The Exploits of Patrick Griffin:
"The Great Escape"

Rebecca Blackwell Drake

Patrick Griffin was a child soldier when he joined the Sons of Erin, Nashville, and left for war. During his first year as a Confederate solider he ended up in prison at Camp Douglas. The next year found him fighting on the battlefield  in Raymond. Following the Battle of Raymond, he was taken prisoner and kept in a make-shift prison in town. This three-part series is based on Patrick Griffin's memoirs called "The Famous Tenth Tennessee", Confederate Veteran Magazine, 1905.

Part III
-Final in Series -

A few days after the Battle of Raymond, seventeen-year old Patrick Griffin, Billy {Tinfoot} Foote, and other Confederate prisoners, left the local prison and marched for Vicksburg. A Union boat waited to transport them to one of the northern prisons - Johnson's Island, Camp Chase or Camp Douglas. Griffin shuddered and went cold at the very thought of another imprisonment. Early in the war, he had endured seven months of torturous 'Yankee hospitality' at Camp Douglas in Chicago. The experience was miserable and he was not anxious for a repeat performance.

"Captain Neff with the 51st Indiana Infantry Regiment was in charge of the prisoner boat," Griffin reminisced. "He was a gentlemanly sort of a fellow but of course he had to obey strict orders." As the boat eased upstream toward Memphis, Griffin had two things mulling around in his mind: how to escape from the boat and how to return the personal effects of Colonel Randal McGavock to his family. Off hand, he had no idea how to accomplish either.

Midway to Memphis, Griffin engaged in conversation with Captain Neff saying "You will never take me to a Yankee prison." Immediately, Captain Neff declared, "I'll bet five dollars I do." Griffin countered back…… "I'll bet you five dollars that you will not." The men shook hands on the bet and before walking away, Griffin said, "Pay the money to Billy Foote when you find me gone."

After docking at Two-Mile Island near Memphis, Griffin decided that the time was now or never to escape. "I looked around to see how the land lay, but there were too many Yankee guards to hinder my progress. The bluecoats were on each side of the river and Memphis was two miles distance. I knew I could swim down to the city, but was afraid that Lt. Foote could not hold out to get there. However, I went up on deck and talked the matter over with him. Without a moment's hesitation he said; 'I will go with you.'

"That evening we went down into the wheelhouse. Foote looked down into the water and then across the river and down the river, and I knew by the expression on his face that it would be best for him to stay on board. I would rather have gone on to the Yankee prison with him than have him drowned. I told him if he had the least fear he must not attempt it."

As Griffin and Foote left the wheelhouse, they ran into Captain Neff. "I reminded him of our bet," recalled Griffin, "and told him to be sure to give the money to Foote. He laughed and said, 'All right.' I had on a double breasted military coat, with two lace bars on the sleeve and lace around the collar, denoting my rank. Of course this rendered me a conspicuous figure among the prisoners, and the captain could locate me quicker than any one else on board. Foote and I slipped into a stateroom for a farewell chat. I gave him my uniform and cap and insisted that he put it on. I got a life preserver that I had hidden away to use on this occasion, clapped Foote's old white hat on my head, and walked out in my shirt sleeves. Billy sat with his back to me. Thirty-six years elapsed before I would see Billy Foote again."

A determined Patrick Griffin engineered his escape. He went to the wheelhouse and slowly eased down in the water. "I floated down the river slowly and steered myself to the back end of a stern-wheel boat. I climbed up on the wheel, went around on the edge of the boat, and mingled with the hands who were unloading the cargo. There were a number of soldiers and steamboat men about and one of the boatmen laughed at my bedraggled appearance. A soldier asked if I had fallen in and I answered 'yes,' and that I was going home to get some dry clothes. I was willing to masquerade as anything or anybody until my colonel's belongings were turned over to his own people."

Finding Colonel McGavock's family was not easy but Griffin sent word that he was in Memphis to stay until he could return Colonel McGavock's personal effects to his family. "Dr. McGavock {brother} was very grateful," Griffin reminisced after the meeting finally took place, "and he pulled out a roll of greenbacks and told me to help myself. I told him I would need very little money, as I intended to make my way through the lines and back to my command in a few days. I took forty dollars from his roll; but he insisted that I would need all the money I could get, and he pressed several additional bills into my hands. I never saw him again."

Several weeks later, Griffin managed to steal a handsome horse from a Yankee soldier and rode the horse back to rejoin his company, the 10th Tennessee Irish. Griffin was less than twenty years old when the war ended. Following the war, Griffin often wondered what happened to his friend, Billy Foote. They had last seen each other in the wheel house.

The answer came thirty-six year later, in 1899, at a meeting of Tennessee Veterans in San Francisco. "There was Billy Foote of the old days," Griffin said with a note of triumph in his voice. "The snows of winters had left their whitening touch upon his dark locks, and his figure had lost its whipper-snapper slenderness. It seems only a few short months since we parted with the promise to meet again soon, but my dear old comrade has answered the summons. It is my pride and pleasure to say that 'Tinfoot' made his mark, and that during those years he became one of the most successful lawyers in the West."


Source: Patrick Griffin, "The Famous Tenth Tennessee", Confederate Veteran Magazine, 1905.

Editor's note: Patrick Griffin, 10th Tennessee, was a 19-year-old soldier who was awed by his commanding officer, Col. Randal McGavock. Historians now agree that he could have fabricated many of his stories.

Click here to view Jerry McWilliams' portrait of Randal McGavock and Patrick Griffin


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