Escape from Libby Prison
Ed McLaughlin provided this set of extracts to the website about
Maj. Von Mitzelís escape from Libby.† The Richmond Daily Dispatch was put online by
The Daily Dispatch: July 20, 1863.
--On Saturday evening
last there were 182 officers received at the Libby, captured in the engagements
The Daily Dispatch:† February 11, 1864.
Important escape of Yankee prisoners
--Over Fifty Feet of Ground Tunnelled.--The most important escape of Federal prisoners which has occurred during the war took place at the Libby prison sometime during last Tuesday night. Of the eleven hundred Yankee officers confined therein, one hundred and nine failed to answer to their names at roll call yesterday morning. Embraced in this number were 11 Colonels, 7 Majors, 32 Captains, and 59 Lieutenants. The following is a list of the Colonels and Majors:
Col A D Streight, 51st
∑ Col J F Boyd, 20th army corps.
Major J P Collins, 29th
Major G W Fitzsimmons, 37th
∑ Major J H Hooper, 15th Miss.
Major B B Macdonald,
Major A Von Mitzel, 74th
Major J N Walker, 73d
Major J A Henry, 5th
Immediately on discovering the absence of these
prisoners some excitement was created among the Confederate officers in charge
of the prison, and in a short time every means was adopted to ascertain the
manner of their escape. At first Major Turner was inclined to the opinion that
the sentinels on duty had been bribed to pass them out, and this impression was
strengthened by the assertion of the Yankees remaining behind that the work had
been accomplished through means of heavy fees, which had been paid a
Confederate officer in the building, and his influence over the guard in their
behalf. On learning this the order was given to place
the guard under arrest and commit them to Castle Thunder. Not feeling satisfied
about the matter, the Major and Lt. Latouche
determined to leave no stone unturned to ferret out the mystery, and thereupon
proceeded to institute a search in every direction for further information.
After a fruitless examination of every part of the building where it was
thought possible for a man to escape, they were about abandoning further
investigation, when the idea struck them that some clue might be obtained by
going into the lot on the opposite side of the street, when a large hole was
soon discovered in the corner of one of the stalls of a shed which had been
used as a stable, and on a line with the street running between it and the
Libby prison.--This discovery fully satisfied them that they had found out the
means by which the escape had been made, and their next step was to trace out
the spot where the tunneling was commenced. Some few yards from the eastern end
of the building, in the basement it was found that a large piece of granite,
about three feet by two, had been removed from the foundation and a tunnel
extending fifty-nine feet across the street, eastward, into a vacant lot
formerly known as Carr's warehouse, out through. This tunnel was about seven
feet from the surface of the street, and from two and a half to three feet
square. The lot in which the excavation emptied is several feet below the
street, and the fleecing prisoners when they emerged from the tunnel found
themselves on level ground. Running on
By some means the prisoners would cut through
both these floors when they wished to gain the cellar, and after they had
passed down would close up the holes with the planks which had been taken out
so neatly that it could not be discovered. The cellar covers the whole area of
the building and is only used as a place for storing away meal, &c., for
the use of the prison. It being very large only the front part was required,
and therefore the back part of it, which is considerably below
Sometime since a Yankee Captain was found in the cellar, and on being taken before Major Turner, all smeared up with meal, he gave as his excuse for being there that he did not get enough to eat and was looking for something to make bread with. This was doubtless a falsehood, and his only business was to assist in the work which they had in hand.
There seems to be no doubt that further escape through this avenue was contemplated, and the earnestness with which the prisoners who remained behind tried to throw the blame upon the guard was only done to prevent further inquiry into the matter, and thereby leave the tunnel open for others to pass through. Probably one more night might have emptied the prison of the whole number confined therein.
Yesterday workmen were engaged in stopping up the passage which had been made from the prison, and it may now safely be relied on that no other prisoners will ever take their departure from the Libby against the knowledge and consent of the officers in charge.
As soon as the facts of the escape became fully known, orders were received by Col. Brown, commanding the cavalry battalion for local defense, that a detachment of his force should immediately scour the surrounding country in pursuit of them, and accordingly twenty-five men from each company soon started off for that purpose. Four of the prisoners who succeeded in getting out were, late in the afternoon, recaptured and brought back. They had gotten about 22 miles from the city before they were overtaken. It is hardly probable, from the steps which have been taken to prevent it, that many of them will succeed in reaching the Yankee lines.