Cribbed, Cabined, and Confined: A Buckeye Escapes Andersonville

     Delavan R. Streeter was the either the luckiest man in the 100th Ohio or at the very least one the craftiest escape artists in the entire Army of Ohio. Streeter, a 23 year old Ohio farm boy upon his enlistment in 1862, escaped from two Confederate prison camps during his Civil War service, and was one of very few who escaped from Andersonville and lived to tell the tale.

     Delavan R. Streeter enlisted as a private in Co. E of the 100th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on August 8, 1862; the regiment was mustered into service September 1, 1862 at Camp Toledo. It was a perilous time for the Union and at that time Ohio was under the threat of Confederate invasion; the 100th Ohio was sent to help defend Cincinnati right after mustering into service, then spent  the month of September in the Cincinnati defenses. The regiment then spent the fall, winter, and spring guarding railroad lines in Kentucky. In late August, the Army of Ohio moved into northeastern Tennessee and took control of the city of Knoxville. Private Streeter was captured at the little known Battle of Limestone Station in northeastern Tennessee on September 8, 1863. 

Streeter's escape route from Andersonville, Georgia to St. Joseph's Bay, Florida. Streeter stuck to the paths of the Southwestern Railroad and the Flint River until he arrived at Chattahoochee, Florida at the headwaters of the Apalachicola River. He followed that river south for a number of miles before diverting west and hitting the Gulf of Mexico at St. Joseph's Bay. The barque U.S.S. Pursuit sent a boat to pick up Streeter from the beach. 

    Imprisoned for a time at Belle Isle in Richmond, he escaped twice before the Rebels finally put him in a cell. A recounted below, he was soon transferred to a new camp near Americus, Georgia later known as Andersonville. Streeter, a consummate escape artist, slipped out of Andersonville and made it back to Union lines in Florida, and returned to his regiment. Five months later, Streeter was captured again, this time on August 6, 1864 at the Battle of Utoy Creek, Georgia. This time he was sent to a camp at Savannah, Georgia, but less than two months later, Streeter escaped again and arrived in Union lines on November 20, 1864. Streeter returned to his regiment, was promoted to the rank of sergeant on January 15, 1865, and mustered out June 20, 1865. After the war, Sergeant Streeter moved to Kansas where he lived until 1932. The following account of Streeter's escape from Andersonville was originally published in the New York Herald.

    Among the refugees brought from Florida to Key West in the steamer Honduras was Private D.R. Streeter of the 100th Regiment Ohio Volunteers who had escaped from captivity in Georgia. The following is his history. Private Streeter says he was sent out with a detachment last September in advance of Burnside's command to Limestone Station near Jonesboro in east Tennessee when, unfortunately, he was captured with some men of the detachment [all told, nearly 300 prisoners]. They were sent to the infamous Belle Island near Richmond where they were kept in strict confinement with all the rigor that malice could devise. Streeter says that there were about 7,000 Union prisoners on the Island during the winter months. He tells the usual story of Union prisoners: that of semi-starvation while at Richmond. They were fed on a scanty supply of corn bread and peas, no meat being allowed to prisoners but such as was sent by the government and from the stores of the Sanitary Commission. Even in this, the unfortunate men were grossly cheated as the greater portion was issued to Confederate soldiers. Once the prisoners had a small quantity of coffee served out to them from the stores sent from the North. The quantity was about a pint to each man. The rest was sent into the city and sold on behalf of the Rebel quartermaster.

    Streeter says he can speak by the card about this and similar peculations from the fact that about a month and a half after his imprisonment he attempted to make his escape but he was caught and remanded back to his old quarters. A second time, he made his attempt but he was again caught. This time they did honor to his perseverance by building a little dungeon expressly for him which suited him so badly that he sent for the officer in command and begged to be let out of that horrible place. This request was complied with on giving his parole that he would not attempt to escape from the island. From that time, he had the run of the island during the day but at night he was closely locked up. It was during this season of comparative freedom from restraint that he came aware of the Rebel quartermaster's little peccadilloes in reference to the prisoners' stores.

Miserable conditions in the prisoner of war camps such as Belle Isle killed thousands of Federal and Confederate prisoners during the war. 

    Most of the men suffered severely, especially during the winter, from their exposed condition. About two-thirds of the prisoners had tents, but the rest had none and were compelled to lie out in the open air. Then many of them arrived half-naked, their most comfortable articles of clothing having been taken from them by their captors. Nearly all were brought in barefooted, boots being an article most eagerly sought for by the Rebels. To add to their miseries, the small pox broke out in the encampment of the prisoners and it soon became so virulent that the cases numbered about twelve per day. The extent of these unfortunate men's suffering will never be known till the day of general resurrection when the principal actors in the dark tragedy of the present war will be called to strict account by One from whom they can hide nothing for their evil deeds.

    During the latter part of February, in the present year, orders were issued to remove a portion of the prisoners from Belle Island to a camp near Americus, Georgia [Andersonville] The squad to which Private Streeter was attached left on the 22nd of the month and reached the camp on the 2nd of March. On arriving at Columbus, Georgia, en route for Americus, a lady whom Streeter supposes entertained Union sentiments, came down to the depot and expressed a desire to see the Union prisoners. Streeter told her he was one. She kindly inquired if it were not better for him to be there, a prisoner, than exposed to the risk of death on the battlefield. Streeter, however, did not see it in that light and replied in the negative. The lady, seeming to think the answer revealed a great hardness of heart on the part of Streeter, he explained that the chances of death on the battlefield are far less than being shut up in a loathsome prison. The lady, after some conversation, observed that she had many friends in the Rebel army, but that if they thought as she did, they never would have gone away to fight against the Union.

    On reaching the camp near Americus, it was found that about ten acres of land had been enclosed for the safekeeping of the prisoners. The enclosure was constructed by digging a pretty deep ditch in which roughly squared timbers were placed perpendicularly, forming a stockade about 15 feet in height and one foot in thickness which the Rebels fondly hoped was impervious to the prisoners. 

Image depicting Andersonville from later in the war when it had three stockades; Streeter's escape would not have been possible had he arrived a few months later. 

    But the Ohio boy was not to be cribbed, cabined, and confined by such a mere trifle. His ingenuity mastered the supposed formidable obstacle. Inside the enclosure and close to the fence some trees were growing on which Streeter cast the eye of an engineer and resolved accordingly. The prisoners were allowed to cut down these trees for firewood, and one day Streeter and a companion felled and stripped of its branches a small pine near the stockade wall, ready for an emergency. Watching their opportunity, one night they raised one end of the trunk to the top of the wall, clambered up, and leaped down on the other side. A few yards beyond they gained the friendly shelter of the woods. Traveling all night, they struck the Southwestern Railroad, when they called a halt during the day, having proceeded ten miles on the previous night and arriving at Americus. From that place, they again struck off into the woods where they lay down during the day. Next evening, they again started but had not proceeded far when they came unexpectedly upon a railroad station where some dogs barked at them. A man came out and inquired who they were, but receiving no reply, he set the dogs on them, upon which they made off as fast as they could. Streeter thinks the other man must have been caught as he has not seen him since. He was attacked by a dog himself but he managed to drive him off before any human brutes came u, and thus he succeeded in escaping that peril.

    During the first night's travel over the railroad track, no guards were visible at any point, but on the second night he found guards posted on the bridges. He traveled on until he struck the Flint River at Albany. Here he found a bridge about 100 feet long but he saw no guard on or near it. However, he took the precaution to pull his boots off, as it was necessary for him to cross that bridge. It was well that he did, for a great peril was pending over him. He had not advanced very far when he heard the stentorious breathing of a man, evidently in an advanced state of intoxication, or as the Bowery boys would say, 'pretty extensively drunk." Here was a pretty evil. To turn back would be as perilous as to proceed, he was so near the sleeping innocent. While debating what to do, our bold soldier bout had his resolution fired by hearing the sleeper snore as loudly as a chorus of Cincinnati hogs. Accordingly, he advanced, passing the sentinel so closely that he could have touched him. The Rebel was comfortably coiled away with his musket lovingly clasped in his arms, and sleeping as soundly as a policeman on the beat. Streeter exhibited a great deal of sound common sense in leaving the sleeper to conclude his nap in peace.

    Below Albany about five miles, the fugitive built a raft from some fence rails on which he floated about five miles further down the river when the raft ran on the rocks in the midst of the rapids and went to pieces, plunging him into the water. Luckily for him, he could swim and he contrived to reach the shore but was benumbed with cold. The night was frosty and he was almost too weak to travel, but he had to be on the move, however, to prevent himself from freezing. 

    On the following day, he fortunately found a boat on the river's bank in which he floated further down the river that night. But misfortunes still followed him. A rope had been stretched across the river for the convenience of warping ferry boats over; and as the rope was just on a level with his neck, in the darkness he was caught and jerked clear out of the boat. He swam several rods before he caught the boat, in which he made for the bank where he tied up about 3 o'clock in the morning to judge by the crowing of the cocks. Following the sounds, our adventurer soon found himself among some Negro huts. Venturing to one, an old Negro woman answered his summons and came to the door, groaning most piteously, as if she were awfully sick. Accosting the soldier, the ancient woman pretty plainly intimated that if her master knew a Rebel soldier was prowling around there he would be the death of the said Rebel. But when the fugitive intimated that he was a Yankee and an escaped soldier, her sickness and groaning disappeared with celerity. She soon had him in her cabin, and not many minutes elapsed before he had a good breakfast of meat and cornbread. On leaving the old woman, he took with him about three-quarters of a pound of pork which he contrived to live on for two days.

    The next time Streeter made a halt, he was at a place where he hard a Negro man chopping in the woods. Overcome with hunger, he followed the sound and on finding the man asked him for something to eat. The man refused at first; but on being informed that his supplicant was a Union soldier, he cooked sufficient cornbread to last him several days. From this man, Streeter obtained much valuable information relative to the route he ought to travel. Among other things he said the soldier would come across three forts in his passage down the river; this proved to be the fact. The first he encountered was at Chattahoochee [Florida] where the Flint River flows into the Apalachicola River. The fort mounted three guns, 24-pounders, my informant thinks. He had no difficulty in passing that fort on the opposite bank of the river though lights were burning and guards set on the fort. He did not know where he was except that he was somewhere on the Flint River. He was ignorant as to where and in what direction it emptied; bit now he was somewhat enlightened and pursued the journey more cheerfully. 

    The next fort he fell in which was at Hathcock's Landing on the Apalachicola. It was larger than the other, mounting five guns. A steamboat also was at the fort. About 12 miles further down he fell in with a Negro river pilot who gave him more directions respecting his route right through the Rebels. This man told him he would not push by the fort below as a chain was stretched across the river and it was heavily guarded. he said, however, that about 15 miles below before coming to the fort, there was a cut off which led to some little lakes which Streeter thought were named the Dead Lakes. Once through these lakes, he would come to a deserted railroad leading to some salt works, following which for three miles would bring him to St. Joseph's Bay, Florida. 

    Unfortunately, however, our poor fugitive mistook the directions which took him nearly into a Rebel camp. By then, the light from the camp fires, he found himself nearly in the midst of a number of army horses. At a short distance a number of men were bivouacking in the open air. No guard was set, or he must have been caught. The men wore no uniform, and they seemed to possess no discipline. He was now 30 miles from St. Joseph's Bay. Backing out, and leaving his unpleasant neighbors to their slumbers, he struck off towards the railroad. Next morning, however, the Rebels struck his trail and followed in pursuit about half way to St. Joseph's Bay. On his way, he passed several guards of Rebel soldiers with about 500 head of cattle. On the following night he arrived at St. Joseph's Bay near midnight. After daylight, he waved his handkerchief towards the barque U.S.S. Pursuit for about three hours. He was at length seen, and a boat was sent off to fetch him when he was soon under the protection of the Stars and Stripes once more. 

The U.S.S. Pursuit entered the U.S. Navy in 1861 and spent its wartime service as part of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron. The 600-ton barque delivered Delavan Streeter to another steamer which took him back to New York City. He rejoined the 100th Ohio in time to participate in the Atlanta campaign where Streeter was captured a second time.

    Private Streeter says that the Rebel officer who chased him enjoyed the euphonious sobriquet Pigpen. At one time, six of Captain Pigpen's men were so near him that he could hear them talking. He was not long on board the Pursuit before these fellows arrived at the beach, and inquired of an old man living there whether he had seen the fugitive, but they were just in time to be too late. The escaped soldier speaks in high terms of the kindness of the commander of the Pursuit towards him. He was attired, when I saw him, in a comfortable suit of sailor's clothing with a soldier's cap on his head. He told his story in a modest, straightforward manner, which convinces me that he is worthy of belief. 


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