part of a volume entitled History of the Ninety - Third Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry: From Organization To Muster Out --Statistics Compiled by Aaron Dunbar Sergeant, Company " B", Revised and Edited by Harvey M. Trimble, Adjutant
Submitted by Jeffrey MacAdam, to whom every reader should be grateful.
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Part 2 of 2 of Chapter 6.
After his capture, McConnell was taken to Selma, Alabama, and, with a considerable number of other prisoners, placed in the third story of a building that stood a short distance from the bank of the Alabama River. From that place, he, with two or three other soldiers, made his escape in a manner so different from ordinary feats of that kind and so full of deliberate calculation and cool daring and courage, that the story is worthy of being related here.
Near this building where he was confined, moored to the bank of the river, were a large number of small rowboats, good, bad and indifferent. There was a lightning-rod on the end of the building next to the river, extending from the top of the building to the ground, which passed near a window of the room occupied by McConnell and his companions. Under these conditions he and his companions planned to escape. The plan was, to take one of those boats and go down the Alabama River to a desirable point, and, from thence, across the country, to Pensacola, Florida, which was then in the possession of the Federal forces. When a sufficiently dark night came, and with it the opportune moment, McConnell and his companions went down the lightning-rod, hand under hand, (whereby the palms of their hands and the inside of their fingers were so thoroughly blistered that all the skin afterward came off), seized an old rowboat and a pair of discarded oars, so that the taking of them would not be discovered, and quietly pulled out down the Alabama River. The river was full of Confederate transports and steamers, and other crafts, coming and going, which subjected them to great danger of being discovered. Hence, when a transport or steamer, or any other craft, came in sight of them, they went ashore, or under the dense growth that in many places overhung the river bank, and remained quiet until the danger was passed. Of course, they could only move at night. Each morning, before daylight, they went into hiding for the day. They procured food from the Negroes on shore. Thus, they made their way down the river. One day, while on shore, they got hold of a southern newspaper, from which they learned that Admiral Farragut's fleet was in Mobile Bay. Thereupon, they abandoned the idea of going to Pensacola, and determined to reach the fleet if possible. Hence, they continued their course down the river until they reached the Confederate fortifications at Mobile. There were batteries and fortifications nine miles in extent, above and below the city. Farragut's fleet was three miles below out in the bay. The water, all along in front of these batteries and fortifications and in front of the city, was full of all kinds of crafts, some of which were moving at all times of the night.
Here was a condition of things, when they obtained full information of it, that tested their wits and genius and courage at the same time. But they solved it correctly. Timing their start as late at night as they thought was safe to enable them to make the distance before daylight, they boldly pushed off from the shore and pulled out, down stream, for the fleet, and for their freedom. When daylight came, and the curtain of night began to roll up, they were just outside of the range of the nearest guns of the enemy, wearily approaching Admiral Farragut's flagship. The face of the bay was as smooth as glass. Had it not been their frail old boat could not possible have survived. Although their physical strength was well nigh exhausted, their hearts must have rapidly grown lighter now. Imagine their exultation when a small boat was lowered from the davits of the flagship and they were lifted on board among the other heroes that walked that deck! Their eight days of cautious hiding and their nine nights of arduous toil ended! And all the lurking dangers of those days and nights behind them! And no more visions of horrible Confederate prisons before them! They were free! And they were standing there, on the deck of that good ship, among the grandest heroes of the world! It was a consummation only rarely to be realized, even in the most heroic of wars. It was great!
They remained on the fleet until after Fort Morgan was taken, and were sent to New Orleans, Louisiana. They were there furnished with new clothing, and from thence rejoined their regiments. McConnell reached the Ninety-Third Illinois at Allatoona, Georgia, on the 12th day of September, 1864, on the forty-sixth day after he was captured. The old skin was not yet entirely removed from the palms of his hands and the inside of his fingers from the blistering received in going down the lightning-rod, but he immediately reported for duty. The regiment was justly proud of him.
July 31st the regiment was paid for May and June, 1864. August 2nd, orders were received directing the command to move to Allatoona, Georgia. Starting at 10 o'clock a.m., the regiment marched to Cartersville, Georgia. This was a sad day to everyone in the regiment. The old Third Brigade is broken up. The regiments composing that brigade, to wit, the Fifth and Tenth Iowa and the Twenty-sixth Missouri and the Ninety-Third Illinois, had served together since the 12th day of December, 1862, and had earned great reputation as a fighting brigade throughout the Army of the Tennessee. They had passed through the fiery flames and terrific storms of hard-fought battles together. Each regiment recognized in all the others that unflinching and unyielding courage that made them fast friends. The close friendship and cordial relations that existed among both officers and men were remarkable and unusual. There was not a weak spot nor a mean streak anywhere in the brigade. The dissolution of it caused universal and sincere regret. The Ninety-Third Illinois was assigned to the First Brigade, and the other regiments to other brigades of the division. The division and corps were not changed. It was still the Third Division, Fifteenth Army Corps.
The brigade was then composed of the Sixty-third and Ninety-Third Illinois, the Forty-eighth and Fifty-ninth Indiana, the Fourth Minnesota and the Eighteenth Wisconsin. Col. Jesse I. Alexander, of the Fifty-ninth Indiana, was in command. Col. Joseph B. McCown, of the Sixty-third Illinois, afterward commanded the brigade, on the Georgia campaign.
August 3rd, the regiment marched to Allatoona, Georgia, and went into camp high up on the hills. The mountain scenery all around, except on the western side, was quite picturesque. The course of the railroad resembled the trail of a great serpent. And one wondered how the tortuous route was traced from valley to valley between and through those towering hills and mountains; and wondered, too, if trains ever go lost there! From this time until the 14th, inclusive, the command remained in camp, "All quiet on the hills at Allatoona."
August 15th, in the morning, rumors came of a Confederate raid on the railroad between here and Chattanooga. At 10 o'clock a.m., orders came, to hold the regiment in readiness to move, by rail, at a moment's notice. At 3:30 o'clock p.m., orders came, to move, with one hundred rounds of ammunition per man and three days' rations. In thirty minutes the command was on board the cars, and started north on the railroad. Reached Resaca, Georgia, at 10 o'clock p.m. The Confederates are on the railroad both north and south of Dalton, Georgia, firing on that place with light artillery, and demanding the surrender of our forces there. They have cut the telegraph lines at Tilton, Tunnel Hill and Calhoun, Georgia, and seem to be doing a "cash business." August 16th, the regiment remained in camp, at Resaca, during the day and night. The raiders left the railroad last night, and concentrated their forces, General Wheeler's cavalry, at Spring Place. Our cavalry drove in their pickets there this afternoon. Between 5 and 6 o'clock on the morning of the 17th, the regiment moved towards Spring Place, a small village about eighteen miles northeast of Resaca. There were eight regiments, the Fifth, Tenth, and Thirty- ninth Iowa, Forty-eighth Indiana, and the Fifteenth, Fifty-seventh, Thirty-second and Ninety-Third Illinois, two pieces of artillery, twelve-pounders, and about three hundred cavalry, in the column. The forces halted when within about six miles of Spring Place. Gen. John E. Smith, who was in command of our forces, took the cavalry with him and went forward to the village. The Confederates had left there at 10 o'clock that morning, going in the direction of Cleveland, a small town in Tennessee, on the Chattanooga & Knoxville Railroad, thirty miles from Spring Place. After general Smith's return, the whole force started back at 7 o'clock in the evening, for Resaca, and reached there at midnight. At noon, on the 18th, this regiment boarded the cars again and started back to Allatoona, reaching there between 5 and 6 o'clock that evening. Slight demonstrations have been made during the last two or three days all along the line of this railroad. The railroad and telegraph were cut this evening at Ackworth, five or six miles below this place. A force from this place went down there to look after the matter. From this date until the 11th day of November, the regiment remained at Allatoona. During that period momentous events were continually happening at and below Atlanta, Georgia, between the army of General Sherman and General Hood. Sherman had the best of it all the time. And during that same period, some minor events, and one very important event, the battle, were transpiring at Allatoona. They will be mentioned here in their order.
On the 2nd day of September, General Sherman's forces entered Atlanta, Georgia. This news caused great rejoicing throughout the army. On the 3rd day of September, a foraging party, consisting of one sergeant and fifteen men of this regiment, while gathering forage, under orders, about six miles east of Allatoona, were attacked by a force of Confederate cavalry, and ten men, together with the six-mule team and army wagon, were captured. Those taken were Sergeant John Sharp and Lorenzo D. Hopkins and William W. Doolittle, of Company K; Marion Hite and George Menelaus, of Company B; David Shearer, of Company D; George W. Burch and Nelson Babcock, of Company E; and David H. Reynolds and Moses Fox, of Company I.
On the night of the 8th day of September, the Confederates who had the captured parties above mentioned in charge went into camp about seventy miles southeast of Atlanta, Georgia. During that evening an opportunity of escape offered itself to Lorenzo D. Hopkins, and he quickly seized it. Under cover of the darkness, when a short distance from camp, in heavy timber and undergrowth, he reported himself "absent without leave" from the camp, and made his way as rapidly as possible in the direction of Atlanta. As soon as his bloodhounds, and, as soon as it was sufficiently light the next morning, put them upon the trail. They followed him all the next day until night. He went into a heavy canebrake, and waded in creek, that ran through it, the distance of a mile or more, and then laid down, in his wet cloths, in as dense a portion of the canebrake as he could find, and remained there. The dogs and the Confederates, too, came very close to him several times during the afternoon.
At night they withdrew and returned to their camp. When he was assured that they had abandoned the search for him, he came out of his hiding-place and started again for Atlanta. That night he ran into a camp of Confederate cavalry before he knew it. They were encamped on both sides of the road on which he was moving. They had pickets out; and thus, before he was discovered, he quietly retraced his steps and went around them. When daylight came he again went into hiding. The next night, continuing his journey, he met a company of Confederate cavalry on the road. Before they discovered him he hid in the brush by the roadside, and permitted them to pass unmolested. He didn't even say "Good evening" to them. That night, or early the next morning, he reached the Federal lines at Atlanta. He had made the distance of seventy miles in three nights. He could not move in the daytime, of course, without extreme danger of being recaptured, and he did not. He only procured food twice during the trip, of negroes both times, but he got quite a supply each time, although it was nothing but cornbread. But he was glad to even get that for such a trip as he was then taking. It was a good escape. It required quick decision and good courage to enter upon it, and quick wit and cool judgment to execute it. He had all those qualities, and used them, and gained his freedom from imprisonment. The regiment was proud of him when he returned and ever afterward. He reached the command, by rail from Atlanta, on the 11th day of September, the day before McConnell returned. When he came in, the next day, there were "two of a kind." A good kind, too.
Nothing further of particular interest transpired prior to the battle of Allatoona.
From the 3rd day of December, A. D. 1863, to the 5th day of October, A. D. 1864, the regiment traveled, by rail, three hundred and sixty-two miles, and marched five hundred and seven miles.
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