April 3, 1863.— Statement
of Two Who Escaped
MURFREESBOROUGH, TENN., April 3, 1863.
Hon. EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.:
DEAR SIR: Pardon us for intruding upon your private attention a few moments,
just long enough to lay before you an account of the trials of two of the party
who composed the Mitchel secret-service expedition, and after perusing the
narrative, if you can in any way promote the interests of those men (for they
are worthy of promotion) you will oblige your obedient servants and confer
lasting favors upon the men.
LEWIS E. BREWSTER,
Captain, Commanding Company E.
JOHN V. PATTERSON,
First Lieutenant, Company C, Twenty-first Ohio Volunteers.
ASA C. SPAFFORD,
Second Lieutenant, Company C, Twenty-first Ohio Volunteers.
Lieut. A. C. SPAFFORD:
SIR: You wished us to furnish a plain and unvarnished "statement" of the
troubles and trials experienced by us as parties connected with General O. M.
Mitchel's secret-service expedition. We herewith furnish you the required
information. On the 7th day of April, 1862, our company commander, Capt. A.
McMahan, came to us (Mark Wood and Alfred Wilson) and informed us it was
proposed by General Mitchel to organize a party of men who would volunteer to go
on a secret and dangerous service expedition to the State of Georgia, the
purpose of which party was to destroy railroad bridges and cut off the railroad
communication between Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Mississippi. We
volunteered to go, expecting to never return unless successful. Our division was
at this time encamped at Shelbyville, Tenn. As soon as we signified our assent
to go, we were ordered to report to J. J. Andrews, who was to be the leader of
the party. Upon reporting we found there was to be a force of twenty-two men
from the various regiments in the division, and was also informed that we would
be reimbursed for all moneys we might expend while on this service, if we
returned, whether successful or not. I, Mark Wood, expended for a suit of
citizen's clothes, revolver, and expenses incurred while traveling, $125. Alfred
Wilson expended $15, money being furnished him (Wilson) by J. J. Andrews. He
expects no remuneration further than the above $15. We proceeded from
Shelbyville, Tenn., to Chattanooga. We then went to Marietta, Ga.; from Marietta
we came back north to a place called Big Shanty. There was a large rebel force
of 20,000 men in camp at this place-Big Shanty. Here we found a train of cars
with an engine, and while the conductor and brakemen were getting their dinner
we took possession; at a given signal we jumped aboard and moved off toward
Chattanooga, cutting the telegraph wires and tearing up the track as we went.
Unfortunately for us they pursued us so close that we had not time to burn a
certain bridge to stop the pursuit. We were also delayed by having to meet five
extra trains, which we could not do without exciting suspicion.
At last, despairing of success, and after running the train 100 miles, we had to
abandon it and run our chances of getting back to the Federal lines. All of the
party, with the exception of us (Wood and Wilson), were captured the same day.
We were not captured for seven days afterward, and then we got clear by taking
the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. Seven days more passed and we were
again arrested at Stevenson, Ala., within five miles of the Federal lines. We
were recognized by the enemy as parties to the bridge burners and taken to
Chattanooga in chains. At this place we found the balance of our comrades in
chains, handcuffed, and chains around their necks secured by padlocks. The men
were in a miserable condition. We were all confined in a dark and loathsome
dungeon, only thirteen feet square---a small place, we thought, for twenty-two
men. Andrews, our leader, was [tried] by court-martial at Chattanooga and
condemned to be hung. The court-martial adjourned after trying Andrews and
removed to Knoxville, where some of the party was taken. At last we all met
together in Atlanta, Ga., when we were marched from the prison to the cars. At
Chattanooga we were chained in pairs by the neck and hands. In many instances
the chains around our necks were through the flesh to the cords, and those
around our wrists were to the bone. On the 7th day of June, 1862, Andrews was
taken out and strangled to death. It cannot be called hanging, for the cord was
so long his feet touched the ground so heavily they had to dig the earth away
from under his feet and let him gradually strangle to death. Seven more of our
comrades were hung on the 14th day of June, and on two of them the cords were so
poor that when they dropped the cords gave away and the men fell to the ground.
They, however, tried it again. The feelings of the remaining fourteen can be
more easily imagined than described. After we had seen our comrades taken out
and disposed of in the manner they were, terrible were the hours we passed,
thinking every moment we would be called upon to follow our comrades, for they
told us we were all to be hung.
Four months were passed in this suspense of feeling, when we were informed a
court-martial was about to convene to try the balance of us, and expecting
neither justice nor mercy, we made a firm resolve to either escape or die in the
attempt. The day at length arrived. The 15th day of October we broke jail,
disarmed the guard, and made our escape. We took different directions. We (Wood
and Wilson) struck out east from Atlanta. After we had traveled a few miles we
proceeded south and west in order to elude pursuit. We at last took a southerly
direction and traveled twenty-two days through Georgia, Alabama, and Florida,
eating only five meals of victuals during the twenty-two days, aside from the
berries we gathered in the woods. We had no money, and had to travel nights to
prevent being retaken. We at last arrived at Apalachicola, Fla., on the Gulf
coast, where we found the blockading of the Federal Navy. Oh, how the Stars and
Stripes did cheer our depressed spirits. When we first caught a glimpse of them
our trials and troubles for months were as nothing compared with the joy of that
moment. We forgot everything. We were taken on board of the gunboat Somerset,
and treated very kindly by Captain Crosman. We were sent to Key West, and from
there to Beaufort, S.C. At this place we were ordered to report to Colonel
Hoffman, commissary-general of prisoners at Washington. Colonel Hoffman gave us
a report to forward to the general of this department through my colonel,
stating it would be unjust to place us in a position to be retaken again, for if
we were we should be tried and executed as spies. Colonel Hoffman then ordered
us to report to our regiments, which we did, and arrived at this place during
the month of February, and were put on duty in the company and have been doing
duty ever since. We have never been remunerated for money expended, nor have we
been paid anything for rations not drawn. We enlisted to serve the Federal
cause, and are willing, if the country demands it, to give our lives; at the
same time we would like to be placed in such positions that we need not fear the
gallows; nor yet do we wish to leave the service, for there are certain parties
in the Confederacy, so styled, that we would like to meet again, but not in the
same circumstances we did at first. We certify the above to be a true and
J. ALFRED WILSON,
[10.] Members of Company C, 21st Regt. Ohio Vols., U. S. Army.
The war of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records
of the Union and Confederate Armies; Series 1 - Volume 52 (Part I), 1898, U.S.
Government Printing Office