From the Franklin (PA) Repository, 2/24/1864
"The Libby Jail Delivery"
We had the pleasure of a visit yesterday morning from three of our Federal
Officers who recently escaped from Libby Prison, being a portion of the party of
twenty-eight who had arrived at Fortress Monroe up to Tuesday evening.
Their narrative of escape is being prepared, and we shall take great pleasure
in laying it before the public. Suffice it to say that they were fifty-one days
engaged in making their excavations, that through which they passed being sixty
feet long. They had previously made tow other excavations leading to the city
sewers, but found that the sewers were two small to admit of their passage
through them, and this mode of escape had to be abandoned. The mode of
excavating was with case knives and an old chisel. An old spittoon, with two
ropes attached to it, was used to draw the dirt out into the cellar. One rope
was kept in the hands of the operator in the tunnel to draw it back empty, and
in the hands of the party attending at the orifice to draw it full.
The working parties succeeded in getting into the cellar under the hospital,
from which they operated, first through the wall, then into the sand. The earth
they concealed under a pile of straw, where a number of old beds had been
emptied, treading it down hard to make it occupy as little space as possible.
They commenced to make their escape at 7 o'clock in the evening, and some of
those who have got through to Fortress Monroe did not leave until 8 o'clock in
the morning. It took each man about five minutes to get through the tunnel, and
it was dangerous for more than one to get into it at a time, there being a
difficulty in breathing.
They first struck the outer surface in the middle of an unpaved street, but
stopped up the hole by filling the leg of an old pair of pantaloons with earth
and wedging it up in the hole. They then dug on further, and came out under a
tobacco shed, from which they made their escape.
Each man, as he emerged in the open air, sauntered slowly off, taking
whatever direction he fancied. They nearly all had on our blue army coats, which
facilitated their escape, nearly all the military in and about Richmond wearing
the same coats, having been supplied from the clothing sent through by the
Government for our prisoners. They allege that they were bought from our
prisoners, but some doubt is entertained on this subject.
They were pursued on the Peninsula, and some of them tracked and captured by
the aid of bloodhounds. Five days were occupied in tracking their way to our
line, and some were compelled from exhaustion to give themselves up.
A number of officers who desired to escape were compelled to abandon the
effort on account of their corpulency, the tunnel being too small to admit of
their passage through it. Some of them undertook a depleting process to reduce
their dimensions, but failed to come down to the required thinness.
The work was secretly commenced at first by a party of eighty, their fellow
prisoners knowing nothing about it. They finally notified a few of their
friends, and the working parties were increased. They were fearful to trust the
matter to the general knowledge of the prisoners, though when the work was done
and the outlet open, all who were willing to make the attempt were notified of
the fact. It was regarded as a most hazardous adventure for freedom, with a
possibility of being shot, a certainty of great hardship and exposure, and if
captured the ball and chain and low diet.
After getting outside the lines around Richmond, they were greatly
facilitated by the sympathizing negro. In no case did they apply to them for
direction as to their route, without receiving correct information gladly given.
They were told how to avoid the Rebel scouts and pickets, and where they would
be most likely to strike the Federal lines.
They were finally met by the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry, twelve miles beyond
Williamsburg, who were scouting through the country on the lookout for them.
They described their reception by these gallant fellows as most cordial and
enthusiastic. Officers and men vied with each other in pressing their
hospitality, and one private insisted upon taking off his pantaloons to furnish
Capt. Clarke, who had lost one of his in the bushes. They had been five days
without any regular food, and were almost exhausted by exposure and hunger.
Their impression is that at least fifty, and perhaps more, of the 109 who
escaped, will reach our lines. Some few of them were re-captured in the city of