National Tribune, 2/28/1907

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From the National Tribune, 2/28/1907

COL. STREIGHT’S ESCAPE.

One of His Companions Now Living in the Indiana Soldiers’ Home.

(By Thos. C. Mays, Co. E, 65th Ohio)

These wintry days find nearly 2,500 old veterans snugly housed in the National Soldiers’ Home at Marion, Ind., and generally grateful for the comforts conferred by a generous Government, confined to our barracks most of the time, we find opportunity to relate some of our experiences of the late civil war, and it was only a few days ago that I was apprised of the fact that we had in our ward one who had made that daring and mirculous escape from the infamous Libby Prison. He is First Lieut. Samuel Setzer, late of Co. E, 51st Ind., commanded by the late Col. A. D. Streight. Thereupon I questioned him, and I now relate some of the leading features of the terrible ordeal through which they passed, as told that day by the Lieutenant, now in the 65th year of his age.

Among the thousands of Western volunteer soldiers of the civil war there are few who did not know or hear of Col. A. D. Streight, of the 51st Ind. After a few months service his regiment was mounted, and was soon making successful raids through the enemy’s country, until he met with an overwhelming force of Wheeler’s cavalry, and his brigade was captured, or as much of it as was with him. The officers were held as prisoners of war, and the men were turned loose on parole. The prisoners were taken by freight train, by way of Knoxville, to Richmond, and were confined in an old tobacco warehouse, known as Libby Prison. It was full at the time. The sanitary condition of the prison at the time was terrible, the rations coarse, and often limited, and protection from the weather wanting, as the old building was a mere shell, but well guarded on the outside.

Col. Streight chafed under the restraint and idleness imposed on him. He wrote a note to Jefferson Davis, in which he complained that the usages of war had been ignored in his case and that of his brother officers, and that the miserable old prison was intolerable. Davis returned an answer that he (Streight) ought to be glad that he was alive. This aroused the Colonel, and it proved an unfortunate remark for the head of the Confederacy.

The scheme to tunnel out and escape was put into effect at once, as told by Lieut. Setzer, who assisted in the heroic effort, made his escape and came into the Union lines after many days of privation and hardship with his two companions - Col. Streight and Adj’t Ramsey. When Col. Streight told of the scheme his companions approved it, the thought of employment and obtaining relief from monotony cheering them. Besides, they did not know what morning they might be called out and shot.

Col. Streight, Lieut. Setzer and Adj’t Ramsey went together in front. The Colonel was a large man, and he had some difficulty in getting through the tunnel.

Aunt Rhoda, a good old colored mammy, somehow got an intimation of what was going on, and smuggled in two broken knives, with directions to come to her house when they got out and not try to leave the city “jes yet, as dey’ll hab de dogs aftah you.”

Hope came to the trio when they crawled out and saw the stars again. Jumping into the shallow creek, they went forward and reached Rhoda’s cabin with the aid of a colored guide. Here they hid in the basement for nearly a fortnight, while the excitement seemed to increase outside. Their colored friends kept them informed and supplied them with food.

On dark, rainy night they left the place after being supplied with a small quantity of provisions. They were soon under the dripping branches of the forest, following directions given them, and fully impressed with the trial before them. All night they plodded on in the cold rain, with only a vague idea as to where they were going. Common roads and byways had to be avoided so near the capital.

Taking a southwesterly course, as it was known the country north of Richmond was swarming with guerillas and bushwackers, whey pushed on thru the woods under cover, trying to reach the front, whey they had been directed by their colored friends. In the morning the rain ceased, but the cold of early Winter increased, and they were unable to find a place to rest. They had missed the place to which they had been directed, and after eating what they had left they gathered a few dry leaves from under the damp ones in a thicket and huddled together in the cold until night.

When they left Richmond Aunt Rhoda had provided each with a suit of old clothes, for which they exchanged their suits of blue. The Colonel wore an old plug hat, and under other circumstances his appearance would have provoked laughter, but they were all too much absorbed in the outcome of their venture to indulge in much pleasantry.

The second morning found them, as near as they could calculate, about 40 miles from their starting point, and they were beginning to take advantage of unused roads and private paths that led in the direction they desired to go. Finally they halted, sore, stiff and almost exhausted, chilled to the marrow, and hid in the underbrush. The Adjutant, always on the alert with a pair of sharp eyes, seeing a little smoke curling up some distance away, reconnoitered among the bushes and found a negro cabin of which they had been told. It was not long until he returned with a corn pone in one hand and a piece of hog meat in the other. They could have shouted with joy.

Another colored friend had been found, who advised them to build a fire and get thawed out, while he stood guard, and the glow of a wood fire never fell on a more grateful trio. The colored friend brought them a bundle of hay, and on this they rested until darkness closed in.

With a fair supply of food and full directions how to find a certain cabin, they started toward the hills on a 20-mile march, tho still very weary. It seemed the next morning would never come, and with heavy feet they plodded on until the first streaks of dawn began to show. [author goes on at length about the hardships suffered on the route to freedom, but eventually the party made it to Union lines. This was not transcribed.] ...Lieut. Samuel Setzer was born in Vincennes, Ind., on Jan. 10, 1842, and enlisted in Co. E, 51st Ind., in November, 1861. He weighs 200 pounds, is a man of fine physique, well preserved, jolly, good natured and companionable.

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