Not much worth noting occurred during this and the two following nights and days. The country seemed to be sparsely settled, though it might have appeared different by daylight. Towards morning of the sixth night of our tramp we dodged back into the woods as usual, half a mile or so from the road, found a comfortable camping-place, and immediately dropped asleep. We were awakened, how-ever, very soon, by the sound of chopping so near our hiding-place as to discover the chop-per to us as soon as our eyes could be fairly rubbed open. He was a mulatto, not over twenty years of age, stripped to the waist, and cutting wood for the Charleston market, as it proved. In less than an hour we reckoned him one of us. He had quickly decided to go with us and seek his freedom at the North by acting as our pilot.
Our misfortunes began with his acquaintance, although through no particular fault of his. About noon I killed two large snakes called the "pilot-snake," from the fact that they are generally found in the vicinity of rattlesnakes. The mulatto said that my killing them was a bad omen; it would be followed by meeting my deadly enemy next. As night approached we decided to cross the Congaree River on a small flatboat that the mulatto knew where to find; keep well round and away from the city of Columbia; then take a general northwest direction, which had been our direction thus far, and we calculated that seven more nights of travel would take us to the Tennessee line.
The mulatto returned to us about an hour after dark with a large bag well filled with ham, meal, and sweet potatoes, which he proposed to take across the river and on a mile or two to a secluded place where there were friends of his who would cook the food for us. Just before dark we were made uncomfortable by a cold rain, which decided us to start about nine o'clock.
At the crossroads near which we found ourselves was a settlement of perhaps eight or ten houses, only one of which was lighted. From that the light streamed through an open door directly across the road which we must pass. As we moved across this streaming ray of light it made us all fearfully conscious that we could be plainly seen if by chance any one was looking that way, and this uncomfortable feeling could not be shaken off. The sequel proved that this ray of light was the trap set for us or for any straggling darkies or Confederate soldiers. It was in one sense a picket-post well guarded, as we learned afterwards was the case at every important cross-roads | in the Confederacy.
Before we had gone a mile we were conscious of the barking of dogs in the road behind. The mulatto said our game was up, and that he would be killed if caught with us. I assured him that we would stand by him and not see him punished because he happened to be caught with us. I advised him, if caught, to plead that he was going to see his sweetheart with the rations in his bag,—which was, in fact, the place we were making for to get our cooking done,—and had just happened to fall in with us a mile back. The above was all planned in three minutes, for in that time the dogs, seven or eight of them, all leashed together, and accompanied by eight horsemen, were upon us. We quickly dodged into the thick brush by the side of the road, while four of the horsemen stopped, and the remaining four rode on fifty yards beyond and halted.
Immediately the one who seemed to have charge of the horsemen and dogs called to us to come out into the road and give an account of ourselves. The mulatto was afraid of his life, and we advised him to improve the opportunity to run, thereby obtaining a good chance to get clear of the whole business while we engaged the attention of the dogs. Our parley lasted for a half-hour or more, after which we encountered the dogs and beat them off with our walking-sticks. From swearing and cursing the men changed to entreaty, and begged us to let the dogs alone and come out and we should be treated like gentlemen. We knew that we must, sooner or later; and when they had succeeded in securing their dogs, and we were satisfied the mulatto had got a fair start, we three dilapidated-looking specimens of humanity stepped out into the road. The leader inquired for the fourth man, and I immediately knew we had been seen and counted while passing the lighted doorway at the cross-roads. I replied that he was a negro we had fallen in with a half-hour before, but that we did not know where he was going or where he came from. This answer seemed to satisfy them partly; nevertheless a man was sent into the brush, with two of the dogs, to pick up his track and find him. The mulatto instead of making the shortest track for his master's place very foolishly ran in the opposite direction and was caught upon the bank of the river, and within an hour was brought to join the rest of our party. Our captors gave us comfortable quarters, and we were soon on very good terms with them. The mulatto was brought in shortly before midnight, and, without any waste of words, was stripped to the waist and securely lashed to the trunk of a tree, with his arms about the tree and so elevated as barely to allow his toes to touch the ground. Then his master was sent for and the mulatto sharply questioned.
His master had not missed him, which was in his favor, and he told substantially the same story agreed upon before our capture, and stuck well to it. They did not make out much of a case against him, but concluded to whip him on general principles; yet on my intercession he was let off and sent home. One fact, perhaps, had as much to do in saving the mulatto's skin as my defense; he had not quite got beyond the two-mile limit from his master's place within which he had the liberty, in common with all the negroes, to roam.
The next morning a mule-team drew us to the nearest railroad station, seven or eight miles distant, where we were placed on board one of the regular passenger trains. Our captors, upon parting with us, cordially wished us well and a final and safe return to our homes, and expressed the honest wish that our next attempt to reach the Union lines might be more successful. We were placed in charge of a guard that I was told traveled with all the trains within the Confederacy. The Confederacy was truly under martial law throughout its length and breadth.
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