Lake County History Chapter 88: Free at Last

“There was a house close by that was a poor man’s house. ‘Hide away,’ I told my friend. ‘I will go up to the house and find out where we are.’ I went to the fence and called the man up. He called back, ‘What do you want?’ I told him, ‘I am on leave, and I am lost. I belong to a South Carolina regiment, and I want to find a way back to camp.’ He asked, ‘What way are you traveling?’ I said, ‘I’m going north.’  He said, ‘If you go four miles farther in the direction you are heading, you will be in the Union lines. Davis’ brigade is three miles south of here.’ ‘Much obliged,’ I said ‘Good night.’

 “We were pretty hungry. The old man asked us if we wanted something to eat. He mixed up some cornmeal, which he baked in the ashes and gave us Johnnie Cake. It tasted good. I asked the old man if he could get us through the rebel lines. ‘La’ bless you, Massa,’ he said, ‘If you had been here a few days ago, we could have got you through without any trouble at all. Now they have double the picket lines on account of so many of the colored folks going through the lines. Now they will not let any of the colored folks through. If there is any way for you to get through, I have a neighbor, who will get you through.’

“I said, ‘You seem to take an interest in me. Come, show us the way to your neighbor.’ He answered, ‘La’ bless you, Massa, if they catch me with you, I’se a dead, sah,’ After some persuasion and the sight of a $10 Confederate bill, which I showed him, he decided to show us the way. When we got to his neighbor, he said, ‘I can put you through the lines, but you must hide all day and come tomorrow night before the moon comes up.’

“We hid in the negro quarters all that day. A negro that was carrying the mail for general Davis came to the cabin during that day. Seeing me, he exclaimed, ‘La bless yo, Massa, you here? Don’t be afraid. I’ll not tell anyone you here.’

“That night, we found our way back to the Negro that said he could put us through the rebel lines. He told us again he could get us through. He was doing the washing for the officers, and he had got a sack of clothes that had been washed to take to the officers. When we got near the picket line, he made us lay down until he could go and see whether everything was alright. He came back and said, ‘Everything is all right.’

“A row of earthworks had been thrown up on the opposite side from where the picket line was. Our guide told us to crawl along the ditch where the earth had been dug for the earthworks. We crawled along the ditch until we got to the road that ran along the Rapidan River. When we reached the road, we walked a few yards until we got to a mill dam.

Our guide told us, ‘We have to go below the dam to cross the river. That is because the noise of the water going over the dam will keep the guards from hearing us as we cross. Keep a sharp lookout. Some of our men go over on the far side of the river sometimes, and the guards watch for them.’ He added, more peaceful in his manner, ‘I think the guards are all in camp today.’

“After we crossed the river, we had about four more miles to walk to get to the Union pickets. When we reached them, a soldier said, ‘Halt. Who comes there?’ I replied, ‘An escaped prisoner and a Negro.’ ‘Advance,’ he said to me. I advanced. Then he called the Negro to advance.”

Next Episode: Home is the Hero

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

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Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

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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