Year 2000 Award Winner

How Captain Samuel L. Cowan Escaped From Camp Chase During The Civil War


 Samuel L. Cowan    

Photo of Captain Cowan from the author.

Copyright 2000 by Laura Keeble Clayton 


Photo of Captain Cowan or a relative.

Having been captured at Fort Donelson at its surrender to the Federal troops, I was taken with other officers to Camp Chase at Columbus, Ohio. Our mess consisted of Mr. Jim Bradshaw, myself, and several other friends.

During the day we amused ourselves looking at the passing clouds as the fence around the prison was so high. We could easily direct our thoughts upward which I suppose was intended that way by our chaplain. At night we employed our time by singing old familiar songs such as "Home Sweet Home" and "The Girl I Left Behind Me," and we were designated by the guards as "the happy family."

Such happiness, however, did not last long. I had an old friend who was an officer in the Federal Army in the command of the prison. He and his good wife came to see me and offered me clothes and money which I gladly accepted. Having been an officer in the commissary department of the Confederate Army, I found it more convenient to dress in citizens clothes, as several times I came near being captured, only evading them by my clothing. Well there came a day when an order was issued to remove half of the prisoners from Camp Chase to Johnson's Island. They, finding us gay and happy, divided our mess and took half our "happy family" away. A few weeks later they issued another order to move more prisoners to Johnson's Island. This time I had to go.

Standing in line waiting for the order to move, I engaged two of the guards in conversation and showing them on the sly two five dollar gold pieces I offered each of them one of them if they would let me pass out of the lines. The bait was too tempting, and here my citizens' clothes fulfilled its good mission again for I got off without detection. Going to a barber shop uptown I got a shave, a shine, and a hair cut, which greatly improved my appearance and changed me so much that I looked more like a private citizen than an escaped prisoner.

I arrived at the depot in safety to find a train going East nearly ready to start. While sitting on the platform smoking a cigar, an Army officer stepped up hurriedly and scrutinized me very closely, at the same time telling me of the escape of one of the prisoners for whom he was hunting. I talked with him and got a good description of myself as he had heard it. But, about that time, the conductor of the outbound train yelled out "All aboard" and I arose and stepped on the car saying as I went, "Goodbye, Colonel, I hope you will find the damned rebel (no capitals!).

About twilight I had to change cars and while waiting a man walked up, struck a match and looked me closely in the face. I struck a match too, and looked him boldly in the face, apologizing for doing so by saying, "I thought you were my friend Mr. ----." This threw him off the track as a telegram had reached there to watch for an escaped Confederate prisoner.

I reached Pittsburgh in safety where I had a cousin living. I stayed quietly with him for several weeks and got everything I needed. I dropped my sir name and was known by my middle name. My uncle at Shelbyville wrote to me to go over to New York on business for him, which I did, and there many old friends offered me all the money I wanted or needed.

I was anxious, however, to return South and join my command so made my way back home to Louisville. Here I met up with an exchange of prisoners, I fell in with them and got safely back to Nashville. Here I met my old friend Mr. Tom Freanor, who lived near the Hermitage.  To get me through the lines he provided me with an old mule and a stick. We took in with us an old German woman to talk to the German guards. While the old lady kept the guards talking about the fatherland, I gave my old mule a kick and slowly rode through the Federal pickets. I spent that night with Mr. Freanor and returned to Shelbyville the next day to find the Federal Army moving towards Murfreesboro. I remained at home for a few days and then joined my command in Atlanta.

Laura Keeble (Kibby) Clayton is the great grand niece  of Samual L. Cowan. She says, "I don't know what the  L. in his name stands for. Maybe my brother or sister  do. As for the picture, we know it is a Cowan ancestor in his Civil War get-up, but I'm not sure if it's the same man. It is an interesting story. I'm happy to share it."  

Editor's note.  Kibby, who was a very close friend of ours, died in the Spring of 2003 at the age of 56.  All her many friends miss her more than we can say.
                                        Richard Loller

Contact Kibby's Husband, Dave

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