From the Charleston Mercury, 2/16/1864
THE ESCAPE OF THE YANKEE OFFICERS
FROM THE LIBBY PRISON.
The telegraph has already briefly
announced the escape of over one hundred Yankee officers from the Libby Prison.
From a Richmond exchange we clip the following interesting account of the manner
in which the exodus was accomplished:
One of those extraordinary
escapades of prisoners of war which have been very frequent on both sides,
occurred at the Libby Prison, between the hours of darkness on Tuesday evening
and daylight yesterday morning. The discovery was first made at the daily
morning count, when the number of the prisoners fell alarmingly short. The roll
was then resorted to, as it always is when the count does not correspond with
the number booked. The calling of the roll consumed nearly four hours, and out
of the one thousand and fifty odd officers confined in the prison the day
previous, one hundred and nine were found to be missing. At first it was
suspicioned that the night sentinels has been bribed, and connived at the
escape; and this suspicion received some credence from the statements of the
Yankee officers, who said the guards had passed them out by their posts. The
officer of the guard, and the sentinels on duty the night previous, were
accordingly placed under arrest by Major Turner, and after being searched for
money or other evidences of their criminality, confined in Castle Thunder, in
order that further developments might either establish their innocence or fix
their guilt upon them. In the meantime, Lieutenant LaTouche and Major Turner
made a thorough inspection of the basement of the prison, which slopes downward
from Cary street towards the river dock. This basement is very spacious and
dark, and rarely opened except to receive commissary stores. A stairway, leading
down from the first floor, has long ago been boarded over and there was no
communication from above. The wall masonry of the basement, near the front of
the building, commences at least ten feet below the level of Cary street. At the
base of the east wall, and about twenty feet from the Cary street front, was
discovered a tunnel, the entrance to which was hidden by a large rock, which
fitted the aperture exactly. This stone, rolled away from the mouth of the
sepulcher, revealed an avenue, which it was at once conjectured led to the outer
world beyond. A small negro boy was sent into the tunnel on a tour of
exploration, and by the time Major Turner and Lieutenant LaTouche gained the
outside of the building, a shout from the negro announced his arrival at the
terminus of the subterranean route. Its passage lay directly beneath the tread
of three sentinels, who walked the breadth of the east end of the prison, across
a paved alley way, a distance of more than fifty feet, breaking up inside of the
enclosure in the rear of Carr’s [Kerr’s] warehouse.
So nicely was the distance gauged,
that the inside of the inclosure was struck precisely, which hints strongly of
outside measurement and assistance. Through connection once opened, the
prisoners were enabled to worm themselves through the tunnel, one by one, and
emerging at least sixty feet distant from any sentinel post, to retake
themselves off, singly, through an arched gateway, to some appointed rendezvous.
To reach the entrance of the tunnel it was necessary for the prisoners to cut
through the hospital room and the closed stairway leading into the basement. All
the labor must have been performed at night, and all traces of the work
accomplished at night was closed up or cleared away before the morning light.
The tunnel itself is a work of several month, being about three feet in diameter
and at least sixty feet in length, with curvatures worked around rock.
Upon the testimony afforded by the
revelation of the tunnel, the imprisoned guards were at once released and
restored to duty, the manner of the escape being too evident.
Couriers were early despatched in
every direction, and the pickets double posted on all the roads and bridges. It
is quite evident that the escaping prisoners have scattered and are traveling
singly or in pairs, or are laying up in the houses or hiding places, provided
for them by the disloyal element to be found in and about Richmond. Doubtless
many will be recaptured, but we fear too many will escape for the credit of the
Confederacy. We believe the largest number of them are yet in Richmond, and will
seek to steal off, one by one, in various guises other than that of the Yankee.
It is fortunate that the leak was discovered when it was, or the exodus would
have been continued last night, and night after night, until there would have
been no Yankees to guard.
Brigadier-General Neal Dow did not
attempt the passage of the tunnel, for the reason that he was afraid his
strength would fail him in his flight to the embraces of Butler the Beast.