Bryson escapes from a confederate prison

This letter from L. V. Yarbrough was published in Tupelo by John H. Aughey describing his escape from the Tupelo Confederate prison along with an unnamed Bryson.

Rev. John H. Aughey:

DEAR FRIEND--Having learned through John H. Stanton that you are chaplain of Gen. Benjamin Grierson's old regiment, the 6th Ill. cavalry, I send you by him this short letter. Please inform me how you escaped from Tupelo. I heard Gen. Bragg tell Major Grosvenor, when he tried to say something in your defense, that you would be hanged on Tuesday of the next week as sure as there was a God in heaven. He said you deserved to suffer a hundred deaths for your disloyal speeches and your many treasonable acts. That there was a ghost of a chance for you seemed incredible, chained as you were, and so vigilantly guarded, far away from the Federal lines and surrounded by the great rebel army. Do write me at once and tell me all about your escape. It must have been well-nigh miraculous. The first intimation I had of your escape was an extract from the New York Tribune of an address delivered by you in Cooper Institute in that city, from which I learned that you had succeeded in effecting an escape, but the particulars were not given.

After I was able to travel I was conducted from one neighborhood to another, till at length I reached the Federal lines. At one time we thought it best to travel in daylight. There were ten of us in company, eight of us Unionists endeavoring to reach the Federal lines. Two were guides, Paden Pickens and Paul Paden. We called at the house of a widow named Mrs. Violetta Markle. Her husband had been tried by a vigilance committee and shot, April 19, 1861, as a Unionist. We gave her the countersign taisez vous. She replied oui, oui, all right, and then after preparing a meal for us, she informed us that we were near a rebel camp, and advised us to take the route traveled by the guide, Solomon Frierson, who had called at her house yesterday on his return from a trip to the Federal lines, to which he had conveyed twenty Unionists from Oktibbeha and Pontotoc counties. After leaving Mrs. Markle's, Pickens climbed a tree and made an observation of the surrounding country. Two rebel encampments were visible, one to the north-east, another to the north-west. He thought that we might pass between them without much danger. We started on our way. At one point it became necessary to travel on a road a short distance so as to obviate the necessity of ascending a lofty and precipitous hill. We had just entered upon the road when we saw a company of rebel cavalry about half a mile distant. They had just appeared on the summit of a hill behind which they had been concealed from view. They descried us, and putting spurs to their horses came rapidly toward us. We gave up all for lost, and were about to break for the woods, when Paden, taking ropes from his pockets, told Bryson and Birney to put their hands behind them, when he securely bound them with the ropes. As soon as the cavalry reached us we went to one side of the road to let them pass. The captain, whose name was Pender, wished to know what this cavalcade meant. Paden replied that they had in charge these two tories, and were taking them to camp to surrender them to the general in command, that they might get their just deserts. "Good," said the captain, "I'll go back with you. Sergeant Buford, take command, and go on; I'll go back to camp with these men."

On the way back Paden proposed to the captain that we try these men now, and if they are found guilty shoot them. Capt. Pender agreed to this at once. He said that was the object of his expedition at this time--to quell the disaffected traitors to the Confederacy. He declared that it was he that had ordered the shooting of ten tory devils in the Poplar Springs neighborhood, led by one Methuselah Knight, as arrant a tory as ever lived. We then left the road, and coming to a copse of dwarf tamaracks, we held a trial, and upon their own confession convicted Bryson and Birney of treason against the Confederate States of America. Paden and Pickens asked the privilege of shooting the prisoners. This Capt. Pender granted. Upon the pretense that they had no pistols, Pender drew his pistols from their holsters and presented them to Paden. Paden handed one to Pickens. The prisoners were then bound to two saplings. Paden asked Pender to give the command. The captain told the prisoners that, in compassion to their souls, he would grant them five minutes to make their peace with God.

Birney said, "Captain, we have long ago made our peace with our God. Have you done the same?" Pender replied, "I have killed Union traitors enough to save me."

He then gave the command, "Make ready, TAKE AIM, FIRE." Pickens and Paden fired simultaneously, but not at the prisoners. Pender fell pierced by two balls, and in five minutes his soul had taken its flight to the bar of God. As Pender fell he said, "D--n the traitors," and without uttering another word his spirit left its clay tenement.

It became necessary to kill the horse, as his presence would endanger our safety. Bryson and Birney were unbound, and we pursued our journey rejoicing, leaving Pender where he fell. Without further incident of importance we reached the Union lines, and received a cordial welcome.

Let me hear from you at your very earliest convenience.

Yours truly,