Pollard, Edward Alfred; Life of Jefferson Davis, with a secret history of the Southern Confederacy, gathered “behind the scenes in Richmond.” Containing curious and extraordinary information of the principal southern characters in the late war, in connection with President Davis, and in relation to the various intrigues of his administration. Philadelphia, Chicago: National pub. ca. . pp. 155-156; 346-348.
…Another occasion was more dramatic. The President was returning with Mrs. Davis from one of the customary festivities on a flag of truce boat that had come up the James; walking the street in the night, unattended by his staff; and with no indications of his importance, he had to pass the front of the Libby Prison, where a sentinel paced, and, according to his orders, forced passengers from the sidewalk to take the middle of the street. As the President, with his wife on his arm, approached him, he ordered them off the pavement. “I am the President,” replied Mr. Davis; “allow us to pass.” “None of your gammon,” replied the soldier, bringing his musket to his shoulder; “if you don’t get into the street I’ll blow the top of your head off.” “But I am Jefferson Davis, man – I am your President – no more of your insolence;” and the President pressed forward. He was rudely thrust back, and in a moment he had drawn a sword or dagger concealed in his cane, and was about to rush on the insolent sentinel, when Mrs. Davis flung herself between the strange combatants, and by her screams aroused the officer of the guard. Explanations were made and the President went safely home. But, instead of the traditional reward to the faithful sentry, that has usually graced such romantic adventures, came an order next day to the Libby to degrade the soldier, and give him a taste of bread and water for his unwitting insult of the commander-in-chief of the Confederate armies.
(pages 346-348)…Much has been told, gloomily and melodramatically, of a mine of gunpowder under the Libby prison, dug there on the event of the Dahlgren raiders, and designed to blow the prisoners to destruction, should any attempt for their rescue be made. The story has been told with great dramatic effect; but the truth of it is very simple, and illustrates the disposition to construct horrors about Southern prisons. It was told to the prisoners that such a mine was under their feet to deter them from a revolt, which was then plainly threatened; but, indeed, the Confederacy had no such quantity of gunpowder to spare for a puerile scare-crow. The story quieted the prisoners, and probably averted a scene of horror that was being prepared for Richmond, and that was known to not more than three men - these officers connected with the Libby prison.
It has been confessed since the war that the keeper of this prison, aware of his insufficient force to guard it and prevent escapes, dreading almost each night, while Richmond slept secure, that a determined revolt of the prisoners might over whelm the few hundred men who guarded it, hit upon the plan of employing among them a spy, introduced in the character of a Federal captive, who regularly gave information of the various plots of the prisoners to which he gained confidence. At the time the raid of Dahlgren was afoot, the spy reported that the prisoners had been made aware of this movement outside to assist their escape, and had prepared at a signal to batter out the walls which confined them, and to unite in a foray through the streets of Richmond, including the murder of Jefferson Davis and the indiscriminate pillage of the citizens. A fearful plot was exposed. Beams had been detached from the rafters of the prison, to be used as battering rams. There were then men enough in the prisons of Richmond to constitute an army. In the Libby prison alone there were eleven hundred inmates; in Crew and Pemberton’s Factory, across the street, there were twenty-five hundred; and including the men confined on Belle Isle, there were not less than fifteen thousand prisoners in and around Richmond, guarded by a few hundred men, and who might any moment, by a bold and concerted movement have obtained their liberty (even without the assistance of such raids as Dahlgren’s), and have collected in the Confederate capital an enraged and impetuous army, that would have made their way with blood and fire through every street. The extent of the peril was never popularly known in Richmond. It slept each night on the crust of a volcano. It is almost incredible now, that when Lee’s army was away, the safety of Richmond should have been watched by two local battalions, and so when fifteen thousand prisoners had only between them and their liberty and revenge, a thin wall, or a few cannon planted on. the boundary of their range. The true romance of the Dahlgren raid was not the night-fight on the turnpike and in the forest, but the secret story of Libby Prison; the meditation of fifteen thousand men, to make their way as furies into the streets of Richmond, and to give a whole city to fire and sword. The story was hushed up; the “gunpowder plot” that had been used to affright the conspirators, was treated only as a vague rumor in the newspapers; but it is remarkable that after this date, Mr. Davis was busy to distribute the prisoners through the South, sending them to distant places, as Salisbury and Andersonville; relieving Richmond of an incubus of terror of which it had happily been unconscious, and where only the happy ignorance of all the Confederate Government did and proposed had secured it from alarm.