The Libby Chronicle, 8/21/1863

Written Accounts
Other Sites



The Libby Chronicle



VOL. I.                              LIBBY PRISON, RICHMOND, VA., AUGUST 21, 1863.                              No. I.


THE LIBBY CHRONICLE  will be issued weekly from Prisoner & Co.'s steam press of thought. Such will be the equalization of labor among those engaged in this enterprise, that our publication can be afforded at very low rates. Price of subscription weekly, one moment's good attention, invariably in advance. These terms complied with, the news will be forwarded postage free.

With such facilities for obtaining use­ful information, it is quite needless to state that we expect an extensive patron­age. Our adherence to facts, which are always the most stubborn arguments, and to the motto that

“A little nonsense now and then
Is relished by the best of men,”

is a full guarantee to our patrons, that they will ever obtain an ample equiva­lent for their subscription. We cannot well forbear mentioning, that the con­tributors to our columns are among the most eminent of the land, including the skillful lawyer, the sedate judge, the erudite clergyman, the amusing come­dian, the renowned legislator, and scores of others from the various walks of life, whose connection with our periodical places success beyond a doubt.

As we make our humble bow to the public, we hope that progress will mark our course in every department of our work, until THE CHRONICLE, its editor and publisher, its friends and patrons, find themselves sailing toward the North Land of liberty and civilization.


No. I.

Day dawns, and light falls upon the adjacent fields and waters, and struggles through the barred windows of Libby. How many it arouses from sweet dreams of home and days of liberty, to look upon solemn prison walls, bare rafters under the roof and naked posts and beams. What a contrast to the waking scenes of other days !

You are not long, however, in making yourself realize that you are a prisoner of war. Like your heart, your bones ache, after lying on the vermin-covered floor, and though weak. through starva­tion, you are glad to leap to your feet when you hear the stentorian voice of “Old Ben,” the black news-man, who cries: “All fo' copies of de mornin' papers! Great news in de papers! Full 'count of de flyin' mules!* News from de front! etc., etc.” But nothing stirs the sleepers like the call, “Full state­ment of ‘change of prisoners!” Then there is a general resurrection of heads and bodies throughout the rooms, and a large patronage is enjoyed by the poor slave who has often cheered the inmates of this doleful place by his well-intended jokes and musical, pleasant laughter. His sheets, however, just issued from the Richmond press, seem to be as inno­cent of literary taste as they are of reliable news, and though only two pages on paper as brown as that of an old kitchen wall, they cost us twenty­five cents in Confederate currency per copy. Between the reading of these,

 *This was evidently a facetious allusion by " Old Ben" to the charge of the " Mule Brigade."

and the performance of our toilet, the morning wears away.

"But why," it may be asked, "is your toilet so toilsome?" It is because the soldier will play the soldier, place him where you will. None will doubt this who looks. out upon the teeming multitudes of Libby each morning as soon as are aroused the miserable sleepers. For then, even without orders, every man sets himself to "skirmishing." The soldier must be a soldier. The better to accomplish his task, like the racers in the Olympic games, he strips himself of all loose garments, not unfrequently of his entire wardrobe, and great preparations are made for the conflict.

Woe now to the enemy that may chance to linger in the open fields, for the sharp-shooter will certainly dispatch him! A rapid dash is made and the open ground is cleared, and then there is a falling back to the fences and ravines, which, in prison parlance, are known as "seams of shirts and pants." This is to prevent all possible flank movements. The conflict now deepens. Human blood, not yet assimilated with animal blood, is spilt. In this wretched prison, if no where else, every soldier sheds blood for his country. The casualties are many. The black flag is raised, and no quarters are given to these rebel parasites that swarm as in the plagues of Egypt. This battling for human rights against brute force is going :on in every room throughout the live-long day, and especially in the early hours of the morning,  -Editor.


"Of Libby's rebel lice, to us the direful spring 
Of woes and pains unnumbered, O ye muses, sing."
                                                                                      Homer modernized.

Think not my theme is trifling, none you can mention 
Receives here in Libby half so much attention. 
A phonographic class of half a dozen score, 
In one short, wretched week, falls off a half or more; 
French also and Spanish, as all can plainly see, 
Lose their students and interest in the same degree. 
But who, alas! so lazy, so busy, so nice, 
Neglects to give an hour or two each day to lice, 
Will be beset, at times, with troubles great and small, 
And have dreadful scratching to get along at all. 
If old poets wrote of battles 'twixt frogs and mice, 
Why not I write of skirmishes 'twixt men and lice? 
And while thus these verses rude we are inditing 
Look 'round to see the different styles of fighting.

Watch Pugilisticus ; bravo, he in a trice
Pulls off his dirty shirt and pants to fight his lice.
His muscles thus and limbs of cumbrous duds bereft,
See with what skill and science he "puts in his left"
Upon the bodies of his luckless, hated brood, 
And Pugilisticus indeed has gained "first blood." 
With double might and fury he "puts in his right," 
And Pugilisticus, the brave, has "won the fight."
And there's Historicus, with scabby, bleeding back, 
Would trace their primal history as he hears them crack. 
Wonders if these pesky things bear the same descriptions 
As those once scratched by Pharaoh and the Egyptians.

 He tries, in vain, from facts and from analogy 
To thread their lineage and genealogy. 
He soon learns, however, with very little pains, 
The proudest blood of Libby floweth in their veins. 
He marks, too, that the death of these, his little foes, 
Is not as infamous as thoughtless men suppose: 
Sisera, a great warrior, was slain by Jael 
With unwarlike weapons, a hammer and a nail, 
While to slay these parasites, doubtless much abused, 
'Though there be no hammer, two nails are always used.

Mark now Gallantricus, fastidious young man! 
With taper fingers made to wield a lady's fan. 
Abashed, see him hunting, ashamed of being seen, 
Thinks it "ungallant," lice should lurk in shirt so clean. 
Oh! proud visage, what contortions and grimaces! 
Nasty things won't scare by making ugly faces. 
Oh, think ! what would she say, thy would-be, future spouse, 
just now to see thee strip and squat and grin and louse?

Behold Theologicus, with reverend face,
Peering with anxious care in every hiding place,
And while his wayward flock crawls 'round 'mid heaps of slain,
Reflections like to these, come crowding through his brain
What if 'midst all the doctrines which do stagger us,
That should be true announced by old Pythagoras,
That after death human souls, instead of going
To heaven or hell, according to the showing
Of orthodoxy ministers, simply go forth
To inhabit birds and beasts, insects and so forth,
Base or noble as their characters may show forth -
Most in this wretched prison, if I judge aright,
Will live in noble beasts and birds of lofty flight,
But some there are, alas ! who'll live again as hogs,
Some as skunks,-yes, some asses, some as snappish dogs,
A very few, thank Heaven, have souls so small and base
That e'en monstrosities like these they would disgrace.
Crammed in this noted, loathsome prison, scorned like slaves,
Insulted, cruelly starved by coward traitor knaves,
The men who in our sufferings have betrayed us,
Or fawn upon those who brutally degrade us,
Even such hateful souls will find a fitting nice
And exist hereafter in loathsome Libby's lice.

And there's friend Philosophicus, with thoughtful brow, 
Who knows the "why" of everything, the "what" and "how," 
He watches his louse to learn each secret habit 
Before with bloody fangs he proceeds to grab it; 
Sees it lazily in its cozy nest recline, 
Marks it making love and betimes observes it dine.

But I'll cease scratching lines and scratch "Scotch fiddle" tunes 
At something crawling in my shirt and pantaloons.
                                                                                         -Lieut.-Col. Williams.

No. 1

Shall I tell you why, Mr. Editor, that ensconced in this out-of-the-way corner, close to this cross-barred frame, why I call it my "South Window?" Because memory reverts to another scene and time in by-gone days, when a fair, bright face oft watched adown the road, the first to welcome the toiler home. I wonder if she sits in that south window now to wait the wanderer's return ?

Ah! Mr. Editor, whose heart so cold not to warm with thoughts like these? Ever as memory goes back to those fast growing, far distant hours, I picture my happy home. Situated a few miles from the busy hum of the metropolis, on a little bay, nestled in a magnificent grove of chestnuts, hid by them from the sight of the passer by, is my home.

There at night, after the work of the day, have I retired in the keen enjoyment of the comforts of a happy home, surrounded only by those who love: Such a life is almost the poet's dream of Elysium. There in the early mists of the morning have I mounted my horse for a ride along the sea-girt shore, or through the clover fields; or in the moon-lit summer's evening have unfurled the sails of my " bonny " yacht and glided on the smooth surface of the bay, hour after hour, happy in forgetfulness of everything save the present. This, in all its wide meaning, is home.
And here and now, seated upon the bare floor of my prison pen, and leaning against this dirty brick wall, the oft repeated prayer arises :-May the day soon come when you, Mr. Editor, and I, and all our suffering comrades shall leave our prison abode, and be permitted to clasp our loved ones in a warm embrace-when the dismal clouds of war are scattered, and the sunshine of peace shall fall upon a re-united land.

Au revoir, Captain Porter.


In what respect do the officers confined in Libby resemble lost Dives in the parable?
Answer. They are looking to Abraham (Lincoln) for comfort.

Why is our soup in Libby like the stuff of which dreams are made ?
Answer. Because it is a body without substance.

Why is it certain that at least one species of our domestic fowls in Libby will soon be extinct ?
Answer. Because while we have two Drakes, we have nary a duck.

Why are greenbacks like some of the Jews?
Answer. Abraham is their father and they know not their redeemer.

It is thirty-one miles from Richmond to City Point,. therefore how many young ladies would it require to reach that distance?
Answer. Thirty-one of course because a Miss is as good as a mile.

What Chaplain in Libby should preach the most forcible sermons ?
Answer. Chaplain Hammer.

The author of the above has. just failed in the conundrum business for want of stock, and says that if he could get transportation to Fortress Monroe he would join the Federal Army.-[May the transportation soon come. - Editor.]


It has been justly said that sorrow is the noblest discipline. Our nature shrinks from it ; but it is not less for the greatness of our nature. It is a scourge; but there is healing in its stripes. - It. is a chalice; and the drink is bitter. It is a crown of thorns; but it becomes a wreath of light on the brow it has lacerated.

Every prisoner in Libby has learned this subtile philosophy, the bitter and sweet of sorrow. Thus far, however, in our experience here, we have tasted more bitter than sweet.

Page last updated on 02/12/2008