From Confederate Veteran, Vol. XVII (1909), p. 114
TUNNELING OUT OF LIBBY PRISON.
John Mitchell, of Pomeroy, Wash., claiming to be the last survivor of the seven men who dug the tunnel from Libby Prison, thus providing means for the escape of one hundred and sixty-five men, tells the story of the desperate struggle. Before beginning the work he said the seven men took an oath of secrecy, fixing death to be the penalty of violation. It was decided that if any of them revealed the plot while they were digging the tunnel the others were to take him to the top of the warehouse at night and throw him from the highest window. Mr. Mitchell said:
"After we had spent months in that prison we conceived the idea of digging a tunnel under the warehouse, under the walls of the prison, and far enough outside to give a start to those who were willing to take the risk in the hope of gaining liberty.
"It was a desperate undertaking, as we fully realized; and although believing in the loyalty of every prisoner there, we could not dare to take them into our confidence, for fear the secret would become known to the guards. There was one obstacle, the guard inside the warehouse, whom we could not expect to escape, and we bribed him. After numerous attempts we succeeded in doing this, agreeing each of us to pay him one thousand dollars after we had regained our liberty and our homes.
"It was slow progress, handicapped, as we were, by the fear and danger of being discovered, and having. to work with the disadvantage of no tools but our hands and the pocket knives a few had been able to retain when imprisoned. The disposal of the earth and stones as we loosened them was a hard matter. We were unable physically to do such work; but hope sprang up in our hearts, and the prospect of freedom buoyed us up in a manner that now seems miraculous.
"The days and nights grew into years, it seemed, as we toiled, but none of, us became discouraged. We grew weaker as the task neared its end; and when it was all but completed, darkness came over me and I succumbed. For weeks I knew nothing. That I lived is due to the fact that I was cared for by a prisoner nurse whom I hold in grateful remembrance. He had charge of my case half the time, and frequently when coming on duty found me lying on the floor, unnoticed and uncared for, where I had fallen in delirium. He made every effort to find out my name and where my home had been; but my mind was a blank, and it was days before I could tell him anything. I remember, the joy with which I learned that the plans for escape through the tunnel had been successful and that my six faithful comrades had got away, accompanied by one hundred and sixty other prisoners.
"Of the men who dug that tunnel, I am the only one living. The last of the other six has been dead several years."
last updated on