Lake County History Chapter 86: The Tunnel

The second man with me was a Lieutenant. He and I stopped our escape and pulled out of the tunnel. We were ready to stampede up the stairs again to escape punishment for our attempt to escape. I told him, ‘I am going out no matter the outcry from the guards. Will you go with me?’ He said, ‘I have no food to take with us.’ I told him, ‘I have plenty, and I will give you half.’ Upon my saying this, instantly, he entered the tunnel and was gone.”

“I followed him, but I never saw him again. Probably, he was captured. When I came out on the other side, I tread the streets of Richmond as if I was a citizen. Walking deliberately, I kept my eye out for guards. They were everywhere. They had small fires going. Trying to appear as if everything was normal, I spoke to each person I met in a friendly way. After a while, I got on a road that, I believed, might lead me out of the city to someplace safer.”

“As I walked, once I heard cavalry coming. I jumped over a fence and fell into a small ravine where I lay all day. It was so cold the clothes froze on my back. When daylight came, I discovered I was next to a cornfield where some men had gathered. I waited until nightfall and moved again as fast as I was able to walk. For three nights, I walked until about ten o’clock on the fourth night.”

“That was when I heard someone coming behind me, so I hid behind a tree until that person got opposite of where I was hiding. It proved to be a Negro. I went to him and said, ‘I am lost. Can you tell me where I am?’ He replied, ‘You are seven miles from Richmond,’ then he added, ‘I know who you are.’ ‘Who am I?’ I asked. ‘You are one of the escaped prisoners from Libby Prison,’ he answered.”

“I did not believe he would report me, and next I asked him, ‘Am I on the right road to the Union lines?’ He said, ‘Yes, but a squad of cavalry has been hunting for you all day. I believe that is all there are… but you must keep a sharp lookout.’”

The Union Army was at Fort Monroe at the mouth of the James River. Under the command of General McClellan, was thirty miles from the Confederate Capitol with thousands of infantrymen. The soldiers were outfitted to the nines and loaded down with gear. They had been shipped aboard Navy transports and carried on Navy steamships down the Potomac River, ready to march. The Union lines, a few miles from Richmond, was Captain Scudamore’s objective.

“I traveled as hard as I could, and I hid out in some brush when I heard someone coming.  My legs gave out so I couldn’t walk. I heard some men chopping wood. I thought if they are Negroes, I will be all right. I crawled out to where I could see and saw they were Negroes. I went to them and told them who I was. ‘There were three cavalrymen here looking for you just a while ago,’ one man said. One of the Negros told me, ‘Go and hide away out of sight and I will come and take care of you.’

Next Episode: Helped by a Slave

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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