ST. PIERRE , Henri Cesaire, Q. C.* is the son of the late Joseph St. Pierre, a patriot of '37, by his wife; Domitilde Denis. - Born at Ste. Madeleine, P.Q. (Province Quebec), Sept. 13, 1844, he was educated at the Montreal College, and, subsequently, studied law with City Atty. Agnew, of Kingston, Ont.
The American civil war was then at its height, and young St. P., yielding to a desire for a military life, joined the Northern forces. He served in the 76th N. Y. Volunteers, but being wounded in Va., in the autumn of 1863, was captured by the enemy, and remained a prisoner of war in the South until the close of the war.
Resuming his law studies in the office of the late Sir Geo. Cartier, Montreal, he was called to the bar, 1870, has since practised his profession in Montreal, and is now regarded as " probably the leading criminal lawyer of the Province " (Toronto Mail).
It has been stated that he has defended more than 30 persons accused of capital offences, and that he has been successful in all but 3 or 4. None of those he defended, excepting Shortis, the Beauharnois murderer, were condemned for execution.
During the period 1879 through 1888 he defended quite a few people accused of murder: he defended successfully Tancrède Miron in 1884 for the murder of Adolphe Tessier (verdict of simple assault), Napoléon Gauthier for the murder of William David Monteith in 1885 (verdict: acquittal), as well as Martin Considine for the murder of constable John Malone (verdict: acquittal) and Terence Carroll for the murder of Dennis O'Connor (verdict of manslaughter) in 1887. In 1897, he was chief counsel for the Hon. J. I. Tarte in the Grenier libel case. He was created a Q. C., by the Earl of Derby, 1889, and is now a, mem. of the firm of St. Pierre, Pelissier & Wilson. In politics, he is a Lib., and unsuccessfully contested Jacques Cartier in that interest, for the Que. Assembly, g. e. 1878. Since then he has devoted himself exclusively to the calls of his profession, and has persistently declined all invitations looking to political or other honours.
Mr. St. P. is gifted with the powers of eloquence, and on occasions when he has appeared in public, has won unstinted praise from all classes of the Canadian population, for his liberality of sentiment and broadminded patriotism. On this account, his speech at the unveiling of the Chenier monument, Montreal, Dec., 1895, attracted considerable attention. Addressing more particularly his French-Canadian countrymen, on that occasion, he said he would like an end put to exclusiveness, for why should not a French-Canadian be just as much at home in Toronto as in Montreal? Canada was a great deal more to them than the Province of Quebec. He would say to all: "Be English, be Scotch, be French, be Irish if you will, but above and before all, let us be Canadians."
In religion, a Roman Catholic, he married 1874, Adeline Albina, daughter of the late Adolphe Lesieur, merchant, Terrebonne.-144/ Berri St., Montreal.
* Q.C. = "Queen's Counsel" - a high rank of barrister in the British legal system, but not for Canada. The title was and is purely honorific, and has absolutely nothing to do with the conduct of trials. Furthermore, in Canada, no one can practice law until he/she has passed his/her Bar exams and had been received in the profession. In Canada, like in the U.S., lawyers are both barristers and solicitors. - Jacques Beaulieu
The above is extracted from the book "The Canadian men and women of the time: a handbook of Canadian biography", Morgan, Henry J. (Henry James), 1842-1913. 1176 pages. (Toronto : W. Briggs, 1898.)
The pages of this book can be found online.
Thanks to Ken Scheffler, who sent the information on this listing, and notes:
I am currently doing research on Canadians who served in the Civil War and
came across his biography through www.canadiana.org in The Canadian Men and
Women of the Time: A Handbook of Canadian Biography (p. 902) published in
1898. Henri St. Pierre was born in what is now the Province of Quebec and the
biography states that he was a member of the 76th New York Volunteers and that
he was captured in 1863 and spent the duration of the war in a POW camp.
Unfortunately. I could not find him in the roster you provide and so assume that
he was enrolled under a different or anglicized name.
Indeed he did. The following information came from local Cortland historian and roundtable member E. J. Raus:
He was a Canadian who ran away from home and joined the 76th in Buffalo as Louis Henry.
This was confirmed by St. Pierre himself, as reported in the newspaper in their note on a speech he gave at the 1902 regimental reunion.
The AG roster says this about Louis Henry:
HENRY, LOUIS.-Age,21 years. Enlisted at Buffalo, to serve three years, and mustered in as private, Co. F, August 10, 1863; deserted, November 26, 1863, while on the march.
If St. Pierre was a POW through the end of the war, and then returned home to Canada without letting the State know that he had been a prisoner, the AG would have carried him as "deserted".
It appears that this is exactly what did happen - the following excerpt is from a May 8, 1907, letter from Henri St. Pierre to his son, translated by a descendent, Jacques Beaulieu (whose comments appear in red), and used by permission:
In the autumn of 1864 Sherman’s army was advancing towards Atlanta and so was threatening the prison of Andersonville, situated in the South of Georgia. There were about 40,000 prisoners there. The prison authorities used a stratagem to transfer us without losing too many prisoners through desertion. They announced to us that a general exchange of prisoners had been agreed and signed by both parties and that the exchange would take place in Savannah. To make this more plausible, the prison commander Whirtz sent the prisoners by groups of 1000 at a time to the railroad station which was about one mile from the stockade he was in charge of. This took many days. Some of us were sent first to Savannah, others to Melline [?], others in Florida and some at the Charleston Race Ground where I stayed for many weeks.
While there, I met a French nun who was, together with other nuns, nursing our sick. I asked her if there were any Frenchman or French Canadians in Charlestown. She told me there was a French Jew called Giffard and a French Canadian called Levasseur, originally from Québec City. She gave me paper and pencil with which I wrote a note to Levasseur, who was working for the Confederacy as a chemist. He was producing exploding powder for torpedoes. I was hoping to get him to help me escape to town, and from there either to our fleet or to England with the help of a British blockade-runner. Unfortunately our group was then sent to Florence where they were building a stockade.
At our Florence camp, where we were dying of hunger, we, who were not Yankees, were offered to join the ranks of the Confederate Army. This was unanimously rejected. About ten days later, the same officer came and made us a new offer: to work at Charleston Arsenal as prisoners under guard, which meant that we neither had to sign any contract and make any oath of allegiance. Quite a few accepted this offer. Among them someone from my detachment (a detachment was of 90 men) who was a very nice Irishman. I told him off for his action but he explained that his plan was not to work there but to escape once in town and take refuge on one of the blockade runners, British ships manned by Irish sailors. To be sure to be called, he had registered under two different names. I did not feel like deserting my comrades and give the impression that I was going to help the ennemy, but he nevertheless persuaded me. He gave me the name he gave in second and I answered the call when it was called. I then gave the officer the name of my comrade Paul Clareton.
I told the officer that I was a wheelwright [which he was not] and Paul Clareton said he was a carpenter (he really was a baker). I was to make wheels for the canons and military wagons; Clareton was to make boxes for bullets. The escape idea of my friend reminded me of the exchange of notes with Levasseur, which made the chance of escape greater.
We were immediately brought to Charleston and we slept outside – we were accustomed to that – in a wooden enclosure three quarters empty, close to the Arsenal. The next day we were brought tents and food: flour and beacon. We were close to a small quarter of free Blacks who were living on a small street next to the river Ashley. Charleston, just like New York, is at the meeting of two rivers, the Ashley River and the Cooper River. As we were to get a small wage in Confederate money and as, because of our duties at the Arsenal, we would not be able to cook our food ourselves, we were told to make arrangements with some of the Black families who would gladly prepare our food for a little money.
Paul Clareton and I asked an old black woman called Mrs Brown, who had previously lived in the French Indies and so spoke the French of the Créoles. So far, luck had been on our side, but the next step was the difficult one: we were to go and work to the Arsenal the next day, but neither of us knew the trades we have stated. So we stayed at camp on the pretence that we were sick. That very day I told our situation to the old woman, and asked her if she know Giffard and Levasseur the French nun had told me about. She did not but her son was a baker in town. She promised to ask him and give us an answer by suppertime. I gave her a note to give to Giffard without delay. That she did.
The next morning Giffard, a man in his sixties, came to see us and promised to bring Levasseur that evening. We were again on the sick list, but this could not last long. That evening Levasseur came and it was decided after a quite long meeting that we would escape the same evening and take refuge in the house of a mister Hamilton, which was inhabited by a black slave woman who was a friend of Mrs Brown, who would feed us until a better arrangement could be found. That house was close to the Arsenal but on the opposite side to the Black village. That Hamilton was serving in the Army of General Johnston; he was unmarried and the only person who lived in his house was his housekeeper, whom her Black friends were calling Mrs Hamilton. We could, from where we were, my friend Clareton and I, see on the streets surrounding the Arsenal posters offering a reward for who would bring back the two escaped prisoners.
A few days later Levasseur brought a Major Dubosc and his son. The latter had been wounded recently quite badly in action in Virginia. Decision was made that we were to live in the lower part of town, inhabited then because it had been destroyed by artillery bombardment from the Northern Army occupying Morris Island. Once there, we were to get every evening all we needed to distill alcool.
This we did all winter. I was able to leave our area with the clothes and permit of young Dubosc and accompanying by his father, while keeping one of my arms in a sling.
There we stayed under the day of the evacuation of Charleston by the Confederate forces. [This occurred on February 17th, 1865.] I then found my freedom. I then went immediately with Clareton to report for duty by meeting General Hatch, who was in charge of the occupation of Charleston. The General was very kind towards us. He named me sargent in the Prevosts Guards, that part of the Army which did the policing of the city and the collecting of weapons, ammo, horses, mules, and so on. He gave me the job of overseeing the exhumation of our POWs who had been buried at he Race Ground and to bury them in a special section of the Magnolia Cemetary. I got Giffard to help me to thank him for the help he had given me.
After the surrender of General Lee at the end of March [9th April 1865] and that of General Johnston a bit later [26th April 1865], all the troops were given the order to go to Washington to take part of the great parade which was being prepared [It took place on 23rd and 24th of May 1865]. I should have been there. The various regiments were then to be shipped to specific points to be disbanded.
If I am not mistaken, my regiment was disbanded at New York. I was persuaded to stay in Charleston for two reasons. The first is that Levasseur and Dubosc were hoping to get contracts through my intermediary to raise some of the ships that were sunk in the harbour and in the main channel next to the city and make me share in the profits if successful. The second is that I had requested to General Hatch a commission as a Lieutenant in the US Army. So I was staying put until I had an answer. My friend rejoined his unit. He tried to get me to do the same, telling me how much joy my parents would have in seeing me again. I said no as I had learned that I had been considered dead when taken prisoner. I thought that my parents had been told and I was hoping to surprise them with an officer's sword by my side.
So Clareton left without me. I fell ill with trembling fever due to the May and June vapors. A little weekly was now being published in Charleston. It was, among other news, giving the list of the unclaimed post. To my great surprise, there was a letter from mother. She was pleading for me to come home. I never read anything more heartbreaking and eloquent. I found out that Clareton, after being discharged in New York, had decided to go and tell my parents that I was still alive.
This letter put an end to all my projects, at least for the time being. I took the steamer Alhambra which had come to pick up a load of cotton and arrived at New York in October 1865. I was so sick that I had to be kept fot two or three weeks in a New York Hospital before being sent to a place on Long Island to recover. The doctors were worried that a too abrupt change from the torrid heat to icy cold of an end of October in Canada would kill me.
I finally was able to take the train for Canada and arrived back to Ile Bizard on November 3rd, 1865, still very sick and weak. My mother nearly died of joy.
In the Spring, I wanted to return to Charleston but mother, my sister Odile, my brother-in-law Raymond and Mr Gaucher who was then the member of Parliament for Jacques Cartier insisted that I should taken up again the study of the Law which I had started in Kingston before my departure for war.
...For about thirty years I have not heard from any member of my regiment, ... when a few years ago I attended a reunion in Cortland, I only met one, Sergeant Barton, who knew me at the regiment. You see that my situation is quite unique. I was never properly discharged and so still am "absent without leave". I will try to have my have my position cleared up and get myself identified if Barton is still alive.
Webmaster's note on "Sergeant Barton":
Spelling was quite variable in the 19th century - it is very likely that "Sergeant Barton" would have been Sgt. Burton -
BURTON, ORRIN W.-Age, 21 years. Enlisted, September 12, 1861, at Fairville, to serve three years; mustered in as private, Co. E, October 4, 1861; transferred to Co. F, September or October, 1862; promoted corporal, prior to June, 1863; sergeant, no date; captured and paroled, no dates; discharged, March 9, 1865, at Elmira, N. Y.
It seems likely that the reunion "in Cortland" refers to the 1902 reunion in Groton (a small town in Tompkins County, not far from Cortland). The report on that reunion (full text on our Reunions page) says:
Judge H.C. St. Pierre of Montreal, Canada, responded to the address of welcome and delivered the principal address of the day. Judge St. Pierre was a lad of eighteen at the time of the battle of Gettysburg, and became inspired with the martial spirit and ran away from his Canadian home and friends to enlist in the 76th under the name of Louis Henry. An account of his being taken prisoner and the escape will soon be given at length. ...
The newspaper report says that one of the attendees was "Oren Button" - very likely Orrin Burton, St. Pierre's "Barton".
The following are excerpts from H.C. St.Pierre's Oration for Memorial Day 1900 given in Richford and printed by the G. A. R.
Montreal Post in front of the Commander.
"My blood boils at the very thought. Methinks I am present at such a scene with my old comrades of the 76th, N. Y. Methinks I hear my brave captain shouting to us; "Boys are we going to allow such abominations to take place before our very eyes? Are we barbarians, savages or Christian soldiers? Do you not see that father taken away from his weeping children? Do you not notice the young child torn from the arms of his distracted mother? Hark - Do you not hear their screams, their desperate appeals for help? Is there no hope for them? Are we to remain idle spectators of such degrading scenes?
Forward boys, sweep away all that heartless crowd, seize those weeping children and bring them back to their broken hearted parents."
But above all, let us give expression to our deepest gratitude in favor of those humble combatants who sacrificed all, even their names together with their lives, upon the altar of their country. Ah! no one can speak more knowingly than I of their self-sacrifice and of their devotion to their country. In those dreadful prisons of the South where more than one year of my life was spent, I have seen hundreds of them die without a murmur, whose names after their death, was neither recorded, nor even cared about. May their remains rest in peace, and their souls be blessed for ever. They have died, but it was for their country's cause, and if, as I believe, it be true that there is somewhere beyond the grave a place of rest and reward for the good and the brave; upon this day, there must be added to their happiness some particular gratification in knowing that their sacrifice and their devotion have not been forgotten, and that once a year there is throughout the land a day set apart to honor their memory and when the universal gratitude of a great nation proclaims it loudly that they, indeed, have not died in vain."
And again, in his Oration for Memorial Day 1899 given at Mont Royal Cemetery in Montreal:
"In our ranks we have admitted that admirable association of women known as "The Relief Corps," which has done so much during the war for the assistance of the sick and the wounded and whose benevolence has often reached even to the very heart of those dreadful prisons wherein so many of us had to face sickness, starvation and death."
Mr. Beaulieu notes that "He was in Kingston at the time he enlisted, reading law. His parents had forbidden him to join the war at the end of his degree, in June 1862. He turned 21 on the 13th of September 1863 (he was born in 1842) and would, I think, have waited until that date to join as he would not have been disobeying his parents (he was then of age to make his own decisions)."
St. Pierre apparently returned with a few scraps of a flag he said belonged to the 76th NY, which were donated in 1916 to The Antiquarian and Numismatic Society of Montreal. The fragments seem to be parts of a 35-star national flag. Pictures of the fragments and a discussion of the flag, as well as pictures of two GAR medals can be found on Jacques Beaulieu's web page and on his web page on Louis Henry in the Civil War
Additional information on Henri Saint-Pierre, from Jacques Beaulieu's biographical page on him:
St. Pierre's GAR Medals
A MIRACULOUS ESCAPE
BY H. C. SAINT PIERRE, Esq. Q. C.
published in the National Tribune of Jan 10 1895
The incident I am about to relate took place in the fall of 1864, about the end of October, just thirty years ago, and forms part of a long serie of adventures I went through during my prison life in the South.
I had sometime previously, been transferred with a number of other prisoners from Charleston's Race Ground to Florence, a small town in South Carolina, some twenty miles distant from the Great Pee Dee River.
In October, there were already eight or nine [thousand] (missing word) prisoners gathered in a camp at Florence, and some were being brought in every day. We were destined to be lodged within the wooden walls of a stockade, which at that time, was in course of construction at a short distance from the camp.
One morning, as the result of a plan concocted during the previous night, some fifteen hundred of them driven by hunger to a state of frenzy, rushed suddenly through their guards and made for the woods which were about a quarter of a mile off.
I was among the number. We dispersed in all directions by small groups of three or four, as chance happened to gather us. The group of which I formed part was composed of two comrades and myself.
After running for about one hour in the woods, we halted and held counsel together. We decided to push on right straight towards the North-East, and to reach North Carolina, if we could, where we expected to find assistance from the population, a good portion of which we had been told, was somewhat in sympathy with the cause of the Union, and not altogether unfriendly to us. Our objective point was Wilmington which we had been told, was then in the possession of a Northern Army.
We knew that we had to cross the Great Pee Dee River and that in all probabilities, every bridge on that river would soon be guarded by some hastily organised squads, militia men; but we decided to anticipate our enemies by cutting down the telegraph wires, and to attempt by a forced march to cross the river on the railway bridge before they had been made aware of our escape from the camp.
This was a daring enterprise, keeping in mind, however the old axiom "Fortune favors the brave" we resolved to try the venture.
I will not entertain my readers with the history of all our perils and narrow escapes on that eventful day: suffice it to say that about one o'clock in the morning, we had reached the endless trestle work which runs over the marshes spreading out along the southern side of the Great Pee Dee River, and that after a most perilous march, by a sombre and cloudy night, over the ties laid on the trestle at an elevation of some twenty five or thirty feet from the water below, we at last neared the railway bridge, the high frame of which was looming up before us in the dark.
This was a solemn moment : Vainly were we straining our eyes and ears, no one appeared in sight and no sound was heard in the stillness of the night, except that of our foot-steps on the planking laid on the bridge, along side of the track.
Filled at the same time with hope and fear, I hardly dared to draw my breath and I could hear my heart throbbing loudly.
We had reached about the middle of the bridge, when all of a sudden, a squad of a dozen men emerging from some hiding place came rushing upon us, shouting to the top of their voice: "Surrender, you d...d Yanks."
As our only weapons were sticks cut out in the forest during our long and painful journey, resistance was out of the question and unconditional surrender our only alternative.
We were marched up along the northern bank of the river which on that side is quite steep, to some distance on the left hand side of the railway track.
There, we found a dozen or so of our comrades, some of whom had been recaptured in the swamps, and others on the bridge in the same manner as we ourselves had been. They were all sitting around a camp fire, roasting sweet potatoes picked up during the march and discussing the various incidents of their day's travelling.
They liberally shared their food with us. After partaking of a copious meal, overcome by fatigue and exhaustion, we stretched ourselves on the bare ground, with our feet towards the fire and soon fell into a deep slumber.
On waking up in the morning, we discovered that our number had been increased during the night by the addition of twenty six new victims, making altogether a total number of forty one prisoners in all.
So far, our adventure had savoured somewhat of the tragical, but it soon assumed a totally different complexion.
At about eight o'clock, we received the visit of the rebel officer in charge of the post. He was marching proudly at the head of a company of about thirty men, recruited hastily amongst the farmers of the neighbourhood.
These poor fellows were the most comical figure imagineable in their absurdly improvised military costume and their exagerated endeavour to appear soldierlike and ferocious.
But the most comical of them all was unquestionably their commanding officer. I believe he styled himself a major, but from the appearance of his shaven face, his brass mounted spectacles, the rounded shape of his shoulders, and more particularly from his language, we all formed the idea, (and I for one have had no reason since to alter my mind on the subject,) that he must have been a country school-master.
He had on a coat of some gray home-spun material ornamented with large yellow buttons, such as are found upon old tunics worn at the time of the continental war. His epaulets, the sign of his military distinction and authority, were made of pieces of coarse red flannel, bordered by a heavy stitch of a common yellow wollen thread, in guise of gold braid. He bore with it an air of indescriptible vanity a black felt hat on the crown of which waved the feathers of a common red rooster's tail.
He was a man of slender frame and short stature, but the sword which he dragged at his side was fully the length of that used by "General Boum" in the play of "La grande Duchesse" and would have suited a man six feet high.
There stood before us, in the gorgeousness of his costume and the pride of his triumph, the man who had conquered us the night previous.
Before removing us to the place which was to be our temporary prison, the major succeeded by means of some words of command unknown to the military code, and which I never heard either before or since, in getting his company all around us.
This strategic movement once accomplished, he stepped forward and commenced the delivery of a violent harangue against the Yankees and every thing appertaining to their kin and kindred.
It would be difficult for me, at this distance of time, to recall any considerable portion of this memorable speech; but this I can say, that throughout, it was manifestly intended to be as insulting and vituperative as he could possibly make it.
"You, Yanks, he said, you think yourself very smart, but you are not smart enough for us. We have caught you in a good trap and we will take good care that you are sent back safely to your camp. In a couple of weeks, the stockade which is being prepared for you at Florence, will be ready. It is a fit place for you. We will see the spring how many of you will again attempt to escape."
"In the mean time, I will keep you in a safe place. I have lived in the North once, and I have learned all your Yankee tricks during my stay there. It takes smarter men than Yankees to slip through my fingers."
He wound up his peroration with the announcement that he was going to take us into a shed close by, under the vigilant eyes of his soldiers and that the first one of us who would attempt to escape would be remorselessly shut down like a dog.
We cheered him lustily.
The major was as good as his word. The command was giving the "Forward, March!" and five minutes afterwards, we were in the shed which was to be our temporary military prison, until the train came on, which was to take us to Florence. This was to be sometimes in the evening.
The major counted us carefully as we entered the building and found that we were exactly forty one.
This shed was only a few paces on the left hand side of the railway track, going North. The only means of entrance,(at least the only one we could see as we went in), was a sliding door right in front of the track.
Having made sure that we were all securely in, by counting us a second time inside, the great commander posted his force in the following manner: He placed two men in the rear of the shed, two in the front, and one at each end. The remainder or "corps-de garde" was grouped together opposite the entrance, on the other side of the track, within six or seven yards from the sliding door. He then told us that he was going to Marion, some fifteen miles further, North, to see about obtaining for us the necessary supply of rations and that he would be back at three o'clock in the afternoon with our food.
Now the astonishing feat I am about to relate, consists in the fact that out of this shed thus guarded on every side by six men and a "corps-de-garde" of over twenty more, in broad day time, from nine o'clock in the forenoon, to three in the after noon, every one of those forty one prisoners escaped unperceived, and that when the proud commandant returned at three o'clock in the afternoon, with his rations, in that building thus guarded, on every side, there was not as much as a corporal's guard to greet him, nor even a single soul to do him reverence.
By what manner of Yankee trick was this accomplished?
That is what I have now to relate.
Before I do so, however, in order to make my narrative intelligible to the reader, I must give two words of explanation: the first one is in reference to the description of the shed and of its surroundings including the topography of the place; the second one is concerning the habits of the Southerners and more particularly of the country people, whenever they happened to come into contact with us.
It appears that at the beginning of the war, gun-boats had been constructed near the mouth of the Great Pee Dee River, the railroad being utilised for the purpose of bringing in the materials necessary for the construction. As there were no depot near the river, the shed in which we were had been built on the Northern bank, to be used as a store-room for those materials.
In contrast to the Southern side of the river, which is a low ground over which the river overflows and spreads into an immense marsh, the Northern bank is quite high and very steep. The ground on this side is a light greyish sand.
At the beginning of the war, the track was bordered near that shed by a forest of high trees, but these also had been utilised, no doubt for the same purpose, and quite a number of them had been cut down.
Gun-boat building having ceased, the shed had been locked up and abandoned, and all along the track, young shoots had grown in profusion around the stumps of the cut trees, to a considerable height.
On the rear of the shed, at a distance of no more than three feet from it, there was a siding track which was no longer used and upon which an old dilapidated box-car had been abandoned and left exactly opposite the middle of of the shed. This box-car had an opening on each side which was provided with a sliding door. It was occupied by an old negro and his wife, who used it as a cabin. They kept the sliding door shut on the side of the shed and used the other side for their entrance door. In order to supply themselves with the means to penetrate into the interior of their improvised cabin, four planks had been propped side by side against this car as a sort of stairway leading to their door.
Wild weeds and high grass had grown profusely and in thick clusters all around the shed as under and around the old box-car.
So much for the description of the shed and the topography of the place; now for the habits of our friends the "Rebs" when they in contact with us.
The Southerners were brave and good fighters. This, not one of us ever denied, but they were as ignorant as they were brave, (I am speaking of course of the country-people), and as talkative as they were ignorant. They never missed an opportunity of engaging in a discussion with us about the war, and this generally began with the question: "Why do you uns come to fight we uns here for?" The reply was never slow to come and then the wrangling began. Being aware of their dispositions to talk, it was always the easiest thing in the world for us to entice them into a lively discussion, whenever we felt so inclined.
With these explanations the reader will now easily follow the sequel of my story.
We had not been in our improvised prison above ten minutes but a complete survey had been made of the place.
The first thing which met our gaze and attracted our attention was a big lot of old scraps and pieces of iron of all shapes and sizes which had been piled at the North-East corner. This was, no doubt, a remnant of the materials used for gun-boat building.
A complete set of burglars tools would not have been more handy for us, nor more thankfully received at this moment, than was this pile of old scraps of iron.
The shed was of an oblong form its greater length stretching along the track. The flooring was composed of thick planks laid lengthwise and reaching to the middle of the buildings, where they were nailed to a cross-beam.
We discovered that, in addition to the door opposite the main track, there were two others, first a large sliding door on the rear similar to the one in front, which was closed by means of an iron bar thrown across on the outside, and a small door hanging upon hinges at the Northern end and quite near to the rear of the shed. This latter door opened from the inside and was closed by means of a big lock fashioned with screws.
Through the splits between the boards which enclosed the building we could see the guards outside.
We observed that the two sentries in the rear were walking their beat with a regular steady stride, facing one another as they came towards the middle of the building opposite the old box-car, and then after turning on their heels, receding back to back, each as far as the corner he had come from.
Now, any one who had been a military man knows that two sentries stationed as these were, will keep on pacing with a regular step, sometimes for hours, without either stopping, turning around or in any way altering their galt.
We were at once struck with the idea that a good chance for escaping was offered to us, and I can vouch that we were no means slow to taking advantage of it.
For the purpose of giving us some fresh air and a little light, the sliding door in the front had been left partly opened.
After holding a short consultation together, our plan of escape was quickly laid out. It was decided that the group of our people would gather close to the door and start a discussion with the guards around the camp fire, in order to draw their attention and deter them from noticing anything of what would be going on, whilst the necessary preparations were being carried on inside.
This was easily affected; in fact that part of our scheme succeeded beyond our expectation; for, before ten minutes had elapsed, not only were the men around the camp fire deeply engaged in discussion with the group near the door, but the two sentries posted at each end of the building being attracted by the lively conversation, soon came forward and stood leaning against the corner of the building, listening to what was said.
The position of the enemy could not be better for us.
By means of some bars of iron, in an instant, two or three planks of the flooring were quietly lifted in the middle of the building close to the rear. It was then discovered that the shed was resting upon six posts planted in the ground and that between the flooring and the earth below there was a space of over two feet on the rear side. All around the building a small embankment covered with thick grass and high weeds partly dried up was concealing the hallow space underneath.
A little scooping with a piece of sheet-iron soon sufficed to dig out a deep furrow reaching to the embankment on the rear of the building opposite to the old car. Watching the moment when the two sentries were walking with their backs turned to each other, a large square piece of the embankment was cut clean off leaving a hole large enough for a man to pass through.
Then the active operation of escaping began.
As soon as the two sentries had their backs turned to each other this piece of turf would be quitely removed, grass, weeds and all, and as a quick as lightning, one, two or three prisoners would crawl out on their hands and feet and hide themselves under the improvised stairway of the old box-car. The moment following, the square piece of turf was again placed in position until the next opportunity came.
From under the car, the escaped adventurers would quietly reach to some thick bushes growing around a stump and thence would make for the woods.
I could not say whether the old negro couple who were in the box-car noticed what was going on, but we observed that whenever the two sentries in the rear were wheeling around and turning their backs to each other, precisely at the same moment, wood splitting or some other noise was sure to be heard inside of the old box-car.
Besides, the cracking of the dried up weeds under the feet of the two sentries as they stalked along contributed in no small degree in deadening what little noise was made by the escaping prisoners.
For fully an hour's time this new fashioned trap worked almost without any interruption, except during the first minutes when the two sentries were facing one another.
This however, was too good to last long. Suddenly, we heard the call: "Guards, fall in." At first, as men with a guilty conscience, we suspected that our scheme had been discovered, but we soon found out that our apprehensions were groundless and that the call was simply for the purpose of releaving the guards on duty.
For about twenty minutes, every thing now was quiet, and we contented ourselves with watching on every side through the slits between the boards of our prison.
We observed very much to our disappointment, that the two new sentries in the rear of the shed would not give us as favourable an opportunity as their predecessors had done.
Instead of meeting in the middle of the building, they were quitely walking, following one another, in such a manner that whilst one would start from the middle of the shed after turning in order to resume his march towards the North-Western corner, the other would start from the North-Eastern corner and follow his mate as far as the middle of the shed. When both would turned together and walk towards the opposite direction.
This spoiled our game. The success of the morning enterprise, however, had contributed to embolden us considerably and we lost no time in brewing some new scheme.
Very soon the discussion at the front door began anew, and in a very short time it became as lively as ever.
Following the example set to them by those they had replaced, the two sentries at the ends of the building, again came to the front corners and remained there listening to the lively conversation.
Now a plan still bolder than the first one had been was divised and was successfully carried out. By means of a little pieces of sheet iron which we used as a screw-driver, the lock inside of the small door, at the northern end of the building was removed.
Then selecting the moment when the two sentries in the rear were going towards the North-Western corner, and making sure that the man at the end had his back turned and was intent upon listening to the discussion going on in the front, one, two, or three of us would slip out quietly around the corner, one after the other, and would rush underneath the old box-car, penetrating through the high weeds under the end of the car.
I got out through that side door.
At the moment when I escaped, our number had become much thinned out, and I should judged that hardly more than ten or fifteen were yet in the shed. I was fortunate enough to meet my two companions of the previous day, who had both escaped before me and who had promised to wait for me on the border of the forest.
The history of our adventures during the following ten days, when we travelled together mostly by night, would be sufficient to form a whole volume of itself.
I was recaptured in North Carolina some thirty miles from Marion.
Finding my two companions and myself, that we had been discovered and that we were hemmed in on every side by horsemen in the woods, we separated each one taking a different direction. I succeeding in sliping through, but my success was of but short duration. I was recaptured a couple of miles further on, dying with hunger and exhaustion at a short distance from a little village, the name of which I have since forgotten.
This was about nine o'clock in the morning.
I was taken to the village where my presence excited no small degree of curiosity more especially amongst the women and children, and conducted to a log-house, where a good meal was served me. After about half an hour's rest, a horse harnessed to a two-wheel car was brought up to the door and I was ordered to take a place on the seat by the side of a tall slanky farmer who was to take me back to Marion. Not satisfied with the guarantees which my emaciated form and the state of exhaustion in which I was would vouchsafe them: the villagers tied my hands and feet and then secured me firmly to the seat of this cart by means of a strong rope. To make surety double sure, my companion was provided with a fowl piece, which (no doubt with the hope of producing a favourable impression upon me), he took the care to load in my presence with murderous looking buckshot.
About ten o'clock we left the village and set out for Marion.
The roads were in excellent condition and the weather splendid. This trip, I must admit, turned out to be a much more agreable one to me that the ten days journeying during which, I had been travelling by night, woods and swamps.
My companion though somewhat grim looking at first proved a much kinder man than I had anticipated. I begged him to unloosen my hands and feet. He did so, and we talked quite merrily together along the road.
We arrived at Marion very late, at night. I was immediately handed over to the sheriff who lodged me in the common Jail of the district. I found this building crammed with recaptured prisoners, so much so indeed, that there was hardly room enough for us to lie down on the bare floor.
On the next morning, some military officers came in and inquired of me whether I had been in the shed near the Pee Dee River.
Fearing to be subjected to some such torture as being hanged by the thumbs or linked to a chain-gang for many weeks, I swore by the memory of the Holy Mother of Moses that I knew absolutely nothing about that shed and that I did not understand the meaning of their question.
The investigation was not pushed any further.
We were kept, my companions and myself, for several days in the Marion Jail; and those among them, who may be still living, will probably remember the young French Canadian who was drawing pencil portraits of our leading generals on the white washed walls of the jail.
It was there that I learned from some of my comrades what had taken place in the shed after I had escaped from it.
"After you were gone, said one of them, several of us succeeded in escaping from the side-door. Finding that our number was now reduced to four or five, we pretexted to be tired and in need of sleep. We pushed the sliding door and shut it entirely. We leaned a heavy piece of iron against the side-door and then watched our opportunity at the hole in the rear of the shed. We waited for a considerable time, but at last we got our turn, when a new set of sentries came in, and we left the shed quite empty, taking care to pull up the piece of turf in he hole, behind us, in order to avoid being detected."
I did not again see the high-crested major; but I was told from some of our guards, whilst we were being taken back to Florence on board of the cars, that on finding his shed empty at three o'clock in the afternoon, on the day of our escape, he made use of language so profane, that it would be not fit to be repeated in this narrative.
Evidently the major had not lived long enough in the North, and there was a trick or two which he failed to learn from his friends the Yankees.
Copy of a Single-lined typed document of ten foolscap pages Some spelling and syntax corrections were done - from Jacques Beaulieu's web page, used by permission
By: Henri C. Saint-Pierre, Co. F, 76th NY
National Tribune, February 26, 1903
Editor National Tribune: Occasions for merriment at Andersonville were few and far between. Some of them, however, are worthy of being recorded, and among those which fell under my observation, that which I am about to relate is not perhaps the least amusing.
At the time when it took place, I was employed in the bakery outside of the walls of the stockade.
The four or five regiments which were entrusted with the duty of standing guard around the stockade were composed of Georgians. Many of them were more boys, and the others, old men, who had never seen an enemy in the field. They were an ignorant and superstitious lot of fellows.
Every evening they were distributed by groups around the stockade, each group being a section taken from the various companies of the four or five regiments, as they were detailed in turn to do guard duty. Those groups composed the "corps-de-garde" from which the sentries who stood on the little square platforms on the top of the wall of the stockade were to relieve each other.
As night fell a smoky fire built with pine knots was lit by each one of those groups, and the members of the sections of companies thus distributed around their camp fires would while away the time by talking and jesting among themselves.
In the month of June, the second wall of the stockade had not yet been erected and tunneling was going on from the in-side on a grand scale. Each tunnel had to start from a deep well dug as close to the "dead line" as possible. It would pass underneath the "dead line," then underneath the heavy logs standing side by side at a dept of seven or eight feet in the ground, which formed the wall of the stockade; and when it was calculated by the conspirators that they had reached a sufficient distance outside the wall, the tunnel was given a slight bend upwards until it reached the crust of ground, some 30 feet outside of the wall.
The bakery was being worked day and night without any interruption. We were divided into two squads, one of which worked during the day and rested at night, and the other began work at 6 p.m. and kept at it until the following morning.
In order to make the labor less onerous, each section would divide the task
among its members in such a manner as to alternate in doing the heavier work.
One night in June it was my turn to carry in water from the little creek adjoining the bakery. Section 1 of Co. A of the 4th Ga., had their campfire on the top of a small hill right across the creek, at a distance of about 30 feet from the southwest side of the stockade. The night was pitchy dark, and the reddish, smoky fire that burnt at each section gave to the scene a weird appearance.
It was about midnight. Several of the boys around the camp-fire across the creek, were lying on the ground, apparently asleep; others were roasting sweet potatoes and chatting whilst sitting around the fire.
I was just returning from the creek, carrying a pail full of water in each hand. The air was sultry and I felt sleepy. Suddenly my attention was awakened by shouts or rather shrieks from the direction of the camp-fire across the creek, not more than 25 paces from where I stood in a straight line. On turning my head in that direction, I noticed that the pile of burning pine knots was heaving up and being moved from underneath by some mysterious power. Sparks and embers were flying in all directions. At the same moment I was horrified to see a dark, disheveled head emerging from the ground in the very midst of the camp-fire. No sooner had this head made its appearance among the flying embers and the dark, rolling smoke, than it let out a yell-and such a yell! -the most unearthly one I ever heard in my life.
This was responded to by shrieks of terror on the part of the youthful guards, who, taking this apparition for that of the Prince of Evil breaking forth from the depts. Of hell itself, had taken to their heels and were running away for all they were worth.
In less time that it takes to mention it, the wary Yankee (for he was one) had pulled himself out of his uncomfortable position, and was making for the woods close by without any one trying to impede him in his flight.
None of his comrades made any attempt to secure their escape by following him out of the hole from which he had just emerged.
By a strange coincidence the tunnel-diggers had happened to strike right underneath the spot where the group of Section 1 of Co. A, 4th Ga., had built their campfire.
I never heard of the daring Yankee after that date, but the strange incident of his escape was long remembered by the Georgia regiments. For many days afterward it proved source of considerable merriment, and gave rise to frequent comments of a rather sarcastic nature a the expense of the group of Section 1 of the 4th Ga. Whenever one of them was met by any of his comrades of the other sections, or, even, of the other regiments, he was sure to be hailed with: "Well, Joe, did you see the devil last night?"
Judge H. C. Saint-Pierrre, Corporal Co. F, 76th N.Y., Montreal, Canada.
Transcribed by B. Conrad Bush
From the July 28, 1902, Washington Evening Star:
One of the distinguished guests that Washington may expect to entertain during the national encampment, is M. Henri Cesaire St. Pierre of Montreal, formerly queen's counsel, and now just elevated to the supreme bench of the province of Quebec, through the personal friendship of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, prime minister of Canada.
M. St. Pierre is an ardent Grand Army man, and it was through his efforts that Hancock Post. G. A. R., of Montreal was organized and attached to the department of Vermont. He is an ardent admirer of Senior Vice Commander-in-chief John McElroy, and asserts that he will labor most earnestly to place the Washington man at the head of the great organization and wants to be on the ground to do it. And thereby hangs a tale of war-time friendship which has held through nearly forty years of vicissitude and changing fortune, though more than thirty years passed after the muster out before M. Pierre and Col. Mc- Elroy looked in each other's faces and they have never met since.
It is well known In grand army circles that Col. McElroy's military career was brilliant for a boy, but that his energies were "cribbed, cabined and confined" somewhat early In the conflict by an enforced sojourn in various military prisons, Andersonville, among others, where he enjoyed the distinction of being the youngest among some 20,000). Many years ago Col. McElroy put his prison experiences into a book entitled "Andersonville." One of the chapters In this volume Is devoted to gossip about a company of Frenchmen who belonged to a New York regiment and who had been captured. They were attired in the remarkable garments of the French zouave, than which, nothing could have been more ridiculous for service in time of war, it is said, and their attire was the cause of never-ending comment among the prisoners.
The Frenchmen herded by themselves, very largely, but were not uncompanionable, though they were odd in many ways, so the narrative runs. Like the other prisoners, they got pretty hungry at times, especially for meat. One day there was great excitement over in the "French quarter." One of the men had caught a big eel. Col. McElroy described in "Andersonville," the cooking and eating of the eel, strongly intimating, however, that to American eyes Mr. Eel looked very much like a big snake. The Frenchmen declared that it was fine "eating" but the few American prisoners invited to partake, declined with thanks, watching in amazement not unaccompanied with jibes, the gusto with which the "Frenchies" stowed away the white looking meat.
Thirty years later, and long after "Andersonville" was out of print, Col McElroy received a letter bearing the Montreal postmark. It was signed, "Henri Cesaire St. Pierre, Q. C.," but that did not convey any information, and it was not till the letter was read that Col. McElroy found it to be from the Frenchman who had invited him to eat stewed eel in Andersonville. M. St. Pierre wrote .to say that he had "by good luck" obtained a copy of "Andersonville," which he prized immensely. He said he desired to thank the "Illinoy JKid,"-Col. McElroy's Andersonville cognomen-for putting in his book the story of the eating of the eel. "I have told my children and my wife of this and many other incidents of my prison life, and they have always been extremely incredulous. They believe me now that what I have told them is so exactly corroborated by you."
M. St. Pierre was a youth, a little past sixteen, attending the Montreal college when the war of the rebellion broke out, and slipped away to New York, where he became one of a company of Frenchmen in the 76th New York. Volunteers. He was wounded at Mine Run and left for dead upon the field, his name being printed in the list of killed. Years later he had the extreme pleasure of reading all about his virtues in his home papers, and in his Alma Mater, Montreal College, masses were said for the repose of his soul, which is yet very much alive. The manner in which the Canadian papers speak of M. St. Pierre shows that he is held in high esteem and that he has attained eminence, socially and politically.
Judge Pierre writes that he will try to be in Washington and very naturally desires to meet as many of his old comrades as possible.
Return to 76th Roster (S) - 76th Roster (H) · Return to Letters from the 76th NY · Return to Reunions of the 76th NY · Return to 76th NYSV Homepage
- Last Updated March 8, 2015