CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE GREAT TUNNEL AND THE MISTAKE

FOR several weeks, some ten or fifteen of the most able-bodied of the prisoners had been nightly at work; and the great tunnel, the ever projected by men for their escape from prison, was thought to be finished, with the exception of the tapping outside of the prison wall. The digging of a tunnel is not an easy job, and, consequently, is of slow progress. The Andersonville prisoners had to dig ten feet down into the earth, after cutting through the floor, and then went a distance of fifty feet to get beyond the wall. The digging was done in the following way: As soon as the operator was below the surface, and had a place large enough to admit the body, he laid down upon his face, at full length, and with his knife, spoon, piece of earthenware, or old iron, dug away with all his energies, throwing the dirt behind him, which was gathered up by a confederate, carried off, and hi. This mode of operating was carried on night after night, and the flooring replaced during the day, to prevent suspicion. The want of fresh air in the tunnel, as it progressed to completion, often drove the men from their work, and caused a delay, which proved fatal to their successful escape.

The long-looked for day arrived. More than three hundred had prepared to leave this hated abode, by the tunnel. All they waited for was the tapping and the signal. The time came, the place of egress was tapped, and the leader had scarcely put his head out of the hole, ere he was fired upon by the sentinels, which soon alarmed and drew the entire guard to the spot. Great was the commotion throughout the prison, and all who were caught in the tunnel were severely punished.

This failure seemed to depress the spirits of the men more than any previous attempt. Heavy irons were placed upon the limbs of many of the prisoners, and their lot was made otherwise harder by the keepers. Clotelle, though often permitted to see the prisoners and contribute to their wants, and, though knowing much of their designs, knew nothing of the intended escape, and therefore was more bold in her intercessions in their behalf when failure came upon them.

The cruelty which followed this mishap, induced Clotelle to interest herself in another mode of escape for the men thus so heavily ironed. Pete, the man of all work, whose sympathies were with the Union prisoners, was easily gained over to a promise of securing the keys of the prison and letting the men escape, especially when Clotelle offered him money to enable him to make good his own way to the North.

The night of the exodus came. It was favored with darkness; and it so happened that the officials were on a spree, owing to the arrival of Confederate officers with news of a rebel victory.

Before getting the keys, Pete supplied the sentinels on duty with enough whiskey, which he had stolen from the keepers' store-room, to make them all drunk. At the chosen moment, the keys were obtained by Pete, the doors and gates were opened, and ninety-three prisoners, including the tunnel workers, whose irons were taken off, made their escape, allowing the faithful negro to accompany them. Nothing was known of the exit of the men till breakfast hour on the next morning. On examination of the store-room, it was found, that, in addition to the whiskey Pete had taken a large supply of stores for the accommodation of the party. Added to this, a good number of arms with ammunition had been furnished the men by the African.

The rebels were not prepared to successfully pursue the fleeing prisoners, although armed men were sent in different directions. Nothing, however, was heard of them till they reached the Union lines. Long suspected of too freely aiding Union prisoners, Clotelle was now openly charged with a knowledge of the escape of these men, and was compelled to leave Andersonville.


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