Daring and Suffering

This is a book by William Pittenger which recounts his adventures as a member of the Andrews Raiding Party in the “Great Locomotive Chase” of April, 1862, along with his time as a prisoner of the confederates after his capture. You can download and read it for free here or here.

The Great Locomotive Chase inspired one movie with Buster Keaton as William Fuller, the confederate conductor who chases after the stolen train, The General, and a Disney movie with Fess Parker as leader of the raid James Andrews, The Great Locomotive Chase.

Pittenger was one of the twenty-two Federal soldiers who made their way through the lines to Marietta, Georgia and took the train. The raid failed after ninety miles primarily due to conductor William Fuller, who chased after them and used another locomotive, the Texas, to catch them. Pittenger was captured and spent eleven months as a prisoner of the confederates. The raid led to the creation of the Medal of Honor, and the Andrews Raiders were its first recipients.

He starts by describing their journey to Georgia as they were portraying citizens of Kentucky trying to join the confederate army. “Where we stayed that night, I first heard from the lips of a slave-owner himself of hunting negroes with bloodhounds. Our host said he had seen some one dodging around the back of his plantation, by the edge of the woods, just as it was getting dark, and in the morning he would take his bloodhounds, and go to hunt him up, and if it proved to be a negro, he would get the reward. He said he had caught great numbers of them, and seemed to regard it as a highly profitable business. We, of course, had to agree with him ; but . well remember that the idea of hunting human beings with bloodhounds, for money, sent a thrill of horror and detestation through my veins. Not long after, we found that bloodhounds were not for negroes alone.” [p. 43] They meet up with a confederate soldier home on furlough. “Just as we were mounting the first spur, we fell in with a Confederate soldier, who was at home on a furlough. He had been in a number of battles, and among others the first Manassas, which he described very minutely to me. Little did he think that I, too, had been there, as we laughed together at the wild panic of the Yankees. He was greatly delighted to see so many Kentuckians coming out on the right side, and contrasted our noble conduct with that of some persons of his own neighborhood, who still sympathized with the Abolitionists.” [p. 46]

After his capture, Pittenger was thrown in with other prisoners the rebels held. “I pressed my face close to the bars, and breathed the purest air I could get, until I became partly reconciled to the oppression, and then turned to ascertain the condition of my companions. It was wretched beyond description. They were ragged, dirty, and crawling with vermin. Most of them were nearly naked; but this was no inconvenience there, for it was so warm that those who had clothes were obliged to take them off, and nearly all were in a state of nudity. I soon found it necessary myself to disrobe, and even then the perspiration poured off me most profusely. It was an atmosphere of death. Yet among the prisoners were old men, just trembling on the verge of the grave, who were arrested merely because they had ventured to express a preference for the old, well-tried Government, over the new, slave-built Confederacy. The cruelty practiced on the Tennessee Union men will never half be told. It forms the darkest page in the history of the war. In every prison of which I was an inmate in Georgia and Virginia, as well as in Tennessee, I found these miserable but patriotic men thus heartlessly immured.” [p. 131] He also learns how the confederates treated African-Americans accused of being runaway slaves: “The Southern method of catching stray negroes is about this: When one is found traveling without a pass, he is arrested, taken to the jail, and severely flogged. This usually brings some kind of a confession from him, and he is advertised in accordance with that confession. If no answer is received in a limited time, it is taken for granted that he lied, and he is whipped again, in order to bring a new confession. Thus they continue alternately whipping and advertising, till the close of the year. If a master is found before this, he can pay the costs and take his property; if not, the negro is sold to pay the jail and whipping fees. No trial is ever allowed at which the negro might prove himself free. When once arrested his doom is sealed, and in this way many free negroes are enslaved.” [pp. 132-133]

Pittenger also tells us how southern unionists were treated. “I saw many instances of the iron rule with which the Southern Union men are kept in subjection. The strictest espionage was maintained through every order of society. The spies of the government would pretend to be Union men, and thus worm themselves into loyal societies; and when they had learned the names of the members, would denounce them to the government. It was not necessary to be particular about truth, as the suspicion of guilt, in their mode of procedure, was just as good as its positive evidence. One day seventy men and twelve women were arrested, and sent in irons to Richmond! Many other instances of this remorseless tyranny will be given hereafter.” [pp. 206-207]

In recounting another incident he writes, “The Tennesseans were confined with us, making twenty in all. Our provisions, which were still very scanty, were handed around in a tray. Mr. Pierce, who is mentioned before, one time conceived his allowance to be too small, and threw it back into the tray again. Not a word was spoken on either side; but in a few minutes the guards came up, and, seizing Pierce, took him out of the room into the cold hall, and tying his hands before his knees, with a stick inserted across under his knees and over his arms, in the way that soldiers call ‘bucking,’ they left him there all night. This indignity was perpetrated on an old man over sixty! One of the guards was a malicious fellow, who delighted in teasing our men by asking them how they liked being shut up in a prison, ‘playing checkers with their noses on the windows,’ &c. One day, when he was talking as usual, a Tennessean, named Barker, replied that he need not be so proud of it, for he would some time have to work like a slave, in the cotton-fields, to help pay the expenses of the war. The guard reported this treasonable remark to the commander. Poor Barker was seized and taken to the punishment-room up stairs, and there suspended by the heels till he fainted; then let down until he revived, then hung up again. This was continued till they were satisfied, when tie was taken down, and put into a little, dark dungeon, only about four feet square, and there kept twenty-four hours with nothing to eat!” [pp. 227-229]

In another account, he writes, “Our present apartment contained even more prisoners than the one up-stairs. They were men from all parts of the South. Some of them had been in prison ever since the war broke out, and a few had been arrested for supposed anti-slavery principles, even before that event, and had lived in loathsome dungeons ever since. This would be called barbarous tyranny if it occurred in Italy; but I have seen men, even in my own Ohio, who could see no wrong in it when practiced in the South, on supposed abolitionists. There were also some of our own soldiers here, who had been put in for attempting to escape. This survey was not calculated to increase our feeble hopes of a speedy exchange, or even to weaken our fears of further punishment.” [pp. 252-253]

Pittenger also claims he had a discussion with a southern unionist regarding how secession in Texas came about: “One of these, who became an intimate friend, was a Scotchman, named Miller. When the war commenced, he was residing in Texas, and witnessed the manner in which that State was precipitated into secession. The first part of the plan was to excite rumors of a contemplated slave insurrection; then the conspirators would place poison and weapons in certain localities, and find them, as if by accident. This was continued till the public mind was in a perfect ferment. The next step was to take some slaves, and whip them until the torture made them confess their own guilt, and also implicate the leading opponents of secession. This was enough. The slaves and Unionists were hung together on the nearest tree, and all opposition to the  nefarious schemes brutally crushed. Thus has slavery furnished the means of paving the way to treason!” [p. 272]

This is a really useful book. Pittenger wrote it in 1863, very soon after he was exchanged, so the incidents he accounts in it were relatively fresh in his mind. It’s also a good read. I can recommend it most especially for the account of the Andrews Raid.

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