From the Richmond Dispatch, 12/8/1901, p. 25
HAD A PEEP AT DEATH.
Memorable Incident in the Life of R. R. Turner,
A LIBBY PRISON OFFICIAL.
Mistaken for the Commandant, He Was About to Be Court-martialed.
HAIR TURNED WHITE IN A NIGHT.
Escaped from the Guards After Being Given the Enclosure, and Managed to Reach
the House of a Friend - Opportunity Presenting Itself, He Slipped Away from
Richmond - Died Last Week.
The death of Mr. R. R. Turner,
which occurred in Isle of Wight county on Thursday, recalls a memorable incident
in his life, which took place in Richmond some thirty-five years ago.
During the civil war, and at its
close, Mr. Turner was commissary of the famous Libby Prison, in this city, where
a large number of Union prisoners of war were confined. The commandant of the
prison was his cousin, Captain Thomas Turner. By his rigid discipline, which was
absolutely necessary under the circumstances, Captain Turner naturally incurred
the ill-will of the men in his keeping, who charged him with cruelty and freely
circulated this report among their northern relatives and friends.
As a matter of fact, the inmates
of Libby prison received better treatment than Confederate prisoners in northern
prisons. The rations may at times have been scanty, but in this they fared as
well as the Confederate soldiers who were guarding them, receiving exactly the
same amount and quality of food.
When Richmond was evacuated, and
the Union troops came in, one of the first men they searched for was Captain
Thomas Turner. The report that he had been the commandant of the famous Libby
prison had gone all over the North. Fortunately, Captain Turner had left the
His cousin, Mr. R. R. Turner, was
found, however, and the fact that in appearance, he was like his relative; that
he had been at Libby prison and that he was certainly named Turner, led to his
being mistaken for Captain Thomas Turner. He was placed in the State
penitentiary to be tried by court-martial. With feeling running high, as it did
in the days following the evacuation, courts-martial did not make nice
distinctions in matters of identity. Captain Wirz, the commandant of the
Andersonville prison, was arrested about the same time, and executed, after
having been court-martialed upon the same charge as that preferred against Mr.
R. R. Turner.
Turnerís chances were small
indeed. With friends and acquaintances scattered, it was practically impossible
for him to at once establish that he was not the Turner wanted. No delay would
have been granted him. There was no such thing as appeal to the civil courts.
The military authority was supreme and in full control. He had no friends in
positions of influence.
MADE HIS ESCAPE.
For some reason, probably because
of the large number of duties devolving upon the recently installed local
military authorities, the court-martial was not held for several days. Mr.
Turner had been in prison about eight or ten days, when, being given the
privilege of the grounds within its walls, he escaped, and made his way to the
residence of Mr. John Tyree, a friend, at the corner of Monroe and Marshall
streets, where he was concealed for a week or two.
Mr. Tyree, a few weeks later,
slipped him out of the lower end of the city. Being well acquainted with all the
roads leading from the city, he soon made his way through the country to the
home of his relatives and friends in Isle of Wight, where he remained until the
excitement incident to the affair had died out.
It is asserted as an undeniable
fact by those who were acquainted with the circumstances that so great was Mr.
Turnerís anxiety concerning the position in which he was placed, that the color
of his hair changed from a raven-black into gray in one night.
WOULD HAVE BEEN
There was little doubt in the
minds of many people at the time that Mr. Turner would have met the same fate
that overtook Captain Wirz, the commandant of Andersonville prison, in Georgia,
who was legally murdered by court-martial on the same charges that were lodged
against Commissary Turner, so bitter was the feeling against anybody by the name
of Turner connected with Libby prison.
Mr. Turner made occasional visits
to the city until he finally took up his residence in Isle of Wight, where he
died a few days ago, as stated above.
The excellent likeness of Mr.
Turner, which the Dispatch prints this morning was obtained from a relative in
this city. After the war, Mr. Turner became a useful and influential citizen of
Isle of Wight.
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