The Libby Chronicle, 9/11/1863

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The Libby Chronicle



VOL. I.                              LIBBY PRISON, RICHMOND, VA., SEPTEMBER 11, 1863.                              No. 4.



Brothers and Sisters. An episode occurred in one of the prayer meetings this week which is worthy of note. One of the old chaplains, warmed by the good spirit of the meeting, and, doubtless, for the moment, fancying himself again in a prayer circle at home, arose and began his remarks very deliberately as follows: " Dear brethren and sisters." - Observing a broad, but surpressed, grin on all faces in the audience, he quickly said, "Oh, I didn't mean to put in the sisters at all." At that his hearers were convulsed with laughter, and it was some time before he was able to proceed with his testimony. The spirit of the meeting was very different when a captain testified as follows: " I thank God that I was brought to this wretched prison. Before that time I was a prodigal far from my father's house. In the midst of my destitution and misery here, I have come to myself, been made contrite, confessed my sins to my Heavenly Father, and he has received me, and even made a feast for my soul."

Lawyers' Tournament. To those who have not been present to witness the Mock trial, the report given of it this week by the clerk of the court, will be of intense interest. The lawyers, in Libby, have had a great tournament, and their auditors will not soon forget them.

Found. Found lately at table No. I, a piece of pencil-rubber, which the owner can have by calling on the subscriber, or at the office of the THE CHRONICLE, and identifying property. S. H. Ballard.

Lost. The verses on Castle Thunder have been loaned to somebody for the purpose of copying, and are now astray. Whoever has them will please return them to the editor or to Chaplain Eberhart, their rightful owner.

"Spoons! Spoons!" We have often heard of persons afflicted with hallucinations upon some peculiar subject, and nearly allied to this is the peculiar species of monomania which prompts its unfortunate victim to seize hold of any little article of goods, wares or merchandise which may come within his reach, especially if said article does not belong to him. Sometimes this penchant is toward some particular species of property. It has been gravely hinted that some of the inmates of the west rooms of Libby are now suffering from this kind of monomania, and that just now their whole mental energy is absorbed in "spoons." So prevalent has this disease become, if disease it may be called, that no sooner have the members of mess finished their meal than the spoons all vanish from the table, as if all Cotton Mather's witches were holding high carnival in Libby. It has been said - but we cannot credit the report - that even reverend D. D.'s and learned M. D.'s have been seen with spoons protruding from their pockets, whether their own spoons or somebody's else, of course, remains to be known. This we do know, that the spoons are generally kept in a state of evanescence, and you may cry "spoons! spoons!" as often and as loudly as you please, they will not come. You might as well call spirits from the "vasty deep." If any of the learned doctors, now suffering "durance vile" in Libby, will cure this spoonomania they will be entitled to the lasting gratitude of those who are now compelled to eat their soup with pocket knives. Can this fearful malady be stayed? - A Sufferer.


Advice. The editor would advise the above sufferer to take care of his own spoon, if he ever finds it. If there be no better place for it between meals, it would seem as if there might be room enough for it in his own empty stomach. But if our friend cannot keep his spoon, let him be grateful that somebody else is evidently making good use of it.




Ostensibly to curry favor with the Rebel authorities some of our number have presented adulatory addresses to some of them. We are glad to say that these cases are rare. The "fact" department of THE CHRONICLE presents the following array of incidents which show where the truth lies.

FIRST. While Dick Turner was robbing us of our clothes and money (Saturday, 18th July), he found a small piece of bomb-shell, a souvenir of Gettysburg, in the pocket of Lieut. Ballard. When about to put it into his own pocket, the lieutenant remarked, "I didn't know that you had a right to take such things." "No right !" screamed Dick with an oath, "I'll show you!" With this he struck Ballard in the face with the back of his hand, nearly felling him to the floor. The editor stood within six feet of this tragedy of tyranny. We are glad to know that all Rebels are not of Dick's stamp.

SECOND. Suffocated by the mephitic atmosphere of these rooms, a few of us took turns in climbing up this ladder, then through the scuttle hole, to the nearly flat roof of the building. Up this ladder a Rebel lad daily goes to hoist their flag or rag over us. Of an evening, for a few moments, it was a great relief to us, without any possible harm to them, to lie or sit where, we could get a few sniffs of fresh air. Turner, learning of this, went through the rooms swearing a "blue streak," and threatening to put into a cell any man who ventured to the roof again. If they cannot afford us enough bread - which is their baseless plea - is there anything but cruelty that can lead them to deny us God's free air?

THIRD. In most of the rooms they have spittoons. For the slight offence of missing one of these while spitting, at a time when Dick was passing, a captain of cavalry was put for several days into ad ark, damp cell, where he had to struggle for life against the hordes of rats (pitiless Rebels) that infested the place. One of these cells has received the appropriate title of "Rat hell." In one of these cells, fed on bread and water, Lieut. Welch lay for about six weeks, because as United States orderly sergeant, acting under appointment as a lieutenant, though not yet mustered in, he had rightly classed himself with the enlisted men. When he came out he looked like a ghost, and mold had formed upon his scanty raiment. Of this the editor is an ocular witness.

FOURTH. A prisoner stood near the bars of one of the front windows, that he might obtain a breath of unpolluted air. This was on the second flat. The Rebel guard without ordered him away from the window. The Yankee could scarcely believe that the Rebel was in earnest. The latter, however, fired at him, lodging the bullet in one of the beams over-head. The prisoner had dodged just in time to escape sudden death.


"Oft those whose cruelty makes many mourn, 
Do by the fires which they first kindle burn."

This couplet received ample illustration the other day when one of the guards fired into the body of one of his own comrades, killing him almost instantly.

Our condition is well known to Jeff. Davis and to General Lee, and their names must always stand condemned by the side of this prison record. The "Black hole" of Calcutta was scarcely worse. Whatever of good qualities General Lee may possess, they are forever marred by the treatment accorded to his prisoners.


No. 4.


Occasionally we are visited by gentlemen from the city of Richmond, some of whom have shown us slight favors. The most notable case of this kind was the visit of Rev. Dr. McCabe, who was doubtless attracted to Libby by his name's sake, the chaplain. Through the kind influence of Dr. McCabe a channel was opened to the bookstores of the city, and Libby prison has become one of the best literary institutions of Dixie. Only a few days after the advent of books classes were formed in higher arithmetic, algebra and geometry; also in philosophy, history, theology and medicine, while the languages, namely, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish and French number their students by the hundreds. Army tactics, especially cavalry, are also taught by Col. Cesnola. Our curriculum is by no means meager. But the star study is phonography, which can boast in its first class alone of at least two hundred students. No books on this subject could be secured from Richmond. Chalk crayons, however; were obtained, and on a blackboard formed with a piece of rubber poncho the, simple though apparently mysterious characters are delineated, and easily learned by the eager students.


Scant as is our supply of books on any subject, owing to the high prices put upon them, the few we do possess are putting new life and hopefulness into all our hearts. Readers hasten to devour the contents of one author, and then pass the book to other hands, while awaiting their turn to still other subjects. Sometimes a book is owned by a club of at least fifteen or twenty individuals. This will not be thought strange when we remember, for instance, that the only Spanish lexicon in Libby costs forty-five dollars in Confederate currency. Singing books have also been .secured, and a fine choir is rehearsing for the religious services, and doubtless for a concert which will eclipse, we opine, everything of the kind in the Rebel capital. Every night, or nearly so, after the union prayer meeting, a singing circle is formed, when English, French, German and Irish songs are rendered, attracting immense crowds of listeners. At times not a few of the Rebel guards and passers-by group themselves on Cary street to hear us. It may seem to these outsiders that advantage is taken by us of their presence to make the old walls echo and re-echo with our best patriotic airs. Oh, walls, tell the tale to your cruel owners and repeat it to future generations! What if those Rebels hiss and curse at the sentiments of our songs, especially such as

                    "Down with the traitor! Up with the Stars,"


their curses fall harmless upon our loyal souls, or are lost amid the loud and jubilant union acclaims.

Cutting and carving bones is an occupation in which , many display great dexterity. There are produced napkin rings, finger rings, miniature books, brooches, boxes, crosses, etc., in great variety and beauty. When we consider that the only utensils for this handicraft are dull jack-knives and table knives, with edges cut or serrated into saws by striking them carefully with the edge of another knife, we may think Punch correct when he speaks as follows of the Yankee's offspring: " A Yankee baby will creep or fall out of his cradle, take a survey of it, invent a new style and apply for a patent before he is six months old." - Editor.



[The following touching lines are attributed to G. H. Hollister, Esq., of Litchfield, Conn. The editor of THE CHRONICLE cannot now recount how they came into his possession.]

No blanket round his wasted limbs,
    Under the rainy sky he slept; 
While pointing his envenomed shafts
    Around him death, the archer, crept. 
He dreamed of hunger, and held out
    His hand to clutch a little bread 
That a white angel with a torch
    Among the living and the dead, 
Seemed bearing smiling as he went.
    The vision waked him, when he spied 
The post-boy followed by a crowd
    Of famished prisoners who cried 
For letters, letters from their friends.
    Crawling upon his hands and knees 
He hears his own name called, and lo!
    A letter from his wife he sees!

Gasping for breath he shrieked aloud
    And, lost in nature's blind eclipse, 

Faltering amid the suppliant crowd,
    Caught it and pressed it to his lips. 

A guard who followed, red and wroth,
    And flourishing a rusty brand,
Reviled him with a taunting oath,
    And snatched the letter from his hand. 
"First pay the postage, whining -wretch."
    Despair had made the prisoner brave
"Then give me back my money, sir.
    I am a captive, not a slave. 
You took my money and my clothes;
    Take my life too, but let me know 
How Mary and the children are,
    And I will bless you ere I go."

The very moonlight through his hands,
    As he stood supplicating, shone, 
And his sharp features shaped themselves
    Into a prayer, and such a tone

Of anguish there was in his cry
    For wife and children, that- the guard, 
Thinking upon his own, passed by,
    And left him swooning on the sward.
Beyond the "dead line" fell his head--
    The eager sentry knew his mark, 
And with a crash the bullet sped
    Into his brain, and all was dark! 

But when they turned his livid cheek
    Up toward the light, the pale lips smiled 
Kissing a picture fair and meek
    That held in either hand a child.



Thursday, August 2o, 1863, will long be remembered by the denizens of Libby for the fun and general mirth occasioned by the opening of the trial at a mock court of one of their number. About eleven o'clock the exciting affair was announced by the stentorian voice of the quasi sheriff, "Hear ye! hear ye! hear ye! the honorable court for the county of Libby and State of Imprisonment is now opened. All ye who have business therein, draw near and ye shall be heard."


A motley crowd at once assembled at the call, in the upper east room, and there beheld a solemn-faced, greyheaded cavalry captain, who was to play the role of judge. He was seated upon a lofty arm-chair made for the occasion of a partly broken barrel. His mock dignity, professional air and shrewd humor were calculated to convulse the court and lookers-on with laughter at any moment of the proceedings. To the right and left of him were seated on inpromptu benches of broken boards, sticks of wood, or, on the floor, the district attorney, sheriff, undersheriff, counsels, sergeant-at-arms, clerks, etc.


The, impaneling of the jury was rendered amusingly difficult and farcical to correspond with the other movements. Foreigners with the longest and worst sounding names had been selected for the bench from among the French, Germans and Hungarians, some, of whom could scarcely understand a word of English or spoke it very brokenly. The foreman when called up to be sworn feigned that he could not understand the questions of the judge and responded in French. Every word filled the audience with merriment, and seemed to puzzle the court. The prosecuting attorney at last interposed his objection, arguing the impossibility and illegality of employing for juryman one who did not know the language of the court, and thus the Barbarian was ruled out. Meanwhile a bystander interrupted proceedings by vociferating that the fault was not the juryman's, but rather that of the court, as these professional gentlemen ought to be able to understand him. The judge thereupon ordered the arrest of the offending interrupter for "contempt of court," and the sergeant-at-arms cleverly executed the order. The next juryman questioned was as deaf as an adder, and the third was a Dutchman who carried out the figure most charmingly, and for a long time kept the room in an uproar of laughter and applause. At length a jury was duly impaneled, and then a grave-looking prisoner (Capt. John Teed) was brought before the bar, charged with having disturbed the peace of the neighborhood by seeking to enjoy the raptures of a clandestine bath at an hour and in a manner offensive to the laws of the people.

As the witnesses were brought upon the stand, they were required to raise their left foot or both feet, and to subscribe to the following oath, "You do pompously swear that you will tear, tatter, transmogrify and torture the truth, the whole truth and everything but the truth, so help you Jeff. Davis." If the witness was a Quaker, and did not wish to take this oath, he was permitted to affirm under the pains and penalties of being kept for an hour in the sink.

The accused soon became the butt of all the mischievous witticism of the occasion, but conducted himself in a manner becoming the best good nature. The trial was conducted through several days with unabated interest, and there was displayed no little amount of juridical knowledge and consummate skill in managing a difficult case. The counsel for the defence was indefatigable, and succeeded in presenting the laughable arguments, with no small array of evidence, that the prisoner had not been known even to wash his face since he had taken his abode in Libby, and that he was suffering from fearful attacks of hydrophobia. Witnesses were also subpoenaed to prove a case of alibi, by testifying that on the night in question the accused was seen coming out of an ice-cream saloon on Main street, Richmond, with a Confederate lady on his arm. In proof of this, the fragment of a letter, found near the wash tub, was produced, signed "Susan," the contents of which revealed some highly ludicrous incidents in the experience of the aged warrior.


The respondent listened to all these personal jokes with excellent good temper, and no one seemed to enjoy more than himself the comical buffoonery of lawyers and witnesses. Notwithstanding the artful pleadings of his counsel, a verdict of guilty was rendered, and he was sentenced by the court to imprisonment for forty-eight hours in the sink. This punishment was afterwards commuted to a public promise of future good behavior. He also entered into a recognizance to treat the judge, jury and counsels whenever they should get out of Libby, which promise will undoubtedly be kept. - Clerk Ballard.



                                                                        LIBBY PRISON, Richmond, Va., 
                                                                        August 31, 1863. HON. JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War,

Sir: - I take the liberty of addressing you on behalf of myself and fellow prisoners in relation to our situation.


About six hundred of us are confined here with an average space of about twenty-eight square feet each, which includes our room for cooking, eating, washing, bathing and sleeping. Our rations consist, as nearly as I can judge as to quantity, of about one-fourth pound of poor fresh beef, one-half pound of bread and one-half gill of rice or black peas for each man per day. This amount has been found insufficient to sustain life and health in our close prison confinement. Scorbutic diseases have already appeared, proving fatal in one instance, that of Major Morris, and impairing seriously, if not permanently, the health of many others.


Our sanitary condition would have been much worse than it is now but for the large purchases of vegetables and other provisions, amounting to nearly one thousand dollars [Confederate] per day, which we have been allowed to make. But as nearly all our money was taken from us when we entered the prison, the daily expenditure of this large sum has at length about exhausted what was left us. We have also been notified that we would not be allowed to receive any portion of the money taken from us here, nor to receive such sums as have been sent us front home since our imprisonment, though before writing for these moneys we were expressly assured by your officers having us in charge that we would be allowed to receive them.


It will be perceived from the above statement that our immediate prospective condition is, to say the least, that of semi-starvation. The rations furnished by your government may be as good and as much as it can afford under the circumstances, but in that case it does seem as if we should be allowed to purchase the necessary amount to sustain us. It cannot possibly be that it is intended to reduce to a famishing condition six hundred prisoners of war. Humanity cannot contemplate such a thing without feelings of the deepest horror. Saying nothing of our rights as prisoners of war, even criminals guilty of the blackest crimes are not, among civilized people, confined for any length of time on insufficient food.


I wish further to state to you that previous to my surrender I made a stipulation with General Forrest, to whom I surrendered, that all private property, including money belonging to my officers and men, should be respected. This stipulation, in the handwriting of General Forrest, over his own signature, is now in the hands of General Winder, having been taken from me here. Notwithstanding this, my officers (ninety-five in number) have been notified, with the balance, that their money has been turned over to Confederate authorities.


For the purpose of avoiding further loss of money or misunderstanding, and if possible to obtain relief from the unhappy situation in which we are placed, you are most respectfully requested to state in your answer to this communication the manner in which we will be allowed to obtain the necessary food and clothing to render us comfortable.

                                        I have the honor to be, sir,
                                                Your most obedient servant,
                                                        A. D. STREIGHT,
                                                                Colonel of Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers.




It is not likely that the Rebel Secretary of War will condescend to answer Col. Streight's letter. The cry of famishing prisoners cannot enter such delicate ears! - Editor.



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