Harper's Weekly 05/07/1864


BURIED ALIVE.

My name is Daniel Tyler, and my skin is dark,
as my mother's was before me. I have heard that
my father had a white face, but I think his heart
and life were blacker than my mother's skin. I
was born a slave, and remained a slave until last
April, when I found deliverance and shelter under
the flag that my master was fighting to dishonor.


I shall never forget the day when freedom came
to me. I was working in the fields down in Ala-
bama, my heart full of bitterness and unutterable
longings. I had dreamed for two long years of es-
cape from my bondage; the thought sung to me
through the dark nights, and filled all the days with
a weird sort of nervous expectation. But my dreams
had proved nothing more than dreams; the oppor-
tunity I yearned for did not come. But that day,
working in the fields, suddenly along the dusty road
there flashed a long column of loyal cavalry, the
old flag flying at its head. How my heart leaped
at the sight; how, like a revelation, came the
thought: “This, Daniel Tyler, is your opportuni-
ty!” Need I tell you how I acted upon that
thought; how, in one second of time, I leaped out
of slavery into freedom, and from a slave became a
man?


Well, joining the flashing column, I rode with
them for days, coming at last into Baton Rouge,
and thence, having joined a regiment of my own
people, came to Memphis. Thence four hundred
of us came to Fort Pillow. But there are not four
hundred of us to-day, for three hundred and odd
were murdered in cold blood only a week ago by
Forrest's rough-riders.


It was a day of horrors—that 12th of March.
There were seven hundred of us in all in the fort—
three hundred whites of the Thirteenth Tennessee
Cavalry, and four hundred blacks, as I have said,
all under command of brave Major Booth. The
fort consisted simply of earth-works, on which we
had mounted half a dozen guns. We knew that
Forrest had been pillaging the country all about us,
and imagined that perhaps he would pay us a visit;
but the thought did not alarm us, though we knew,
those of us who were black, that we had little to
expect at the hands of the rebels. At last, about
sunrise on the morning of the 12th, Forrest, with
some 6000 men, appeared and at once commenced
an attack. We met the assault bravely, and for
two hours the fight went on briskly. Then a flag
of truce came in from Forrest, asking an uncondi-
tional surrender, but Major Bradford—Major Booth
having been wounded—declined to surrender unless
the enemy would treat those of us who were black
as prisoners of war, which, of course, they refused
to do, and the fight went on. The enemy, in the
next few hours, made several desperate charges,
but were each time repulsed. At last, about four
o'clock in the afternoon, they sent in another flag.
We ceased firing out of respect to the flag; but For-
rest's men had no such notions of honor and good
faith. The moment we stopped firing they swarn ed
all about the fort, and while the flag was yet with-
drawing, made a desperate charge from all sides.
Up to that time only about thirty of our men had
been hurt. But in this charge the enemy got with-
in the earth-works, and forthwith there ensued a
scene which no pen can describe. Seeing that all
resistance was useless, most of us threw down our
arms, expecting, and many begging for, quarter.
But it was in vain. Murder was in every rebel
heart; flamed in every rebel eye. Indiscriminate
massacre followed instantly upon our surrender.
Some of us, seeking shelter, ran to the river and
tried to conceal ourselves in the bushes, but for the
most part in vain. The savages, pursuing, shot
down the fugitives in their tracks. There was
Manuel Nichols, as brave a soldier as ever carried a
musket. He had been a free negro in Michigan,
but volunteered a year ago to fight for the Union.
He, with others, had sought a shelter under the
bank of the river, but a cold-blooded monster
found him, and putting a pistol close to his head,
fired, failing however to kill the brave fellow. He
was then hacked on the arm, and only a day after
died, delirious, in the hospital. Then there was
Robert Hall, another colored soldier, who was ly-
ing sick in the hospital when the massacre com-
menced. The devils gashed his head horribly with
their sabres, and then cut off part of his right
hand, which he had lifted in a mute appeal for
mercy. Then there was Harrison, of the Thir-
teenth Tennessee, who was shot four times after
surrender, and then robbed of all his effects. Be-
fore I was shot, running along the river bank, I
counted fifty dead Union soldiers lying in their
blood. One had crawled into a hollow log and was
killed in it, another had got over the bank in the
river, and on to a board that run out into the water.
He laid on it on his face, with his feet in the wa-
ter, and when I saw him was already stark and
stiff. Several had tried to hide in crevices made by
the falling-bank, and could not be seen without dif-
ficulty, but they were singled out and killed. One
negro corporal, Jacob Wilson, who was down on the
river bank, seeing that no quarter was shown,
stepped into the water so that he lay partly under
it. A rebel coming along asked him what was the
matter: he said he was badly wounded, and the
rebel, after taking from his pocket all the money he
had, left him. It happened to be near by a flat-
boat tied to the bank. When all was quiet Wilson
crawled into it, and got three more wounded com-
rades also into it, and cut loose. The boat floated
out into the channel and was found ashore some
miles below. There were, alas, few such fortunate
escapes!


I was shot near the river just about dark. Run-
ning for my life, a burly rebel struck me with his
carbine, putting out one eye, and then shot me in
two places. I thought he would certainly leave
me with that, but I was mistaken. With half a
dozen others, I was at once picked up and carried
to a ditch, into which we were tossed like so many
brutes, white and black together. Then they cov-
ered us with loose dirt, and left us to die. Oh,
how dark and desolate it was! Under me were
several dead, and right across my breast lay a white
soldier, still alive! How he clutched and strained!
How, hurt and weak as I was, with only one hand
free, I struggled for air and life, feeling my strength
waning every moment! It was a strange thing to
lie there buried, and yet be able to think and pray.
Maybe, friend, you have known what agony was,
but you never had such pains of soul as I had
down there in that living grave. I thought I could
feel the worms gnawing at my flesh; I am sure I
had a taste of what death is, with the added pain
of knowing that I was not dead, and yet unable to
live in that dark, dismal tomb. So I clutched and
strained and struggled on, digging upward as I
could with my one puny hand. At last—oh joy!—
a faint streak of light looked in; my hand had carved
an avenue to the world of life! But would I dare
to lift my head? Might not some rebel, standing
by, strike me down again on the moment? But I
could not die there in that grave; I must escape.
Slowly, painfully, I rolled the burden from my
breast—he was dead by that time—and then care-
fully crept out from that living death. It was
dark, and no one was near. A moment I stood
up on my feet; then—


The next thing I remember I was in the hospital
where I am now. They had found me just where I
fell, and brought me to a place of safety, where,
after a while, consciousness returned. I have been
here a week now; and I think I shall get well.


I lie in the cot where poor Robert Hall lay when
he was butchered by the rebels. They showed me,
yesterday, a letter he had written the day before
the massacre to his wife. He had learned to read
and write at Memphis, after his enlistment, and
used to send a message to his wife and children,
who still remained there, every week or so. This
was his letter which a surgeon had helped him put
together:


Dear Mammy“—it ran—“I am very sick here in the
hospital, but am better than I was, and hope to get well
soon. They have been very kind to me; and I find it very
sweet to suffer for the dear flag that gives me shelter.
You must not worry on my account. Tell Katy she must
not forget to say her prayers and to study her lessons care-
fully now while she has an opportunity. And, mammy,
take good care of the baby; I dreamed of her last night,
and I think how sad it would be to die and never see her
little face again. But then chaplain says it will all be
right in heaven, and he knows better than w do. And,
mammy, don't forget we are free now; teach both the
darlings to be worthy of their estate.”


That was poor Hall's letter—it had not been sent,
and we have no heart to send it now. He will never
see the baby's face here; but then God may let him
see it up yonder!


I hope to recover and get away from here very
soon; I want to be in my place again; for I have
something to avenge now, and I can not bear to
wait. Poor Hall's blood is crying to me from the
ground; and I want to be able, sometime, to say to
Manuel Nichols's wife, up there in Michigan, that
his fall has had its compensation. And may God
speed the day when this whole slaveholders' rebel-
lion—what remains of it—shall be “Buried Alive!”



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