Union soldier (Foote) describes escaping from CSA prison with assistance from local negroes

Part of the story of military intelligence during the Civil War is the role civilians – in this case local blacks (possibly slaves) – played in assisting Union soldiers and efforts.

The following is a never before published account of the escape of Morris Cooper Foote from a Confederate prison in South Carolina, taken from his actual diary.

Original 1864 diary belonging to Morris Cooper Foote, 92nd NY Infantry

Original 1864 diary belonging to Morris Cooper Foote, 92nd NY Infantry

Tuesday, November 29th, 1864

Beautiful Day. Rec’d a letter from the General. Myself & Capt Coates A.D.G. managed to escape today by making the guard believe we were paroled to cut wood. Traveled as much as we could during the day and night – towards the Congaree river. Dogs after us until dark, took to the swamp.

Wednesday, November 30th, 1864

Beautiful Day. Came across a negro at daybreak, told him who we were. He took us to the Columbia Road & found us a place to hide in during the day. Got us some potatoes but could not get us a boat. So we traveled down the road nearly 1/2th the night.

Thursday, December 1st, 1864

Beautiful Day. Had to stop traveling about midnight last night as there was a fire near a bridge that we had to cross. Laid down in the woods & at daybreak made our way down towards the river. Saw some negroes in a field. Lay in the woods til dark.

Friday, December 2nd, 1864

Went up to the negroes at dark last night and they tried to get us a boat but could not. Slept last night in a barn. Lay there all day. Got a boat & started down the river at dark. After going a four miles we found that we could not go down the river by night as the boat was too small & the river full of snags & a rapid current.

Saturday, December 3rd, 1864
Stopped and lay on the bank of the river at last night. Started out this morning in the boat. Traveled down the river all day. Met a nig (negroe) in the evening who piloted from the river to the state road, as we could not go under the R.R., a few miles & lay in the woods 1/2 the night.

Sunday, December 4th, 1864

Lay in the woods all day. Started out at dark & traveled all night on the road that runs down by the river. Coates feet hurt him so that he can scarcely travel. Lay in the woods all day. Near the Santee River.

 Monday, December 5th, 1864

Laid in the woods all day. Started out in the evening but Coates feet hurt him so that he could not travel so we laid in a barn all night. The negroes are our friends in this country. If it were not for them we could do nothing at all.

Tuesday, December 6th, 1864

Started out this morning, met a negro in the woods. Gave us some bread. Told us where we could find a boat. Met several negroes this evening. Got a boat & some provisions. Did not start, but lay on the ban k of the river all night. Rained. Got wet.

Wednesday, December 7th, 1864

Started down the river this morning. Went a few miles & lay on the bank all day. Started out at sunset 7 travelled 1/2 the night and lay on the bank of the river till morning. The Santee River.

Thursday, December 8th, 1864
Laid on the river bank all day. Started out at sunset traveled nearly all night. Passed a R.R. bridge that was guarded. Stopped at daybreak. This Santee River is wider & stiffer than the Congaree & easier to navigate. One earns his freedom who makes it this way.

Friday, December 9th, 1864

Stayed on the river bank all day. Started out in the evening. Paddled all night near morning. Came across with 4 of our own Officers in it. Stopped in a cane-brake at daybreak Saturday. Passed a 2 gun battery in the night.

Saturday, December 10th, 1864

Stayed today in the cane-break. Saw a negro who directed us to the mouth of the river. Started for it at dark. Ran past the last picket-post. Lost our way & could not get out of the river. Stopped at a deserted rice plantation all night. Rained hard.

Sunday, December 11th, 1864

Started out in the morning, paddled around in the bayous and found the mouth of the river in the afternoon. The wind blew so hard that we could do nothing. Our canoes swamped & we ___ in shore & lay in the bushes all night.

Monday, December 12th, 1864

Started this morning on foot for Winyah Bay. Found it but saw no gunboat near shore. Signaled all day. Built a fire at night on the beach and at about 7 a.m. were taken off by a picket-boat of the U.S. Gunboat Nipsic. Captn Henry. Free men!!


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