The following account of the adventures of Lamar Fontaine, who acted as a despatch bearer for the Southern forces around Vicksburg, was written by the father of young Fontaine:
[In the Official Records, Lamar Fontaine is identified in a communication by General Pemberton for valuable service in transmitting dispatches to and from General Johnston - MpG]
Lamar is almost continually in the saddle, and employed in very hazardous enterprises. His last feat of arms was the most daring he has yet performed.
He left my house, under orders from Gen. Johnston, to bear a verbal despatch to Gen. Pemberton, in Vicksburg, and to carry a supply of percussion caps to our troops in that besieged city.
I parted with him, hardly hoping ever to see him again alive, for I knew that Vicksburg was closely invested on all sides. The enemy's lines of circumvallation extend from Snyder's Bluff, on the Yazoo, to Warrenton, on the Mississippi, and the rivers and their opposite shores are filled and lined with their forces.
He was well mounted, but was burdened with forty pounds of percussion caps, besides his blanket and crutches. He has no use of his broken leg, and cannot walk a step without a crutch; and in mounting his horse he has to lift it over the saddle with his right hand. But he accomplishes this operation with much dexterity, and without assistance. I loaned him a very fine sabre, with wooden scabbard, to prevent rattling, and a very reliable revolver, which has never missed fire when loaded by me.
The family were called together for prayers, and we prayed fervently that the God of our fathers would shield him from all danger, and enable him to fulfil his mission to Vicksburg successfully, and give him a safe return to us all. I then exhorted him to remember that, if it was the will of God for him to live and serve his country, all the Yankees owned by LINCOLN could not kill him; but if it was the divine will that he should die, be would be in as much danger at home as in Vicksburg, and death would certainly find him, no matter where be might be. I charged him to use his best endeavors to kill every one of the jackals who should attempt to stop his course, or come within reach of his sword or pistol.
He crossed Big Black River that night, and the next day got between their lines and the division of their army, which was at Mechanicsburg. He hid his horse in a ravine, and ensconced himself in a fallen tree, overlooking the road, during that day. From his hiding-place he witnessed the retreat of the Yankees, who passed him in considerable haste and confusion. After their columns had gone by, and the night had made it safe for him to move, he continued his route in the direction of Snyder's Bluff. As he entered the telegraphic road from Yazoo City to Vicksburg, he was hailed by a picket, but dashed by him. A volley was fired at him by the Yankees. He escaped unhurt; but a Maine ball wounded his horse mortally. The spirited animal, however, carried him safely to the bank of the Yazoo River, where be died, and left him afoot. He lost one of his crutches in making his escape. This was jerked from him by the limb of a tree, and he had no time to pick it up.
With the assistance of one crutch, he carried his baggage, and groped along the Yazoo, until he providentially discovered a small log canoe, tied by a rope, within his reach. He pressed this into his service, and paddled down the river, until he met three Yankee gunboats coming up to Yazoo City. He avoided them by running under some -willows overhanging the water, and lying concealed until they passed. Soon afterwards he floated by Snyder's Bluff, which was illuminated, and alive with Yankees and negroes, participating in the amusement of a grand ball of mixed races. He lay flat in his canoe, which was nothing but a hollow log, and could hardly be distinguished from a piece of drift-wood, and glided safely through the gunboats, transports, and barges of the amalgamationists. He reached the back-water of the Mississippi before day, and in the darkness missed the outlet of the Yazoo, and got into what is called “Old River." After searching in vain for a pass into the Mississippi, day dawned, and he discovered his mistake. He was forced to conceal his boat and himself, and lie by for another day. He had been two days and nights without food, and began to suffer the pangs of hunger.
At night he paddled back into the Yazoo, and descended it to the Mississippi, passing forty or fifty of the Yankee transports. Only one man hailed him from the stern of a steamboat, and asked him where he was going. He replied that he was going to his fishing lines. In the bend above Vicksburg, he floated by the mortar fleet, lying flat in his canoe. The mortars were in full blast, bombarding the city. The next morning he tied a white handkerchief to his paddle, raised himself up in the midst of our picket boats at
Vicksburg, and gave a loud huzza for JEFF. DAVIS and the Southern Confederacy, amid the vivas of our sailors, who gave him a joyful reception, and assisted him to Gen. Pemberton's headquarters.
After resting a day and night in the city, he started out with a despatch from Gen. Pemberton to Gen. Johnston. He embarked on his same canoe, and soon reached the enemy's fleet below the city. He avoided their picket-boats on both shores, and floated near their gunboats. He passed so near one of these, that through an open port-hole he could see men playing cards, and hear them converse. At Diamond Place he landed, and bade adieu to his faithful “dug-out." After hobbling through the bottom to the hills, he reached the residence of a man who had been robbed by the savages of all his mules and horses, except an old worthless gelding and a half-broken colt. He gave him the choice of them, and he mounted the colt, but found that he travelled badly. Providentially he came upon a very fine horse in the bottom, tied by a blind bridle, without a saddle. As a basket and old bag were lying near him, he inferred that a negro had left him there, and that a Yankee camp was not far distant. He exchanged bridles, saddled the horse and mounted him, after turning loose the colt.
After riding so as to avoid the supposed position of the Yankees, he encountered one of the thieves, who was returning to it from a successful plundering excursion. He was loaded with chickens and a bucket of honey. He commenced catechising Lamar in the true Yankee style, who concluded it best to satisfy his curiosity by sending him where he could know all that the devil could teach him. With a pistol bullet through his forehead, he left him, with his honey and poultry lying in the path, to excite the conjectures of his fellow-thieves.
He approached with much caution the next settlement. There he hired a guide, for fifty dollars, to pilot him to Hankerson's ferry on Big Black River, which he wished to reach near that point, without following any road. The fellow he hired proved to be a traitor. When he got near the ferry, Lamar sent him ahead to ascertain whether any Yankees were in the vicinity. The conversation and manners of the man had excited his suspicions, and as soon as he left him he concealed himself, but remained where be could watch his return. He remained much longer than he expected; but returned and reported that the way was open, and that no Yankees were near the ferry. After paying him, be took the precaution to avoid the ferry, and to approach the river above it, instead of following the guide's directions. By this he flanked a force of the Yankees posted to intercept him ; but as be entered the road near the river bank, one of them, who seemed to be on the right flank of a long line of sentinels, suddenly rose up within ten feet of him, and ordered him to halt. He replied with a pistol shot, which killed the sentinel dead, and, wheeling his horse, galloped through the bottom up the river; but the Yankees sent a shower of balls after him, two of which wounded his right hand, injuring four of his fingers. One grazed his right leg, cutting two holes through his pantaloons, and another cut through one side of my sword scabbard, spoiling its beauty, but leaving a mark which makes me prize it more highly. Seven bullets struck the horse, which reeled under him, but had strength and speed to bear him a mile from his pursuers before he fell and died. Lamar than divided his clothes and arms into packages, and swam Big Black River safely. He did not walk far before a patriotic lady supplied him with the only horse she had a stray one, which came to her house after the Yankees had carried off all the animals belonging to the place. On this he reached Raymond at two o'clock in the morning, changed his horse for a fresh one, carried his despatch to Jackson that morning and rejoiced us all by an unexpected visit the same day.
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