My term of service with Hood’s army, in the battles about Atlanta, was a short one; but it was a dreadfully earnest one. I doubt if many Southerners experienced as much in years as I did in the ten days and the ten nights I was under the stars and bars.
The way of it was this: I had been a resident of the South nearly a year. Seven months of this time I had spent at the capital of Virginia, where the Confederate Congress was sitting. I was not in Congress, however, but in Libby Prison.
Once Kilpatrick’s cavalry came very close to Richmond. The rebels became frightened, and removed us all, about six or seven hundred officers whom they had had cooped up in Libby for months, to Macon, in Georgia. Here we were put in a big stockade, or pen, and left in the broiling sun, and it was here that I determined to become a volunteer in the rebel army.
The stockade in which we were kept was twelve feet high, with a platform near the top, on which the guards paced constantly. Ten feet inside the stockade was the dead-line, indicated only by a little stake here and there. To cross this, to approach it even, was sufficient to insure being instantly shot. There was but one gate, or door, and it was kept constantly closed and guarded by a sentinel, who stood, gun in hand, immediately above it, while a corporal stood watch below. Once a day, a few guards and officers entered this door, closed it behind them, and formed us into lines for counting. I had studied a small map of the country for days, and by dint of trading tobacco, etc., with an occasional guard who was dying for the weed, I acquired piece by piece a pretty decent rebel uniform, which I had kept buried in the sand where I slept. July 15, 1864, came round. My term of enlistment expired that day. I had been in the Union army three years; was it not a good time to give the rebels a trial? There were a few old sheds not far from the gate, and in one of these I waited with a friend one morning, about nine o’clock, and saw the sergeants and the guards come in to count the prisoners. I had resurrected my rebel uniform, and had quietly slipped it on. It fitted amazingly. My friend was lingering there simply to see what would become of me. He has often declared since then that he expected me to be shot the moment I should approach the dead-line. The prisoners were some way off, in rows, being counted, as I stepped from under cover and quickly walked up to and over the dead-line by the gate. The guard above brought his gun from his shoulder, halted, and looked at me. I paid no attention, but knocked, when the door opened, and the corporal stepped in the opening and asked what I wanted. “The lieutenant misses a roll-list, and I must run out and bring it from head-quarters,” I answered, pushing by him hurriedly. There was no time for questions, and the corporal, before getting over his surprise, had passed me out as a rebel sergeant. I quickly turned the corner, passed a number of Johnnies sitting on the grass drinking coffee, and went straight up to the commandant’s tent, near the edge of the wood, but did not go in. I had not looked behind me once, but expected every moment to hear a bullet whizzing after me. I passed behind the tent, walked slowly into the wood, and then ran my best for an hour.