Lake County History Chapter 81: Drummer Boy

Carol Braebrook, a citizen of Lake County for many years, told me this story. It was about one of her relatives, William Stanley, who lived in Lake County.

      William Stanley

William Stanley, fifteen years old, wanted to join the Union Army as a drummer. His mother refused. Not to be stopped so easily, William sweet-talked a woman into pretending motherhood, offering to give her ‘consent’ when William applied to the recruiter. Poor Bill was foiled. The recruiting officer threw several questions at the lady, who appeared nervous to be part of the enlistment of such a young person, not legal in the Union army except for drummers.

She was asked Williams’ birthday, his place of birth, and the name of his father, all of which the flustered woman could not answer. Turned away, a less stout young man might have given up. Not this stalwart ancestor. He immediately drove off in the buggy, his partner in tow, and went to the next settlement, where the army recruiter was more willing to accept drummer boys without so many questions.

William became a drummer for the Union army. In his first engagement near Vicksburg, his platoon was captured by Confederate soldiers. William was taken with the other men in his platoon to Vicksburg’s stockade prison. As enterprising as ever, William Stanley happily joined in a plan to escape the Vicksburg prison. A tunnel was dug under the stockade walls. Nevertheless, in their haste to escape and find a way home, the tunnel had not been constructed deeply enough. The first Confederate horseman that rode over the tunnel forced its collapse.

Desperation breeds determination. The Union prisoners dug a second tunnel. The Union forces were approaching Vicksburg, and the guards were more preoccupied with the Union army than the prisoners. People in the city were fleeing from their homes to safer places.

This time the prisoners learned from their mistakes. The dirt was burned in the stove that each group of prisoners had in their hut to keep warm. The fired soil resembled ashes and went undetected by the guards. It took time, and progress was slow. To foil the bloodhounds, which were kept by the guard for catching fleeing prisoners, all the hot pepper had been saved. This time the tunnel survived.

The great night came at last. Several entered the tunnel and crawled through the thirty feet of darkness, under the stockade walls, toward freedom. Helped by slaves as they walked toward the Union lines, they made good their escape from the Vicksburg Prison.

Unfortunately for William, one of the fatter prisoners, who had yet not lost all of his extra weight, got stuck in the tunnel. The rest of the prisoners, including poor William, could not get through the tunnel. The tunnel was discovered, and William and the other prisoners were forced to wait for better times.

The men, still in captivity, were greeted on the morning of 4 July 1863, with good news. A slave walked through the stockade, carrying a bucket of burning pitch.

As he passed the Union prisoners, he whispered quietly so the guards would not hear, ‘Sweet smoke. Grant has captured Vicksburg. You shall soon be set free.”

It was good news. Soon after, William and the remaining Union prisoners went home.

William had two sons and three daughters. One of those sons, Otha Stanley, who became a newspaperman, was Carol Braebrook’s Grandfather. Later still, Carol’s Grandfather became the editor of the Ukiah Dispatch Democrat.

Next Episode: A great obsequies and a feisty lad

For more on Civil War History, read Paleno’s ‘The Porter Conspiracy’

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Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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