Monday, February 10, 2014

February 10, 1864

February 10, 1864

—Gen. William Sooy Smith, in command of the cavalry column that was supposed to act in concert with Sherman’s offensive against Meridian, has gathered over 10,000 troops, most it cavalry but including a few supporting infantry units. Smith has moved out, finally, from Memphis, heading southeast into Mississippi. Facing Smith is only 2,500 Rebel cavalry under Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, with whom (apparently) Smith is eager to tangle. Headquartered at Oxford, and using the Tallahatchie River as a barrier, Forrest prepares for the Federal incursion.

—In Washington, the President’s private stables catch fire and burn down, killing the six horses within, including the prized pony belonging to Willie, the Lincoln’s late son.


Richmond, Virginia: Over 109 Union officers escape from the Libby Prison in Richmond in the wee hours of the morning. The Libby is an old brick tobacco warehouse, the second and third floors of which were used to house Union officers. Led by Col. Thomas Rose, from Pennsylvania coal-mining country, a group of prisoners find a way to descend the chimney system in the building and dig a tunnel from the prison basement. After weeks of labor, the attempt is made. 48 of the escapees are re-captured by the Confederates, finally, and 59 eventually make it back to Federal lines. Two drown in trying to swim the Potomac.
The Escape Route (click to enlarge)

Libby Prison, Richmond



---The Richmond Daily Dispatch publishes some of the details of the mass prison escape:

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 [f]ailed 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 Indiana regiment, a notorious character captured in Tennessee by Gen Forrest, and charged with having raised a negro regiment.
Col W. G Ely, 18th Connecticut.
Col J F Boyd, 20th army corps.
Col H C Hobart, 21st Wisconsin.
Col W P Kendrick, 3d West Tenn cav.
Col W B McCreary, 21st Michigan.
Col Thos E Rose, 77th Pa.
Col J P Spofford, 97th N Y.
Col C W Tilden, 16th Maine.
Col T S West, 24th Wisconsin.
Col D Miles, 19th Pa.
Major J P Collins, 29th Ind.
Major G W Fitzsimmons, 37th Ind.
Major J H Hooper, 15th Miss.
Major B B Macdonald, 100th Ohio.
Major A Von Mitzel, 74th Pa.
Major J N Walker, 73d Ind.
Major J A Henry, 5th Ohio.

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. . . . 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. . . . The prisoners are confined in the second story of the Libby prison, and the first and basement stories had to be attained before the mouth of the tunnel could be reached. From the first floor leading to the basement there was formerly a stairway, but since the building has been in use as a prison the aperture at the head of the steps has been closed with very heavy planks.
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 Cary street, is scarcely ever visited. The dirt which accumulated as the work progressed was spread about this part of the basement and then covered over with a large quantity of straw which has been deposited therein. It is not known how long the operatives in this stupendous undertaking have been engaged; but, when the limited facilities which they possessed is taken into consideration, there can be no doubt that months have elapsed since the work was first begun. The whole thing was skillfully managed and bears the impress of master minds and indomitable perseverance.
Libby Prison escapees being met by Federal troops

Map of the escape route through Richmond river dock area


—David Lane, a young soldier in the 17th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, writes in his journal about the services offered by the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission, two aid societies for the benefit of soldiers:

February 10th, 1864.
In walking up Gay Street today I discovered a new feature in this city of soldiers, an index of progress, of civilization. It was a news depot in full blast, established by an enterprising Yankee, of course. We at the hospital are well provided with reading matter by the Christian Commission. They have a soldiers’ reading room, supplied with piles of Northern papers, periodicals, and many religious works. There is also a table supplied with writing materials, all free. If we have no stamps, these friends of the soldiers stamp our letters. If we are sick—unable to write—they offer to write for us. Adjoining the rooms of the Christian Commission are those of the Sanitary Commission, another beneficent association for the benefit of sick and wounded soldiers. All delicacies our poor fellows receive come through their instrumentality. This is the great dispensary of all those countless gifts in the shape of clothing and eatables which the benevolent people of the North so freely bestow. The articles to be distributed are first turned over to the Surgeon in charge, he keeping enough for himself and assistants, then the cooks take out enough for themselves and friends. The balance, should there be a balance, goes to the soldiers. I know the above to be true, from personal observation.
The Christian Commission manage differently. Their agents give to the soldier such things as they may stand in need of.

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