Chapter VII: PRISON LIFE IN 1865, CONTINUED - ATTEMPTED ESCAPE, AS TOLD BY MY FATHER.
[Note: "Frank" is Mrs. Mudd's family nickname, from her middle name Frances.]
[Note: "Frank" is Mrs. Mudd's family nickname, from her middle name Frances.]
Letter from my father to his brother-in-law, Mr. Jere Dyer:
Fort Jefferson, Tortugas Island, Fla., September 30, 1865.
My dear Jere:
I wrote to you and Frank by the last steamer, but at the same time intended to arrive before it. Providence was against me. I was too well known and was apprehended five or ten minutes after being aboard the steamer. They were so much rejoiced at finding me, they did not care to look much farther; the consequence was, the boat went off and carried away four other prisoners, who no doubt will make good their escape. I suppose this attempt of mine to escape will furnish the dealers in newspapers matter for comment, and a renewal of the calumnious charges against me. Could the world know to what a degraded condition the prisoners of this place have been reduced recently, they, instead of censure, would give me credit for making the attempt. This place is now wholly guarded by negro troops with the exception of a few white officers. I was told by members of the 161st N. Y. V. Reg., that so soon as they departed, the prisoners would be denied many of their former privileges, and life would be very insecure in their hands. This has already proved true; a parcel of new rules and regulations have already been made and are being enforced, which sensibly decreases our former liberties.
For attempting to make my escape, I was put in the guard-house, with chains on hands and feet, and closely confined for two days. An order then came from the Major for me to be put to hard labor, wheeling sand. I was placed under a boss, who put me to cleaning old bricks. I worked hard all day, and came very near finishing one brick. The order also directs the Provost Marshal to have me closely confined on the arrival of every steamer and until she departs. I know not how long this state of things will continue. I have arrived at that state of mind at which I feel indifferent to what treatment I am subjected. The 161st N. Y. Reg. were very kind and generous to me, and I was as much induced by them to make the attempt to take French leave as my own inclination and judgment dictated. I am now thrown out of my former position, chief of dispensary, and not likely to be reinstated. I know not what degree of degradation they may have in store for me. I was forced, under the penalty of being shot, to inform on one of the crew who promised to secrete me aboard. They have him still in close confinement, and will likely try him before court martial for the offense. I have written a note to the Major and have seen the Provost Marshal, and have taken upon myself the whole blame and responsibility of the affair, yet they pay little or no attention, and the young fellow is still kept in close confinement.
I don’t regret the loss of my position. Take away the honor attached, the labor was more confining than any other place or avocation on the island. At the same time it relieved me of the disagreeable necessity of witnessing men starve for the nutriment essential for a sick man, when it could be had with no trouble and but a little expense. Four prisoners have died during the short time I have been here; the last one died the morning I made my attempt to escape. Not a single soldier or citizen laborer has died or suffered with any serious sickness; thereby showing something wrong, something unfair, and a distinction made between the two classes of individuals. Every case of acute dysentery or diarrhea among the prisoners, either dies in the onset or lingers on and terminates in the chronic, which eventually kills.
We have a disease here which is termed bone fever, or mild yellow fever, which has attacked at least three-fourths of the inmates of the Fort. It lasts generally but two or three days; during the time, the patient imagines every bone will break from the enormous pain he suffers in his limbs. None has died with it.
I have not been a day sick or unwell, owing no doubt to the fact of my thoughts being concentrated upon home, my dear Frank, and the children. Little did I think I would ever become the veriest slave and lose the control of my own actions, but such, unfortunately, is too true, and God, I suppose, only knows whether these misfortunes will terminate with my frail existence, or that after being broken down with cares and afflictions of every kind, I be returned to my family a burden, more than a help and consoler. My only hope now is with you and the influence you can bring to bear. To be relieved from my present situation, I would be willing to live in poverty the balance of my days with heaven my only hope of reward. If money be necessary, sell everything that I possess, and what might be allotted by poor Papa from his already exhausted means.
I feel that I am able now, and have resolution to make a decent living in any section of the world in which I am thrown by the Grace and Providence of the Almighty.
It strikes me that the Hon. Reverdy Johnson, Montgomery Blair, and many others whose principles and opinions are growing daily more popular - their influence could be easily brought to bear in my behalf. You fail to give me any idea of what was being done or any reasons for me to hope for relief by any certain time. You may have omitted this for prudential reasons. I have been too careless in my language among the evil disposed. They have never failed to misinterpret my language and meaning, and to omit everything having a tendency to exonerate me.
Knowing this, I shall be the keeper or guardian of my own thoughts and words for the future. I never knew how corrupt the world was before being visited by my recent calamities and troubles. They have shamefully lied and detracted everything I have said or done - a privilege for the future they shall never have.
No doubt they will get up a great sensation in regard to my attempted escape. Some thirty or forty have made their escape, or attempts to do so, since I have been here, and there never was anything thought of them. Since my unlucky attempt, everything seems to have been put in commotion, and most unfounded suspicions, rumors, etc., started.
My only object for leaving at the time I attempted, was to avoid the greater degradation, and insecurity of life, and at the same time be united again with my precious little family. I don’t perceive why there is so much odium attached, as the authorities, by their harsh and cruel treatment, endeavor to make believe.
I will soon be returned to some duty more compatible with my qualifications. In the mean time, assure Frank and all that I am well and hearty, and as determined as ever. Write soon. Give my unbounded love to all at home, and believe me most truly and devotedly, Yours, etc.,
S. A. MUDD.
Oct. 1st. - I am constrained before mailing this, to acquaint you with the following: The young man Kelly, and Smith who was locked up with him, and bound with chains and thrown in a place they denominate the dungeon, on my account, freed themselves from their chains, broke out the iron-grated window, let themselves down from the window by the chains with which they were bound, stole a boat, and made good their escape last night.
Smith was one of the most outrageous thieves that ever walked. You would marvel to hear him tell of his wonderful feats and thefts. Kelly promised to secrete me aboard the steamer, and to save my life. I was necessitated to inform on him. He was brought to the same room in which I was locked. He excused me, and said that the Commandant was a fool to think that they could hold him upon this island, which has proved too true. The authorities are no doubt much disappointed and chagrined at this unexpected occurrence. I feel much relieved.
Yours as ever, etc., SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Fla., October 5, 1865.
My dear Jere:
A vessel is about leaving port. I take advantage of it to drop you a few hasty lines. I forgot to mention, in the letters previously written, to inform you that none of the drafts, that I drew upon you, will be presented for payment. I was fortunate in being able to borrow twenty-five dollars; the check, so soon as I can obtain the money, will go to liquidate it. I shall endeavor to be as economical as possible, knowing to what straits my family has been already reduced. The only need I have for money is to purchase a few vegetables, and supply myself with tobacco. The only article of clothing I need is shirts. The Government furnishes flannel shirts, which I find very pleasant in damp weather, but very disagreeable and warm in dry sunshine.
If the friends of Arnold and O’Laughlin should send a box of clothing to them, you may put in a couple of brown linen, or check linen, shirts and a couple pairs cotton drawers. You may not bother yourself to this extent if you anticipate an early release. My clothing is sufficient to come home in. I will need no more money before the first of December, or latter part of November. It generally takes a letter ten or twelve days to reach this place, so anticipate the period, and send me twenty-five dollars in greenbacks. Address your letters to me, and not in care of any one, and I will get them without fail. Write me soon and let me know whether my attempted escape caused much comment in the Northern papers. I fear it will have the effect to again agitate the question. I had written so often and desired information and council, that I became truly impatient and vexed. I expected to hear something from Ewing or Stone, but not a word have I received from either. I received a letter a few days ago which gave me more consolation and hope than any yet come to hand, from Henry (his brother). Had I received such a letter earlier I would have been content, and would never have acted as I did. I would have succeeded, only for meeting a party aboard, who knew me, before I could arrive at my hiding-place. I was informed on almost immediately, and was taken in custody by the guard. I regret only one thing, being necessitated to inform on the party who had promised to befriend me. It was all done by the mere slip of the tongue, and without reflection; but perhaps it was all providential. He is now free, having made good his escape with a notorious thief with whom he was locked up. I understand, after escaping from the dungeon, in which they were confined, they robbed the sutler of fifty dollars in money, as much clothing as they needed, and a plenty of eatables in the way of canned fruits, preserves, meats, etc. Six prisoners made good their escape on the same boat upon which I was so unfortunate. It seems they were too much elated to look farther after my apprehension.
I am taking my present hardship as a joke. I am not put back in the least. I will soon assume my former position, or one equally respectable. The only thing connected with my present attitude is the name, and not the reality. I have no labor to perform, yet I am compelled to answer roll-call, and to sleep in the guard-house at night. This will not last longer than this week. Write soon, give me all the news, and continue to send me papers. I have received several from you, Frank, and some have been sent from New York by unknown parties, which afforded me considerable recreation. Give my love to all at home, and send this, after reading, to Frank, so that she may know that I am well, etc. I am sorry Tom is going to leave so early. I am under the greatest obligations to him for interest and kindness manifested. I am in hopes my release won’t be long deferred, when I shall be able to see you all.
The following pointed and manly letter from Hon. Charles A. Eldredge, Representative in Congress from the Fourth Congressional District of Wisconsin, to Judge-Advocate Holt, speaks for itself:
[From the Ohio Crisis, October 11, 1865]
Fond du Lac, September 25, 1865.
My Dear Sir: The following circular letter addressed to me has been duly received, to wit:
“BUREAU of MILITARY JUSTICE,
“Washington, September 12, 1865.
“By direction of the Secretary of War a number of copies of the argument of Hon. John A. Bingham in the case of the assassin conspirators, and also a number of copies of the opinion of Attorney-General Speed, are sent enclosed in envelopes to you, in order that they may be well distributed throughout your district.
It is especially desirable that the legal profession should be furnished with the information which these documents contain.
“J. HOLT, Advocate-General.”
The copies of the argument and opinion which you desire “may be well distributed” in my district, are also received. The importance of it to yourself and the Secretary of War may or may not justify the large expense consequent upon the publication and distribution. The people of my district will not, I presume, mind the expense in these times of light taxation.
But I trust you will pardon me the suggestion that black and horrible as is the crime in the consideration of all good men, of the assassination of President Lincoln, neither the blackness of that crime nor the arguments and opinions of those learned gentlemen, will prevent my constituents, and when the history thereof comes to be written, posterity generally, from branding military trials of civilians as infamous violations of the Constitution and laws.
Do not, I pray you, flatter yourself that you and the Secretary of War can, by the circulation of these documents at your own or the people’s expense, convince your countrymen that arrests without warrant, imprisonment without trial, sentences without conviction, trial without indictment or jury, and the worse than mockery of your victims in military trials, are anything but crimes--gross outrages of the people’s rights and liberties, and violations of the people’s Constitution. Respectfully,
CHARLES A. ELDREDGE.
The documents forwarded Mr. Eldredge for distribution, intended as a defense of military commissions for the trial of citizens, were printed at the expense of the people, and were forwarded by mail free of postage.
Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida, October 18, 1865.
My dearest Frank:
You will no doubt, ere this reaches you, see some mention in the newspapers of my effort to get away. I learn from a friend a pretty lengthy account has been sent on for publication. My dear Frank, it is bad enough to be a prisoner in the hands of white men, your equals under the Constitution, but to be lorded over by a set of ignorant, prejudiced and irresponsible beings of the unbleached humanity, was more than I could submit to, when I had every reason to believe my chances of escape almost certain, and would be crowned with success. Connected with this inspiring hope, and an early union with you and our precious little children, the higher-minded and unprejudiced mind would rather give me credit than blame for the attempt. Why should I be expected to act more honorable than my persecutors, who sent me here? Have they not, from the beginning to the present, endeavored to degrade and humiliate by previously unknown and unheard of tortures and cruelties even in an uncivilized community, to lower us, the victims of injustice, beneath the dignity of the brute creation?
My darling wife, when I am capable of beholding with a serene eye the mild and beneficent sway of the Fathers of the Republic, and the former prestige of the American Flag, the shield, the protection of the citizen, be he at home or in a foreign land, vindicated, then I shall calmly and patiently submit. I am resolved henceforth to yield my opinion, and bear up against all the indignities and hardships they can heap upon me, to the better judgment of my advisers, to God, and the justice of my cause.
You need have no further apprehension regarding my conduct. I have not had a cross word with an individual, soldier or prisoner, since I have been closeted upon this island of woe and misery. I have striven to the utmost of my ability to render myself and those around me comfortable, visiting the sick, and saving my scanty means to the last dime. So for the future, make yourself easy, and rest assured that I will be guilty of no act that will ever have the tendency to compromise my cause. I think hard of my lawyers ; they know how ignorant I am of law, and they should have extended all the necessary advice and counsel, which I repeatedly asked for. No mortal mind can appreciate the feelings of one who has been so foully dealt with, and separated suddenly and violently from family and all near and dear, and banished hundreds of miles away, - no opportunities afforded of being visited, and but imperfect and irregular mail facilities, for no fault, and for having done my duty to God and man. To bear patiently under such circumstances requires more than human strength. I trust my present good resolutions will be supported by grace from above, through the prayerful mediation of you and all.
I fear, my dear Frank, you may be in need of money, etc. I enclose in this some medical bills. Try to collect them. You may think and say, “What is the use of all this, Sam will be home time enough to attend to it himself,” but take my advice, and do not rely too much on hopes. Make sure of this means; pay off hirelings, and purchase all necessary family supplies for yourself and children. Make provision always for a more unpropitious day. The time may be close at hand when you may be reduced to an even worse condition than at present. I perceive a betrayal of your anticipations and hopes by the kind offer to send me clothing, money and other articles. If my release is to be so speedy, there will be no necessity for them. I can come home in anything. I have learned to disregard the mocks and jeers of this cold and uncharitable world. If it was no fault of my own, I would take a delight in walking the streets of New York on my way home on my knees; but if Providence favors me with a speedy release, I will return by way of New Orleans and through the South.
On the 12th, three more prisoners made good their escape, taking a boat just from under the eyes of the guard in open daylight, about 12 o’clock, and succeeded in getting some eight or nine miles before the loss of the boat was discovered, when they observed it was useless to pursue. These cases never will be known to the public; but cases in which party interests are involved, will find no opportunity of escaping.
Since my effort to get away, eleven have made good their escape, all of whom were sentenced for a long period of years. Do not view my act with dishonor. I am a prisoner under guard, not under a parole, and under no obligations to remain if I can successfully evade and free myself. You will, when you write, inform me whether the act has, or will have, any injurious tendency, also send me the comments of the press, should there be any. When you see any article in the papers to which you wish to direct my attention, mark it around with a lead pencil or pen. You may rely upon my remaining perfectly quiet and content, until I receive a hint from you to act to the contrary. I am for the shortest road home, no matter how difficult. My letters for the future will not be so lengthy. I will write every opportunity, but we fear, owing to a recent change in the government of the Post, will be denied many of our former privileges.
Arnold was clerk in the Provost Marshal’s office, and without any cause assigned, has been ordered to hard labor. We will endeavor to deport ourselves as always, as true gentlemen and as men conscious of innocence, and of the gross wrongs and injuries inflicted. Be assured and satisfied that the ills we now suffer proceed from no act of mine, or ours. I am compelled to sleep now in the guard-house, but I am presumed to be doing hard work. It is of little importance as regards labor. Those assigned to active duty are generally the healthiest, which is more than a compensation for the change.
My heart almost bleeds sometimes when I think of you and our dear little children, and the many pleasant hours we used to enjoy together. I feel they will be too large for me to handle when I shall be a free man again, and be able to return to you. My love and devotion appears to increase with every day. With the change from the white to the colored regiment, many of our former privileges have been denied; yet we are determined not to give them the least cause to complain, and for the future I am determined not to leave or make an attempt without the proper authority. I would not have thought of such a thing, were it not for a change in the government of the Post.
Give my love to all, Ma, Pa, and all the family, and tell them to write. I am consoled by every letter. I don’t wish you to write anything that may have a tendency (if made public) to be detrimental to my cause. Letters are no doubt read by - for that purpose, and notes taken of them, and then suffered to proceed. The last letter I received, was dated September 22, and mailed from Baltimore October 8. Exercise prudence. I don’t expect you will be able to do much until after the trial of Wintz, Davis & Co.
Good-by, my sweet, precious wife and dear little ones. God bless you all.
Yours, etc., S. M.
Fort Jefferson, Tortugas, Florida, October 23, 1865.
My dearest Wife:
I wrote you on the 10th and 11th. Since then orders have been promulgated to look into all correspondence leaving the Post, as well as those arriving, so for the future you need not trouble yourself to be lengthy or make public your domestic affairs. I am very well, although at present confined to a small damp room with Arnold, O’Loughlin, Spangler, and a Colonel Grenfel, formerly an English Officer, but recently of the Confederate Army. What has led to this treatment, we are at a loss to account. We have all deported ourselves as gentlemen, and as Christians.
Do not let this trouble you, I have already borne worse, and I am in hopes, through the mercies of God, to live through these hardships and be a consolation to you and my dear little family. We are now guarded by a negro regiment. Good-by. Pray for me, and give my love to all.
Your devoted husband,
The following letter from my uncle, Mr. Jere Dyer, to my mother, gives some idea of the efforts that were being made to secure my father’s release:
Baltimore, November 6, 1865.
Your truly welcome letter did not reach me until this morning, and ex-Governor Ford of Ohio did not leave here until Wednesday. He promised to call to see me before leaving, but failed to do so. He sent a gentleman to see me to apologize for not calling, and also to tell me he met with every success. He had several interviews with Webster, who was in Congress last winter, but is now Collector of this port, having recently been appointed by the President, and he is decidedly in favor of his release. He has promised the Governor his influence, and also told his messenger that everything was working to his entire satisfaction, and he was quite sanguine of success. God grant it; but still, my dear child, be not too sanguine, for you know everything in this life is very uncertain. We, too, have our part to perform, namely: send our petitions to Him who is mightier than man. He may not at first hear us as speedily as we wish, but He has promised that whatever we ask in His name, will be granted. He will not refuse much longer, and will soon return him to you.
I am sorry to hear you have another case of typhoid fever. It seems indeed you have your full share of trouble; but, my child, you must try and be patient, and bear them with Christian resignation, and God will send you your reward.
Poor Cousin Henry - it seems fate is bearing hard on him. How I pity him. He has never known trouble before. Providence truly smiled on him in his younger days, and it does seem hard he should have so many troubles now he is old.
I mailed you Sam’s letters last Tuesday. You did not mention having received them. I judge you have not sent to the office. I find they are keeping a pretty close guard over them, but I am satisfied it will not last very long. I suppose they only wanted to try and make him say or do something for them to publish, and try and keep up some excitement against him, but I know he has learned by sad experience to be too much on his guard to give them any further excuse for their villainy and rascality.
I am going to R. I. Brent’s office this evening to show him Sam’s letters. He is very anxious to see them. Although he is a copper-head, he is a big man, and a warm friend.
Frank, I am always at work whenever there is the slightest chance of doing anything. I try to keep him before all the big men, and make them talk about his case. You know every opinion has its weight, so you must be hopeful, not too sanguine as to any particular time. My own opinion is, from all I can gather, we may reasonably expect him home between this and the first of January. I wrote him a very long letter and mailed it two days before your last one, in which I told him I hoped to see him at the foot of his table on Christmas Day carving that big old gobbler.
Well, I have not had a frolic for a long time, and if it is the will of Heaven it should be so, I hardly think my Heavenly Father would do anything with me for taking two glasses of egg-nog. Do you? Love to all.