From the New York Times, 7/7/1895
MAJOR TURNER'S ESCAPE
How the ex-Commandant of Famous Libby Prison Fled to Cuba.
HIS EXPERIENCES TOLD BY HIMSELF
An Interesting Letter Written by Him
from Havana Just After the
War to a Friend in
Veterans of the civil war; both North and South, will be interested in the letter printed herewith, now published for the first time, written by Major T. P. Turner, who was for the greater part of the war commandant of the famous Libby Prison at Richmond. The letter was to a Virginia friend, and tells of his wanderings immediately after the close of the war and his final escape to Cuba.
The warehouse known as Libby Prison was erected about 1846 by John Enders. A part of the building was used for storing tobacco. Subsequently the corner house was occupied by Hawkins & Libby, ship chandlers. The building since that date has been known as the Libby. It was removed to Chicago in 1889. The Confederate Government used it first as a place where the commissioned officers might meet and register the privates detailed for Andersonville, Salisbury, and Belle Isle. In this way over forty or fifty thousand prisoners probably crossed its threshold. The office of the commandant of the prison was in the northeast corner.
In February, 1864, 109 prisoners, led by Col. Streight, managed to escape from the prison by tunneling under the east wall and gaining access to the premises adjoining. These premises were used for storage and as a stable, and owing to the latter fact more than half of the men were recaptured, some of them having an idea that, if they were mounted on horseback escape would be more certain, but the horses were traced and some recaptured with their riders.
When the Federals captured the city, in April, 1865, they caused the arrest of a great number of “obnoxious” Confederates, and confined them in Libby. Col. Robert Ould, Confederate commandant for the exchange of prisoners, and Major Isaac H. Carrington, Provost Marshal of the city, were two of the prominent officers there confined. Two regiments of local militia, Col. J. Evans and Danforth, with the Twenty-fifth Battalion of local troops, guarded Libby Prison, Castle Thunder, Belle Isle, &c. The commissary of the prison was Major Thomas Quinn, and the Adjutant Lieut. John Latouche. The commandant of Libby was Major T. P. Turner, who, at the evacuation of Richmond, left the “City of Hills” and made his way out of the country. The following letter tells of his experiences:
8th Jan. 1866.
My dear Rob:
I write you a few lines, thinking you may feel an interest in hearing from me. On the 3rd of April last, I left Richmond; it was the day on which the Yankees entered. The news of Gen Lee's surrender was very sudden and unexpected, and the scenes in R. on the night of the evacuation were horrible. On reaching Gen Lee's army, I found every thing chaos and confusion; the roads and avenues were filled with fugitives, hurrying on God knows where. Our party, Major Carrington & Co, were very near being captured several times.
I was within a few miles of Gen Lee's Hd. quarters when he surrendered. I then started for Gen. Johnstons army, but was cut off by Stonemans men. I made a wide circumbendibus and succeeded in reaching Augusta Ga. where I remained until Gen. Johnston surrendered. I immediately started for Florida, with Gen. Gardner hoping to get out of the country in that way. We were within fifteen miles of President Davis, when he was captured. On reaching the Florida line, we found it impossible to get out by that route: so we took the back track. Gen. G. sick, and unable to travel farther, I started, alone, for the Mississippi river. After travelling over the states of Ga. Alabama & Miss. passing under an assumed name, flanking Yankees here and there, and avoiding, as much as possible, towns and public roads; frequently sleeping in the woods; I finally reached the Yazoo Valley; there I was compelled to abandon my horse, and take it, in a “dug out” across the overflown country to the Mississippi.
After working my arms nearly off, or out of joint, sleeping several nights in our canoe, lashed to the trees, with a “waste of waters “ around us, and almost bitten to death by mosquitoes, buffalo gnats, and every other pestiferous creature imaginable, we found ourselves unable to proceed further in the “dug out,” and had to take it on foot, some 25 miles to the Miss, and such a walk! when the mud was not up above our knees, We thought ourselves very fortunate; for often we were up to our arm-pits in the suffocating bogs. I was delighted when we came in sight of the “Father of Waters,” and still more so, when I found my self on the Arkansas shore. At this time I was travelling with an Ark. Soldier, and walked across the greater part or the state of Ark. until finally I got an old mule and rode as far as Waco, Texas. I was then striking for the Rio Grande. At Waco, I met with Gen. H. Marshall, who was also running from the Yankees. The weather was so excessively warm, and we heard so much of robberies on the Rio Grande that we determined to rest during the summer, and pursue our journey at the expiration of the hot weather. Gen. M. finding that the Yankees did not desire to molest him, applied for pardon, and returned to his family. I spent the summer very pleasantly, at the house of a very hospitable Texan. During the month of Aug. an old Virginian, calling himself Anderson, but better known in Va. as Jubal A. Early, stopped in the neighborhood. We soon became acquainted, & determined to continue our wanderings together, and “to share weal or woe” in our attempt to free ourselves from Yankee thraldom.
About the middle of October we started for Galveston, having abandoned the idea of striking for the Rio Grande. We went to the house of Dr. I. Carr Massie; a Virginian, whose residence was on the bay about 35 miles from Galveston. There we communicated with friends in the city, who kindly interested themselves in our behalf, getting us a safe passage out of the country, without the knowledge or consent of the Yankee authorities. In a short time, we were notified “to come down,” as every thing was in readiness. We were kindly received and entertained, and clandestinely put on board of a fine “Bark” “bound for Liverpool,” and were soon on the “deep blue sea,” leaving the “so-called” U. S. behind us, with its abolition crew.
After quite a boisterous voyage, we reached the west bank of the Bahamas, and were landed on the Bermine Islands, among the negro wreckers. We passed as “Mass” Yankees, and were kindly treated; after waiting for nearly two weeks, we succeeded in getting passage on a schooner, for Nassau, and were landed there, on the morning of the 1st of December, just as the signal gun fired from Fort Charlotte, and the Royal Ensign went up. You may be sure that after our long and arduous struggle, to free ourselves from atrocious persecution, tyranny, and oppression, we rejoiced at finding ourselves, at last secure, under the protection of the “Red Cross of St. George.” From Nassau we sailed on the English steamer “Corsica,” and arrived here, on the 10th of December 1865.
I do not know that the Yankees, desired particularly to arrest me; for several months I saw no news-papers and am not posted; but I knew enough of Yankee character, to be convinced, that no one connected with the Prisons, would be safe in their hands. Their “civil commissions,” are but organized machines, to echo and record their foregone conclusions and every single member of them, as in the cases of Mrs. Surratt and Capt Wirtz, are murderers, and I trust they will “one of these days,” share the same fate, they meted out to others. It was not a very brave act, in a government, which makes such pretensions to greatness arid magnanimity, to take Capt Wirtz, a poor defenseless foreigner, and try, convict, and execute him, on charges and evidence, which should not have convicted a “decent dog.” But what, can you expect from the barbarians of the North? After such a murderous war as they have waged, against the women and children of the south what show of justice, should any man expect? If I had been arrested, I suppose I would like poor old Wirtz, have fallen a victim to the same cruel vindictiveness which claimed more drops of life-blood - (the oceans which have been shed, through their instrumentality not being enough to sate their hate) as a libation to their ignoble victory.
This is a gay city, and the fair senoritas, are many of them, very beautiful, though I have no doubt, their beauty would grow dim, and fade away, before the gorgeous beauties of old Lynchburg for instance, before Miss H. and Miss L. I wish very much you were here with me, we could have a little fun, although this is a very expensive place, and does not suit Confederates, unless they happen to have been Quartermasters or Commissaries. I shall spend the winter here, and will be delighted to hear from you; write me a long letter, anything will be interesting, and all will be news to me. Letters will reach me safely, if addressed under cover, to
“Francis D. Newcomb; Hotel Cabana;
16 Terriente Regent St.,
No postal treaty exists between Spain and the “U. S,” and letters from the interior should be sent to New York or to Baltimore to be forwarded out of the country. Send your letters to me, to some friend in New York or Baltimore Mr. Fowle in the latter city, will I have no doubt, attend to it for you. Hoping that we may meet, in happier and better times, both for ourselves and country,
I remain, most truly
& faithfully your
friend Th. P. Turner.
S. R. Shinn Esq.
If you see any of my friends please present my respects, If you see any of my Yankee friends, give to them my kindest regards, and say to them, that I would have allowed myself to have been taken, or arrested, but for several reasons, the principal one being, that I would have seen them d-d first. I have written to Latouche and Ross, but have not heard from them as yet. I send a photograph of myself. I would like to have yours.
T. P. T.