The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

Mr. Henry Sanders, a pioneer settler of Ozark County, Missouri, informed the writer that one day during the war the old man Ball and two of his sons of which the given name of the elder son was Gid was captured in Howell County, Missouri, 9 miles from West Plains by General James H. McBride’s men who tried to force Mr. Ball and his sons to enlist in the southern army. They refused to join giving as a reason that they were union men and did not want to oppose the old constitution of the United States government. This bold declaration enraged the southerners and knowing it was useless to use further persuasion they taken them to Little Rock, Arkansas, where they were confined at hard labor in the state prison there. The prison officials put balls and chains on their ankles which they were compelled to wear while they worked during the day and while they slept at night. They were put to work in a blacksmith shop of which the old man Ball was an expert in that line. They were closely guarded all the time and kept at work continually in daytime and as mentioned would not permit them to go without their manacles until finally the officers of the prison knowing that the southern army needed all the men they could enlist decided that it was impossible for Ball and his sons to escape and sent away some of the guards to the army and the remaining ones grew less vigilant which give the prisoners a chance one night to make an effort to regain their liberty and put the effort into effect in the following manner. They cut the chains off at the shackles which they left on their legs. They were not able to cut these off without wounding their ankles. Then they tore their blankets into narrow strips and twisted them into ropes and attached a ball and chain that they had just taken off of one of their ankles and crept to the stone wall which was 15 feet high and held the end of the rope and threw the other end of the rope that the ball and chain was tied to over the stone wall and with the assistance of his two sons Mr. Ball managed to climb to the top of the wall. Then he pulled one of the boys to the top by the rope and then they both pulled the other one up. They were now all three on the prison wall and had escaped discovery so far. They would certainly be detected before they carried their plans much further. If the guards had been as numerous and watchful as they had been they would have been caught in taking the chains off. There was no time for a breathing spell. They were greatly encouraged and must continue their efforts to free themselves from unwelcome place. The old man now pulled the ball and chain up to the top and let It down on the inside of the prison, the weight of which would aid them to descend to the outside. The old man went down first while the boys held at the rope. Then one of the boys held the rope and let his brother down. Father and son looked around in the dark and found a long piece of scantling which they reached up high enough for the son and brother to reach with his feet after he swung over the edge of the stone wall, and he held to the rope while they braced the piece of timber against the bottom of his feet and gradually and carefully let him down to the ground. They were free now but in the heart of the enemies country and if they were caught they would be put to death. They crept away from the wall and made haste as they got farther off and traveled as far up the Arkansas River as they could before daylight, then followed the shore up the river until they found a way to cross over to the north side. They used great caution by avoiding the public roads and dwelling houses until the pangs of hunger forced them to enter a house and obtain food. After experiencing great labor and difficulties and narrow risks of being captured they finally made their way into Missouri and went on to Rolla where they had their shackles taken off and after resting awhile to recruit their health and recover from the effects of their prison life and their terrible journey from Little Rock, they enlisted in the federal army and Gid Ball was elected 2nd Lieutenant in Capt. Robbin’s company in Col. Wommath’s regiment."

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