|Union troops beat Confederate prisoners of war in Washington D. C.|
(Library of Congress)
The Richmond Dispatch
November 30, 1861
William H. Parvin and William B. Willis, of the Washington "Grays," Captain Thomas Sparrow, from Washington, North Carolina, passed through Petersburg evening before last, on their return home, after a long imprisonment at the North Their escape from further confinement, and their subsequent avoidance of detection and arrest, are remarkable — almost miraculous. They were taken prisoners in company with many other gallant North Carolinians at Fort Hatteras. We are all acquainted with the circumstances of the surrender. From Hatteras they were taken to Fort Lafayette--the Bastile of New York. Here they were kept in close confinement until the latter part of October, when they were all put aboard a steamer and taken to Fort Warren, near Boston.
On their way to Fort Warren, Parvin and Willis formed some plan of escape, and announced their intention to attempt it to Captain Sparrow, who told them they must do it at their risk. If they failed, heavy irons and close confinement for the balance of the war would be their lot. But they possessed brave hearts and were confident of success. They supplied themselves with bread and water, a candle, matches, &c. On their arrival at Boston, the men were marched ashore in companies, as their names were called. Immediately before the name of the Washington Grays was called, Parvin and Willis left their company, descended from the deck, and found their way into the extra coal room of the steamer. Here they concealed themselves, and in a little while had built up a wall of coal around them so that any person entering the room would not discover them. Their late companions in arms were gone, and they were now alone in the dark, unwholesome coal-bunk of an enemy's steamer, not knowing what a day or an hour might bring forth. In this condition they remained for a day, or probably a day and a night, when a large number of sailors were brought aboard the steamer to be shipped to New York.
On the 1st of November the vessel left Boston, and landed her load at the Brooklyn Navy-Yard. In the bustle and confusion consequent upon their embarkation, our heroes thought they might leave their place of concealment and make their escape. They gained the deck, and went unobserved on shore with the crowd of sailors. But they soon saw that their time for escape had not yet come. All around the Navy-Yard were stationed sentinels, whom it would be impossible to pass. They therefore resolved to return to the steamer and await yet longer. They now concealed themselves in the private apartment of the boat, and remained thus for two days, when finally, as if providentially, in one of her trips the steamer ran afoul of a schooner in the river, and was reported so much damaged as to cause her to make for Jersey City with all possible speed Great excitement was produced among her passengers, and everything and everybody were in the utmost confusion.
A most favorable opportunity now for the prisoners to escape, and they took advantage of it. They left their hiding place again, and as soon as the Jersey City landing was reached, they rushed ashore. They then took passage on a ferry boat for New York. In this great city they found a friend, who took them in and kindly cared for them. He advised what they should do, and furnished them with money to complete their plans. They took passage to Baltimore as Union sailors-- anti Southern Seceders of the deepest dye. In the noble Monumental City they had not far to go before meeting with friends of the South and her defenders. Clothes are given to them, and they are aided in getting employment on a wood schooner bound for some point on the lower Maryland shore. For sixteen days they worked like heavers, and by their unusual industrious habits and good behavior they gained the unbounded confidence of the Captain. His every wish was law, and every act was done with pleasure; but the proud Captain was soon to be deprived of his prides.
It was the night for Parvin to keep watch, and the Captain had retired, and Willis had pretended to do so. But hands were busy as eyes. Sails for the small boat attached to the schooner were made and fitted. The proper hour had come; the sign was given, and the two men set forth upon the dark waters. It was all a venture with them, for they knew not whether they might land, among friends or enemies. After long hours of suspense and weary travel, they landed on the Virginia side of the Potomac, below Aquia Creek.--Here they were taken in custody and sent to General Holmes' headquarters, where they were joyfully recognized by old acquaintances from North Carolina They were furnished with free passes over the railroads home.
Is not this a strange and romantic tale, reader? But it is nevertheless true, and puts fiction to the blush.