Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
A DARING ESCAPE
The 19th Iowa Infantry made up of many young Van Buren County men was deployed for a length of time along the lower Mississippi River and was involved in several battles at Atchafalaya on the Gulf of Mexico and Morganza in Louisiana.
Unfortunately, the Confederates took more than 40 Van Buren men captive and most of them were placed in a Rebel War Camp near Shreveport on the Red River.
Seven were successful in carrying out a brilliant, daring escape. Following a rigid schedule, Confederate guards patrolled camp, stopping at a deep ravine where they did an about face and marched back in the direction they came.
At 6:00 PM on the evening of February 25, 1864 a conspirator engaged a guard in conversation while the other guards marched to the ravine, turned and marched back to their post. After a pre-arranged coughing signal, the seven Van Buren men marched single file down the slope to the bottom of the ravine, to freedom.
The men were J. S. Raggsdale, Johnathan Nixon, William Byers, C.P. Taylor, J. Paxton, Simon Broderick, and James Daughrity. At the river they climbed into a yawl belonging to a planter and floated downstream. Each daybreak they would sink the boat in shallow water and hide in the brush.
Whenever the opportunity presented itself, they stole food and took clothes off a plantation clothesline. Each night, they raised the boat and continued their silent effort.
On the fourth night they set the little boat adrift and struck out across land in the direction of the Mississippi because rebel patrol boats now made river passage very hazardous. The men made their way with the north star to guide them on clear nights and only the moss of the trees when it was cloudy.
They traveled more than 300 miles in Rebel territory down the Red River to the Mississippi. Lashing vines around fence rails, they fashioned a raft and again pilfered food. They swam along, holding onto the raft, guiding the craft through the water.
On March 13 they reached the Mississippi and were fortunate enough for a Union gunboat to spot them and take them aboard. They boarded a larger craft and went to Vicksburg where they engaged in battle. All seven returned to Van Buren County.
(A condensed excerpt from my new book Squelching the Sesesh, pp. 128-129)
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick