Confederate Veteran, Vol. 16, p. 114

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From Confederate Veteran Magazine, Vol. 16 (1908), p. 114


During the Civil War I had been confined as a prisoner in Libby Prison, and ten years after being discharged from the United States service I was suddenly seized with a desire to go South and have a look at it. As I was starting an uncle of mine insisted on giving me a letter to an old friend of his, Samuel Porcher, a Richmond merchant.

As soon as I arrived in the former Confederate capital I went down to the river bank and, handing before the old tobacco warehouse that had been my prison, looked up at it with very singular feelings. There on the street level was the door out of which I had passed in broad daylight at the imminent risk of my life and began a journey of intolerable suffering down the James River. As I stood in 1874 looking on the scene of my adventure of 1864 I scarcely realized that I was a free man, permitted to come and go as I liked. Not a uniform was to be seen; business had taken the place of war.

I was confined on the ground floor. At times the door would be left open, a guard pacing back and forth on the pavement before it. Occasionally I would go to the door and look out, usually to be ordered back. One of the sentries was an old man of about forty-five. One day at noon I went to the door and stood looking out. Everybody was at dinner, and I could see no soldier except the old sentinel, and he was not on the alert. It was a crazy thing to do; but I watched this sentinel till he turned to walk with his back to me, then like a flash slipped out of the door and ran like a deer to the corner where a street sloped down to the river. As I turned a ball came whizzing past me. The sentinel chased me; and although I was much younger, I was weak by confinement, and he caught up with me just as I was getting behind a pile of lumber. I turned and shot him with the revolver that a comrade had given me. I don’t know how he got it. Darting on, I saw a cellar window open and crawled in. Searchers passed my hiding place, but did not enter; and at dark I crawled out, dodged along down the river bank, found a boat, and floated on the historic James. How I reached Old Point Comfort and our ships would make a story of much interest.

Well, after inspecting Libby, I presented my letter of introduction to Mr. Porcher, who had a pretty daughter ten years my junior. Between us there was a case of “love at first sight.” I stayed in Richmond a long while, pretending to have business there, all the while attempting to smooth away Mr. Porcher’s prejudice against me as having been a Union soldier. When at last I thought I had him somewhat conciliated, I ventured to ask him for his daughter. He heard me through with lowering brow, and said: “I will give my consent on one condition. There is a miserable, dirty little Yankee who was a prisoner in Libby in 1864 whom I wish to kill. I was a member of the home guard and a sentinel at the prison, when one day that impudent fellow walked out of the door and ran away. I followed him. He shot me in the shoulder, from which I have suffered ever since; but I was dropped from the guard in derision.”

Mr. Porcher was going on, getting more and more excited as he proceeded, when his daughter came in anxiously and stopped him. He ended by making it a condition to our union that I promise to find that imp and give him a chance to shoot him.

I listened to this with manifest astonishment. There was something familiar about Mr. Porcher’s face and figure, and I could not get over the idea that I had seen him somewhere. I had grown whiskers and weighed fifty pounds more than when I was a prisoner. I was too much disconcerted to reply at once, but finally said: “Mr. Porcher, I promise you that within six months after my marriage with your daughter I will produce the ‘dirty little Yankee’ you refer to. I have heard of this case, and am sure I can oblige you.”

Exactly six months after making the promise I redeemed it by going to my father-in-law, with whom I had become a great favorite, and giving him permission to shoot me. He was too much astonished to avail himself of the privilege.