We began to dig wells, as much for employment as anything, but yet for the purpose of procuring more and better water. We used an old tin plate or a split canteen for a shovel, and our haversacks for buckets to elevate the dirt. The soil was hard red clay, yet with our meager tools several wells were dug over eighty feet deep, and one that reached one hundred feet in depth. But the supply of water thus obtained was very small, only satisfying the wants of the few who had the courage and pluck to dig.
Another industry was the digging of tunnels, which required great outlays of labor and cunning, with little inducements, and only a slight hope of escape. I engaged in a number of these operations, and there were forty or fifty tunnels in process of construction at one time. In several instances the operators were successful, and made good their escape from the stockade for a few days or weeks perhaps, but were almost invariably recaptured by the hounds and hunters. The majority of the tunnels were a total failure, except that they served to give employment and to keep hope alive. They were pretty sure to be discovered by our keeper Wirz, who had the aid of traitors among our own numbers, or of spies sent among us.
The mode of operating in one tunnel, in which I was engaged, and which came the nearest to a success, will be a fair sample of operating with them all.
One of the members of my company, who was brought into the stockade several weeks later than myself, had built a shelter of blankets and rags very near the " dead-line," which also brought his stopping-place within the shadow of the stockade as it was cast by the night fires from the outside.
This made a very convenient and safe place to begin operations from. Several of us made a social call upon this comrade, William Moore, late one evening, and broached the subject of beginning a tunnel from his domicile. He fell in with the proposal very readily, and we concluded to begin operations the next night. It was about the first of July, for I remember that upon the night of the Fourth of July, when the whole North was supposed to be celebrating the birth of our nation, I was five feet under ground, upon my hands and knees, in a hole barely large enough to crawl in, working inch by inch with an old case-knife and my bare hands, trying to find the liberty that the North was celebrating.
We first dug directly down into the ground a hole large enough for one to work in and about seven feet deep; then we began to dig in a horizontal direction, from its bottom, towards the stockade. Our mining operations were upon a small scale and very simple, our ingenuity being all engaged in keeping the work a secret from the guard and from the general mass of the prisoners. The shaft was only large enough for one to dig at a time, and that upon his hands and knees. The operator would loosen the hard clay with the case-knife, scrape it into one of our haversacks with his hands, and a comrade at the entrance to the shaft would draw out the filled haversack by means of an improvised rag rope, replacing it with an empty one by pushing it in with a slender pole, this pole being spliced from time to time as the tunnel proceeded.
Now came the most particular part of the job: this dirt must be scattered upon or about the heaps of dirt thrown out from the numerous wells; and these wells were invariably near the center of the indosure, not being allowed very near the dead-line. Several haversacks of dirt might be carried from our excavation without attracting the attention of the vigilant guard, but to carry them at regular intervals throughout the entire night seemed almost impossible.
But the stockade cast a shadow of thirty or forty feet, and in this shadow the sentinels could not distinguish objects in a dark night; therefore the comrade employed as carrier did not leave this shadow to approach the center of the stockade twice in the same place, and always with his load underneath his overcoat or blanket of rags. Twelve of us were thus employed upon this tunnel, six working every night, After the shaft had been carried beyond the first few feet it was impossible for one to remain within it longer than half an hour at a time without being overcome and rendered insensible from lack of sufficient air. Several times we had to drag a comrade from the tunnel in this condition.
We worked patiently and steadily nearly four weeks without detection, though several other tunnels were discovered and demolished during this time. To keep the secret of its location safe, we made a shoulder upon the mouth of the shaft, and after nicely fitting some boards into it, the whole was covered six inches deep with dirt that corresponded with the soil at the surface of the ground, kept constantly ready for the purpose; then our comrade Moore and his chum spread their over-coats over all, and slept thereon the greater part of each day.
One night, after careful measurement, we ascertained that our shaft was eighty feet long. It was commenced twenty feet from the stockade; therefore we were sixty feet outside the stockade, and ten or twenty feet outside the usual line of fires. This was deemed sufficient; and we voted to suspend further operations and await the advent of a dark, stormy night the better to favor our escape through the tunnel.
About this time—the latter part of July-there was more loud talk of exchange. Reports of the resumption of the exchange of prisoners were common enough, evidently put into circulation by the authorities outside for purposes of their own; but this one, in particular, came so well recommended that it was pretty generally believed, for the following reasons.
The only authorized representative of the Christian religion who possessed enough of it to visit the thirty thousand men in the prison pen was a Roman Catholic priest, Father Hamilton, who came in quite regularly, at least every Sabbath, for several weeks. He talked kindly to us, displaying much sympathy for our condition, and administering the last rites of the Church to all the dying men who would accept, without any regard to individual beliefs. He stated that strong efforts were being made to bring about an exchange by both the North and South, and that their efforts would probably soon be successful. Upon the strength of this report we concluded to let our tunnel remain quiet for the time, thinking that if exchange failed we could have final recourse to it. The exchange did fail; and a heavy thunder shower loosened one of the timbers of which the stockade was composed, so that it settled into the shaft, discovering to the authorities our tunnel, and they quickly filled it up.
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