From the Dedham Gazette, 5/20/1865; pg. 1, col. 3.

Correspondence of the Springfield Republican.
Libby Prison Now and Then.

Libby Prison, Richmond, Va.,
April 24, 1865.


I have written from the Libby before, but nor with the freedom of satisfaction which I now enjoy. Then the question was, not what I wished to say, but what I might; not what would most interest my friends, but what the rebel authorities would permit to pass; and a single page gave little scope to the busy thoughts of a homesick prisoner. When I first passed down Cary street, I was under guard, and soldiers in butternut and gray thronged the busy walks of the capital of rebeldom. The sign of "Libby & Son, ship chandlers and grocers," indicated to me the gloomy, dreaded prison-house, as I approached the corner of Twentieth street, and I looked up to the barred windows, and saw the sad faces of hundreds of brave officers, gazing out with wistful look into the open air of freedom. The lower shutters of this then home of the staving, flared in bitter mockery the tempting offer of "pork, beef, fish, potatoes and bread." A long line of repulsive Johnnies paced their beat about the building, and the sentinels scowled at me as I passed in, well nigh leaving hope behind. The, as I entered the office, dapper, snappish Major Turner, sitting at his desk, in the corner, underneath, "the dear old flag," dishonored, union down, against the whitewashed walls, received the order from "Hog Winder," for my committal, and directed spitefully my being searched and turned into the room above.


Now how different all! The old flag cheered me along the way hither, as I passed among the smoking ruins of the business streets, one of the many Union officers of the "forces occupying Richmond." I missed the sign of Libby & Son, for it has been taken down for preservation by some Historical Society in New England. But the building was here-somehow not quite as gloomy looking as then. Rebel soldiers now peered through the window bars, and the brave boys in blue paced the guard beat on every side.

It was a salute which greeted me as I entered the doorway, and I received a warm and kindly welcome from Captain Foster of the Massachusetts 24th, a long time brigade comrade, now in charge of the building. Lieut. Col. Albert Ordway, commander of that gallant regiment, has now control of Libby and Castle Thunder prisons, and the contrast between the Boston gentleman and the mean and cold hearted Virginian, who was his predecessor, is marked at every step of one's progress through either prison-house. No such thing as uncalled rigor of p?ment is practiced here. Rebel prisoners waiting to be paroled are well fed and privileged to crowd the windows as they please without danger of a shot from the guard. Those in the prison hospitals are kindly ministered to, and their friends are permitted to visit them freely. Among these latter was a captain from the Richmond Light Infantry Blues, who was a Second Lieutenant of that organization at the battle of Ronoake Island, when its Captain, O. Jennings Wise, was killed. At that time this officer met Lieut. Col., then Adjutant Ordway, and received as a prisoner some kindness from him. Remembering this, he recognized the Lieutenant Colonel and called the incident to his mind again. Captain Warner, the old quartermaster of Libby, being arrested by our Military authorities on a charge of cruelty to prisoners, was able to prove that he showed more instances than one of human sympathy with those whom he was not permitted to feed sufficiently, and that he was moved from his position for favoring the Yankee prisoners. So his kindness at that time served him a good turn now, and he was restored to liberty. The only instance of severity of punishment is that of Dick Turner, the old prisoner inspector, who was the chosen instrument of Major Thomas P. Turner's harshness and cruelty. Dick was low-bred and brutal. He is said to have been a negro-whipper by trade. He certainly showed as little heart as Legree, and seemed to take delight in insulting, abusing and torturing those committed to his tender mercies. He is confined in one of the underground cells, where he shot so many gallant officers on the slightest provocation or merely to gratify personal spite and hatred, but the floor has been raised to keep him off the wet cellar bottom on which he made others to suffer.-His diet is bread and water, and he is left exclusively to his own unenviable reflections while awaiting trial for his crimes.


One's thoughts are busy with the thronging association of this historic place, as he treads its passages and lofts. Its cellar rooms, and stair-ways. How many tears have been shed here! How many prayers of agony and despair, as well as of patient, hoping trust, have gone up hence! How many strong, brave hearts have swelled to bursting over long deferred hope, within these gloomy walls; and how many of the true and noble have died here in lonely friendliness, after weary, dragging weeks of waiting. What sad, sad stories these bricks and beams might tell, if they could give the full record of what has been done, and said, and felt. The mouth of the famous tunnel is not yet closed. The dirt from its excavation still strews the cellar pavement. Huge iron balls and rusty chains for prisoners in special disfavor remain in the lower rooms, where they were so often used. The unglazed windows call to mind the chilly winds of winter which swept through he long low lofts, where thinly clad officers walked rapidly to and fro to keep themselves from freezing. How strangely these floors looked in the early gray of the morning, when every foot was occupied by a restlessly sleeping prisoner. And what a stir the negroes made coming in to wash the floors, starting some up by a swash of cold water before they had time to rouse themselves after first call and gather their blankets out of the way. The extra clothing and home supplies of the more fortunate officers hung from the beams of the upper floors, or from the rafters, or covered rude shelves along the walls.

There is the room where the cooking was carried on, a small stove being allowed to each one hundred officers. Yonder is usually where the mail was sorted. Oh, what a rush there was when that came in! How all listened with every nerve intent while the list of letters was read aloud. How the hands, and voice, and heart went up went one heard his own name, and how sadder and more weary were those who turned away unsupplied when the last was given out. The cry of "Bost up," does not cause such a commotion now as when all hoped to hear a word from home by the next flag of truce from the North. And so at every turn are memories revived, and new cause is found for thankfulness to God that old things are passed away and that things are become new.


One morning here in Libby, as I was told while a prisoner, by one of those most deeply interested in the incident, when the story had gained credence, as some new phantom of hope is always dancing before the captive, that certain of the officers were to be paroled, word came for all the Yankee Captains to present themselves in a lower room, causing the hearts of many thus summoned to beat high with an anticipation of release, and a return to the home loved ones. A table was found in the lower room, with writing material upon it. There was whispering of bright prospects, and liberty seemed never sweeter than then. Major Turner entered. Stepping to the head of the table, he said quickly:-

"Gentlemen an unpleasant duty devolves on me, this morning. I am instructed to select two of your number, by lot, for immediate execution."

Imagine the effect of this announcement! Didn't the raised hearts of those prisoners drop in suddenness? and didn't there blood chill at the startling change of mental temperature? The names of all the captains were put in a hat. A Union Captain drew out the names of Capts. Flynn and Sawyer to be hung in retaliation for the execution of spies by Gen. Burnsides. The brave men were shut up in the lower cells, one of which Dick Taylor now occupies. It is well known how the two captains were saved by the prompt and judicious action of our government in selecting as hostages young Lee and Winder; but one of those Union officers never fully recovered from the shock to his nervous system with the added effects of prolong confinement in the unwholesome air of the damp dungeon.

Castle Thunder, now in the immediate charge of Captain O'Brien, of the Massachusetts 24th, was used chiefly for the political prisoners of rebeldom. A number of criminals are still confined there, for offenses against the local civil law, and some of our deserters are also in it.-But the horror of these prisons are all of the past, thank God!.

H. C. T.