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The Escape from Libey Prison

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"The Escape from Libey Prison"
March 5, 1864, page 145

"Exterior View of the Libey Prison,
Richmond, Virginia"
October 17, 1863, page 668

March 5, 1864, page 151 (4)

The escape of a large number of Union officers from The Libey Prison at Richmond, on February 9th, abounds in details of thrilling interest. We publish this week, on page 145, a sketch representing the meeting of some of these refugees—weary and worn-out by the fatigues of flight, added to the severities of their long imprisonment—with the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry, who were scouting the country for their rescue. The plan of escape had been conceived two months previous to its execution. The only possible way of escape was through a subterranean tunnel reaching from the cellar of the prison to some convenient point of exit on the outside. At first it was proposed to dig the tunnel in the direction of the sewer, and escape through that; but after several days’ hard work the entrance to the sewer was found to be impracticable, and it was determined to change the direction of the tunnel, so as to lead under the street to an out-house across the way, which was a depository for parcels sent to the prisoners from the North. The officers were let down into the cellar though the chimney. For fifty-one days they worked away at the tunnel, small parties of ten or twelve being engaged at a time. The work was carried on at night, and for instruments they used their fingers, knives, chisels, or any thing at hand—the dirt being hid under the refuse and straw in the cellar. When it was impossible any longer to throw the dirt out by hand a spittoon was used as a dirt-cart, being attached to a string on either side, and drawn to and from the cellar. After patiently working in this manner for a number of days they came to a point under the out-house, and began to dig upward, until finally the work was done. The prisoners started out on the evening of the 9th, in small squads, each taking a different route. At two o’clock the lights of the city were put out, and escape was more feasible. In their efforts to reach the Union lines some were recaptured; but out of the one hundred and nine who attempted this adventure, the greater number succeeded. They were aided by negroes, by Union citizens, and by cavalry detachments, which were sent out by General Butler for that purpose as soon as he heard of the escape. We can hardly imagine what were the feelings of some of these refugees when, hotly pursued by the enemy and almost exhausted, they beheld the old flag which had come to find and protect its soldiers.


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