Libby Prison was a Confederate prison at Richmond, Virginia, during the American Civil War. It gained an infamous reputation for the overcrowded and harsh conditions under which officer prisoners from the Union Army were kept. Prisoners suffered from disease, malnutrition and a high mortality rate. By 1863, one thousand prisoners were crowded into large open rooms on two floors, with open, barred windows leaving them exposed to weather and temperature extremes.
The building was built before the war as a food warehouse. The structure was moved to Chicago in 1889 to serve as a war museum. It was dismantled in 1899, with its pieces sold as souvenirs.
The prison was located in a three-story brick warehouse on two levels on Tobacco Row at the waterfront of the James River. Prior to use as a jail, the warehouse had been leased by Capt. Luther Libby and his son George W. Libby. They operated a ship's chandlery and grocery business.
The Confederate government started to use the facility as a hospital and prison in 1861, reserving it for Union officers in 1862 because of the influx of prisoners.It contained eight low-ceilinged rooms, each 103 by 42 feet (31.4 by 12.5 metres). The second and third floors were used to house prisoners. Windows were barred and open to the elements, increasing the discomfort. Lack of sanitation and overcrowding caused diseases. From 700 prisoners in 1862, the facility had a total of 1,000 by 1863. Mortality rates were high in 1863 and 1864, aggravated by shortages of food and supplies. Because of the high death toll, Libby Prison is generally regarded as only second in notoriety to Andersonville Prison in Georgia.
"The building is of brick, with a front of near one hundred and forty feet, and one hundred feet deep. It is divided into nine rooms; the ceilings are low, and ventilation imperfect; the windows are barred, through which the windings of James River and the tents of Belle Isle may be seen."[ citation needed ]
In March 1864, worries about the safety of the capital, the security of the prisons, and the scarcity of resources peaked. Most prisoners of war were evacuated from Richmond to Macon, Georgia. Enlisted men would go to Andersonville while the officers housed at Libby would transfer to the new prison in Macon. For the next year, Libby continued to be used, mostly as a place for temporary confinement of Union officers and a small number of Confederate military criminals. On September 18, 1864, The New York Times reported that approximately 230 Union officers remained in Libby Prison. This number surged over the next month, in large part due to the Siege of Petersburg. Union officer petitions for assistance indicate mass death and deteriorating conditions within the already-deplorable Libby.
After the occupation of Richmond in 1865, Union authorities used the prison for detention of former Confederate officers. They reportedly improved conditions over those for Union officers or prisoners of war on both sides generally during the war.
In April 1865, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln visited Richmond, Virginia and toured the city on foot. When he came across Libby Prison, a crowd of onlookers stated "We will tear it down", to which Lincoln replied, "No, leave it as a monument."
In 1880, the building was purchased by Southern Fertilizer Company. Nine years later, it was bought by Charles F. Gunther, a candymaker, disassembled, and moved to Chicago, Illinois. There it was rebuilt and renovated to serve as a war museum (1889-1899).After the museum failed to draw enough crowds, the building was dismantled and was sold in pieces as souvenirs.
Upon their release from Libby a group of Union surgeons published an account in 1863 of their experiences treating Libby inmates in the attached hospital:
Thus we have over ten per cent of the whole number of prisoners held classed as sick men, who need the most assiduous and skilful attention; yet, in the essential matter of rations, they are receiving nothing but corn bread and sweet potatoes. Meat is no longer furnished to any class of our prisoners except to the few officers in Libby hospital, and all sick or well officers or privates are now furnished with a very poor article of corn bread in place of wheat bread, unsuitable diet for hospital patients prostrated with diarrhea, dysentery and fever, to say nothing of the balance of startling instances of individual suffering and horrid pictures of death from protracted sickness and semi-starvation we have had thrust upon our observation.
They said that prisoners were always asking for more food and that many were only half clad. Newly arriving prisoners who were already ill often died quickly, even in one night. Due to the "systematic abuse, neglect and semi-starvation," the surgeons believed that thousands of men would be left "permanently broken down in their constitutions" if they survived. In one story they noted that 200 wounded prisoners brought in from the battle of Chickamauga had been given only a few hard crackers during their three days' journey, but suffered two more days in the prison without medical attention or food.
An article in the Daily Richmond Enquirer vividly described prison conditions in 1864:
Libby takes in the captured Federals by scores, but lets none out; they are huddled up and jammed into every nook and corner; at the bathing troughs, around the cooking stoves, everywhere there is a wrangling, jostling crowd; at night the floor of every room they occupy in the building is covered, every square inch of it, by uneasy slumberers, lying side by side, and heel to head, as tightly packed as if the prison were a huge, improbable box of nocturnal sardines.
Lieut. Colonel Federico Fernández Cavada, who belonged to the Hot Air Balloon Unit of the Union Army, was captured during the Battle of Gettysburg and sent to Libby. Released in 1864, Fernandez Cavada later that year published a book titled LIBBY LIFE: Experiences of A Prisoner of War in Richmond, VA, 1863-64, in which he told of the cruel treatment in the Confederate prison.
In the introduction, Cavada wrote:
It was a beautiful country through which we had just passed, but it had presented no charms to weary eyes that were compelled to view it through a line of hostile bayonets; we felt but little sympathy for the beautiful; on our haggard countenances only this was written: "Give us rest, and food."
Many memoirs published after the war described harrowing conditions.
Such memoirs should be read in context, however. After the war, former Union prisoners were not granted pensions unless they had also sustained injuries or suffered from disease during their service. To muster support for their plight, the veterans mounted a public-relations campaign that included wildly sensationalistic "recollections" owing much to the dime novels of the "Wild West." When the United States government granted universal pensions beginning in 1890, these memoirs virtually disappeared.
(The Libby Chronicle, edited by Louis Beaudry, Albany, NY)
The Libby Chronicle was a newsletter written by the inmates of Libby during the summer of 1863; it was read aloud by the editor every Friday morning. Composed in the midst of hardship and brutality, the newsletter expressed irreverent humor.
Issue number two included a poem entitled "Castle Thunder," with a "dryly witty perspective" on prison life:[ citation needed ]
We have eighteen kinds of food, though 'twill stagger your belief,
Because we have bread, beef and soup, then bread, soup and beef;
Then we sep'rate around with'bout twenty in a group,
And thus we get beef, soup and bread, and beef, bread and soup;
For dessert we obtain, though it costs us nary red,
Soup, bread and beef, (count it well) and beef and soup and bread.
Such poems helped keep up morale among the prisoners. The following week's issue begins with a segment called "Encore," which reads, "Yielding to pressing demand from those who heard and from many who did not hear the poem entitled 'Castle Thunder,' we reproduce it this week. We are certain that the uproarious laughter caused by this facetious article . . . has done more good in Libby than cartloads of Confederate medicine."[ citation needed ]
Commonly expressed was hostility toward President Abraham Lincoln, whom they considered responsible for their being held so long in prison. The editors of The Chronicle rebuked such sentiments, saying, "these officers evince more the spirit of spoiled children than that of manly courage and intelligence which should characterize the actions of the American soldier."[ citation needed ]
Men made independent efforts to secure their release. For instance, one young surgeon wrote a letter to the editor of the Richmond Sentinel, promising that if he were released he would find the editor's "Rebel son" and look after him until he could be returned home. Chronicle editors reported that "this same officer was poltroon enough to offer to leave the Federal army if the Confederates would do something for him. But the Rebels didn't want the poor Judas, and he finds he has eaten dirt without advantage."[ citation needed ]
During the second week of February 1864, 109 Union officers took part in what was later dubbed by the press as the Libby Prison Escape. Captain Morton Tower of Company B, 13th Mass. Infantry, wrote in his published memoirs about his successful escape: "On the night of February 9th, as soon as it was sufficiently dark, the exodus from the prison commenced. Major Hamilton, Col. Rose, and some of the projectors were the first to pass through. Col. Davis of the 4th Maine and myself had passed through the tunnel to the yard just as the clocks of Richmond were striking twelve. Near daybreak we reached a thicket of woods where we stopped to rest." Capt. Tower and Col. Davis eluded recapture and soon joined 57 other escapees who also made it to the Union lines.("Army Experience of Morton Tower- his escape from Libby Prison", "Memoirs of Capt. Morton Tower", June 1870)
The Charleston Mercury carried the story:
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 warehouse. So nicely was the distance gauged, that the inside of the enclosure 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 months, being about three feet in diameter and at least sixty feet in length, with curvatures worked around rock.
("Particulars of the Escape of the Yankee Officers from the Libby Prison", The Charleston Mercury, February 16, 1864)
Three tunnels were built: the first ran into water and was abandoned. The second hit the building's log foundation. The third reached a small carriage shed 15 m (50 ft) away. Escapes were regular occurrences at both Federal and Confederate prisons.
The Christian Recorder and other papers sometimes included letters from prisoners. The rules of Libby Prison limited men to six lines for their letters to family and friends. Here is an example:
"My Dear Wife. - Yours received - no hopes of exchange - send corn starch - want socks - no money - rheumatism in left shoulder - pickles very good - send sausages - God bless you - kiss the baby - Hail Columbia! - Your devoted husband."
In 1907, nails from Libby prison were melted down and used to cast the Pokahuntas Bell for the Jamestown Exposition. Coordinates:The front door of Libby Prison is currently on display in the museum at The American Civil War Center, located at the former Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond.
In the television miniseries North and South , General George Hazard (James Read) was taken prisoner and sent to Libby Prison, which was under temporary command of the sadistic Captain Turner (Wayne Newton), only to be rescued by his best friend, General Orry Main (Patrick Swayze), and Main's cousin, Confederate officer Charles Main (Lewis Smith). However, in the original novel, Love and War by John Jakes, it is George's brother, Billy Hazard, who is imprisoned at Libby and rescued by Charles Main.
Belle Isle is a small 54-acre (22 ha) island in the city of Richmond, Virginia. Belle Island lies within the James River, and being owned by the city it serves as a city park. It is accessible to pedestrian and bicycle traffic via a suspension footbridge that runs under the Robert E. Lee Bridge from the northern shore or via a wooden bridge from the southern shore. Except when the water level of the James is high, it is also reachable by foot from the southern shore via easy boulder-hopping. From Belle Isle, one can see Hollywood Cemetery, the old Tredegar Iron Works, and Richmond City's skyline. Belle Isle has many bike trails around the island, and has a small cliff used for rock climbing instruction.
The Andersonville National Historic Site, located near Andersonville, Georgia, preserves the former Andersonville Prison, a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp during the final fourteen months of the American Civil War. Most of the site lies in southwestern Macon County, adjacent to the east side of the town of Andersonville. As well as the former prison, the site contains the Andersonville National Cemetery and the National Prisoner of War Museum. The prison was made in February 1864 and served to April 1865.
Castle Thunder, located between what is now 17th Street and 18th Street on northern side of E Cary Street in Richmond, Virginia, was a former tobacco warehouse, located on Tobacco Row, converted into a prison used by the Confederacy to house civilian prisoners, including captured Union spies, political prisoners and those charged with treason during the American Civil War. A large number of its inmates were sentenced to death. Even though the inmates were sometimes allowed boxes of medicine and other supplies, the prison guards had a reputation for brutality.
Cahaba Prison, also known as Castle Morgan, was a prisoner of war camp in Dallas County, Alabama where the Confederacy held captive Union soldiers during the American Civil War. The prison was named Castle Morgan after Cahaba lawyer and Confederate Brigadier General John Tyler Morgan. The prison was located in the small Alabama town of Cahaba, at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers, not far from Selma. It suffered a serious flood in 1865. At the time, Cahaba was still the county seat, but that was moved to Selma in 1866. Cahaba Prison was known for having one of the lowest death rates of any Civil War prison camp mainly because of the humane treatment from the Confederate commandant.
Camp Douglas, in Chicago, Illinois, sometimes described as "The North's Andersonville," was one of the largest Union Army prisoner-of-war camps for Confederate soldiers taken prisoner during the American Civil War. Based south of the city on the prairie, it was also used as a training and detention camp for Union soldiers. The Union Army first used the camp in 1861 as an organizational and training camp for volunteer regiments. It became a prisoner-of-war camp in early 1862. Later in 1862 the Union Army again used Camp Douglas as a training camp. In the fall of 1862, the Union Army used the facility as a detention camp for paroled Confederate prisoners.
Fort Delaware is a former harbor defense facility, designed by chief engineer Joseph Gilbert Totten and located on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. During the American Civil War, the Union used Fort Delaware as a prison for Confederate prisoners of war, political prisoners, federal convicts, and privateer officers. A three-gun concrete battery of 12-inch guns, later named Battery Torbert, was designed by Maj. Charles W. Raymond and built inside the fort in the 1890s. By 1900, the fort was part of a three fort concept, the first forts of the Coast Defenses of the Delaware, working closely with Fort Mott in Pennsville, New Jersey and Fort DuPont in Delaware City, Delaware. The fort and the island currently belong to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and encompass a living history museum, located in Fort Delaware State Park.
The Southern bread riots were events of civil unrest in the Confederacy during the American Civil War, perpetrated mostly by women in March and April 1863. During these riots, which occurred in cities throughout the South, women and men violently invaded and looted various shops and stores.
Thomas Henry Hines was a Confederate cavalryman who was known for his spying activities during the last two years of the American Civil War. A native of Butler County, Kentucky, he initially worked as a grammar instructor, mainly at the Masonic University of La Grange, Kentucky. During the first year of the war, he served as a field officer, initiating several raids. He was an important assistant to John Hunt Morgan, doing a preparatory raid in advance of Morgan's Raid through the states of Indiana and Ohio, and after being captured with Morgan, organized their escape from the Ohio Penitentiary. He was later involved in espionage and tried to stir up insurrections against the Federal government in selected Northern locales.
Richmond, Virginia, served as the capital of the Confederate States of America for almost the whole of the American Civil War. It was a vital source of weapons and supplies for the war effort, and the terminus of five railroads.
Elmira Prison was originally a barracks for "Camp Rathbun" or "Camp Chemung", a key muster and training point for the Union Army during the American Civil War, between 1861 and 1864. The 30-acre (120,000 m2) site was selected partially due to its proximity to the Erie Railroad and the Northern Central Railway, which crisscrossed in the midst of the city. The Camp fell into disuse as the war progressed, but its "Barracks #3" was converted into a military prison in the summer of 1864. It was the prison holding the largest number of Confederate POWs. Its capacity was 4,000, but it held 12,000 within one month of opening. A different source says that Camp Rathbun had a capacity of 6,000 recruits, but that it was turned into a prison for 10,000 and "the Union Commissary General was given just 10 days to make it happen.
The Libby Prison Escape at Richmond, Virginia in February 1864 saw over 100 Union prisoners-of-war escape from captivity. It was one of the most successful prison breaks of the American Civil War. Led by Colonel Thomas E. Rose of the 77th Pennsylvania Infantry, the prisoners started tunnelling in a rat-infested zone which the Confederate guards were reluctant to enter. The tunnel emerged in a vacant lot beside a warehouse, from where the escapees could walk out through the gate without arousing suspicion. Since the prison was believed to be escape-proof, there was less vigilance by the authorities than in other camps, and the alarm was not raised for nearly 12 hours. Over half the prisoners were able to reach Union lines, helped by their familiarity with the terrain after serving in McClellan's Peninsula Campaign of 1862.
Camp Morton was a military training ground and a Union prisoner-of-war camp in Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, during the American Civil War. It was named for Indiana governor Oliver Morton. Prior to the war, the site served as the fairgrounds for the Indiana State Fair. During the war, Camp Morton was initially used as a military training ground. The first Union troops arrived at the camp in April 1861. After the fall of Fort Donelson and the Battle of Shiloh, the site was converted into a prisoner-of-war camp. The first Confederate prisoners arrived at Camp Morton on February 22, 1862; its last prisoners were paroled on June 12, 1865. At the conclusion of the war, the property resumed its role as the fairgrounds for the Indiana State Fair. In 1891 the property was sold and developed into a residential neighborhood known as Morton Place, a part of the Herron-Morton Place Historic District.
The Dix–Hill Cartel was the first official system for exchanging prisoners during the American Civil War. It was signed by Union Major General John A. Dix and Confederate Major General D. H. Hill at Haxall's Landing on the James River in Virginia on July 22, 1862.
A large contingent of African Americans served in the American Civil War. 186,097 black men joined the Union Army: 7,122 officers, and 178,975 enlisted soldiers. Approximately 20,000 black sailors served in the Union Navy and formed a large percentage of many ships' crews. Later in the War, many regiments were recruited and organized as the United States Colored Troops, which reinforced the Northern side substantially in the last two years. Both Northern free blacks and Southern runaway slaves joined the fight. Throughout the course of the war, black soldiers served in forty major battles and hundreds of more minor skirmishes; sixteen African Americans received the Medal of Honor.
The Immortal Six Hundred were 600 Confederate officers who were held prisoner by the Union Army in 1864-65. They were intentionally starved and 46 died as a result. They are known as the "Immortal Six Hundred" because they refused to take an oath of allegiance to the U.S. under duress.
Hispanics in the American Civil War fought on both the Union and Confederate sides of the conflict. Not all the Hispanics who fought in the American Civil War were "Hispanic-Americans", in other words citizens of the United States. Many of them were Spanish subjects or nationals from countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America. Some were born in a US Territory and therefore did not have the right to US Citizenship. It is estimated that approximately 3,500 Hispanics, mostly Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans living in the United States joined the war: 2,500 for the Confederacy and 1,000 for the Union. This number increased to 10,000 by the end of the war.
Federico Fernández-Cavada was an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a diplomat, as well as commanding forces in Cuba's Ten Years' War. Because of his artistic talents, he was assigned to the Hot Air Balloon unit of the Union Army. From the air he sketched what he observed of enemy positions and movements. On April 19, 1862, Fernández Cavada sketched enemy positions from Thaddeus Lowe's Constitution balloon during the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia.
American Civil War Prison Camps were operated by both the Union and the Confederacy to handle the 409,000 soldiers captured during the war from 1861 to 1865. The Record and Pension Office in 1901 counted 211,000 Northerners who were captured. In 1861-63 most were immediately paroled; after the parole exchange system broke down in 1863, about 195,000 went to prison camps. Some tried to escape but few succeeded. By contrast 464,000 Confederates were captured and 215,000 imprisoned. Over 30,000 Union and nearly 26,000 Confederate prisoners died in captivity. Just over 12% of the captives in Northern prisons died, compared to 15.5% for Southern prisons.
Ivan N. Walker was an American soldier who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War and as the 24th Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, 1895-1896.
Robert Henry Day was a noted Union officer, railroad engineer and electrical engineer in Roanoke, Virginia.
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