By 1864, after several years of hard fighting, the Confederacy was facing a severe lack of manpower. Some southern whites supported arming slaves to fight as soldiers against the Union Army. Increasing numbers of slaves were escaping to join the Union soldiers, and some Confederates argued that they would rather see their slaves as soldiers than see them escape to Yankee protection. Once slaves had escaped to the areas controlled by the Union Army, it was difficult for slave owners to recover them.
"During the month of August 1862 slaves living on the adjoining plantation together with myself began to form plans of in some way getting to the "yankees" . One day we heard a gun fire about four o'clock in the morning and upon gathering in the morning to see what the matter was we saw a United States gunboat out in the river. As this was by no means the first we had seen of Uncle Sam's vessels we were not at all surprised and in fact for some days we had agreed that the next time a vessel came up the river we would try and get on board her. That night after it was quiet, my three friends, whose names were Joe, Arden and Dick all slaves of one Robert Felton came to see me. We talked the matter over and concluded to start that night…"
"As we neared the boat we were hailed with, "Who are you?" We replied, "Friends," and received the reply, "Advance, friends, and come alongside." …We asked him if he could not take us on board to let us know at once, so that we could got back home before morning. When the officer came back he said he had orders from the captain to let us come aboard. We immediately accepted the invitation, and being very tired, were soon fast asleep on the deck of the vessel. In the morning we were told that we could stay on the boat."
"When it was light we found that we had been missed at home, for soon there was quite a number of men, armed with guns and accompanied by dogs, collected on the shore, but there was a wide step of water between us, and we did not feel very much alarmed. The captain watched them for a while, then ordered a gun loaded with a shell to be fired in that direction. The shell burst in the air, but our friends did not stay to see another fired. They seemed to remember very suddenly that they had something to do at home; at any rate, in a very short time not a man or dog was to be seen."