Diary of 1st Lieutenant Alonzo Cooper
12th New York Cavalry
Company F


Train ride from Charleston to Columbia

On the 5th of October, we were again on board a train, and this time our destination was Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. We were placed in box cars, [13] with two guards at each door, some of the same men who had been guarding us while in Charleston, and with whom we had been on terms of intimacy, we having been allowed many privileges while on parole, and had not been under as strict surveillance as heretofore, being permitted to go in and out during the day, whenever we pleased, and had gained the confidence of our guardians to such an extent, that they did not think it necessary to watch us very closely. This we thought would be a good chance to escape. It was agreed between us that Captains Cady, [1] Hock [2] and Eastmond [3] and Lieut. Masters [4] should jump from the car, which was running only about ten or twelve miles an hour, and I was to go on to Columbia with our baggage, of which we had considerable, so that in case of recapture, they would not lose all of this, to us, valuable property, but would again be in condition to commence housekeeping. Cady and Masters sat in the door with their legs hanging out, and I sat beside the guard, and after dark got into conversation with him. I had a pine stick, which I was whittling, and as he would frequently bring his gun to an order beside me, I managed to remove the cap from his gun, and insert this pine stick into the tube.

This I communicated to my comrades. I then went back, and, standing alongside of this verdant reb, soon had him in good humor by getting off some funny yarns, joking, laughing and keeping him amused by swapping lies with him, until he thought I was one of the jolliest Yanks he bad ever seen. And I did feel jolly, for I had a dead sure thing on him. We finally got on such friendly terms that he asked me to hold his gun while he took off his shoe to see what in h-1 it was hurt his foot so; some dog gone thing was pestering him awfully; he reckoned it was a dog gone peg sticking up thar. Now was their time, and if I only had his belt containing the caps and cartridges, it would have been my time, too. We were passing through a swampy piece of woods, and none of us knew how deep it was or how far to high ground; but Capt.Cady and Lieut. Masters took in the situation and jumped. To show myself worthy of the confidence he had reposed in me, I snapped the old musket, but that only served to drive the pine plug more securely into the tube, and by the time he had put on a new cap they were out of range, even if the gun bad been discharged. He exploded the cap, however, in the direction of the fugitives, and then relieved himself by cursing the d-n old gun; but my zeal was duly recognized, and our friendship was more firmly cemented than ever, as I was so mad to think they would play such a scurvy trick, especially while I was on guard. It was not long before the frequent report of arms told us that others were making a "jump for life and liberty." About one hundred and fifty jumped from the cars and escaped into the swamp that night, and amidst all the firing there was not one hurt that I ever heard of. After Cady and Masters jumped, the guard at the opposite door was so watchful that Hock and Eastman could not get a chance to escape.

Had I not promised to stay on board and take care of the baggage, I should have taken the gun and followed Cady and Masters which I think would more than ever convince my reb friend that I was zealous in the performance of military duty. I could see from my position in the door, dark objects leaping from the car in front, followed by a streak of fire from the gun of one of the guards, showing that the caps had not all been replaced with pine plugs, though I was told afterwards that a number of caps had been removed. I think the safest way, however, to prevent a gun going off, is when you remove the cap, to insert a plug into the tube. We were a jolly crowd that night, that passed through the swampy country between Charleston and Columbia, for it was fun to see our comrades getting away, and witness the frantic efforts of the guard to prevent them. Officers were shouting to their men to shoot the d-n Yankees, and the guards were doing their level best to obey orders.

But they had been deceived by the apparent submissiveness of the Yankees, and as I heard the fellow say whose gun I had fixed, " I didn't think they would do such a dog gone trick on me, when I'd used them so well." He seemed to lose confidence in all but me, and was mad all through, to think that the fellows he bad treated like gentlemen should thus abuse his confidence.

We could have easily captured the whole force and taken the train if we had made an organized effort. But the great trouble was to get officers to obey orders and follow instructions; all wanted to be bosses. I would rather go into action with one regiment of enlisted men than with a whole division of brigadiers.

This fact probably accounts for the rebs always keeping the officers and: enlisted men in separate prisons.


Arrival at Columbia

We arrived at Columbia October 6th, about 4 p.m., and were at once turned into a field of about five acres, on a sort of side hill. We had not drawn any rations during the day, and having had no opportunity to cook the raw rations we brought from Charleston or buy anything to eat on the road, we were half starved.

There had been no preparation made for our coming, and the bakers were obliged to fire up and bake bread to feed this unexpected addition to their customers. This, of course, took time, and to men with empty stomachs the hours seemed like days. Women came to the fence that surrounded our camp, with pies, cakes, biscuits and other provisions to sell, and done a thriving business while provisions lasted; but the stock was soon sold out, and yet only a few had been fed. They only had to come to the fence with what they had to sell, and it was bought at whatever price was placed upon it.

I had just bought some bread of one, of these venders, when Lieutenant H. Lee Clark, 2d Massachusetts H. A., [5], came up and asked a woman the price of a pie, which she told him was five dollars; he handed her the five dollars, and was reaching through the fence for the pie, when one of the guards that had been placed in the camp, gave him a bayonet thrust in the back without a word of warning or an order to fall back. It was a terrible thrust and made a wound three-fourths of an inch wide and one and a half inches deep, near the spine. A number of us saw it and watched for this fellow to come on guard again that night, but fortunately for him and perhaps for us, he was relieved and did not again make his appearance. If he had, we had determined to settle him quietly with a stone. An old wooden freight house formed the west boundary of, our camp, and under it was stored a quantity of bacon. A number of hams were fished out by means of a hook attached to a long pole, and some even crawled under it to get their rations. Finally about dark, rations of white bread, warm from the ovens, were served and this, with the stolen bacon, made us a good hearty supper.

About this time a terrible rain storm came up, accompanied by a cold northwest wind, which caused intense suffering to those who bad no shelter; and as none had any except such as could be made with blankets, nearly all were all that night exposed to one of the worst storms I ever experienced. As was my custom on going into camp, the first thing I did was to gather some boards and improvise a tent from our blankets, using some for a floor on which to place our mattress. This afforded but slight protection from such a terrible storm of wind and rain as that night swept down upon us, but over one thousand of the twelve hundred officers were destitute of even this slight protection, and many were suffering from wounds and disease. To those it was a night of terrible suffering such as few ever experienced before or since. In such a drenching rain fires were impossible, and there was nothing for them to do but tramp all night long in the wind and rain, to keep from perishing. Yet above the howling tempest and amid the drenching rain, could be heard the cheering chorus, "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching."

Water was running down the slope in torrents, forming miniature rivers as the storm progressed, cutting deep furrows in the soft clay soil and covering the whole camp with water and mud nearly ankle deep. Few who passed that night of the 6th of October 1864, in the prisoners' camp at Columbia, will ever forget it while they live.

The next day we were asked to again give our parole, in which case we would be placed in a beautiful grove about three miles out, where we would have all the facilities for cleanliness and comfort that we could desire. We rather thought we would first see this haven of bliss, and then decide for ourselves about the bargain. We hung our wet blankets up to dry in the sun which had come out once more to cheer us, and made ourselves as comfortable as possible during the day, not knowing where we were to go next. About four o'clock, teams were brought up to the fence along the road, and we were ordered to load on our traps and get ready to move into camp. Not having much baggage, we were soon ready and the line was formed, and we were again on the march. We had not gone more than half a mile, when we passed the building where was manufactured the Confederate money with which to carry on this great rebellion.

The windows were illuminated with the bright faces of about a hundred young ladies, who were employed in this great printing house, and some of the boys failed to keep step as they cast furtive glances in the direction of the upper story windows, some even going so far as to give a salute that was made a good deal like throwing a kiss, while a few cheeky fellows, who seemed to have forgotten their manners during their long imprisonment, actually had the audacity to sing out: "Say, sis, chuck me down a roll of Confed. Got any new issue to spare? Give us a bundle; you can make more." But what surprised me most, the girls seemed to enjoy all this chaffing, and some of them actually attempted to get up a flirtation with the detested Yankee prisoners, waving handkerchiefs, throwing kisses, and making such remarks as: "Ain't he handsome? Oh! look at that fat fellow; ain't he a daisy," &c., keeping up a chatter loud enough for us to hear until the whole column had passed.

After a march of three miles, we turned into a ploughed field that was bounded on three sides by what new settlers in the back woods call a slashing. There was not a tent or shelter of any kind and this was the place that we had been told would afford us every facility for cleanliness and comfort, and for which we had been asked to give our parole.

A guard was formed around this field and we were turned in like so many mules into a corral. For fear of losing our mattress and other camp equipages if we loaded them on the cart, we fortunately decided to lug them, not knowing how much of a tramp we had to make, and although it was a hard lug, we were well repaid for our labor when we reached the camp, for while many lost things that were invaluable to them, in that they could not be replaced, we were ready to go to housekeeping at once, when we were ordered to break ranks.

Like squatters in a new country, each man was permitted to select his location and I at once preempted a dry knoll, under the shade of a pine tree, as a suitable place to squat and, dumping our household goods there, proceeded at once to improvise a shelter and skirmish around for something for supper. Again, thanks to DOCTOR BRETS' generosity (?) our mattress, which we had tugged on our shoulders for three miles, came into play to make us a comfortable bed on the ground, and, after such a supper as we could pick up, and a good smoke, we curled up in our blankets and lay down to dream of home and sumptuous dinners.

While we were thus comparatively comfortable that night, there were a thousand of our less fortunate comrades who spread their still damp blankets on the cold, wet ground, and almost supperless, passed a night of sleepless misery. The next week I spent in building a brush tent. I received permission to take an axe and go outside the camp, under guard, and cut brush and limbs to build it with. I cut six posts and planted them firmly in the ground, putting poles across to make a ridge tent, and then thatched the steep roof with pine boughs, making it water proof. It required a good deal of labor to complete the quarters, but when done it was warm and comfortable. Having completed our quarters, and got everything snug, I made up my mind that I would like to move North.

There was one of the guard, who had come with us from Charleston, and to whom I had sold my watch, who had become quite attached to me, and had always been ready to do me a favor, when he could. From our frequent interviews, I had been led to believe that he was strongly tinctured with unionism, and thought perhaps he could be induced to give me a chance to escape, if he could do so without danger to himself. Finding him on guard the 12th of October, at the northwest corner of our camp, which was the best place on the line to cross, I wrote a note to him, offering him fifty dollars if he would let me and some of my comrades cross his beat that night.

Wrapping a small stone in this note, I sauntered along near where he was pacing his beat, and, watching my opportunity, when none of the other guard were down under the looking, tossed the note to him and sat in the shade of a small tree to await the result. It would be impossible to describe with what feelings of hope, doubt, anxiety, and fear I awaited the answer to this note, as he paced his beat carefully reading it.

If be consented, I was free; but if he refused and reported me to Captain Semple [12] for attempting to bribe him, there was no telling what would be my punishment; for attempting to bribe a sentry on duty was no slight offense. The stake for which I was playing was a great one, and the hazard was equally great. It was liberty on the one hand, and perhaps death on the other. No wonder then that the moment was an anxious one.

After carefully reading it, he walked to the farther end of his beat and wrote on the back of the note, and wrapped a stone up in it, and, on his return, when opposite where I sat, after cautiously glancing around tossed it back to me. This act satisfied me that my secret was safe, at least; but when I read his answer my gratitude to this noble friend was greater than I could express. He wrote: " 1 do not want your money; but if you will come just as the moon goes down and throw a pebble at my feet I will leave my beat; but be very careful riot to make any noise." With a joyful heart I hurried to my companions to tell them the good news.

That was a busy day for me. I bought some flour, sweet potatoes and meat, and commenced making biscuit, roasting sweet potatoes, and frying meat to fill our haversacks. This with our slight conveniences for cooking was no easy task. I made two dozen biscuits; and this with our other provisions filled our haversacks, and together with our blankets, overcoats, etc., was about all we could carry. Having completed our preparations, I went to where Col. Miller [6] and Lieut. H. H. Lyman [7] had taken up their quarters, which consisted of a dry goods box with one end knocked out, and about half long enough to cover their bodies. They were both too ill to build a brush tent as I had done. I told them that I was going to take a walk the next morning, and asked them to move into my tent, and if I was brought back I would take it back, but if not, then it was theirs, together with the mattress, extra blankets, and cooking utensils.

We then lay down and took a good sleep and rest, waiting for the moon to set, which would be at three o'clock.


Departure from Camp Sorghum

By that hour, we had eaten our breakfast, picked up what we intended to carry and cautiously, one by one, gathered under a tree, a few feet from the dead line, where, concealed in the shade, we could plainly see my friend pacing up and down his beat. When the moon had disappeared long enough so that it was quite dark, I tossed a pebble, which struck right at his feet, at which he said in a low tone, "all right" and walked away, and commenced talking to the other sentry.

This was our opportunity, and lying flat on the ground, we crawle4 across the guard line like so many snakes. There were seven of us, viz.: Captains Geere, [8] Hock, Eastmond, Hays, [9] and Cratty, [10] and Lieutenant Winner [11] and myself. Having all got across, we raised up and stole softly away. We had not gone far, however, before someone stumbled over some dry brush in the darkness, which made considerable noise and attracted the attention of one of the guard, who immediately sent a bullet in our direction and called out lustily: " Corporal of the guard, post-number fo." This was followed by other shots; but they could only shoot in the direction of the noise, and if ever seven fellows made good time, we did for about half a mile, till we gained a small patch of woods. We did not stop here long, but getting our direction, we made for another and larger woods about three miles away.

We entered these woods just as it was getting light; and making our way far into its dark recesses, made our camp for the day. We could plainly hear the reveille in the prison camp, from where we lay that morning, and would not have been surprised to have heard the dogs on our trail that day. But the dogs had been kept pretty busy for the past few days, and were perhaps busy then, following some other track. We spread down our blankets and took a nap for an hour or two, and then after eating a light breakfast, commenced perfecting our plans for the future.

Note:

  1st Lieutenant Alonzo Cooper, 12 New York Cavalry, Company F, was captured at the Southern "Victory" of Plymouth, NC on 20-Apr-64 and relates the shooting of both captured "Colored Troops" but also of "traitors", members of 1st North Carolina Infantry, USA. Southern losses were so severe it was remarked that with a few more victories like Plymouth, the Southern Armies would be destroyed. Like most of the other "Plymouth Pilgrims", he was held at at Macon, Savannah, Charleston & Columbia. Escaped from prison in Columbia but was recaptured in NC. Again held captive at Salisbury, NC, Danville & Libby Prison, VA. Exchanged March or April 1865. He listed his residence as Oswego, New York. <[p>

Source:
In and Out of Rebel Prisons
Alomzo Cooper
R. J. Oliphant, Oswego, NY
1868


If you have any information about these troops or these units, please contact me at

Foot Notes and References:

[1] Captain A. Lester Cady, 24th New York Artillery, captured Plymouth, NC on 20-Apr-64. Chances are good that he was not recaptured which would explain why I am unable to determine any additional information.

[2] Captain Robert B. Hock, 12th New York Cavalry. Enrolled, 02-Apr-63, at New York and mustered in as first lieutenant, Co. E, 04-Apr-63, to serve three years; in command of company, 25 September 25 to 31 October 1863; commanded Co. F, from 18 November 1863; Commissioned first lieutenant, 20-Nov-63, with rank from 02-Apr-63; promoted to captain, 08-Jan-64, with rank from 05-Nov-63; mustered in as captain, Co. F, 04=Mar-64; captured, 20-Apr-64, at Plymouth, N.C.; escaped, 13-Oct-64; captured at battle of Wise's Forks, Kingston, N.C., 08-Mar-65; escaped, 12-Mar-65; mustered out with company, 19-Jul-65, at Raleigh, N.C.

[3] Captain Oscar Eastmond, 1st North Carolina Infantry, Company C. Enlisted from New York City, NY into unknown regiment and was captured at Plymouth, NC on 20-Apr-64. He was ultimately paroled from Camp Asylum 09-Dec-64. He listed his residence as New York City.

[4] 1st Lieutenant DeForrest Masters, 1st North Carolina Infantry, was captured 20-Apr-64 at Plymouth, NC. He escaped 05-Oct-64 from Columbia and reported back to his unit on 13-Nov-64.

[5] Lieutenant Horace Lee Clark, 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, was captured Plymouth, NC on 20-Apr-64. He was held at Macon, Savannah, & Columbia where he was stabbed in the back by a guard. He sscaped 17-Feb-65 while being held in Charlotte. He listed his residence as Springfield, Massachusetts

[6] Colonel Francis C. Miller, 147th New York Infantry, Company F, captured at the Wilderness, VA on 05-May-64. He signed the Petition Complaining of Camp Sorghum Conditions, Paroled from CMP 09-Dec-64. He listed his residence as Oswego, New York.

[7] Lieutenant Henry H. Lyman, 147th New York Infantry, Company C. He listed his residence as Pulaski, New York

[8] Captain Geere was not further identified to aid my determination of who he was.

[9] Captain Edward Hayes, 95th New York Infantry, captured at the Wilderness, VA on 05-May-64. He listed his residence as Sing Sing, New York.

[10] Captain Eli G. Cratty, 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry, Company E. captured at Plymouth, NC on 20-Apr-64. He listed his residence as Butler, Pennslyvania.

[11] Lieutenant Charles N. Winner, 1st Ohio Infantry, Company D. captured at Chickamauga, GA on 19-Sep-63.

[12] Captain E. A. Simple, CSA, member of the staff of General John Henry Winder, commander of all Confederate military prisons east of the Mississippi River. He had been sent to Columbia to locate and map out a camp near Columbia.

[13] Columbia, S.C. Nov 16th 1864
Dear Sister:
....We were put into the cars at Charleston Friday morning. They always use freight cars to haul Yanks in & they of the filthiest kind too. When we were going to Macon last spring we were put into one in which the grease stood in puddles on the floor & there is where we must sit & that is all we can do for they crowd us so that it is impossible generally to lie down....


Letter from Lieutenant Chistopher "Lee" Irwin, 78th Illinois Infantry, in the possession of a ggg-Niece. Although she is not positive. she believes it was written to his sister, Caroline Harriett Irwin. A sad story there, she died in January 1865 at a young age, not getting to see his release and return home. It is possible that it was to his older sister (my gggrandmother, Sarah Sabrina (Irwin) Moore) but the letters that included a given name to one of the sisters were all to Caroline (Carrie).


If you have any information about this officer, or his unit, or anyone else at this facility, please email contact me at