From the Richmond Dispatch, 12/8/1901, p. 25
HAD A PEEP AT DEATH.
Memorable Incident in the Life of R. R. Turner,
A LIBBY PRISON OFFICIAL.
Mistaken for the Commandant, He Was About to Be Court-martialed.
HAIR TURNED WHITE IN A NIGHT.
Escaped from the Guards After Being Given the Enclosure, and Managed to Reach the House of a Friend - Opportunity Presenting Itself, He Slipped Away from Richmond - Died Last Week.
The death of Mr. R. R. Turner, which occurred in Isle of Wight county on Thursday, recalls a memorable incident in his life, which took place in Richmond some thirty-five years ago.
During the civil war, and at its close, Mr. Turner was commissary of the famous Libby Prison, in this city, where a large number of Union prisoners of war were confined. The commandant of the prison was his cousin, Captain Thomas Turner. By his rigid discipline, which was absolutely necessary under the circumstances, Captain Turner naturally incurred the ill-will of the men in his keeping, who charged him with cruelty and freely circulated this report among their northern relatives and friends.
As a matter of fact, the inmates of Libby prison received better treatment than Confederate prisoners in northern prisons. The rations may at times have been scanty, but in this they fared as well as the Confederate soldiers who were guarding them, receiving exactly the same amount and quality of food.
When Richmond was evacuated, and the Union troops came in, one of the first men they searched for was Captain Thomas Turner. The report that he had been the commandant of the famous Libby prison had gone all over the North. Fortunately, Captain Turner had left the city.
WRONG MAN ARRESTED.
His cousin, Mr. R. R. Turner, was found, however, and the fact that in appearance, he was like his relative; that he had been at Libby prison and that he was certainly named Turner, led to his being mistaken for Captain Thomas Turner. He was placed in the State penitentiary to be tried by court-martial. With feeling running high, as it did in the days following the evacuation, courts-martial did not make nice distinctions in matters of identity. Captain Wirz, the commandant of the Andersonville prison, was arrested about the same time, and executed, after having been court-martialed upon the same charge as that preferred against Mr. R. R. Turner.
Turner’s chances were small indeed. With friends and acquaintances scattered, it was practically impossible for him to at once establish that he was not the Turner wanted. No delay would have been granted him. There was no such thing as appeal to the civil courts. The military authority was supreme and in full control. He had no friends in positions of influence.
MADE HIS ESCAPE.
For some reason, probably because of the large number of duties devolving upon the recently installed local military authorities, the court-martial was not held for several days. Mr. Turner had been in prison about eight or ten days, when, being given the privilege of the grounds within its walls, he escaped, and made his way to the residence of Mr. John Tyree, a friend, at the corner of Monroe and Marshall streets, where he was concealed for a week or two.
Mr. Tyree, a few weeks later, slipped him out of the lower end of the city. Being well acquainted with all the roads leading from the city, he soon made his way through the country to the home of his relatives and friends in Isle of Wight, where he remained until the excitement incident to the affair had died out.
It is asserted as an undeniable fact by those who were acquainted with the circumstances that so great was Mr. Turner’s anxiety concerning the position in which he was placed, that the color of his hair changed from a raven-black into gray in one night.
WOULD HAVE BEEN EXECUTED.
There was little doubt in the minds of many people at the time that Mr. Turner would have met the same fate that overtook Captain Wirz, the commandant of Andersonville prison, in Georgia, who was legally murdered by court-martial on the same charges that were lodged against Commissary Turner, so bitter was the feeling against anybody by the name of Turner connected with Libby prison.
Mr. Turner made occasional visits to the city until he finally took up his residence in Isle of Wight, where he died a few days ago, as stated above.
The excellent likeness of Mr. Turner, which the Dispatch prints this morning was obtained from a relative in this city. After the war, Mr. Turner became a useful and influential citizen of Isle of Wight.