Excerpt from the Diary of

Joseph Phillips

Company F, 40th Illinois Volunteer Infantry


The Capture and Hair Breadth Escape of Joseph Phillips, a Soldier in Co. F, 40th Ill. Vol. Inf.

While on the march, after Gen. Sherman's command left Gen. Hood's rear, in Alabama, and were on their way back to Atlanta, we were obliged to forage every day for supplies. Our foraging parties from every regiment were sent ahead every morning as soon as we struck a line of march, and after gathering in such provisions as they needed or could find, would make for the road by the time the main line came up. On the first day of November, 1864, I was one of a party of fifteen or twenty under Lieutenant Charles Johnson detailed for forage. We went about one mile from the command, a short distance from Cedar Springs, alabama, found plenty of such things as we wanted, laid in our supplies and started for the command not thinking of danger, but were surprised by a volley from and a charge by a squad of rebel cavalry in our rear. We were not in line, our loads swung on our guns, and as ill luck would have it, everything appeared at the time to be out of order. They crowded us so closely that the boys were compelled to beat a retreat and make their escape in the best manner they could, with one killed and George Ford, of the Sixth Iowa, who had shot and wounded the rebel Major in the left arm, with myself and two others, were made prisoners, It was then about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The rebels appeared to be in great dread of Kilpatrick's cavalry, and immediately started driving us before them on the double quick until dark. They then robbed us of our money, pocket knives, and even pocket combs, and the rebel Lieutenant, taking a particular liking to a heavy silver ring on my finger, ordered me to take it off, and as it came off hard, and he thought slow, he swore he would have it if he had to cut the d--d finger off to get it. The Major asked us a great many questions during the march, but failed to get much information. He said that he was commander of the 8th Regiment Texas Rangers. I inquired if he intended to treat us as prisoners of war. He was evidently not prepared for the question; he hung his head for a moment before answering, then said that he had shot a great many that he had captured; and had sent some to the Blue Mountains, and he said he thought he would send us there.

We had by this time traveled ten or twelve miles, had ascended a mountain, dark night had come on, a fit emblem of the darker deed these fiends in the human shape were about to commit. When they halted for the night they separated us, the Major saying that he and three of this men would take charge of George Ford, comrade, during the night, and the others could take care of me. He drew his revolver, ordered Ford to march to front of this gang, who also had their guns in their hands. I was placed in front of the other gang. We were then marched into the woods about one hundred yards, the Major and his party then fired on Ford, I saw him fall. Just then I received a volley; two balls taking effect; one passed through the right side of my neck, the other glanced my forehead, cutting my right eyebrow down. I fell on my face, stunned for a short time. On recovering my senses the first thing I recollect was hearing the Major say " G--d d--n him, knock him in the head with your guns! " I sprang to my feet and ran. They fired several shots at me, but as was dark and I was running down the bluff they failed to hit me. I may have run about seventy five yards, when I fell off the cliff on the side of the mountain, stunning me severely, but reaching the bottom I laid myself down in the spring brook running through the ravine and kept still for a while, endeavoring, but in vain, to stop the blood. I then got up, pulled off my shoes to prevent making a noise in climbing the bluff. I started and by making a great effort reached the top of the mountain, when the rebel camp lights were in plain view. I knew they were looking for me and thought it safest to pass as near the camp as possible without being seen, arguing that they would be searching away from camp, I crept by them into a cornfield-- so near that their conversation could be distinctly heard--then took the course I thought would lead me to some part of our army, knowing that I could not reach the line short of ten or twelve miles, and could not with safety travel the road, and as I was barefooted the briers and chestnut burrs were no little impediment when added to the darkness of the night in the timber, I could see nothing. After groping my way two or three miles in this manner and fording creeks I came to a farm with a lane running out to the main road, so following the lane until it intersected the road listened a moment and hearing nothing ventured cautiously forward still listening for my pursuers. Had gone down the lane after crossing the main road but a short distance when I heard horsemen coming very fast in the lane behind me. I sprang over the fence to left into a little neck of woods some thirty yards wide grown up with sage grass and cedar bushes, with a shallow ditch leading from the lane passing through it . I laid down flat on my face in the ditch and grass. The rebels came up in the lane just where I left it, stopped their horses and stood still for fifteen minutes without passing a word. I could hear their horses pawing the ground and hear them jerk the bridles to keep them still, and as I was not to exceed fifteen steps from them my feeling can better be imagined than described. One of them then dismounted and went back and came up on the opposite side of the lane; I could see him. They had evidently heard me, and as I could not move without making a noise in the dry weeds and grass I began to speculate upon the uncertainties of human affairs, calculating at the same time that the chances of escape were still strongly against me. I could wish and wait for them to leave, which they appeared to be in no hurry to do. Providence, however, came to my relief; a hard shower of rain came on, lasting a few minutes and ceased, still they they stood, In a short time it commenced to rain again, and I found by trying the weeds with my hands that they were soft and would bend without noise, and as my anxiety to part with my would be escorts had been on the increase from the time I first laid down in the drain, I concluded to take an unceremonious leave and commenced to creep off, slow at first, but as the distance between us increased my speed was increased, and almost before I was aware of the fact found myself running. I left them waiting in the rain for me. Hope they had a good time of it, and if it would add anything to their enjoyment would like to have them know just how near they came recapturing me. I made the best time I could under the circumstances and reached our line a little before daylight, nearly dead with the loss of blood and fatigue. I was then taken to the division hospital my wounds dressed and made as comfortable as possible, afterwards taken by the ambulance train to Marietta and from there sent to Chattanooga, Tenn., Hospital No. 1, where I arrived on the 11th of November, and am recovering fast. Hope to be well enough to rejoin my command as soon as I can get to it . I have been in the service between three and four years: have not been absent at any battle in which the 15th Corps was engaged. I will here name some of these: SHILOH, CORINTH, VICKSBURG, JACKSON, MISS., MISSIONARY RIDGE, and the last spring and summer campaign up to the first of November and my hardest time was experienced during my short term as a prisoner in the hands of the 8th Texas Rebel Cavalry.

Transcribed per text of the article in the Mt. Vernon newspaper and submitted by David Herron, great-great-grandson of Joseph Phillips.

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