From the Richmond Dispatch, 3/11/1888, p. 2, c. 2
REMINISCENCES OF THE LIBBY.
The Removal of Its Prisoners at the Evacuation.
[For the Dispatch.]
The writer was first betrayed into writing the long story giving the history of how the Federal prisoners were removed from Richmond on the eventful 2d of April, 1865, by his wish to do his few comrades and himself justice in carrying out what to him seemed the most risky if not plucky part of the work of that memorable day of the evacuation – i. e., the removal of every prisoner of war from our city.
There were exactly ten of us; there were sixteen hundred of them. Captain Thomas M. Southgate, now and for many years a valuable officer in the Old Dominion Line, commanded the boat (the William Allison) that day, Captain Gifford being sick at home. His impression, like my own, is that we took 1,600; but a private letter from Captain James Stewart gives the exact number as 1,587.
We had a guard of only six men without an officer. There were four of us on the boat, so it can be easily seen that if our passengers had chosen they could have easily turned the tables upon us. I had to do rather more than a good day’s lying to lull suspicion among the officers, who were evidently aware that something “out of the common” was afoot.
So many stories have been written of the “evacuation,” all of them omitting any allusion to the presence in our city of 1,600 hostile prisoners on that morning, and no one having ever alluded to the strange tale of their removal, that I appreciate the fact that what I write is one small page of history hitherto untold, and now told wholly from memory; for I find that in my diary only this: The fact that on the preceding Thursday, March 30th, we delivered 1,367 prisoners at Boulwares, receiving 504 Confederates in return. Those we delivered were of the worst type, being from Castle Thunder and similar depots.
The writer had never any connection with the Libby Prison, and was never inside its doors until the last few days of those strange times. I had succeeded in getting away a considerable quantity of supplies to our own men at Fort Delaware and also a large amount to the Federal prisoners at Danville, and there were several car-loads on hand for Florence and other points; but mean while General Sherman had prevented the possibility, as also the necessity, of forwarding to those prisons, he being in charge or in close proximity.
It can never be forgotten that the gigantic mistake of the war was that of General Grant’s in placing a peremptory embargo upon the exchange of prisoners and supplies. When he discovered his error it was, alas! Too late. When I was ordered to this duty the Confederacy was in extremis, although we knew it not, and there was little time left to arrange and carry out a general exchange. I found in charge of the warehouse (one door east of the Libby) General Joseph Hays, then of the United States regular army, and Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper, Twenty-fourth Massachusetts volunteers (Colonel Ordway’s regiment), both being paroled prisoners. I take pleasure in stating at this late day that I found both of them gentlemen in every sense of the term. They soon procured an exchange, and I parted with them with sincere regret.
It was their request to Judge Ould that the writer should be placed in charge of the United States depot of supplies, suggesting at the same time the names of Captain James Stewart, of New York, and Captain Porter, of Massachusetts, both prisoners, should I need assistance. Dreading the responsibility, I at once waited upon Major Turner, who readily paroled these gentlemen, together with two privates, both of them excellent boys, Frank Van Horn, of Delaware, and John Locke, of Boston, and most faithfully did they all discharge their duties, although Captain Porter very soon obtained his exchange. I have never since heard from him, and but for the recent flurry about the sale of Libby Prison might never again have heard of Captain Stewart. But for him and his two boys the storehouse and prison would have been but a pile of ashes. He was indefatigable in doing his duty, and remained in Richmond long after the evacuation. [I have only today received from him a very readable letter, but too long, I fear, for these columns. Should any one wish it, however, I will cheerfully send a printed copy thereof.]
In closing let me say that I found Major Turner always ready and anxious to assist these officers in every way. For the officers themselves, they were ever mindful of their parole, doing or saying naught to which the most captious could take exceptions. I remember, however, that on a certain occasion one of them asked if I believed Jefferson Davis would be re-elected. My reply was that it was too early to predict, as he had nearly three years of his six years’ term to serve; but if nominated I thought he would have a “walk-over.” Sure enough, he did.
Petersburg, February 23, 1888.