The wind was blowing, but all it seemed to do was trickle through the gaps in the tall palisade which surrounded Camp Ford. O’Malley flexed his fingers, which were still somewhat stiff months after the injury to his arm. The sky overhead was full of wispy clouds, which were sailing along without a care in creation. For a moment, the Irishman envied them.
“Mick. Are you going to move your draught before the war ends?”
O’Malley broke from his distraction, and looked over at Wilson--a balding, square jawed Iowa man with a crooked nose. “Oh, yeah--mmm...there.” He moved one of the stove-blacked draughts made from slices of corn cob, which Wilson quickly jumped in quick succession.
“You ain’t even tryin’ no more!” Wilson said with disgust, as he gave O’Malley a dismissive wave and took his leave. O’Malley watched him go with a frown, but he couldn’t really blame the man -- who wants to play draughts with someone that doesn’t have his mind on the game? There were precious few distractions here in camp as it was; few had patience for loafers when a diversion was available. He turned his eyes back to the clouds, and a longing to be elsewhere. That was natural of course, after all he was in a prisoner of war camp. One wasn’t supposed to want to be installed in such a place; there might be a kind of acceptance over time but even that should veil a vigilant awareness of the opportunity for escape. At least, that was what he tried to do -- it was easier some days than others. The laundry was boiling away across the dirt track that served as the company street, and someone was singing (badly) “Turchin’s got your mule” nearby. O’Malley listened not because he was terribly interested, as much as because the tortured singing was impossible to ignore.
“And stock of every kind..the planter tried to get them back...and then was made a fool....”.
It had to be a New Yorker, thought O’Malley -- only a New Yorker could sing that badly and willingly inflict it upon others.
“...Go back, go back, go back, old scamp...”
Beyer came shuffling up the street, looking over his shoulder towards the direction of the singer once with a scowl, and waved to O’Malley. The Irishman stood and greeted his friend, who immediately jerked a thumb over his shoulder and grimaced. “You hear that son of a bitch? Whose side is he on anyway?” O’Malley just nodded, and the pair went in search of somewhere to chat in peace. As they rounded the far corner, someone finally had had enough and the singer quieted suddenly -- followed closely by a shout of “Shut your gob, you damn New Yorker!”.
O’Malley shook his head. Just as he had thought.
Mess that day proved not too bad. An onion soup with bread, and a fairly decent stewed apple-cinnamon tart-kind-of-confection which had clearly been made up as the lads in the cookhouse went along. Not that anyone minded, it was edible and tasty. O’Malley looked up from the mess line as he thanked the man for his glopped serving of dessert, and noted Colonel Allen pacing on his raised platform. The colonel was the commandant of Camp Ford, and an honorable man -- O’Malley had learned that first hand some weeks previously first hand. This war had a way of doing that though, making you hate your enemy one moment and then reminding you just as fully that the enemy was also an American the same as you were -- albeit in a state of rebellion. Colonel Allen noted his stare and nodded, and O’Malley tipped his hat with his free hand. Sitting down with his pards, O’Malley sipped his onion soup from his battered old cup.
“I thought there for a moment you was gonna climb up there and give old Allen a kiss, the way you two was sparking!” laughed Tom Moorehead, an affable if sometimes bull-headed fellow from Indiana. O’Malley just gestured impolitely and the circle of men laughed.
“Got that game today against them New Yorkers, yeah?” asked Beyer around a hunk of bread. Moorehead nodded, but Davis answered.
“Gonna whoop them bastards this time!” Davis spat with excitement. The New Yorkers had built a substantial rivalry with just about everyone in camp on many levels, but none quite so contentious as in their current standings in games of bat ball they had won -- lorded fully over everyone possible. O’Malley savored his soup with a slurp, as Beyer excitedly exchanged thoughts of the game strategies with Davis that the “Union Mules” would use. The New Yorkers had chosen “The New Eckfords” for their team name, based on a champion New York team from the year before. O’Malley rather thought the Eckfords (Or Ickfords as they were known amongst many of the Non-New Yorkers) would likely hold the field once again, but he didn’t say so. Concentrating on his meal, O’Malley missed Marcy’s question until the man poked him in the shoulder with his spoon.
“It ain’t that good Michael, you hear me?” He said with a grin.
“Huh? Don’t be pokin’ me with yer spoon Marcy!” said O’Malley frowning. “I’m listening, what is it?”
“I asked if you heard about the new arrivals? Quite a bunch, near on 500 I heard from Harris, who was in the detail set to help settle them.” Overhearing, Hart choked on his soup and slapped his knee.
“I bet the Colonel and his boys are less than pleased, that must easily make our lot more in number than theirs!” O’Malley looked at Hart, and nodded slowly. Suddenly he wondered if this might not prove to be an opportunity, or else the start of harsher times as a result of their captors need for increased control over their prisoners. Marcy went on.
“I asked around, and I guess the new fellas are Westerners of Iowa and Indiana persuasion.”
“Indiana? Know what unit they are from?” asked Moorehead with a sudden interest. Marcy didn’t know, but it was enough to cause Moorehead and Davis to excuse themselves shortly and wander off in hopes of finding old friends, or even simply people that might know the long missed sights of home. Davis waved to Beyer, and promised they would see one another at the game later. The remaining friends finished their food, and joined the line of men waiting to wash their mess things in a row of tin buckets set aside for the purpose. O’Malley continued to wonder how the addition of the new men would affect life in Camp Ford; and for the first time he found himself questioning how well the war could be going if 500 men at one time could be taken captive. He tried his best not to let such thoughts take root, but returned to considering how the new situation might be used to advantage for escape. No doubt the escape committee would be thinking the same, and that would mean he would have to keep his eyes open for the young man that had replaced Peel (may he rot, the traitor!) -- Kretzman. Sadly, though the boy meant well, he was known less by his given name than by “Klutzman”, thanks to a young and gangly body which he had not yet grown fully into. The positive side to Klutz--er, Kretzman being the contact for the committee was that no one would have believed someone like him could possibly get up to such cloak and dagger work. Most people simply assigned him the assumed status of a fool and dismissed him. Still, the last message that Private Kretzman had tried to deliver to O’Malley had resulted in all of the buttons being torn from the front of the Irishman’s sack coat. The youth had tripped as he approached O’Malley to speak with him, and taking hold of of the first thing within reach to break his fall (the front of the same Irish sergeant’s coat) had promptly showered the ground with brass buttons and dragged both men to the ground. It wasn’t as though the lad tried to be as he was, and in a way O’Malley supposed that there was an element of humor to it all if you allowed yourself to see it so.
When they had washed up, they returned their mess things to their quarters and went to the muster ground to receive their work assignments. Much to his surprise, O’Malley was assigned to sweep the Colonel’s quarters and offices, and clean out the stoves. This was no accident of coincidence on the same day that 500 new prisoners had arrived -- the Colonel wanted to chat. He believed, after the incident with Peel and all that had come after, that whatever else -- Colonel Allen was an honorable man. That didn’t mean for a moment that O’Malley trusted the Colonel, but he would listen and see what meaning he might discern from the conversation within the conversation. Michael O’Malley was no lover of the subtle arts of espionage or secrecy, in fact whole way of approaching conversation made his head hurt. But, they were at war -- a fact not brought to an end by their capture and internment. Each man had to do his duty, however it might be served to him.
By the time he had shoveled out the second box stove, and deposited the ashes with the camp quartermaster (that man saved everything! “Nothin’ goin’ waste here boy!”, the grizzled man would comment) O’Malley decided that perhaps he had simply drawn the lot to truly clean the offices because he had not seen the Colonel even in passing. He wandered back into the Colonel’s office to finish sweeping when he heard the door close behind him, Turning about, he was surprised to see Colonel Allen just taking a seat in his chair.
“I was starting to think that perhaps I was gettin’ jumpy an thinkin’ you had arranged my detail simply to bend my ear about something, rather than jus’ to clean out yer office, Sir.”
The Colonel said nothing, but gestured to the chair before his desk. O’Malley took a seat, the broom at his side like a musket in the rest position. The Colonel’s grey eyes looked tired, and he absently brushed through his goatee and mustache. “Sergeant, in a normal circumstance I would applaud your humor - -but I would prefer, if you don’t mind, that we get to the matter at hand.”
O’Malley straightened up in his chair, and set the broom against the wall. “What seems to be the issue, Colonel?” His counterpart chuckled politely, and shook his head.
“I will speak candidly Sergeant, because you are an honorable man who understands that between us we are engaged in a careful game of give and take. I would be surprised -- disappointed truly, if you had not heard of the 500 new prisoners we have been taken custody of today -- and the precarious issue of balance which now stands before us.” O’Malley only nodded, and the Colonel went on. “I have 38 men here now under my command, thanks to the demands placed upon me by the war department -- and the late arrival of my replacements.”
O’Malley smiled, and nodded again. “If ye are tryin’ to tender a surrender Sir, I think one of our officers might be more appropriate -- don’t ye?”
The Colonel smiled, and leaned back as he steepled his fingers. “Not just yet, I think Sergeant. Please, might we be serious?” The Irishman nodded, and cleared his throat.
“Ye want to has assurance that none of us are lookin’ to exploit the numbers twixt yer men -- an’ ours, yes?” The Colonel nodded. “I would like to be able to give such to ye Colonel, but ye know I don’t speak for everybody. As it is, those I can speak for like as not make a liar of me as follow what I say anyway!”. The Colonel nodded and sighed.
“I need you to understand Sergeant,” he said, his grey eyes staring into O’Malley’s with a sort of desperate need, willing his words to be heard, “that because of the situation here on post, I have no choice. I have been given very direct, and specific orders as to my response here-after until our replacements arrive for duty. I will accept that you may not speak for all of the men here, but I will ask you, Sir, to impress upon them that if there is trouble or my men feel threatened in any way -- they are authorized to use deadly means to maintain order.”
For a moment there was silence between them, as the words sank in. In theory, this order had always been in place -- but Colonel Allen had, to his credit, followed a policy of restraint in regards to infractions. It was clear that until the replacements arrived for those taken for the war effort, that that restraint had been lifted. O’Malley nodded quietly, and though not surprised by this pronouncement it was clear that the Colonel was nervous for what this approach could bring. He was backed against a wall, and he wanted them to know it. On your hands let the blood be, if you push the rules hereafter, he was telling them. O’Malley thanked the Colonel, and asked to be excused. He left the offices more aware than ever that this would be a time of risk and opportunity. The problem was, which would prove the greater?
O’Malley left the Colonel’s office deep in thought, considering the message he knew he had been tasked with. The work details were returning to camp, and soon the men would be called for roll call before the early evening’s game might begin. O’Malley joined the ranks, Beyer poking him in the arm and smiling as he fell in. The count was made, officers going between the lines whilst the assembled men watched where the new arrivals were formed away to their right. Others were noting something else that was going on in the field along the palisade wall.
“What do you suppose that lot is doin’?” spoke a voice along the rank. O’Malley turned and looked himself with curiosity. Two butternuts were working along a line marked every so often by stakes set into the ground some 30 feet from the palisade. One had a bucket which appeared to be filled with heavy whitewash, while the other was laying down a thick white line in the grass and rocks.
“Do you think it is a building guide? Are they laying out some new building?” Posed Beyer, squinting to see better. O’Malley had a suspicion, but he didn’t have a chance to speak as to what it might be since the parade was called to attention. Colonel Allen took his place on the platform before them, and he stood facing them a moment. Someone coughed, and a throat was cleared loudly. The Colonel frowned and then began.
“By now, I am sure that you have heard of our new arrivals; and I know that you will all offer them your support and insight in adjusting to life here at Camp Ford. With the arrival of these men, there is a need for changes which I want you to know is not of my choice, but necessity for the time being. For the safety of everyone, I have given the order for a boundary to be made 90 paces from the wall. I know that previously this has not been the rules here, but for the time being--it will be the law.”
There were murmurs now from the assembled prisoners as the words of Colonel Allen sank in -- the mood grew cold as the colonel continued.
“I pray that you men will respect this new rule, and not try the deadline, because I promise such action will be dealt with harshly. My men have been instructed to shoot on site any man that crosses the deadline. Please respect this rule, and with your forbearance we shall hopefully soon return to our more permissive rule.” Allen turned and went from the platform, marching away followed shortly by the major. He never once looked back, but marched away as the assembled prisoners were dismissed. At first the men stayed put, murmuring amongst themselves in various tones of consternation. Beyer was shaking his head.
“Can you believe that? What sand that man has!”
“It was a thing, indeed,” responded O’Malley, not quite so surprised as everyone else but wishing perhaps that the news had been broken to the masses in some other way. How could it have been done better though? O’Malley supposed that there was really no way that such news might be brought to the prisoners which would not be met poorly -- any limitation on what freedom they had here would be met with scorn. Some men did agree that it was a testament to the courtesy of Colonel Allen that the game was allowed to go forward - -though cancelling the event would have led to more problems -- so perhaps it was less good graces than wise management. Men finally drifted away from the parade ground, the joy they had felt for the upcoming game reasserting itself in their spirits at last. O’Malley took a seat on the side of the empty field that served for their baseball games (wondering for a moment if it would remain empty for long with all the new arrivals) and became one of the throngs. In the past the guards had often mingled in amongst the spectators to some extent, but there was nothing like that now. Instead, their butternut and grey clad keepers were deployed spaced along the perimeter of the field at internals. Some men noted the fact, but the game was on and soon that was all they had thought for. Years later, many would credit that fervor with the reason for what would happen next -- though the less generous would hold that it had been murder. For O’Malley it would be a reminder to him of the war he had been forced to sit out of for a time, and push him to seek change.
The game proved a good one (“worth a goober” according to their keepers) with the New Yorkers’ “Eckfords” showing their usual prowess in striking the ball soundly, but the “Union Mules” showing they had spirit as well. The score had come to 5 runs scored for the Eckfords and 4 for the Mules. The crowd on both sides were slanderous, hurling taunts more at each other than the players until a Chaplain (who had been drafted to judge the game) from an Illinois regiment called for civility and curbed some of the discourse. In truth, it had been his threat to end the game and judge it a tie, more than his admonishments for civil behavior, that did the trick--one had to admire a Chaplain that knew a soldiers priorities. A serious chance for the Mules to turn the game in their favor was thwarted, and the spectators roared with glee or despair depending where they sat.
“The fool running like that! What was he thinking?” Spat Davis, slapping himself in the forehead and turning to Beyer with a frown. The other man only shook his head in agreement, as the Mules took the field. Beyer pointed out Tom Moorehead to Davis and the pair shouted in unison -- “Moorehead! Don’t fall asleep out there now!” Moorehead, who played in the right outer-field, grinned sheepishly but gestured rudely, which made his friends laugh before switching their taunting to the Eckfords who were milling about as they waited their turn at batter. O’Malley sat beside Marcy, who shouted something encouraging before turning to the Irishman.
“Mike, normally you are the first rate ruffian in abuse of the “Ickfords” -- something troubling you?”
O’Malley smiled and shook his head. “Naw--nothin’. Jus’ tis business wit the new lads, an the measures put in place to keep us proper in ours. So easy for one of them or us to make it into a right cock-up, makes me nervous is all.”
Marcy looked out to the guards, and ran a hand over his face “Well, so far the Colonel has done well enough by us.” O’Malley nodded and agreed. He tried to have a positive attitude about the situation, but a nagging sense of dread lingered. That sensation was accompanied by the Eckfords getting two men on base, to which Davis nearly wept. They watched as one of the New Yorkers known to hit the ball a good distance came to the bat, and tension mounted. The ball was thrown, and a hefty crack sounded as it was struck. The ball rose quickly, flying high and straight. For a moment all was silent as it arched down and into the deft hands of the Mules second baseman, who touched out the Eckford runner from the first base with a shout of joy before throwing it on to the first baseman for an out there as well. There was pandemonium, and the crowds cheered for the sudden change in fortune so common to this game they loved. O’Malley could not help but jump to his feet and cheer with the rest, and the Mules looked buoyed by the event as well. Spirits ran high as the ball was thrown for the next at bat, the mood perhaps making the New Yorkers over eager and a hit that should have gained more resulted only in a man at first. The base men took a moment to enjoy themselves, throwing the ball in rapid succession before finally returning it to be thrown for the next Eckford waiting to swing.
“Can you believe that! What a fine play that was, a double out!” shouted Beyer and he was slapped on the back by Davis. Marcy shouted encouragements at the Mules, and O’Malley called the abilities of the Eckfords into question in the rudest of terms.
“The Mules have a real chance Mike! Can you believe it? Them New Yorkers look fit to be tied!” laughed Marcy and O’Malley nodded and smiled, feeling his own mood lifting at last. At last the crowd calmed, and the ball was thrown for the waiting man at bat. The moment seemed to drag itself out then, all eyes upon the ball as its rudely stitched hide covering spun slowly towards the Eckford player. The man at bat moved with purpose, and as he swung the bat and the ball and wood collided, time seemed to reassert its own pace once more for the spectators. The impact drove the ball like a shot from a cannon -- straight and powerful through the reach of the second baseman and spinning dust well into the outer field. Moorehead was on it, charging after the bouncing ball a it rolled at last to a stop a foot or two past the still drying whitewash line in the grass. The crowd was cheering, but some began to realize what was about to happen. O’Malley saw, and his cheer went from one of excitement to dread. The Eckford player knew nothing of the impending event, only that he was racing against time. Moorehead was single minded, knowing that he could still help make the play which would give the Mules a real chance to tie and perhaps beat the New Yorkers.
“STOP! STOP MOOREHEAD! THE DEADLINE!” shouted O’Malley, running onto the field in desperation. Others in the crowd joined him in yelling, suddenly the game hardly mattered to any of them as they realized what was happening. The Eckford runner slowed between second and third base, as spectators were moving into the field. Mules base men turned to look, as Moorehead crossed the white line without stopping, his hand outstretched for the ball which had consumed all his thought and concentration.
Private Frank Smith was 22, yet he had already fought in 7 different battles before being wounded in the leg. The wounded had festered and he had nearly lost his leg, but in the end he recovered -- though not enough to make the marching needs of a fighting soldier of the Confederacy a reality for him. As such he had been assigned here to Camp Ford, and after three weeks here he had started to settle in. He was a good soldier, and a fine shot. He knew his orders, and so when the prisoner had gone running across the deadline towards the fence, he knew his duty. He sighted along the barrel of his .58 Enfield as he had so many times before, and squeezed the trigger.
The next two days were the hardest any of them had known at Camp Ford, and the nearest it came to the prisoners setting out in revolt. There were demands that the guard, Frank Smith, be given over to justice, but Colonel Allen recognized the sound of vengeance behind these words and refused. Many of the hot-headed then began to openly threaten to break out of the camp, and wreak havoc upon the nearby town of Tyler -- this lead only to harsher restrictions by the Colonel to maintain control. Freedoms were fully curtailed -- as much as could be with so few garrison -- and the grumbling only became louder. Somehow, the citizens of Tyler learned of the threats by some prisoners to vent their anger upon their town, and the local planters sent slaves to improve the 16 foot palisade against escape. The following day the replacements that the Colonel had been waiting on arrived at last, and the prisoners were brought fully under control. Rumor suggested that an influential landholder near Tyler had been responsible for ensuring Camp Ford received its replacements. In the end, the death of Thomas Moorehead proved a wound between prisoners and their keepers which would never fully heal.
For Mike O’Malley, it had given him a new determination to escape and return to the war. Private Kretzman (who was sobered by the events at the baseball game, and had delivered his message most seriously) had found him the day after Moorehead was shot, and informed him that the escape committee desired to meet -- but it would not be until two weeks more before they truly were able to do so.
Stepping from the darkness into the dim light of the meeting room, O’Malley was greeted by the hospital steward T.J. Robinson with a nod. “Robinson, good to see ye,” spoke the Irishman with a gentle smile.
“Did you have much trouble slipping out?” asked the steward as the pair moved to where the others were waiting.
“Not as much as I expected. The Colonel may still be watching fer unrest, but I tink wid all the new guards most of the garrison’s relaxed. Most of these fellows on this night are the new ones -- they ain’t yet got used to watchin’ as they should.” Robinson nodded and they joined the committee group who were seated quietly about a table in the the ramshackle affair that served as the camp’s hospital. Fitzgerald, a red headed Irishman from the New Yorkers, gave O’Malley a short wave; Smythe, an Ohioan sat in quiet conversation with Felman from Illinois, but both men looked up when they entered and went silent. Kretzman stepped over and shook O’Malley’s hand, as all took their seats for the meeting to begin. Robinson cleared his throat.
“I suppose it would be remiss of us not to mention the unfortunate events of the weeks past, and the death of Thomas Moorehead. I would like to ask for a moment of silence, and offer a prayer for our poor departed brother and friend.” The group bowed their heads then, and O’Malley noted that young Kretzman steepled his hands as Robinson went on. “Dear Heavenly Father, we ask you to watch over our brother Thomas who was taken from us so recently. Watch over your children, and give us strength to overcome. Amen.” It was quiet for a moment, before Smythe cleared his throat and added his own quiet “Amen” under his breath as he spoke.
“Gentlemen, a great opportunity has come to us here that presents the first real hope for mass exodus from Camp Ford. I cannot take credit for this plan, but should instead lay the laurel at Lieutenant Felman’s feet, for it was he that cultivated this opportunity.” Smythe turned to Felman, who looked uncomfortable with the attention, but rose and spoke all the same.
“Gentlemen. I was approached last month by some citizens of the town of Tyler, eager to assist our cause. They are Unionists, but it took some conversations before this came out fully, and only recently that they made it clear they wish to assist us in mounting an escape.” There was murmuring, and Fitzgerald objected outright that he feared the whole thing “stunk of some plan to lure out the committee”. Felman objected, and went on to explain how he had come to meet these fellows whom he referred to as “Mr W.” and “Mr R.”. Felman had become ingratiated with the garrison’s’ quartermaster, and by hook and crook had ensured that he was chosen for the detail taken along into Tyler once per month for supplies. Being as Lieutenant Felman had been at Camp Ford for almost a year already, the guards were quite trusting and he was not often under serious scrutiny when he went into Tyler. He was often left to watch the wagon, and would strike up conversations with the clerks and workers from the dry goods store. Mr. W. and Mr. R. were among these, and had proven trustworthy. It turned out that it was this pair which had assisted in giving aid to the one fellow who was known to have escaped successfully (a wiry little Iowan named Buckley) a month before Peel was killed. A letter from Buckley to his friends in Camp Ford, written in his own hand (this was attested to by Kretzmen who was a pard of his) had been given to Felman by Mr. W as proof of his fidelity. This ended up being enough to silence the critics in the room, though Fitzgerald still had some reservations.
“So, what is it then that these Unionists are offering?” Asked Smythe.
“Food, shelter, and a change of clothing for starters. Further, they suggest that they have other friends that will help guide us to the Union lines -- once the escape is affected. We could not ask for more.”
“No,” commented Fitzgerald with a sour look, “and that is why I am still not certain we dare entertain this idea.”
“He has a point,” said Robinson with a sigh. “They offer us the very things which have always been the balance against our escape -- is it too much to be trusted?”
Felman wasn’t deterred. “Then what of Buckley’s letter? I agree there is risk, that even this proof could have been taken from the hands of those who are truly our friends to be used by agents allied against us. But what if these men are what they claim? As I see it, we owe it to the men here that we seek to serve to make proof of this offer -- for good or ill!” To this the committee found agreement, if begrudgingly.
“We dare not test this then on the general population --it ought to be one of us.” Suggested Smythe soberly. Without hesitation, O’Malley spoke up.
“I’ll do it.”
The plan, as it turned out, was easier contemplated then set into motion. The mood in the camp remained strained, and at one point the Committee considered scrapping it altogether. At last the supply run to Tyler was due in three days, and Felman would make contact and let the Unionists Mr. W. and Mr. R. they would be coming. Once the escapees reached the arranged meeting point just outside of the town along a wooded area known as Greenbriar (for a merry little stream which ran through the area), their friends would see them safety on. All that left for the Escape Committee to figure out was, how to get O’Malley and Kretzman (who had been selected to go as well by a draw of straws) out of Camp Ford. While the easiest way to slip off would be with a diversion during a work detail outside camp, it also carried the greatest risks. Seasoned soldiers were given those details which left the camp, and they would be harder to fool. In the end, they came to realize they must slip out after dark, find a way through the palisade--and make their way across the scrubby open ground around the camp until they hit the safety of the treeline. Given that the fence around the camp had only just been improved upon after the Moorehead killing, it seemed that their chances of finding a weak place or easy exit might be close to impossible. With only a day and a half before the supply run, Kretzman provided them hope after all. In an irony not unnoticed, they discovered two soft spots in the logs along the palisade near where Moorehead had been shot crossing the deadline. No one was sure why the spot had been missed when the fence was being improved, or even how, but with some careful investigation by the cover of night it was reasoned that with two or three hours of work a break could be made. It would be dangerous, as it was situated in the open, but it was the best shot they had. It was figured out that three days after the supply run to Tyler would be a new moon, giving them the darkness required to make good their escape. Felmen and the others agreed, and the plan was set. When the supply run had returned from Tyler, Felmen reported that their Unionist allies would be ready and would meet them at an agreed place in the Greenbriar. Now came the wait, which was the hardest part. He thought that all the way back to his shebang, until he laid eyes upon Beyer.
O’Malley woke and sat up from his cot. He turned and set his feet upon the floor, feeling the tossing and turning he had spent his night doing. Events had moved fast, and he had not given every aspect of escape from Camp Ford complete thought. He realized that more than ever as his eyes settled upon the sleeping form of “Rooster” Beyer. He had considered telling his young friend of the upcoming operation the night before, but in the end he had not. Beyer was a good friend, loyal -- but he was not always best at keeping things to himself. O’Malley knew that it wasn’t that he couldn’t trust Beyer, simply that the boy was young and his exuberance might get the better of him. Things might be said in a moment of conversation with others which could prove damning, and that could not be risked. O’Malley thought on the prospect of leaving Beyer behind, or seeing if the Committee would allow him to join with them in the attempt. He reasoned that away quickly enough though; their supporters in Tyler were expecting two men to meet them--not three. He might ask Kretzman to sit out for Beyer, but would he be willing even to do so -- and would it even be ethical to ask? In the end, he could not escape the necessity of his silence. It was early still, but he knew that sleep would be impossible to be had now. He rose and exited into the cool morning air, nodding a polite hello as a pair of guards walked past on their rounds. They were new men, and O’Malley didn’t know them, but it seemed wise to be friendly.
“What you lookin’ at boy?” asked the closer of the two guards, coming to a halt on the path.
“Sayin’ mornin’ was all,” answered O’Malley with a smile.
“This one is sayin’ mornin’, Phillip,” said the other guard. Phillip turned square on to O’Malley now, his musket in his hands.
“You gotta sand speakin’ to me, boy,” growled the guard named Phillip, stepping closer. O’Malley raised his hands, palms up and took a step backward. “Don’t want no trouble now, lads!”
The other guard moved close on O’Malley’s other side now, and Phillip gave the Irishman a shove with the stock of his musket.
“I think this boy is bein’ disrespecting of our position, Daniel,” said Phillip with a frown.
“Give ‘im a lesson Phillip. Teach this boy respect for his betters!” said the guard named Daniel with a gap-toothed grin. Before he knew it, O’Malley had been shoved hard with the stock of Phillips musket, and landed in the dirt. Daniel kicked him once, but when he brought his foot back at him the second time the Irishman grabbed his foot and twisted hard. The guard went down hard, and his musket -- which had been slung over his shoulder--clattered to the ground and went off with a crack. Phillip swung his musket butt and knocked O’Malley onto his back, his jaw snapping hard to the side as he fell into a dark fuzziness. Daniel jumped to his feet, and recovered his musket with a tirade of profanity. O’Malley law groaning, his head and face on fire and his stomach threatening to lurch hard every time he tried to lift his head. He was aware of people gathering around, shouting and the arrival of a squad of guards with an officer who quickly started barking orders and demanding to know why a musket had been discharged. O’Malley wished the man would stop yelling, but rather than make a complaint he simply passed out. Apparently there were times when being polite simply wasn’t worth it.
The stockade hadn’t changed much, not that he cared in truth. Robinson, the hospital steward, had been by earlier and confirmed that though he was bruised his jaw was intact. Good news he supposed, but that didn’t help much with the ache in his head. Dan and Phil (or as O’Malley thought of them now, the “good morning boys”) had told an amusing tale of how he had accosted them and questioned their parentage before trying for Dan’s musket. At which point --t hey said -- Phil had heroically knocked O’Malley to the ground and the stolen musket went off in the process. The officer that had arrived, Captain Ashley Robert Barrentine (one of the new additions), had had the offending prisoner thrown (literally, thank you Captain) into the stockade awaiting judgement. O’Malley blinked his eyes, and gave himself time for his sight to focus on the dust filled shafts of sunshine streaming through the bars. This was a problem -- Robinson’s manner had reminded him that now was not the time to be in the stockade. In a little less than three days, he was supposed to be escaping from Camp Ford -- bringing attention to himself this way had not been the best move to ensure success. After several aborted attempts, he finally rose to his feet to lean heavily against the wall. He was still propped up this way when the door was opened and a sergeant entered and ushered him out. Falling as much as sitting in the wooden chair offered him, O’Malley smirked when he saw the expression on Colonel Allen’s face.
“Thank ye for havin’ me, Colonel -- though next time maybe if ye could send a paper invite rather than the rough-n-tough’s I’d appreciate it.” The Colonel grunted and shook his head.
“Sometimes sergeant, I wonder why it is that you and I seemed locked in orbit this way. It seems I am always pulling you from my stockade whilst you point out those places where my command requires attention. Have you noticed that?”
“I tink’ I wouldn’t mind havin’ that honor assigned to some other fellow, if it be the same to you Colonel.” Allen nodded and perched on the edge of his desk, crossing his arms.
“Given the situation, I wonder if I might ask you a question and expect an honest answer?”
“Depends on the question ye ask, I should say.”
“With all that has gone on over the last few weeks, I fully understand the mood your people have been in -- though I think you would agree my responses have been tempered with mercy.”
O’Malley turned his head, the ugly bruise visible upon his face from the blow he had taken from Phillip’s musket. “Aye, a musket butt rather than the bayonet -- I ‘spose I ought to be thankful.”
Colonel Allen frowned. “You think I approve?” He said loudly, as he took his seat behind his desk. “I would hope you might know my measure better than that by now, sergeant!” Silence descended over them then, until the Colonel took up his pen and began work on papers which awaited his signature. “You may go, sergeant. I am dismissing the charges brought by Holt and Beaton -- rest assured they will learn from their mistake. We may be enemies in this conflict, but here there will be mutual respect backed by order amongst those here in Camp Ford.” O’Malley stopped at the door, and gave a salute. It was returned, and the Colonel returned to his work.
Beyer was outside when he exited, and met him with a smile.
“There you go again, making friends without me! I have to say, the bruise makes you look better I think -- hides your face some.” O’Malley grumbled something profane and Beyer took him by the arm still chuckling at his joke.
He felt better by the next morning, but chewing anything too hard was misery still on the left side of his jaw. Word had gone around quickly about O’Malley’s run in with Daniel Holt and Phillip Beaton, but the swift release of the Irishman (and the public dressing down that the guards had endured which was witnessed by several prisoners) had averted further bad feelings towards the garrison and calmed the mood at the camp. There were still grumbles about the killing of Moorehead of course, but gradually peace returned between the two sides and calmer heads began to argue that he had crossed the deadline. By this point, the line had been removed, and conditions improved. Sitting with his mess mates, O’Malley spooned the onion and potato soup from his cup into the right side of his mouth. He began to realize that he felt serious guilt knowing that he would soon leave these men behind -- yet with any luck their successful escape might well lead the way to many more to come. If their Unionist contacts were honest, that was. This worry was another lump in his gut which had been troubling him, but this too he set aside. He was committed to the escape, and for good or ill it would be what it would be.
The orange light of the fires burning in the iron braziers crackled, throwing shadows. He watched the embers rise in swirling vortexes into the night sky, some of them remaining bright very high into the night sky. The sentries passed quietly with their lantern swaying. He had five minutes--give or take--before they passed this way again. O’Malley folded a sheet of old newsprint upon which he had written a note to Rooster, and set it atop his bunk before working his way through the sleeping forms of the men that shared the hovel. His doubts seemed to have vanished, now that the moment had finally arrived. He turned up his collar, and had rubbed stove black (which Smythe had lifted from somewhere) into his face and hands to help him blend into the shadows further. He had several tense moments as he made his way to the the palisade when he nearly blundered into sentries, but finally he arrived safely. Kretzman and Felman were waiting for him, and upon his arrival they began their work. Felman gave them both a solid handshake and vanished into the gloom to ensure they would not be discovered unawares. If someone did threaten their efforts, Felman would signal them by lighting his pipe and try to waylay whoever it was himself to give them time to slip away. It wasn’t a perfect method, as it would likely end with Felman spending time in the stockade for being out of his bunk after curfew, but it would be a sight better than being discovered while trying to escape. They dug as quietly as they could, using spades with shortened handles provided by the Escape Committee, working their way under the wall. Shortly they found that the wood of the palisade was growing rotten as they reached a depth of two feet, and their work went from digging to breaking away the log itself. Before they knew it, they had broken through and without hesitation the pair slipped through the short tunnel and found themselves on the other side of the wall. They waited a moment, as was planned, and Felman’s face appeared in the hole.
“Godspeed boys.” He said as he took the spades from them, and started moving the dirt back into the tunnel to hide their work. The pair did not wait for Felman to finish, but moved off along the palisade to the East. Once they had reached the corner, their path took them away at last into the scrub and low sandy hills to the North-East. They paused briefly, and lay breathing hard more from their nerves than true exertion.
“I keep waiting to hear a sentry call out the alarm,” said Kretzman with a tone somewhere between fear and excitement.
“Aye, sooner we are away the better, tis true,” said O’Malley with a short swallow from his canteen. They had brought a canteen each, and tarred haversacks with rations for a day. Where and how Robinson had come up with them, O’Malley had no idea, but with only supplies for a day (two if they were very sparing) it left very little room for error. If their contacts didn’t show as planned, they could wait a day or two at the most. In truth though, thought the Irishman as the pair started off again in the direction of the Greenbriar, if they remained at the rendezvous point once their escape was discovered it would not be long before search parties would likely find them. Greenbriar was only a short distance from Camp Ford, and not likely to offer them much concealment.
They found their way to the meeting spot easily enough, settling down amongst the small trees which grew thick along the course of the merrily splashing stream which gave the place its name. For a long while, they crouched as silently as they could and stretched their ears for any sound that they were being sought. O’Malley’s heart thumped hard several times when twigs snapped or movement was heard around them, but Kretzman had grown up in the backwoods of Michigan and quickly eased the Irishman’s fears that such sounds were natural. Eventually they decided they were not yet pursued, but the adrenaline of the escape left them fidgety. O’Malley soon found himself pacing before realizing just how much noise he was making, and made himself stop. He sat down in the nearly perfect darkness, back to back with Kretzman.
“You alright?” whispered Kretzman. O’Malley nodded and smiled to himself.
“I’m fine lad,” he said instinctively before realizing that he was not. Anthony Kretzman, a boy who was 18 years if he was a day, was comforting him. O’Malley remembered when he had been the one who led boys this age through the tumults of army life -- yet now he was scared. Not that he hadn’t been scared before now, he had many a time and plenty, but he had never allowed that fear to take root before. He had changed he realized, no less than this boy whom others used to call a “klutz” had. No one had called him that since Moorehead had been shot; but then the boy that had warranted such a nickname had also not been seen since that day as well. A snap of twig brought O’Malley from his thoughts, more because Kretzman responded to it this time by moving silently to his belly in the brush. The Irishman followed, noting where his companion seemed to be directing his attention.
“Someone coming,” whispered Kretzman, “Could be our contacts, but they are not coming from from the right direction if they are.”
A pair of forms became just visible in the gloom, who stopped and clearly were looking for something. O’Malley held his breath, and prayed they would not be discovered. The pair of shadows moved forward until they were nearly on top of where they lay concealed, but the darkness served them well. The strangers stood silent for a moment, before suddenly O’Malley became aware that they were whispering to one another.
“You are certain that this is the place?” said one.
“I thought so,” said the other.
“So much for your short-cut, Tom.”
“It all looks so different in the dark. Think we missed them boys?”
All at once, O’Malley felt Kretzman move and stand up out right before the two men. The shadows gasped and stepped backward from the sudden appearance, and looked to O’Malley that they meant to flee when Kretzman said in a loud whisper -
“Deliver me in Your righteousness and cause me to escape...”
There was only a moment pause before one of the strangers answered --
“...bow down Your ear to me and save me.” Kretzman stepped forward and took the hand of the stranger he had exchanged this verse with.
“Psalm 71, verse 2. Sorry we startled you, we weren’t wholly sure you were friendly,” said Kretzman as he waved to O’Malley to join them. Climbing to his feet, the Irishman joined the strangers who had proven obviously to be their contacts.
“Scared us for certain, but then we got lost trying to make good time to you here and came in from the wrong way,” offered one of them, “so we don’t blame you for being cautious.”
Introductions were made in the dark, and O’Malley and Kretzman learned that their contacts were Tom Worthe and John Rawlings (The mysterious Mr.’s W and R respectively). Worthe and Rawlings had brought them civilian clothing and boots, though Kretzman could not fit into the boots brought for him and ended up having to keep his issued brogans. They bundled up their old uniforms and stuffed them into a canvas bag which Rawlings had brought for that use, and then set off for the town. When they had made some progress through the trees, O’Malley poked Kretzman in the back.
“The bible verse -- oddly appropriate for a sign-countersign. Who was it what came up with that then?”
“Felman did, told me about it yesterday. Came in handy, didn’t it?” came his whispered reply. Their contacts halted, and Worthe spoke.
“I think that ought be far enough. This’ll be the jade but, boys it can’t be helped -- head back yonder.” He stepped down into the slow moving water of the stream, and walked slowly back in the other direction, with a quiet suggestion that they be careful with their footing as some of the stones were slippery. It wasn’t pleasant going, as the water was cold as it soaked their feet and the bottom cuffs of their trousers--but the need to throw dogs (that the camp would likely use in trying to track the fugitives) off the scent was well worth it. After making their way almost back to where they had met, they left the water and started away in the direction they knew the town was. They did not speak as they moved along, trying their best to make as little noise in their travel as they could. Once or twice the group halted when they heard something, but in the end after several tense moments it turned out to be nothing. As they reached a rise, a sound met them which made their blood run cold, and goose flesh to creep over O’Malley’s neck. It was no doubt the bay of a hound--then another, and more. Worthe and Rawlings conversed in loud whispers before they turned to them.
“O’Malley you are going with me--” said Rawlings as he grabbed the Irishman’s sleeve and nodded to Worthe. “Worthe and Kretzman will head a different way back. With them trackin’, it might throw them off enough to let us all get away safely, and if not....well..” He trailed off as a hound bayed closer in the darkness and the two pairs suddenly rushed off in their opposite directions. The urgency of the moment ruled, and as O’Malley rushed along being slapped hard across the face by shadowy branches, he realized with regret that he had not even said goodbye. He put the rising terror of being caught out of his mind as best he could, and concentrated instead upon keeping up with Rawlings’ fleeing form. From behind them somewhere hounds could be heard baying as they followed the scent - -the direction of the sound impossible to discern in the inkiness of the night air. O’Malley realized with some faint amusement that he was likely being shown very clearly what it was like for Negroes that sought their freedom with the use of their own legs and initiative. Somehow, it seemed appropriate -- though he couldn’t say he was enjoying it. They moved up an embankment, and the Irishman was glad Rawlings seemed to know his way in the dark because he had no idea which way was what.
After what seemed like hours, but which was probably only minutes, Rawlings stopped and dragged O’Malley down beside him beside a wide yellow oak. They both strained their ears, and heard again the sound of men and dogs -- but it seemed to be moving away from them at last. They remained where they were for several minutes longer before Rawlings laid a hand upon O’Malley’s arm and bid him follow. They retraced their steps a short way, before turning to their left and starting off towards a short rise. By the time they reached it, O’Malley realized that they had left the trees and that a short way before them lay the few flickering lights of the town of Tyler.
“Alright then, well we wait here then. With any luck, Worthe and your companion will have shook off the dogs and meet us here soon. If not, well--” Rawlings paused and wiped his brow with a handkerchief which he drew from his pocket. “--they’ll meet up with us further along, be sure of that.” O’Malley nodded, but within he felt doubt and the hard learned pessimistic acceptance of a soldier. He hoped that Worthe and Kretzman might elude capture, but he recognized fully that there was still no guarantee that Rawlings and himself had seen the last of pursuit. One thing at a time.
They found a place to hide themselves in a shallow ditch along the treeline, and agreed to wait 15 minutes for the others to meet up with them. The night was well along by now, and O’Malley lay quietly gazing up into the vastness of the heavens above. With no moon, the sky was ablaze with constellations familiar and unique to these southern lands. He had seen them before now of course, but somehow the stars were so much better without the solid shadow of the camp palisade at the edge of his vision. He was suddenly aware that he had dozed off, when Rawlings shook him awake. Worthe had not returned, but when O’Malley tried to ask what had happened Rawlings only put him off and promised to answer all when they were safe. Rising from concealment, they moved towards the town, shadows enveloping them like a cloak beneath bright stars.
The cellar was cool, and O’Malley was uncomfortably wedged into a corner between a crate and several cloth bags he thought might be filled with potatoes, onions or turnips. He sat trying hard to calm his breathing, guilt twisting in his gut. As morning had crept into the sky, the town had been roused by the reports of escape from Camp Ford, followed by the arrival of soldiers who had gone through the outbuildings with a vengeance. Rawlings and the family whose home they had sought refuge in had spirited him away into the root cellar just before soldiers came to look about in the home. It had been a tense few minutes when the trapdoor to the cellar was opened and the one of the soldiers had poked his head into the void to look about -- but the man gave only a cursory look about and never saw O’Malley hidden behind the lumpy sacks in the corner. The trapdoor had been shut again roughly, and dust had showered down in the darkness. O’Malley had not dared to move, hearing the heavy footfalls of the soldiers above him as they continued through the house in their search. As he sat listening to the creaks of movement on the floor above, he thought on what had become of Private Kretzman. When they had arrived at this house, they had been surprised to find Worthe waiting for them, but without the lad. Worthe had been quiet, but insistant as to the bravery and courage of Private Kretzman. When the group had split up in hopes of throwing off the dogs, Worthe and Kretzmen had made their way back towards Camp Ford before halting on a tall rise of a hill to get a sense of their pursuers. They did not have long to wait before they glimpsed a group of soldiers being led by a small pack of dogs, moving in fits and starts as the dogs sought the scent. They looked more like phantoms than men in the flickering light of their torches and lanterns.
“It’s me they’re onto,” whispered Kretzman touching Worthe on the shoulder. “Could you wish O’Malley luck for me? Be sure to get yourself out of here -- no sense to letting them discover you. I’ll keep them chasing me as long as I can.”
With that, Kretzman had risen and crashed through the underbrush back in the direction they had come from but along the higher ridge. The dogs below yelped, and the soldiers hurried off in pursuit. Worthe had reached out after Kretzman, but there was nothing he could do. Worthe had laid a hand on O’Malley’s shoulder and told him of the private’s last wishes for him, and shortly after he was hidden away in the cellar.
O’Malley brushed dust from himself, and put his head in his hands. The trapdoor opened at last, and the eldest boy of the house poked his head into the void.
“They gone sir, but best stay put a bit -- them soldiers might still come ‘round,” said the boy. O’Malley made his understanding clear, and closed his eyes. The death of Moorehead had given him back the resolve to escape and to fight on -- in turn it had brought out the best in a young soldier whom O’Malley would never allow to be called “Klutzman” in his presence ever again.
“It ain’t right is all,” said “Rooster” Beyer through the bars of the stockade. “Using hounds to help find a man just doesn’t seem in the articles of proper war.”
Private Kretzman gripped the bar and smiled out at his latest visitor. He had had a lot of visitors in the days since he had been dragged back to Camp Ford and deposited in the stockade. Colonel Allen had promised that Sergeant O’Malley would be found soon enough, but as the days went by Kretzman figured the Irishman had gotten safely away. Sadly the garrison had discovered the break in the palisade after an exhaustive search demanded by the Colonel, so that route was closed once more to them. Kretzman had yet another week to go in in the stockade, and then hard labor details to serve as a reminder of the foolishness of attempting escape. Kretzman knew it would do no good -- and he figured Colonel Allen knew it too. When men would ask him through the bars if he regretted chucking his own chance at escape, he never faltered in his answer. “I’d do it the same if I had to do it over.”
Beyer unfolded a scrap of newsprint, and smiled as he read it.
“Mick left me a note you know, before he left. I was mighty put out at first at him, leaving and not tellin’ me. Still am, I suppose a bit -- but I guess I understand why he did it, havin’ read his note.”
“I didn’t know,” answered Kretzman. Beyer pushed it through the bars to him, and he read it by the light of the window. The message scribbled there was short, but direct.
I am going out. Be sure to take good care, and don’t be blubbering. If I might have told you before I would. I have to do this, Moorehead showed me that. Be sure to know I will be back to collect you soon as I can get the pumkin’ rinds off their asses.
Kretzman smiled and pushed the paper back to Beyer.
“Rooster? How’d you come by that?”
Beyer smiled, and laughed to himself before launching into the story of his nickname.
The wind always blows, inside and out. You know it is gusting within the walls, because you can feel it somewhat and hear it whistle through the palisade. The wind -- more of a breeze at that moment -- was warm and dry. Had he been standing within the palisade, he might not have ever felt its movement. It was subtle, a gentle thing which he could feel. It was there one moment, and gone the next. He thought of those still within the camp, and shuddered. It wasn’t as bad as some places that prisoners were held -- nor even as bad as some of their own prisoner of war camps in truth -- but captivity worked on a man all the same. The comfort, or humanity, of one’s keepers mattered of course, but being a prisoner was poison to the soul either way. One of his saviours approached and handed him a glass of milk, and a warm hunk of bread. For a moment he simply smiled, before finding ecstasy in the warm creamy wholesomeness of the beverage. He laughed a moment, and his saviour slapped a hand on his shoulder. They pulled him away at last from the large window in the barn, reminding him that it wasn’t safe to be so conspicuous yet. He understood, and thanked the pair of men that would be thought of a brothers ever more. As the men turned and wandered out, one of them stopped and looked back as the late evening sun was golden and orange behind him.
“You need anything at all, before we close up and let you sleep? There’s a quilt, and the rest of that sausage if you want it--in that sack there. You gonna be alright for tonight then sergeant?”
He smiled, something he felt he hadn’t done in the months since that day in the Ward Yards. Lifting his glass to his friend, he nodded. “It’s Michael to ye--or O’Malley if you prefer to be less informal, lad -- from here on!” His friend smiled, and closed the door of the barn behind him.