From the Richmond Enquirer, 2/11/1864
EXTRAORDINARY ESCAPE FROM THE LIBBY PRISON - ONE HUNDRED OFFICERS HOMEWARD BOUND. – At roll call at the Libby prison yesterday morning, one hundred and nine of the officers imprisoned there were found missing. Further inquiry elicited the fact that they were not in the building; but the mode of their disappearance was, of course, an entire mystery to the remaining thousand or more of their fellow-officers in the same building. A strict examination of the premises, however, revealed the manner of escape, and disclosed a combination of ingenuity and enterprise highly creditable to Yankee character. The prisoners being confined in an apartment on the second floor from the Cary street front of the building, and the third from the Dock street front, it would naturally be supposed that an exit was impossible without attracting the notice of the exterior guard; while any movement to descend from within, it is equally reasonable to suppose, would be discovered by the guards who are, or ought to be, stationed within the prison. The descent from within was the method chosen by the escaping party, and that they encountered no difficulties in their way, seems to leave the inference that no guards were within hearing distance of their immediate route. They had managed, it seems, to cut, in a very neat and noiseless way, a square aperture in the floor in the eastern section of the building, through which they obtained access to the floor below, into a part of the building formerly used for hospital purposes. In the floor of this apartment they cut a similar aperture, and gained entrance into the basement store-room, a spacious apartment, but little used, and under the line of Cary and 20th streets, which embrace the north-eastern angle of the building. Here they commenced a mining process, penetrating the east wall of the building, and striking into mother earth, under 20th street, and the sentinels upon it, directly across into an old foundation in the lot adjoining the opposite factory building – The tunnel thus formed was about three feet in diameter and fifty feet in length. The earth displaced was scattered or hidden about their “base of operations” – the store-room – This work, it is evident, must have occupied weeks of patient and energetic labor – a labor which was at last crowned with at least partial success. – Why more than one hundred and nine, out of the twelve hundred, did not avail themselves of the opportunity to get free, does not appear, and it can only be attributed to the sudden appearance or manifestation of danger – by what signal or in what shape is equally mysterious. It is sufficient to know, that through these traps, and cut by this tunnel, one hundred and nine succeeded in making their way unobserved, and disappeared from the adjoining lot into the darkness undetected. The number comprehends eleven colonels, seven majors, thirty-seven captains, and fifty-nine lieutenants, including the somewhat famous, or rather infamous, Col. A. D. Streight, of the 20th Indiana cavalry, captured with his command, about a year ago, by Forrest in Northern Georgia.
Upon the discovery of the escape, measures were immediately set on foot to overtake the fugitives, but it is feared that they have gotten rather too much the start of their pursuers to admit anything like the recapture of them all. Four of them, however, were recaptured at an early hour of the day – two captains and two lieutenants – a few miles below the city. It is supposed that the direction taken by them all – if, indeed, all have left the city – was towards the Peninsula; but it is not unlikely they have scattered in various directions, as a self-sacrificing means of securing at least the escape of a part of their number. The regime of the Libby guard has hitherto been considered admirable, and the occurrence of such an extraordinary escape as this comes with stunning effect upon the public. We presume the whole affair will undergo a strict examination. Until then it would be premature to say where the fault lies.