from the Squire and was mending his shoes. We heard shots across the river where we left the boys. All at once there was mounted men at the gate. We took up a ravine for safety but Nelson was in the house and the rebs were on the porch and at the door. Joe retreated under the bed. One came in and asked the Squire "if any Yanks were about." He said some men went by but he was too far off to tell if they were Yanks or not. The reb asked for a drink. The Squire told him to come to the kitchen and get some apple jack. Nelson saw his feet and heard his saber rattle on the floor. The Capt. was in a hurry and decided Yanks were not there and wanted to waste no time. All left suddenly; there were six or seven of them and they were determined to have the Yanks right away.
Out on the road they gallopped and away they went. The Yank came out from under the bed and out of the house too; no more shoe mending done that night. We saw him and whistled for him. The squire and daughter came out for they knew the enemy was gone for the present.
The squire advised us to go up a ravine to an old house; he thought it was not likely they would come back that night as they thought they had missed our trail, and were riding rapidly away so it was safer to hide than to travel. We found the cabin and made a fire in it as there was a chimney and some straw for a bed. The boys that we left over the river had some of the same kind of experience. They were in a house and the rebs came in at the front door. Our boys saw a back door with a bed against it, jerked it aside and out they went, the rebs after them, blazing away with their guns. None were hit. They got to the brush and the men with the guns went for their horses. We stayed in the brush where horsemen could not go.
There was a woman who came to us and told us that she met the armed squad and told them to take that direction, pointing to them. She was sending them away from us. She was a loyal woman but her husband was in the rebel army, likely against his will. She helped the boys that were across the river to find us so we could all get together again.
Finally, when we were all united again in the brush not far from the cabin, the riders again returned. We could hear them yelling around the cabin that the Yanks had been roosting here as there had been fire and it was warm yet. We did not like to hear them talk that way about us but we just said nothing on that subject---only lay low and kept still.
They did not find us but had been so close after us that they were determined to capture us, but not succeeding, rode away again. We had gotten directions from the Squire the way to go to find friends. We kept in the woods or brush and they could not follow us on horseback. We wanted away from there pretty bad. Hartsogg's band was too close to us to be comfortable. The Squire directed us to a friend further on.
The evening was cold and chilly, our clothing was very poor and our feet poorly clad, but to make our situation more hazardous, a heavy snowstorm came on. We traveled several miles with much difficulty, crossing streams until we were completely benumbed with cold. We were afraid to go further for fear our tracks would lead to discovery.
We stopped at a house that the Squire had directed us to, the man told us to go down the valley and we would find a log barn with some hay in it. We climbed into the hay mow and fortunately or rather Providence favored us with a wind that covered our tracks over the snow. We had some provisions and found raw potatoes in the barn. We had to stay there two days. The evening of the second day we again started on our travels and came among Union people that our friend the Squire had directed us to, and of one family in particular I would speak. We halted near a house about nine o'clock in the evening and sent out two spies, and after a long talk our boys succeeded in making these good people believe we were really Federal soldiers. The name of the family was Cheecks, consisting of an old gentleman, his wife and daughter. The old man had been suspected of harboring Union prisoners and was caught by the Guerrillas and strung up until life was almost extinct and he was made to promise that he would in no way aid the Union cause, but his daughter took him aside and told him she knew we were all right and must be aided in our escape. In a short time they had supper ready for us which we ate while the old gentleman stood on the outside.
After supper we told our good friends we wished to get across the valley into the mountains that night so we could travel more safely. To this he replied it would be a dangerous undertaking as there was a force of Rebel Cavalry in the valley, but the daughter, Miss Belinda Cheecks, spoke up and said "Father, I will go with them myself past all danger," and after some words of caution from the father and mother, our fair heroine lead us and we followed silently, when danger threatened she was to give a low whistle and when to move forward by the same signal.
We traveled on without speaking above a whisper for over two hours, over rocks, brush, and streams until this brave, loyal hearted girl had anchored us in safety past all danger. She then gave directions to get into the mountains where we would find all loyal people. She had piloted us some six or seven miles, and once in sight of Rebel picket posts. She must now leave us in order to get back home before daylight. We had no money to pay her but took her address if we should ever get back home. Each of us clasped her hand in friendship and bade her goodbye, and Sergeant Gibson asked God's protection for her while she was returning home.
When we separated at about midnight, she for her home and we for the mountains, we never heard from this brave girl. We wrote to her after the war but never received any answer which was probable as there were no mail routes near her, but we hoped she reached home in safety.
After our fair guide had left us we traveled by the north star and reached the mountains near morning; we hid until we could be certain no enemy was in sight. We started westward along the range in the afternoon and traveled until night. We traveled part of the night and then made a bed of leaves and laid down to sleep.
Next morning we started again with our advance guard and rear guard well out and we had only gone a few miles when a clap of the hand of the advance guard brought us all flat on the ground. The guard, Charley Porter, crawled back to us and reported a squad of 20 or 30 men just below us in a ravine. At first we were much alarmed but upon investigation we found we were watched by them and they evidently concluded that we were escaped Federal soldiers so they sent out a man and we did the same, and we were pleased to learn that this squad of 22 men were recruits for our army and they were working their way through to Knoxville, Tenn. to join different regiments, so we joined them and traveled with them for two days and had gotten within seven miles of Greenville, 60 miles from Knoxville. We learned that our forces had been driven back to Bull's Gap and the first thing we knew we were right in among the Rebels. We could hear them shooting and yelling only a mile or so away. The armed squad sent out a spy and discovered the Rebel Cavalry foraging for cattle and horses. The next thing in order was to hold council as we could go no further, so we agreed to separate from the armed squad and let them fight their way if attacked, while we could take our time and travel cautiously.
We separated from them and a separation took place in our own squad also. Sergeant Gibson, J. W. Allen, H. Watson, and Joe Johnson thought best to go in small detachments. They concluded to strike out for Strawberry Plains, some two days travel from southwest. They were successful and welcomed into our lines at that place on the third day, but of this we were not aware then and, as our own squad now only numbered five; Crowe, Nelson, Alford, Porter and myself, we thought we could stop here awhile. After this some of our boys met two escaped prisoners from Saulsberry, North Carolina at a Union House. One was a Captain Hall of a New Jersey regiment and the other Captain Todd of a Wisconsin command. They went with us into the Union lines.
We sent two of the boys to a house and they found a good loyal family who told them to go back and keep low until dark as some Rebel scouts might be around. After dark the Union man brought us some corn meal, pork, and a frying pan and we were soon enjoying a good supper. After the meal was over he piloted us down the Chunky River and rowed us across in a canoe. We were now in Carter County, Tenn. We were piloted to a colored man's house up in the mountains and found him to be our friend, and in a short time he had us all stowed away for the night. He said we were as secure as the Rebels did not think it healthy up "dar". Next morning, November 16th, we all crawled out of the barn and the colored man took two of us for breakfast and the other three to a neighbor. After breakfast we all went to Mr. ---------, a Union man to get him to pilot us to the French Broad River for the rebels were all along it. We had only gone two miles when we met a soldier in blue uniform who had been cut off from his companions. He told our pilot it was useless to try to make a crossing over French Broad River as the Rebels were there. We traveled on in hope that ere long we would get with our boys who carried the old flag of red, white and blue.
We came near being caught several times and continued to hide in the daytime. There was a man found us in the woods who said he had heard of us; we had stopped with his brother away back some days before. His name was Yarbor or that was what he said it was; it was not safe for them to give their real names for those people were in constant danger. We sized him up as a true friend, which he was. He told us to be ready to go with him for supper when it became dark. The time came and he took us to his house and got a big supper. We took some grub along with us when we left as we got such a starving we could eat nearly all the time. We would not risk staying at his house for the enemy would kill them for feeding prisoners.
Back to the camp we went. Yarbor said they would cook a lot more and he would carry it to us on the next day. In the morning there was a coat of snow on the ground. This was a bad thing for us; our man did not come. We supposed it was too dangerous to make tracks to our hiding place. In the evening someone saw a man coming toward us. One of the boys called out "It is Yarbor", but he appeared to be acting in a strange manner as though throwing corn, which he was, and a lot of hogs following him eating the corn and covering his tracks in the snow. When he got to us we did not need to tell him we were glad to see him and his big load of supplies. No hunger there then. He stayed till late at night. Snow was gone by November 23rd and we were ready to march again. More friends came with more rations and we entertained them with army stories of which the boys always had a good supply on hand.
On the next day we heard the shooting of guns; we feared trouble and Yarbor came to us and said it was rebs shooting cattle and hogs along the river as they were all along it. We then concluded to go back across the Chunky River and take up our quarters at our old camp and remain there until we positively knew where our forces were. We were soon back to our old position and fixed up a shed with bark and leaves for a bed.
In the evening after dark, our neighbor, another Mr. Yarbor, came and took us to supper. After supper we all went to the barn and made a bed among the corn fodder and went to sleep. Next morning we arose at 3:00 o'clock and assisted Mr. Yarbor and a neighbor to unload a threshing machine. After this we were to taken to Mr. Yarbor's home and had a fine breakfast before daylight. We then repaired to our mountain retreat and had a fine time; we kept a guard out on the top of the mountain all of the time. At noon, November 18th, we heard cannonading in the direction of Norristown, on the Knoxville Railroad; we could not tell whether our forces were advancing or falling back.
We remained at our camp until evening when our good colored friend came and took us all to his house for supper. After supper we all retired to Mr. Yarbor's barn and went to sleep. We now told our host that we did not want to impose on good nature and he replied, "Boys, you have been defending the old flag and suffered hardships and as long as I have a bite to divide with you, you shall have it."
We thanked him and sat down by his old fashioned log fire. He told us of some of his experiences with the Rebels driving off his horses and cattle, and also said that they would shoot him if he harbored Union men, so he was running a great risk in feeding us.
On that evening a boy called and told us that Squire Rain wished us to come to his house for supper. The boy piloted us and we were soon enjoying a good square meal. The Squire was very uneasy while we were in the house and as soon as supper was over he took us to his barn where he made a cave in the hay mow and remained with us several hours, telling us how he had horses stolen, cattle driven off and was strung up until nearly dead, all because he loved the old flag.
On the next morning we were called before daylight by the Squire for breakfast. We told our host we were anxious to get to inside the Federal lines and would like to have someone to guide us there. He said one would be ready by nine o'clock P.M. At nine Mr. Johnson arrived and said, "Boys, I'm going to take you tonight and anchor you by daylight where you can see the Union camp away in the distance on Strawberry Plains." This was joyful news to know that we were within a day’s march of our boys and the dear old flag.
By ten o'clock Monday night, November 28th, 1864 we started with our guide and away we went over creeks, rocks, canyons and steep mountains, and anything that came our way. But our hearts were light and visions of the Yankee camp dispelled all obstacles. On we went and about four o’clock in the morning our guide halted us on the top of a very big peak and from there we could see the promised land.
Our guide now told us how to proceed and to be very careful and not expose ourselves now when we were so near the Union lines. He now bid us good-bye, wished us success, and started home for fear some stray Johnny Cavalry might catch him with us.
About two hours after our guide left us, the morning mists cleared away and now all eyes were strained to catch the view of the Federal soldiers. All at once Captain Harry Todd breaks out, "Glory to God in the highest, Boys Look, look, look yonder, see them there they are, that's our Yankee boys, our own Dear Yankee Boys, that is their camp." All eyes were turned in the direction indicated and sure enough, there stood the white tents of the Yankee camp. It was some ten miles but time will never fade away the sight of that tented field. Our guide had been faithful to his promise as we found everything as represented.
We left the mountain top and found some good loyal friends and were not long in having a good breakfast set up for us. Our host, Mr. Caldwell, told us we were safe now so far as regarding citizens, but said the Rebels had possession of the valley down to the bridge on Strawberry Plains and almost everyday some of the Cavalry would dash down to the bridge and fire at our troops and pass on down the Holsten River, that we would have to be very careful if we tried to make the bridge in daylight.
We were too impatient to wait for night and asked our friend if he would send a guide and we would travel along the mountain and try to make the plains that day. He was opposed to our plan but said if we must go he would send Sammy, his colored man, with us. We accepted and, with Sam for our guide, we were soon traveling the mountain, arriving at the top we were out of danger as the Cavalry only traveled the roads.
We traveled straight for Strawberry Plains and along in the afternoon we reached the terminus of the mountain range. We emerged from the woods to an open field running down to the Holsten River and almost within a stones throw, was our own dear Yankee camp, and dearer than all, the Stars and Stripes floating from the staff in the fort.
Our joy knew no bounds. We threw up our hats and unconscious of danger cheered. But "Hark", a shot; fly for the bushes boys; and away we flew back under cover and fifty Rebel Cavalry dashed down the road we had just left.
November 29. We now took leave of our guide Sam, and started on the double quick for the bridge and as soon as we neared it a squad of Blue Coats formed and came out to meet us, and we were saved.
The boys belonged to the 10th Michigan Regiment and they gave us a hearty welcome as such as only soldier boys can give. We halted only a few minutes and were escorted over the bridge to the camp. The boys crowded around to hear our adventures. It was near supper time and the Colonel of the 10th Regiment came down to welcome us and invited us to headquarters for supper. At bedtime the Colonel had a tent put up for us and furnished us with blankets and we were soon enjoying our first sleep among the Yankees.
Next morning we could hardly believe we were among our troops. Our Colonel sent us word that breakfast was ready whenever we were. After breakfast and Colonel made out passes telling who we were and told us we could go any where we pleased except back to Dixie. We replied that we would like to go to Knoxville as we had taken part in the Longstreet-Burnside siege in 1863, and were some acquainted down there. He was willing and at noon we got on board the cars and reached Knoxville at about two o'clock P.M. We reported to General Stoneman who was in command of this department.
General Stoneman received us very kindly and asked us about our trip and told the doctor to take charge of us and see that we got good quarters to stay in and plenty to eat, and the quartermaster to see that we received clothing and take us to a bathroom. Soon we were rigged in non-vermin suits. Now, in order to make this place our headquarters for a few days, our Wardmaster said he would have to report us to the Surgeon in charge of the Hospital so we could have room and meals. He then took us to the Surgeon's office and introduced us, also telling who we were and how we came to be in this fix.
The surgeon was a fine jolly old fellow and after shaking hands with us all around, one the boys related our experiences to him. He shook his fat sides with laughter at our story and said, "Vell by shiminy, dot vas good" and turning to us, "Vell poys how zick I makes you out?" We told him we was not sick, we only wanted a good rest.
On the morning of December 7, we bid our jolly Surgeon goodbye, told him we thought we were well of our disability and would try to get home. We thanked him for his kindness to us and got aboard the cars for Chattanooga where we expected to get transportation to Washington City, but arriving at Chattanooga we found General Wood had cut the road between there and Nashville and fighting was now on. We returned to Knoxville and were happy and contented anywhere under the Stars and Stripes, but we longed to get back to our regiment and applied to General Stoneman for transportation to our regiment. We were sent to Washington and reported to headquarters there and were given a thirty day furlough to return to our homes which we all did. I should have said that we were 51 days on our trip from Danville to Strawberry Plains, and traveled, the way we had to go, about 600 miles. After the thirty day furlough had expired we returned to our regiment.
In concluding this narrative, I will give the following brief account of what became of the members of our party:
Thomas Lother, who we left in the woods on the second day of our escape, was the next day captured by a force sent out from Danville. This force of rebels were also following us and threatened to shoot Lother if he did not tell them which direction we took. This, he refused to do and was taken back to prison. I never saw him after we left him in the woods. After the war some members of our regiment saw him at Washington and to them he told his story. I have never heard of him since and cannot say whether he yet lives.
Charley Porter, of the 8th New Jersey, went through to the Union lines. He traveled night after night without shoes on his feet, through briars and thorns. I think the rebels had taken his shoes in prison but he never grumbled or complained. He was at all times cheerful and full of fun, even in the darkest times.
Silas Alford, with the rest of the boys, reached his home in Lawrence County, returned to his company, and was afterwards killed at the battle of Fort Steadman, just two weeks before Gen. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
Sergeant Gibson was promoted to the Lieut. of his company and discharged when the war was over. He lived near New Wilmington and died April 30, 1872.
Joseph Johnston returned to his home, went West after the close of the War but afterwards returned to this county where he died on September 2, 1909.
Henry Watson returned to his home near Portersville, Butler County, where he died some years ago, the exact date which I do not have. The G. A. Post of Portersville is called Watson Brothers Post, being named for him and his three brothers who went to war. Two of these brothers were killed, another crippled for life, and the fourth was our comrade, Henry W.
Sergeant Moses Crow, well known in this county, served through the whole war, returned home and died at Stoneboro, in 1893.
Joseph Nelson, spoken of in the account for his close call of nearly being captured in the house, was a native of this county. On his return after the war, he wrote an account of the Battle of the Mine, Prison Life and Escape, which was published in the New Castle Courant which I have made use of in the writing of my own account. His home was at Blairsville, Pa. and he died at the Dayton Soldier Home in 1902.
Of the eight men of the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment, who were members of the party, Captain Joe Allen and myself are the only ones now living. Captain Allen lives in the state of Kansas.
Lack of time and space forbids me from reciting many of the amusing incidents, trials and hardships that occurred on this memorable occasion, and from paying full and proper tribute to the individual merits and virtues of my comrades and, with this brief conclusion, I bring my narrative to an end.
The Battle of the Mine, Capture, Prison Life and Escape to the Union Lines in 1864
John J. Munnell
Company F, 100 Regiment
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