All men having money or valuables were under continual espionage, and
when found in places convenient for attack, a rush was made for them.
They were knocked down and their persons rifled with such swift dexterity
that it was done before they realized what had happened.
At first these depredations were only perpetrated at night. The quarry
was selected during the day, and arrangements made for a descent. After
the victim was asleep the band dashed down upon him, and sheared him of
his goods with incredible swiftness. Those near would raise the cry of
“Raiders!” and attack the robbers. If the latter had secured their booty
they retreated with all possible speed, and were soon lost in the crowd.
If not, they would offer battle, and signal for assistance from the other
bands. Severe engagements of this kind were of continual occurrence, in
which men were so badly beaten as to die from the effects. The weapons
used were fists, clubs, axes, tent-poles, etc. The Raiders were
plentifully provided with the usual weapons of their class–slung-shots
and brass-knuckles. Several of them had succeeded in smuggling bowie-
knives into prison.
They had the great advantage in these rows of being well acquainted with
each other, while, except the Plymouth Pilgrims, the rest of the
prisoners were made up of small squads of men from each regiment in the
service, and total strangers to all outside of their own little band.
The Raiders could concentrate, if necessary, four hundred or five hundred
men upon any point of attack, and each member of the gangs had become so
familiarized with all the rest by long association in New York, and
elsewhere, that he never dealt a blow amiss, while their opponents were
nearly as likely to attack friends as enemies.
By the middle of June the continual success of the Raiders emboldened
them so that they no longer confined their depredations to the night,
but made their forays in broad daylight, and there was hardly an hour in
the twenty-four that the cry of “Raiders! Raiders!” did, not go up from
some part of the pen, and on looking in the direction of the cry, one
would see a surging commotion, men struggling, and clubs being plied
vigorously. This was even more common than the guards shooting men at
the Creek crossing.
One day I saw “Dick Allen’s Raiders,” eleven in number, attack a man
wearing the uniform of Ellett’s Marine Brigade. He was a recent comer,
and alone, but he was brave. He had come into possession of a spade, by
some means or another, and he used this with delightful vigor and effect.
Two or three times he struck one of his assailants so fairly on the head
and with such good will that I congratulated myself that he had killed
him. Finally, Dick Allen managed to slip around behind him unnoticed,
and striking him on the head with a slung-shot, knocked him down, when
the whole crowd pounced upon him to kill him, but were driven off by
others rallying to his assistance.
The proceeds of these forays enabled the Raiders to wax fat and lusty,
while others were dying from starvation. They all had good tents,
constructed of stolen blankets, and their headquarters was a large, roomy
tent, with a circular top, situated on the street leading to the South
Gate, and capable of accommodating from seventy-five to one hundred men.
All the material for this had been wrested away from others. While
hundreds were dying of scurvy and diarrhea, from the miserable,
insufficient food, and lack of vegetables, these fellows had flour, fresh
meat, onions, potatoes, green beans, and other things, the very looks of
which were a torture to hungry, scorbutic, dysenteric men. They were on
the best possible terms with the Rebels, whom they fawned upon and
groveled before, and were in return allowed many favors, in the way of
trading, going out upon detail, and making purchases.
Among their special objects of attack were the small traders in the
prison. We had quite a number of these whose genius for barter was so
strong that it took root and flourished even in that unpropitious soil,
and during the time when new prisoners were constantly coming in with
money, they managed to accumulate small sums–from ten dollars upward, by
trading between the guards and the prisoners. In the period immediately
following a prisoner’s entrance he was likely to spend all his money and
trade off all his possessions for food, trusting to fortune to get him
out of there when these were gone. Then was when he was profitable to
these go-betweens, who managed to make him pay handsomely for what he
got. The Raiders kept watch of these traders, and plundered them
whenever occasion served. It reminded one of the habits of the fishing
eagle, which hovers around until some other bird catches a fish, and then
takes it away.
A COMMUNITY WITHOUT GOVERNMENT–FORMATION OF THE REGULATORS–RAIDERS
ATTACK KEY BUT ARE BLUFFED OFF–ASSAULT OF THE REGULATORS ON THE RAIDERS
–DESPERATE BATTLE–OVERTHROW OF THE RAIDERS.
To fully appreciate the condition of affairs let it be remembered that we
were a community of twenty-five thousand boys and young men–none too
regardful of control at best–and now wholly destitute of government.
The Rebels never made the slightest attempt to maintain order in the
prison. Their whole energies were concentrated in preventing our escape.
So long as we staid inside the Stockade, they cared as little what we did
there as for the performances of savages in the interior of Africa.
I doubt if they would have interfered had one-half of us killed and eaten
the other half. They rather took a delight in such atrocities as came to
their notice. It was an ocular demonstration of the total depravity of
Among ourselves there was no one in position to lay down law and enforce
it. Being all enlisted men we were on a dead level as far as rank was
concerned–the highest being only Sergeants, whose stripes carried no
weight of authority. The time of our stay was–it was hoped–too
transient to make it worth while bothering about organizing any form of
government. The great bulk of the boys were recent comers, who hoped
that in another week or so they would be out again. There were no fat
salaries to tempt any one to take upon himself the duty of ruling the
masses, and all were left to their own devices, to do good or evil,
according to their several bents, and as fear of consequences swayed
them. Each little squad of men was a law unto themselves, and made and
enforced their own regulations on their own territory. The administration
of justice was reduced to its simplest terms. If a fellow did wrong he
was pounded–if there was anybody capable of doing it. If not he went
The almost unvarying success of the Raiders in–their forays gave the
general impression that they were invincible–that is, that not enough
men could be concentrated against them to whip them. Our ill-success in
the attack we made on them in April helped us to the same belief. If we
could not beat them then, we could not now, after we had been enfeebled
by months of starvation and disease. It seemed to us that the Plymouth
Pilgrims, whose organization was yet very strong, should undertake the
task; but, as is usually the case in this world, where we think somebody
else ought to undertake the performance of a disagreeable public duty,
they did not see it in the light that we wished them to. They
established guards around their squads, and helped beat off the Raiders
when their own territory was invaded, but this was all they would do.
The rest of us formed similar guards. In the southwest corner of the
Stockade–where I was–we formed ourselves into a company of fifty active
boys–mostly belonging to my own battalion and to other Illinois
regiments–of which I was elected Captain. My First Lieutenant was a
tall, taciturn, long-armed member of the One Hundred and Eleventh
Illinois, whom we called “Egypt,” as he came from that section of the
State. He was wonderfully handy with his fists. I think he could knock
a fellow down so that he would fall-harder, and lie longer than any
person I ever saw. We made a tacit division of duties: I did the
talking, and “Egypt” went through the manual labor of knocking our
opponents down. In the numerous little encounters in which our company
was engaged, “Egypt” would stand by my side, silent, grim and patient,
while I pursued the dialogue with the leader of the other crowd. As soon
as he thought the conversation had reached the proper point, his long
left arm stretched out like a flash, and the other fellow dropped as if
he had suddenly come in range of a mule that was feeling well. That
unexpected left-hander never failed. It would have made Charles Reade’s
heart leap for joy to see it.
In spite of our company and our watchfulness, the Raiders beat us badly
on one occasion. Marion Friend, of Company I of our battalion, was one
of the small traders, and had accumulated forty dollars by his bartering.
One evening at dusk Delaney’s Raiders, about twenty-five strong, took
advantage of the absence of most of us drawing rations, to make a rush
for Marion. They knocked him down, cut him across the wrist and neck
with a razor, and robbed him of his forty dollars. By the time we could
rally Delaney and his attendant scoundrels were safe from pursuit in the
midst of their friends.
This state of things had become unendurable. Sergeant Leroy L. Key,
of Company M, our battalion, resolved to make an effort to crush the
Raiders. He was a printer, from Bloomington, Illinois, tall, dark,
intelligent and strong-willed, and one of the bravest men I ever knew.
He was ably seconded by “Limber Jim,” of the Sixty-Seventh Illinois,
whose lithe, sinewy form, and striking features reminded one of a young
Sioux brave. He had all of Key’s desperate courage, but not his brains
or his talent for leadership. Though fearfully reduced in numbers, our
battalion had still about one hundred well men in it, and these formed
the nucleus for Key’s band of “Regulators,” as they were styled. Among
them were several who had no equals in physical strength and courage in
any of the Raider chiefs. Our best man was Ned Carrigan, Corporal of
Company I, from Chicago–who was so confessedly the best man in the whole
prison that he was never called upon to demonstrate it. He was a big-
hearted, genial Irish boy, who was never known to get into trouble on his
own account, but only used his fists when some of his comrades were
imposed upon. He had fought in the ring, and on one occasion had killed
a man with a single blow of his fist, in a prize fight near St. Louis.
We were all very proud of him, and it was as good as an entertainment to
us to see the noisiest roughs subside into deferential silence as Ned
would come among them, like some grand mastiff in the midst of a pack of
yelping curs. Ned entered into the regulating scheme heartily. Other
stalwart specimens of physical manhood in our battalion were Sergeant
Goody, Ned Johnson, Tom Larkin, and others, who, while not approaching
Carrigan’s perfect manhood, were still more than a match for the best of
Key proceeded with the greatest secrecy in the organization of his
forces. He accepted none but Western men, and preferred Illinoisans,
Iowans, Kansans, Indianians and Ohioans. The boys from those States
seemed to naturally go together, and be moved by the same motives.
He informed Wirz what he proposed doing, so that any unusual commotion
within the prison might not be mistaken for an attempt upon the Stockade,
and made the excuse for opening with the artillery. Wirz, who happened
to be in a complaisant humor, approved of the design, and allowed him the
use of the enclosure of the North Gate to confine his prisoners in.
In spite of Key’s efforts at secrecy, information as to his scheme
reached the Raiders. It was debated at their headquarters, and decided
there that Key must be killed. Three men were selected to do this work.
They called on Key, a dusk, on the evening of the 2d of July. In
response to their inquiries, he came out of the blanket-covered hole on
the hillside that he called his tent. They told him what they had heard,
and asked if it was true. He said it was. One of them then drew a
knife, and the other two, “billies” to attack him. But, anticipating
trouble, Key had procured a revolver which one of the Pilgrims had
brought in in his knapsack and drawing this he drove them off, but
without firing a shot.
The occurrence caused the greatest excitement. To us of the Regulators
it showed that the Raiders had penetrated our designs, and were prepared
for them. To the great majority of the prisoners it was the first
intimation that such a thing was contemplated; the news spread from squad
to squad with the greatest rapidity, and soon everybody was discussing
the chances of the movement. For awhile men ceased their interminable
discussion of escape and exchange–let those over worked words and themes
have a rare spell of repose–and debated whether the Raiders would whip
the regulators, or the Regulators conquer the Raiders. The reasons which
I have previously enumerated, induced a general disbelief in the
probability of our success. The Raiders were in good health well fed,
used to operating together, and had the confidence begotten by a long
series of successes. The Regulators lacked in all these respects.
Whether Key had originally fixed on the next day for making the attack,
or whether this affair precipitated the crisis, I know not, but later in
the evening he sent us all order: to be on our guard all night, and ready
for action the next morning.
There was very little sleep anywhere that night. The Rebels learned
through their spies that something unusual was going on inside, and as
their only interpretation of anything unusual there was a design upon the
Stockade, they strengthened the guards, took additional precautions in
every way, and spent the hours in anxious anticipation.
We, fearing that the Raiders might attempt to frustrate the scheme by an
attack in overpowering force on Key’s squad, which would be accompanied
by the assassination of him and Limber Jim, held ourselves in readiness
to offer any assistance that might be needed.
The Raiders, though confident of success, were no less exercised. They
threw out pickets to all the approaches to their headquarters, and
provided otherwise against surprise. They had smuggled in some canteens
of a cheap, vile whisky made from sorghum–and they grew quite hilarious
in their Big Tent over their potations. Two songs had long ago been
accepted by us as peculiarly the Raiders’ own–as some one in their crowd
sang them nearly every evening, and we never heard them anywhere else.
The first began:
In Athol lived a man named Jerry Lanagan;
He battered away till he hadn’t a pound.
His father he died, and he made him a man agin;
Left him a farm of ten acres of ground.
The other related the exploits of an Irish highwayman named Brennan,
whose chief virtue was that
«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 | View All | Next -»