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Doc. 74.-the escape from Libby Prison.

Washington, D. C., Feb. 18, 1864.
A large number of officers, who escaped from Libby Prison a few days ago, arrived in this city last night, and from them we gather very interesting statements relative to their manner of escape.

Over two months ago, the officers confined in Libby Prison conceived the idea of effecting their own exchange, and after the matter had been seriously discussed by some seven or eight of them, they undertook to dig for a distance toward a [373] sewer running into the basin. This they proposed doing by commencing at a point in the cellar, near a chimney. This cellar was immediately under the hospital, and was the receptacle for refuse straw, thrown from the beds when they were changed, and for other refuse matter. Above the hospital was a room for officers, and above that, yet another room. The chimney ran through all these rooms, and the prisoners who were in the secret, improvised a rope, and night after night let working parties down, who successfully prosecuted their excavating operations.

The dirt was hid under the straw and other refuse matter under the cellar, and it was trampled down, so as not to present too great a bulk. When the working party had got to a considerable distance underground, it was found difficult to haul the dirt back by hand, and a spittoon, which had been furnished the officers in one of the rooms, was made to serve the purpose of a cart. A string was attached to it, and it was run in the tunnel, and, as soon as filled, was drawn out, and the dirt deposited under the straw. But, after hard work, and digging with finger-nails, knives, and chisels, a number of feet, the working party found themselves stopped by piles driven in the ground. These were at least a foot in diameter. But they were not discouraged. Penknives, or any other articles that would cut, were called for, and after chipping, chipping, chipping, for a long time, the piles were severed, and the tunnellers commenced again, and in a few minutes reached the sewer.

But here an unexpected obstacle met their further progress. The stench from the sewers and the flow of filthy water was so great that one of the party fainted, and was dragged out more dead than alive, and the project in that direction had to be abandoned. The failure was communicated to a few others besides those who had first thought of escape, and then a party of seventeen, after viewing the premises and surroundings, concluded to tunnel under Carey street. On the opposite side of this street, from the prison, was a sort of carriage-house or out-house, and the project was to dig under the street and emerge from under or near the house. There was a high fence around it, and the guard was outside of this fence. The prisoners then commenced to dig at the other side of the chimney, and, after a few handfuls of dirt had been removed, they found themselves stopped by a stone wall, which proved afterward to be three feet thick. The party were by no means daunted, and, with pen-knives and pocket-knives, they commenced operations upon the stone and mortar.

After nineteen days and nights' hard work, they again struck the earth beyond the wall, and pushed their work forward. Here, too, (after they had got some distance under ground,) the friendly spittoon was brought into requisition, and the dirt was hauled out in small quantities. After digging some days, the question arose whether they had not reached the point aimed at; and in order, if possible, to test the matter, Captain Gallagher, of the Second Ohio regiment, pretended that he had a box in the carriage-house over the way, and desired to search it out. This carriage-house, it is proper to state, was used as a receptacle for boxes and goods, sent to prisoners from the North, and the recipients were often allowed to go, under guard, across the street to secure their property. Captain Gallagher was granted permission to go there, and as he walked across under guard, he, as well as he could, paced off the distance, and concluded that the street was about fifty feet wide.

On the sixth or seventh of February, the working party supposed they had gone a sufficient distance, and commenced to dig upward. When near the surface, they heard the rebel guards talking above them, and discovered they were some two or three feet yet outside the fence.

The displacing of a stone made considerable noise, and one of the sentinels called to his comrade and asked him what the noise meant. The guards, after listening a few minutes, concluded that nothing was wrong, and returned to their beats. This hole was stopped up by inserting in the crevice a pair of old pantaloons filled with straw, and by bolstering the whole up with boards, which they secured from the floors, etc., of the prison. The tunnel was then continued some six or seven feet more, and when the working party supposed they were about ready to emerge to daylight, others in the prison were informed that there was a way now open for escape. One hundred and nine of the prisoners decided to make the attempt to get away. Others refused, fearing the consequences if they were recaptured; and others yet, (among whom was General Neal Dow,) declined to make the attempt, as (they said) they did not desire to have their Government back down from its enunciated policy of exchange. Colonel Rose, of New-York; Colonel Kendrick, of Tennessee; Captain Jones, Lieutenant Bradford, and others, informed General Dow that they could not see how making their escape would affect the policy of exchange. Their principle was that it was their personal right to escape if they could, and their duty to their Government to make the attempt.

About half-past 8 o'clock on the evening of the ninth, the prisoners started out, Colonel Rose, of New-York, leading the van. Before starting, the prisoners had divided themselves into squads of two, three, and four, and each squad was to take a different route, and after they were out, were to push for the Union lines as fast as possible. It was the understanding that the working party was to have an hour's start of the other prisoners, and consequently the rope-ladder in the cellar was drawn out. Before the expiration of the hour, however, the other prisoners became impatient, and were let down through the chimney successfully into the cellar.

Colonel W. P. Kendrick, of West-Tennessee; Captain D. J. Jones, of the First Kentucky cavalry, and Lieutenant R. Y. Bradford, of the Second West-Tennessee, were detailed as a rearguard, or rather to go out last; and from a window Colonel Kendrick and his companions could [374] see the fugitives walk out of a gate at the other end of the inclosure of the carriage-house, and fearlessly move off. The aperture was so narrow that but one man could get through at a time, and each squad carried with them provisions in a haversack. At midnight, a false alarm was created, and the prisoners made considerable noise in getting to their respective quarters. Providentially, however, the guard suspected nothing wrong, and in a few moments the exodus was again commenced. Colonel Kendrick and his companions looked with trepidation upon the movements of the fugitives, as some of them, exercising but little discretion, moved boldly out of the inclosure into the glare of the gaslight. Many of them were, however, dressed in citizen's dress, and as all the rebel guards wear the United States uniform, but little suspicion could be excited, even if the fugitives had been accosted by the guard.

Between one and two o'clock the lamps were extinguished in the streets, and then the exit was more safely accomplished. There were many officers who desired to leave, who were so weak and feeble that they were dragged through the tunnel by main force and carried to places of safety until such time as they would be able to move on their journey. At half-past 2 o'clock, Captain Jones, Colonel Kendrick, and Lieutenant Bradford passed out in the order in which they are named, and as Colonel Kendrick emerged from the hole, he heard the guard within a few feet of him sing out: “Post No. 7, half-past 2 in the morning, and all's well.” Colonel Kendrick says he could hardly resist the temptation of saying: “Not so well as you think, except for the Yanks.” Lieutenant Bradford was intrusted with the provisions for this squad, and in getting through he was obliged to leave his haversack behind him, as he could not get through with it upon him.

Once out, they proceeded up the street, keeping in the shade of the buildings, and passed eastwardly through the city.

A description of the route pursued by this party, and of the tribulations through which they passed, will give some idea of the rough time they all had of it. Colonel Kendrick had, before leaving the prison, mapped out his course, and concluded that the best route to take was the one toward Norfolk or Fortress Monroe, as there were fewer rebel pickets in that direction. They, therefore, kept the York River Railroad to the left, and moved toward the Chickahominy River. They passed through Boar Swamp, and crossed the road leading to Bottom Bridge. Sometimes they waded through mud and water almost up to their necks, and kept the Bottom Bridge road to their left, although at times they could see and hear the cars travelling over the York River road.

While passing through the swamp near the Chickahominy, Colonel Kendrick sprained his ankle and fell. Fortunate, too, was that fall for him and his party, for while he was lying there one of them chanced to look up, and saw in a direct line with them a swamp-bridge, and in the dim outline they could perceive that parties with muskets were passing over the bridge. They, therefore, moved some distance to the south, and after passing through more of the swamp, reached the Chickahominy about four miles below Bottom Bridge. Here now was a difficulty. The river was only twenty feet wide, but it was very deep, and the refugees were worn out and fatigued. Chancing, however, to look up, Lieutenant Bradford saw that two trees had fallen on either side of the river, and that their branches were interlocked. By crawling up one tree and down the other, the fugitives reached the east bank of the Chickahominy, and Colonel Kendrick could not help remarking that he believed Providence was on their side, else they would not have met that natural bridge.

They subsequently learned from a friendly negro that had they crossed the bridge they had seen, they would assuredly have been recaptured, for Captain Turner, the keeper of Libby Prison, had been out and posted guards there, and, in fact, had alarmed the whole country, and got the people up as a vigilance committee to capture the escaped prisoners.

After crossing over this natural bridge, they lay down on the ground and slept until sunrise, on the morning of the eleventh, when they continued on their way, keeping eastwardly as near as they could. Up to this time they had had nothing to eat, and were almost famished. About noon on the eleventh, they met several negroes, who gave them information as to the whereabouts of the rebel pickets, and furnished them with food.

Acting under the advice of these friendly negroes, they remained quietly in the woods until darkness set in, when they were furnished with a comfortable supper by the negroes, and, after dark, proceeded on their way, the negroes (who, everywhere, showed their friendship to the fugitives) having first directed them how to avoid the rebel pickets. That night they passed a camp of rebels, and could plainly see the smoke and camp-fire. But their wearied feet gave out, and they were compelled to stop and rest, having only marched five miles that day.

They started again at daylight on the thirteenth, and, after moving awhile through the woods, they saw a negro woman working in a field, and called her to them, and from her received directions, and were told that the rebel pickets had been about there, looking for the fugitives from Libby. Here they lay low again, and resumed their journey when darkness set in, and marched five miles, but halted until the morning of the fourteenth, when the journey was resumed.

At one point they met a negro in the field, and she told them that her mistress was a secesh woman, and that she had a son in the rebel army. The party, however, was exceedingly hungry, and they determined to secure some food. This they did by boldly approaching the house and informing the mistress that they were prisoners from Norfolk, who had been driven out by Butler, [375] and the secesh sympathies of the woman were at once aroused, and she gave them of her substance, and started them on their way with directions how to avoid the Yankee soldiers, who occasionally scouted in that vicinity. This information was exceedingly valuable to the refugees, for by it they discovered the whereabouts of the Federal forces.

When about fifteen miles from Williamsburgh, the party came upon the main road, and found the tracks of a large body of cavalry. A piece of paper found by Captain Jones satisfied him that they were Union cavalry; but his companions were suspicious, and avoided the road, and moved forward, and at the “Burnt ordinary” (about ten miles from Williamsburgh) waited the return of the cavalry that had moved up the road, and from behind a fence-corner, where they were secreted, the fugitives saw the flag of the Union supported by a squadron of cavalry, which proved to be a detachment of Colonel Spears's Eleventh Pennsylvania regiment, sent out for the purpose of picking up escaped prisoners. Colonel Kendrick says his feelings at seeing the old flag are indescribable.

The party rode into Williamsburgh with the cavalry, where they were quartered for the night, and where they found eleven others who had escaped safely. Colonel Spears and his command furnished the officers with clothing and other necessaries.

At all points along the route, the fugitives describe their reception by the negroes as most enthusiastic, and there was no lack of white people who sympathized with them and helped them on their way.

From the officers we learn that there is a widespread Union feeling in Richmond. Jeff Davis is held in detestation, but all who do not heartily indorse the rebel government are spotted and watched. There are at this time eighteen persons confined in Castle Thunder on charges of attempts to assassinate the rebel President. These prisoners also confirm the report that an attempt was made to burn Jeff's mansion, and that one morning his servants found a coffin upon his porch.

In their escape the officers were aided by citizens of Richmond — not foreigners of the poorer classes only, but by natives and persons of wealth. They know their friends, but very properly with-hold the mention of their names. Of those who got out of Libby, there were a number of sick ones, who were cared for by Union people, and will eventually reach the Union lines through their aid.

The officers also report the fact that some time ago, through the aid of citizens, they obtained communication with the soldiers on Belle Island, and there was to be a concerted movement to escape. The soldiers had been furnished with arms, which they had secreted. The officers at Libby were to secure the guards there, and act in concert with the Belle Island men; but just as the affair was ready to be carried into execution, the project was exposed. Suspicion at, once rested upon a certain Union lieutenant-colonel, who was in favor with the rebel authorities, had the freedom of the city, and moved about at will in the hospitals and elsewhere. He had been suspected for some time, and one day was accused of exposing the affair.

The indignation of the officers whose plans had been thwarted through the perfidy of (as they believed) one of their number, cannot be described. Some cried out: “Hang him! Hang him!” One ran to his blanket, and, tearing it into strips, said he had a rope ready; and others were in favor of pitching the fellow out of the window, and letting his brains bespatter the pavement below. Wiser counsels, however, prevailed, and it was concluded it was better to let the traitor live, and report him to his Government, if ever opportunity offered. The lieutenant-colonel, we understand, will be reported to the War Office. His excuse is that he informed a Federal officer in a hospital of the attempted escape, and that a rebel surgeon overheard the conversation.

These prisoners confirm in every particular the statements heretofore made of the treatment of Federal prisoners there. The rations of the officers were about the same as those of the rebel privates; but our privates on Belle Island did not fare so well. As long as the boxes sent from friends at the North were delivered, they lived as well as could be expected under the circumstances. Those who had money were allowed to send out and get what they wanted, by paying three times more than Richmond prices, the profits going into the pockets of the officers of the prison. In other respects the treatment was quite harsh.

When a prisoner entered the prison, any articles found upon him that were fancied by rebel officers or guards were taken possession of; they pretended the money and articles were deposited with the Quartermaster.

The sleeping accommodations were very poor, and the only place they bad to exercise their limbs in was the dining-room. For a while the officers were not furnished with meat at all, and at one time they received flesh which was pronounced by those among the officers who knew something about butchering, as mule-meat, as they knew of no cattle used for food which had bones like those found in the meat.

The privates on Belle Island, it is unquestioned, have eaten dogs; in fact, were obliged to do it in order to sustain life.

On the boat coming up from Fortress Monroe yesterday, the officers had a meeting, which was presided over by Colonel W. P. Kendrick, of the Third West-Tennessee cavalry, and at which Colonel West, of the Fourth Wisconsin, acted as Secretary, and the following card was unanimously adopted:

The undersigned, officers of the United States army, and recently prisoners of war, desire to express their deep gratitude to Major-General Butler, Brigadier-General Wistar, Colonel West, of the First Pennsylvania artillery, and the gallant officers and men of the Eleventh Pennsylvania [376] cavalry, and the First New-York Mounted Rifles, for their effective assistance in completing our escape from the rebel Libby Prison at Richmond and the lines of pickets and bloodhounds of the rebel army; and also for the many acts of kindness so gracefully tendered us in our present need.

We desire, also, in common with every loyal heart in the Union, to tender to Major-General Butler our high appreciation of his prompt and extensive efforts to aid our comrades, who are yet in the rebel lines, attempting to elude their vigilance, and .make good their escape from that prison of refined cruelty and slow death.

This is signed by the following officers, who are all at this time in this city: William B. McCreery, Colonel Twenty-first Michigan infantry; W. P. Kendrick, Colonel West-Tennessee cavalry; Alexander Theobald Von Wizel, Lieutenant-Colonel. Seventy-fourth regiment Pennsylvania volunteer infantry; J. F. Boyd, Lieutenant-Colonel and Quartermaster of volunteers; T. S. West, Lieutenant-Colonel Twenty-fourth Wisconsin volunteer infantry; H. C. Hobert, Lieutenant-Colonel Twenty-first Wisconsin volunteer infantry; J. P. Collins, Major Twentieth Indiana infantry; G. R. Fitzsimmons, Major Thirtieth Indiana volunteers; J. F. Gallaher, Captain company B, Second Ohio volunteer infantry; Matt. Boyd, Captain, Seventy-third Indiana; A. G. Hamilton, Captain company A, Twelfth Kentucky cavalry; I. N. Johnston, Captain company H, Sixth Kentucky volunteer infantry; W. S. B. Randall, Captain company C, Second Ohio infantry; Michael Gallagher, Captain, Third New-Jersey cavalry; Morton Tower, Captain, Thirteenth Massachusetts volunteers; T. J. Jones, Captain, First Keptucky infantry; S. C. Bose, Captain, Fourth Missouri cavalry; T. Clark, Captain, Seventy-eighth Illinois infantry; Albert Wallber, First Lieutenant, Twenty-sixth Wisconsin; John C. Fislar, First Lieutenant, Seventh Indiana battery; William Reynolds, First Lieutenant, Seventy-third Indiana volunteers; James M. Wells, Lieutenant company F, Eighth Michigan volunteer cavalry; L. P. Williams, Lieutenant, Seventy-second Indiana volunteers; N. J. McKeen, Lieutenant company H, Twenty-first Illinois.

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