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  • Writer's pictureRichard Condon

"Mint Julep's Escape" - A Tennessee Confederate's Northern Journey

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

With the Confederate defeat at the battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, approximately 4,000 southern troops were captured outside the Union occupied town of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Many Confederate officers who surrendered in the fight for Chattanooga were subsequently sent into Federal captivity at Johnson's Island, located in Ohio's Sandusky Bay. It was here that many ill-equipped Confederates suffered through the harsh conditions typical of winter weather on Lake Erie.

Federal troops storm Missionary Ridge - November 25, 1863, by Alfred Waud (Library of Congress)

"View of Johnson's Island near Sandusky, O." (Library of Congress)

Among those imprisoned on the island was a young Captain from the 20th Tennessee Infantry - 23 year old Theodrick "Tod" Carter. Carter remembered his time in captivity very well, as indicated by a multitude of articles he wrote for southern newspapers under the pen name "Mint Julep." The following piece, written for the Atlanta, Georgia "Southern Confederacy" newspaper, was published on April 8, 1864. In it, Carter chronicled his escape from Federal troops while in transit from Johnson's Island to Point Lookout, Maryland in February of that same year. Falling along Carter's route of escape, the city of Pittsburgh unknowingly harbored the Confederate POW for an evening at the popular Monongahela House Hotel.

Captain Theodrick "Tod" Carter, 20th Tennessee Infantry (Williamson County Historical Society)

"Near Dalton, GA., April 5, 1864

My Dear Happy: -- I was a life member of the Missionary Tract Society a few

weeks ago, but owning to some defect in my locomotive powers, discovered, alas, too

late, (the discoverer by some freak of Nature rarely profits from his discovery: I become

an involuntary guest of the blue coats over the border, on the 25 th day of November,

1863, but my foot is now upon my native heath, and so my name has undergone no

material change. Don’t expand your eyes with undue astonishment, and Pacha-like ask

my tale, fur vanity instinctively seeks an escape valve, and without bidding. Wait, my

dear Happy, until my pipe is filled and lighted, and I will my tale unfold.

Ah, my dear Happy it would warm your old soul into boyish memories to have

thrown a hasty glance over that table. Mint’s pecuniary resources boasted of only six

cents, yet he felt as if he were a big bidder at once of Chase’s gold auctions. By the kind

assistance of friends, his purse was soon replenished with Yankee patriotism,

(greenbacks,) he smiled in a new suit of clothes, and felt brave with a six-shooter in his

belt. Ten days were whittled away in a variety of diversions at Porkopolis (Cincinnati) , and he whiffed a fragrant Havana on a graceful little steamer as she stood in the stream for

Memphis. Gen. Gantt, the heroic Southern patriot, who bravely sacrificed his honor in

his new born devotion to the Union, was absurd. Around him flocked a dozen or so

flint-faced, blue-gilled Yankees en route for Arkansas at his instigation to take

possession of the abandoned plantations. God speed them to the harvest home of the

bushwackers! We passed many little, iron clad, stern wheel, steamboats on the river

known as the "Musquito Fleet." At Paducah there was a gunboat. At Cairo I noticed a large turretted gunboat. The river banks at the latter place bristle with heavy artillery and the wharf and streets are filled with army stores, soldiers and negroes.

The officers, numbering, perhaps, two hundred and forty, captured in the engagements at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge; reached Johnson’s Island, in Lake Erie, on the 7 th day of December last. On the 8 th day of February following, three hundred and eighty of us, chosen alphabetically, were shipped to Point Lookout, Maryland, to partake of the hospitalities of General Butler, publican. No one was wheedled by the Yankee promises of a

speedy exchanged, circulated to prevent efforts to escape, yet no one could divine what our fate would be. Whispered forebodings that we were to be the victims of retaliation stole darkly and swiftly through the throng pressing around the prison gate, yet, so long worn and weary with the lifeless monotony of Johnson’s Island that the refreshing idea of a change, of a new scenes and surroundings, fired every heart with eagerness to be off. Names

commencing with the talismanic firstlings of the alphabet were in as high repute as five dollar bills after the promulgation of the new currency law. Had the songsman of Avon been with us, he would have felt that here is something in a name. We bade sad faces farewell; the dear little craft, “Bird of the Isle,” turned her prow toward Sandusky City, and broke the

crashing ice with the genuine Yankee impudence. Every fellow carried a big loaf of bread

under his arm, and a bright little fountain of joy in his heart.

The entire day was consumed in transporting the requisite number over to the

city, and in the evening of the second day we were aboard the oars and whistling away at the glorious speed to “Maryland, my Maryland.”—Every one had some secret scheme for escaping; every one was confident of success; every eye was bent eagerly upon every relaxation of Yankee vigilance, and sanitized closely every opening to pure air and blessed freedom. But the windows were forbidden to be raised, and every movement of our boys, even the stirring upon our seats, while the train was dashing on at break neck speed, was watched with cat-like jealousy. Away went the cars, and away went the hours, but blue coats and bayonets were still around us. The hope we had nursed so tenderly folded its wings. Great God I to be free, to be free I. He alone who has been in the Yankee’s power, even for a brief hour, can love freedom arightly. The cars had not stopped their speed. I was sitting near a window. Capt. James Gubbins, of the 5 th Louisiana regiment, was sitting just behind me. Our schemes were the same, but we had exhausted our supply of whiskey in fruitless efforts to intoxicate the guards, and we had exhausted every expedient that the ingenuity could suggest we were still prisoners. He tapped me on the shoulder and said: 'Julep, follow me.'

He lay with his head on his companion’s lap with his head against the window,

and as the sentinel near by turned away he raised the window with his foot, thrust his

legs through, his friend lifted him gently, he gave a spring and was out. The window

closed, the seat was empty, and he was free, but the Yankee no wiser. Away went the

cars. In a few minutes another seat was empty, and Julep stood upon mother earth and

touched his hat to the swiftly departing train. According to agreement, our steps were

immediately turned toward each other, but the night were away, and by some

mysterious means we never met. About breakfast time, weak and sore from the shock of

the fall, I entered a house. After a few minutes rambling conversation, having discovered

that my host was a Democrat, divulged my secret, partook of an excellent breakfast, and

slept the day away in peaceful security. The lady of the house had never seen a genuine

rebel before, and with the outspoken impulsiveness of a woman which will betray at

some unguarded moment the hoarded feelings of the heart, her face brightened, and she

grasped my hand with a heartiness that would do honor to Dixie. She told me I was

among friends. I entered Massillon, Ohio, toward the close of the evening, and bought a black carpet-bag, which I filled with newspapers in lieu of baggage, I reached Pittsburg

Pennsylvania, by the express train about 2 o’clock that night, and was soon in bed, and

snugly snoozing at the Monongahela House. Lieut. Gassis of some Pennsylvania

regiment, was in the room with me. The fellow snored away lustily, innocently ignorant

of the fact that his neighbor was a 'Reb.'

The Monongahela House Hotel on Smithfield Street, ca. 1900 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

After a pleasant stroll around the streets of Pittsburg the next morning, an old habit led “Mint” into a lager beer saloon, where he found a trio of festive blue coats hob-nobbing with a deserter from Imboden’s cavalry—The fellow wore a grey jacket and was delivering a series of heroic exclamations expressive of his repentance, his devotion to the Union and his infamy. Mint tossed off a couple glasses of the foaming beverage and left in virtuous disgust. Midnight found me at Columbus, Ohio, en route for Cincinnati, but in a most perplexing dilemma. We had to change cars, and there were sentinels at every car door on the qti rire for three of our boys who had escaped from Camp Chase the evening before.—Now Mint,

unfortunately, wore some handsome gold lace on a piece of rebel grey under his

overcoat, and the slightest investigation would have proven fatal to his pretty little dreams of freedom. He walked in a barroom conveniently near, to stimulate his wits and overtook a pair of fancy Shoulder Straps on a similar mission. They emptied their glasses of Greek fire to the success of our glorious cause, (Union!) Mint and Shoulder Straps were soon friends. They smiled again and after a brief while locked arms and walked into the carts, with a

salute from the sentinel. The engine whistled and we were off. Dinner time found Mint

at the Broadway Hotel, Cincinnati, bending over a huge slice of roast turkey, jellies,

celery and a thousand delightful et ceteras. After leaving there, all private baggage was searched, and all persons of a suspicious character closely questioned. So far, I was like Caesar’s wife ought to have been, 'above suspicion,' but just as we reached Memphis my turn came. A suit of gray woolen underclothing in my satchel sharpened the officer’s suspicions, and he subjected me to a rather embarrassing catechism. Assuming a very indignant air that my loyalty to the “best government” should be questioned, having sacrificed home as an exile from rebel conscription in Tennessee, his heart melted, and he released me. I spent ten days at Memphis, playing citizen during the day, and by the aid of gold cord and plume on my hat, a Yankee officer by night. The obsequious compliance of the saloon proprietors to the fancied Captain U.S.A., was intensely diverting. The most refreshing feature of Memphis is the negro schools. Your stoicism would truckle to your risibles, could you see a crowd of full grown Negro women, intermingled with a large sprinkle of little kinky heads of the other sex, bounding out of school with an armful of books, slates and buckets, and shouting like madcaps. The negro wenches assume all the coyishness and affection of school girls of fifteen. Oh hush I. Some of the negro soldiers are insolent, but most of them, when approaching you, thrust their caps; under their arms, and, from the force of nature, play the slave.

The pickets around Memphis are three hundred yards apart, and negligent affording

easy and safe ingress and egress to the blockade runner. At Oxford, Mississippi: I was arrested as a spy, but soon released. I have already written too much, my dear Happy, and will close for fear of wearying you. I cannot close without saying to you that our people in the Federal lines, though bankrupt in property and worn in spirit, are still true. Though silenced by bayonets and Yankee bastiles, they meet in secret like lovers and talk of the South and pray for our success. The women hover around the beds of our sick and wounded like bands of angels. Every lip, and heart and eye tell me that 'all is well.'

Yours, Respectfully, Mint Julep"

After a nearly two month long trek, Tod Carter successfully reached his destination of Dalton, Georgia in April, where he rejoined his command. Carter, however, met a tragic end on November 30, 1864 as vicious fighting consumed his family farm just south of Franklin, Tennessee. Tod was mortally wounded during the battle, approximately 500 feet from his childhood home. He died shortly after on December 2, 1864, in a room that faced the one in which he was born.

The Carter House - Franklin, Tennessee

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