The Libby Lion

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Turner, William D. “The Libby Lion.” The Black Swan, August 1929, pp. 4-5, 29-35; September 1929, pp. 179 20, 27-29; October 1929, pp. 22, 33-35.

The Libby Lion
SOME WAR-TIME RECOLLECTIONS
The Story of a Confederate Officer Who
Was at First
One of Those in Charge of
and Later
a Captive in Libby Prison
BY WILLIAM. DANDRIDGE TURNER

THIS little bit of history is written at the solicitation of some friends, and also from a desire on my part to preserve that which would be lost if I were to die without its being told.

When my father was living he would so often tell me the history of his war-time life and the incidents thereof that I felt I had it letter perfect; but as time wears on Memory plays many tricks and cuts many capers, and the larger part of his experiences as he told them to me I can no longer remember connectedly.

But I recall the name of Lieut. R. C. Knaggs of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, he being a warm and loving friend of my father; that of Colonel Charles W. Tilden of the Sixteenth Maine Infantry, though I do not remember the part he played; that of Colonel Rose of New York, who dug the tunnel when the prisoners escaped from Libby Prison; that of Colonel A. D. Streight of Indiana, who was so stout that he had to take off his clothes and tie them to his feet before he could crawl through the tunnel, that of Captain Lewis of Kentucky, who escaped through the tunnel and was captured in the Chickahominy swamp; and that of Major Gibbs, who was captured by my father at the house of my grandfather in New Kent County. My grandmother, who was giving him the best she had to eat (she had four sons in the Confederate Army, and was strongly Southern in her sympathies) pleaded hard and earnestly for him, and oh, the pathos of that tale, when Major Gibbs said: “Back to old Libby again!”

In my mind I can see my father and hear the stories, but now many incidents and most of the names and connections are gone. This part of the story that I tell is the part that I know, is the part I was in, and I shall try to tell it absolutely as it was. I have not verified a single date except the date of my father’s parole. Some men and incidents may have come before or after in this story but I tell it as it appears to me. I find that the impressions made in my very earliest days are the most lasting and vivid.

I tell it without malice to a human being, and if I thought that what I told had any bit­terness in it I would not tell it. When I use the word Yankee it is in no sense a term of reproach, but to my mind simply a descriptive name.

My father was magnanimous, but had his faults, though his virtues far overbalanced his imperfections. I look upon Mr. Lincoln as having been a great and good man: my father said so. I look upon General Grant as kind and considerate, doing what he considered his duty: my father said so. There are others who were connected with that great struggle whom I do not look upon with the same feeling of kindness and respect that I have for those two leaders, because I do not think that they felt the same consideration for us. War to some of them it seems was a vocation, and to others an avocation; but to Lincoln and Grant it was a duty, a duty which they thought right, although I think wrong.

I have refrained from calling every name that might hurt; and if I speak of one man with harshness, it is because I feel it is right to tell of him as he was.

The language in which I tell this history is the language of a child, for that is the way I think of it; and I look back upon myself at that time as a being distinct and apart from what I am now. It seems to me in my mind that the little boy (and he was such a little boy, spindling and light) went off somewhere after my father came out of prison, and has never come back. He didn’t die, but I haven’t seen him for forty odd years.

THE very first thing I remember (I was about two and a half years old) is standing at the front gate, having on a red plaid dress, and seeing a tall cross-looking old man with no whiskers on his face who had my little sister in a coffin.

My next remembrance is a keen disappoint­ment that my uncle had not kept his promise, and brought me a dead Yankee.

Then comes a distinct and decided recollec­tion. I remember going into the front room upstairs (a room that faced the street) and seeing a lady with her hair cut somewhat short —not quite touching her shoulders. She looked so tired and wild! She had on what I thought was a dress belonging to my mother, and a very long-legged pair of boots made of soft leather. She caught me in her arms and strained me to her breast, weeping all the while and saying she had a little boy just like me. And ah, how tight she held me! What made the greatest impression upon me was seeing my father cry. I remember my father distinctly from that day, and he told me afterwards that the lady was a “Yankee spy,” and that he had brought her to his house that night so that she could rest instead of going to a cell in some prison. Her name and fate is unknown to me, for though in years grown to manhood I would talk of that recollection with an inquiring stress in my voice, my father never thought proper to enlighten me, and I never asked him the direct question.

I remember Buck, a stout black lad who was older and bigger than myself. Buck was my property, and Alice, a little black girl, was also mine. I remember Buck and myself hav­ing Alice in a tub and pumping water over her to baptize her, which was a disastrous and fatal affair to Alice. I remember my boy friend C. C., who lived “round the corner,” and with whom I was not allowed to play. This same boy, when the War was over—the War, the great leveler—helped me in those dark days to pick up corn which the horses had left, and which we (my mother, Fanny and I) pounded and crushed, and used for food.

I remember going to the quarters one night, and “Flatnosed Tom” giving me his pipe to smoke, and my being ill from the effects of smoking, and Buck fetching my Mammy, and the great fuss she raised, and how Wilson, my father’s body-servant, who had white spots scattered over his face, told on Tom.

I remember the cook, whose name, how-ever, I cannot recall (she always made me little biscuits) and Lucy, one of the washwomen, who could sing, and who sang to me the most beautiful songs, it seemed to me, all the time when in the wash-house.

I remember Yellow Tom, and Tom the hostler, Fannys husband, and Lawrence the carriage driver, who was always mean, and the boy who opened the gate: these stand out prominently in my memory. They must have been close to me. My Mammy died just before the surrender, and her remains lie in our graveyard. Much, if not all, of my supersti­tion and fear of ghosts to-day was implanted in my infant mind by that dear and well-beloved black soul.

My father was on the staff of General Winder, with the rank of Captain, and was. assigned to duty at Libby Prison, as commis­sary. He had dark hair, was very strong and active, and had eyes so mild and blue, and such a merry twinkle when he laughed! But when he was angry they turned dark, as dark as his hair, and flashed. His hand was so soft yet so very strong that when it held mine I felt I was safe from every evil on earth.

Major Thomas P. Turner was Commandant of Libby Prison and lived at our house. As I remember him he was rather an undersized man, very quick and active, and had a sharp and decisive voice. He and my father were dear friends and companions. I think a child is apt very often to estimate correctly a person’s character and disposition, and my recollection of Major Turner is that he was very kind, but very positive.

I remember going to Libby Prison one day, and walking up the whitewashed steps, so high and wide apart that I could scarcely step up them, and the whitewash on the wall looked so white, and would scale off if you touched it; and it had such a funny smell. It made me sick. When I reached the top of the stairs, a soldier was there with a gun, but he let me pass. Then I saw a man with a book in his hand, and he kept hollerin’ out some thing, and all the Yankees would holler back at him; some of them would say “Here,” and I looked to see what was there, and some would say “Present,” and I just couldn’t exactly understand it, and I felt very tired. I think I had many friends among the Yankees, but I didn’t care to talk that day: my head hurt, and my legs were very tired. I went downstairs, and into a little room in the corner of the prison which they called the of­fice, and laid on a bed, and that whitewash was in there too. Then there came into the room a young man that I knew very well, and who was my great friend, Ras’ Ross.1 He had the dearest face that ever looked into a child’s eyes. He rubbed my head and said I was “a sick soldier,” that he felt sure I would have to go to the hospital, as all sick soldiers did, but after much persuasion on my part said that as I was “such a good sol­dier” I might be permitted to go to my father’s house instead of the hospital, and that was the last I remembered for many weeks, for it was the beginning of a danger­ous illness—typhoid fever.

Ras’ Ross was the first to see me, and to tell me the news of the army, and of lots and lots of dead Yankees lying in a row with their boots on. But he thought they wouldn’t be buried with their boots on, and he had his eye open, and constantly open, for a pair of boots that would fit me, and “come up past the knees.” That he was very anxious for me to hurry up and get well and come to the Prison, that he needed me to help him about some things, and that the prisoners wanted to see me also. Then I recall the day I was propped up in the carriage, and had so many pillows all about me, and Fanny, my mother’s maid, held me, and Lawrence had to drive very carefully, so as not to “jolt” me; and then when we reached the Prison I saw my father and the soldiers standing at the door, and Ras’ Ross, with that precious friendly smile of his; and he lifted me out of the carriage and carried me into the office, and there, lying on the bed, was the most beautiful pair of boots on earth! So soft, and with legs that came “up past the knees.” And he was quite sure they didn’t come off a dead Yankee either.

I had heard so much of “cold water parties” that I was promised when I got strong that I should go to one. And at last the night “really and truly” came, and with my gray uniform on and with boots that came “past the knees” I went with my father and mother. There were lots of people there, but ever so many more ladies than gentlemen. I sat on a sofa that had a high back and was set against the wall; and a beautiful lady with curls talked with me, and she really thought my boots were just as good as any General Lee had. All that I saw the people doing was talking, and dancing, and presently I saw a young man come in, and everybody seemed so glad to see him, and he was such a nice-looking man, and so jolly; but he had on a gray coat that came nearly down to his heels, and that looked funny. He seemed to know everybody, and everybody seemed to know him, and to want to talk to him. He told me he would like to trade boots with me, and, I think, offered me great inducements, and told me that if I decided to trade just to tell my father, and he would let him know. I do not think I was very contented afterward, for the young man was so companionable and easy to get on with that I thought I would like him next to Ras’ Ross, and was sorry to disoblige him. I must have fallen asleep on the sofa with the high back, for when I woke next morning I was in my own room and bed. I felt that I had missed most of the party, but my mother told me that I had seen all that there was to see.

Shortly after this a terrible accident occurred. I remember that I was not allowed to go up-stairs any more in the prison. It seems that orders had been issued, since all those prisoners had made their escape, for no one to go and stand at the windows. If they did, they would be shot. It was suspected that the prisoners had been giving and receiv­ing signals from persons outside that aided them in their escape. Well, ,one day, late in the afternoon, a Mr. Woodis (or Wood-ice) a Southern soldier or sympa­thizer, was upstairs, and, either not knowing the order or forgetting it, walked to the win­dow, and the guard on duty outside im­mediately shot him. I did not see him shot; but I went that night with my father to Mr. Woodis’ house, and saw many anxious and excited people, and heard such a strange sound coming from a room that I was not allowed to enter. It was a sound that I can hear to-day when I think of it —a sound that I think I shall never forget — the moist, crackling, rattling sound in the throat of a dying man.

Some time after that I missed my father, for he was away many days. My mother told me that he was away with the army. One morn­ing (it was clear and crisp, not a cloud in the sky—I remember that although as the day advanced it turned warmer) I heard many guns a-firing, I saw much confusion, and all of a sudden there came a tremendous crash, louder than all the thunder I had ever heard in my life all put together. The house shook, the windows rattled, and some were smashed.

Flatnosed Tom, who had been in the back-yard clap-ping and dancing, seemed cowed, and Fanny said the magazine had ex­ploded. I wished then so much for my father, for I felt sure he could stop this noise and con-fusion. I stood with my mother at a window, and saw many soldiers marching, with their guns glistening in the early morning sunshine, and all dressed in blue. I knew they were Yankees. My mother stood and looked and said: “Our homes are gone, our homes are gone!” Then I stood at the front gate and looked for my father. People were passing, and all seemed to be in a hurry, some rush­ing one way and some another; and there was ever so much smoke: and the air looked dull and heavy, but clear; and with all the noise and con-fusion everything was so quiet; but there was a muffled roaring sound, which must have been the fire that was burning Richmond. I saw people with bundles, and one old lady passed by with a lot of cloth in her arms, one end of which was dragging on the ground. An old lame negro woman had her arms full of cloth, and some of it was silk—blue silk with a white stripe in it. It must have been silk, because it glistened in the bright sunshine. And then presently I saw men that were drunk and boisterous. I saw some men running from Yankee soldiers; and then soon the Yankee soldiers came to our house, and the house was full of them, and they went into all the rooms and looked into the closets, and moved the furniture, and one got on top of the wardrobe and found a bottle of brandied peaches, and sat there, with his legs dangling down, eating the. My mother told me they were looking for my father. Then all went away except some soldiers who were left as guards, and these were stationed all around the house. The one at the back door step was a very nice sort of a man. He said he didn’t mind staying there at all as long as he had pleasant company, and that I was very pleasant company. I was very much dissatisfied when my mother did not ask him in.

I remember Flatnosed Tom coming up on the back porch, and calling my mother “Puss,” and dancing and singing “We’ll stan’ de storm, ‘Twon’t be long, We’ll anker by and by,” and my mother going to the sideboard and taking a derringer out and telling him if he did not get out she would kill him in his tracks, and the guard telling her he gloried in her pluck—”plook” he called it.

I recall no more incidents until my father came in one morning, and said he had been away fighting the Yankees at Sailor’s Creek, and that he was going up to the Capitol to surrender. I did not think it was a good idea, but was somewhat reconciled when he told me that General Lee had surrendered, for it was bred in the bone of the Southern children that General Lee could do no wrong. I remember how my father looked in his gray uniform that morning, after it was brushed and cleaned. He looked pale and worn, but his eyes were so kind and blue.

He, my mother and myself, went to the Capitol and into a room that had a railing around-part of it. At a table behind the rail­ing a good many Yankee officers were sitting, with papers scattered all about, and there were also a number of men outside of the railing. After my father had spoken a few words, an officer who was sitting inside jumped up and pulled off his coat to tight my father, and one soldier who did most of the talking told that man, pretty loud, to put his coat on. My father’s eyes turned dark, but he said nothing, only laughed at the other man. I was terribly frightened, for I saw so many swords and pis­tols, and my father had none, and it seemed to me that all the soldiers got very angry when my father laughed. Then I heard some more talking, and presently several soldiers with bayonets on their guns stepped in, pretty quick and lively, and started to take my father away. And when he kissed my mother, a soldier jabbed him in the hip with his bayonet, and that was the last I saw of him.

It must have been that week that my mother went to see General Lee. I remember that his door was opened by his daughter, who said, “It is very doubtful whether the General can see you.” But it was only a short time before the General came in. After shaking hands with my mother, and not forgetting to shake hands with me also, they sat and talked about my father. He, it seemed to me, saw no hope for what my mother asked, and said, “We must continue to endure.”

Much has been written and is written about General Lee which, if he had the censoring of it, would be expunged. We are apt to let our love and feelings run away with our judgment and discretion and to say and write much that is not in good taste when writ­ing and speaking of him. But there was an indescribable something about that man —a force that has left, and will forever leave, its mark upon the pages of time. That was the second time I remember speaking to him, and he looked so tall, so kind, so strong, so gentle, so tired. And when he said, “We must continue to endure,” the words, the look, the inflection of his voice made such an impression upon my infant mind that I think then and there was implanted in my heart forever the sense of duty. I did not know the meaning of the word “endure,” but he said it in such a way that I knew it meant to me to be brave and true; and as each year is added to my life, it means something stronger and grander in the formation of character, and in doing one’s duty. His hands were tied, yet he healed and helped, in the best way one can help, with strong genuine sympathy. He had to leave us, and when my mother left his house, she was crying softly and said “Hope is gone.”

It must have been on a Friday or a Saturday that my mother went to see General Lee, for it was on Sunday (well do I know that) that she went downtown and took me with her. She had on a dark dingy dress (I think it must have been alpaca, for to this day I cannot see alpaca but what a feeling of sorrow comes into my mind) and a veil so thick and black that I could not see her face. I was much per­turbed by her appearance.

People seemed to be aimlessly walking the streets; it looked as though they must be all gone to church, yet it was long past church time; it was in the afternoon. My mother told me not to speak to any one that I knew, and we walked and turned many corners, and I saw streets that were new and strange. Presently we came to that part of town that was familiar to me: it was near Libby Prison, and we stood on Main Street, and oh! such a crowd of people was around the prison, and there were tents in front of it; and as we walked on and drew nearer, I could see the windows crowded with our soldiers, and they were talking and talking, and I could hear a distant and rum­bling roar; but I could not understand what they were saying. Hanging out of the windows, and held in the hands of our soldiers, were many strings; some made of rags, some of suspenders, pieces of stocking, or shirts, tied together to reach the ground.

My mother told me to go nearer the strings. I saw women tying bread and other things to eat to the strings. Some of the women had little baskets, some only had little bundles, and some only tears; and the sol­diers in gray would pull the food up and reach out with long skinny hands through the bars, and there would be so many hands reaching out that sometimes the food would be knocked off. I saw two men, both dark-haired, reach out and get what was on their string, and walk back in the dense crowd back of the windows. There was a pale sickly-looking man with light sandy hair who was talking and imploring for food; he said, “Lady, tie to my string; I’ll stand right here and divide it before your eyes. Those two last men did not divide. Trust me, lady.” And he did divide, and how his hand shut down on the food as it came up! The first piece he gave to the man on the right, the one standing at the farthest corner of the window, and he clutched the- food and ate it like a ravenous beast. There was such a clamor at one time that a Yankee officer came out of the office and grabbed the strings, and jerked and broke a great many. The women wept and the men wailed. It was not long, though before more strings were out again. Then some one told me that “that lady over yonder” wanted me, and my mother was cross because

I had stayed too long. Then she said, “Now pay attention, and listen. Your father is starv­ing.” At which remark I set up such a howl that it attracted the attention of those standing around. I sobbed, and there came a feeling of pain in my throat, and I had the hiccoughs; and my mother said: “You are my only hope, and you are going to fail.” At that I somewhat controlled myself. Then she told me my father was in the dungeon, and I can see her now as she trembled when I wouldn’t let her talk until she told me what the dungeon was. She told me that the dungeon was a cell underneath the ground, and that there was an opening (the area) in front, through which one could look into the cell. I remember how particular and earnest she was. She said: “Go to that win­dow,” pointing to it, “and tie something to eat on the strings for the soldiers, and while you are tying to the strings, drop some on the ground, and kick it with your foot so that it will fall into the hole at the dungeon.” I remember doing just as she told me, and seeing my father’s face looking through the bars, way back in that dark hole, with eyes so big, star­ing, and not saying one word—looking so white, looking like I had never seen my father look before. The food fell in the hole, and he had to put his arm through the bars to get it. Some fell so near to the outer edge that he couldn’t reach it, and I started to bend over and shove it closer, when he shook his head. I was just five years old then. Oh, I remem­ber that day so well! Forty-five years have passed, but I can see the tents, see the crowd, hear the rumble, the buzzing sound, the roar—something I had never heard before, and pray God I may never hear again, the roar—the roar of hungry men.

It was some time before I saw my father again—perhaps a month. One night (it was very hot and there was a thunderstorm) I was asleep on a pallet, when amid what seemed like much talking and bustle I was awakened, and saw my father in the room. My mother was getting water and towels. I was awake several minutes, and saw my father taking off his rags. It seemed a dream, but then I could-hear him talking. I sat up and spoke to him. He would not let me touch him. He was so dirty and smelled so bad, and the wound on his hip which had been made by that bayonet the day he gave himself up was an awful thing to look at. I can see my mother now, sponging it with hot water that had been heated on the little fireplace, and asking him why he had not washed it. And I heard him say, “Madam, I have not had water enough to drink, much less to wash with.” He was hurrying, and he said, “Hurry up, hurry up,” many times. I saw him take the back of a knife and scrape the wound out, and I saw white, live, crawling worms fall on the floor, and I saw my mother, tearing up underclothes for bandages; and as fast as his clothes were taken off they were thrown into the fire.

Fanny came in with a friend of my father’s. I heard my father tell his friend to “go as quickly as possible, and get Sumpter.” Sumpter was a magnificent bay stallion, with perhaps more than a local reputation for speed, and belonged to my father. He was kept by my uncle to avoid confiscation. My father said, “I’ll meet you at the Bridge.” The gentleman asked “Why are you out?” My father said, “I escaped. I have not much time to talk. During the War an officer es­caped from the dungeon by cutting out an iron bar. There was no iron to replace it, and I had a wooden one, painted to resemble iron, put in its place. To-night I cut it out during the thunderstorm, with a knife my wife had sent me, and just after a flash of lightning I slipped out and passed the guard without his seeing me, and reached here a short while ago. But hurry and get he horse. My wife will tell you all the circumstances.” The gentleman left, and after he was gone my mother asked my father where he was going, and he told her he could not tell, and not to send him any mes­sage or communicate with him, that he would try to let her hear from him. He said she should get to bed as quickly as possible, and put the fire out. Without being told, I began to gather up the trash on the floor, and throw it in the fire. My father held my mother tight in his arms for an instant. He kissed me and rushed out of the door, saying “Get to bed,” not having once said to me, “Don’t tell you have seen me.” My mother told Fanny to go back to bed at once, but she would not, and remained helping to burn up the litter and clear the room. Finally Fanny went, and my mother burned up everything as fast as possible, and told me to lie on the pallet again, and said: “Pretend to be asleep if any one comes. Don’t say you have seen your father.” She con­tinued to poke and punch the fire:

In a short while there came a trampling of men and horses outside the house and I could hear the clatter of the horses’ feet on the bricks, and then a tremendous knock­ing at the front door, and all the doors. My mother had not had time to dress, and was still in her nightclothes. After what seemed a long time she raised the window and asked, “Who is that?” and some one said, “Open the door!” The scuffling and pound ing was going on all the time, and just then the downstairs door gave way with a splinter­ing and crashing sound, and I could hear men rushing in and talking, and some seemed to be giving orders. Some had lights, and I remem­ber that an officer had a little block of matches in his hand, and would cut them apart with his knife. He was standing at the door of my mother’s chamber. He was certainly a kind and considerate gentleman. He asked my mother was she “Mrs. Turner,” and said, “I wish you would get up. I am sorry to have to remain in the room while you are dressing, but I am compelled to do so.” My mother sat up in bed and said, “What is the matter? What has happened?” He said, “Never mind, madam, you must get up at once.” She said, “Please call Fanny,” who, however, entered about this time, seeming to be little more than half awake, and much excited. She had a flannel Balmoral over her shoulders as she came in the room, and she made a shield with that skirt while my mother dressed. After being partly dressed my mother insisted on knowing why the officer and the soldiers were in the house, and he said: “Madam, your husband has escaped,” and my mother said, “Thank God!” The officer told her he was sorry, and kept telling her so, but that he had to search the house. And every nook and corner inside of the house and out, it seemed, was searched. While he was standing at the door with a light in his hand, I could see on the carpet those white crawling worms that had come out of my father’s wound. No one had asked me a question, but at the very first moment an opportunity offered, I pulled my pallet over that spot. At last the search was given up, though some guards were left; and as soon as I could I told my mother what was under my pallet. It was soon daylight, and my mother told Fanny the circumstances, and when she gathered up my pallet, it seemed to me she would rake a hole in the carpet.

Fanny was a tall, distinguished-looking ne­gress, about the color of a light chestnut, with a curl in her hair instead of a kink. She was very intelligent, and could read, write and sew beautifully. She was kind-hearted, faithful and true, and stayed with us for years after the War. She stayed after all the others—even her husband, who, however, came back after a long while. Fanny ate what we ate (when there was anything to eat) and shared what we shared, our sorrows and our joys.

I have since been told by my father that he was free about one month; anyway, one night he came back, but stayed at our house a very short time, and told me he would see me next day-that I would have to come to see him; that he was going to the house of a friend. He went to his secrétaire and took out a long pistol, and I do not remember when he left.

The next morning, quite late, my mother and I went to the house at which my father was staying, and he was in the parlor, and the shut­ters to the parlor closed. It was very dark and close. He told me some of his experiences during the time of his freedom. He said: “I went to New Kent County, and tied Sumpter in the woods, and went to the house of a friend.” I do not recall the name, but it seems to me it was Crump. He said, “I told some one to go to the house and tell Mr. Crump that a gen­tleman wished to see him.” When Mr. Crump came out, he expressed great astonishment at seeing my father, and asked him what he in-tended to do. My father said that Mr. Crump rendered him every assistance, and sent a mes­sage for him to his brother, Mr. Samuel D. Turner, in Charles City County, to be on the lookout for him. That night my father reached his brother’s, and they decided that the best place for him to hide was in the barn, so they burrowed a hole deep in the hay, and my father would remain in that hole all day, and would come out at night after the servants and children had retired. After being there several days, my uncle saw my father one morning about daylight standing outside the barn, and said, “Dick, this is very imprudent; you should be in the hay.” My father told him he had decided to leave at once, that he had had a dream that had made such an impression upon him that he felt he must leave. He then told his brother that he dreamed that the Yan­kees came there, went directly to the barn, came up the loft and at once went to the hole in the hay and took him out. My uncle thought it rather foolish to leave such a good hiding-place; but my father was so much in earnest that he would not try to dissuade him. So they went into the woods about half a mile, to where Sumpter was tied, and there they bade each other farewell.

Strange to relate, the next morning the Federals did come, and went directly to the barn and to the hiding place. It seems that a colored girl had seen my father in there, and had told it to someone, and the information was quickly conveyed to those in search of my father.

Either that day or the next, or about that time, the Federals came within sight of my father, and at once gave chase. They were near the Chickahominy River, and my father immediately plunged his horse in, and began to swim across. Sumpter seemed to be labor­ing too much, and he jumped off and caught the horse’s tail, and landed safely on the opposite side of the river. The Yankees were on the other bank, and were continually firing, but did not seem disposed to cross the river. Sumpter scrambled out, and in a play­ful mood ran away from my father, whereupon the pursuing party, seeing this condition of affairs, put their horses to the river and started across. The horse must have been intelligent, for he turned and came to my father, who immediately leaped upon his back, and said, “Good-bye, Mr. Yank.” He remained in that neighborhood for several days, until all the arrangements could be made for his getting away for good and all. The plans were that he was to meet and join General Jubal A. Early and Major Thomas P. Turner in Canada, and he said: “I am going to start in the morning, and it may be a long time before you see me again. I cannot say how long—it may be for years.” All of a sudden, while we were sitting talking in the darkened parlor, there was a sudden flash of light through one of the shutters. My father jumped behind the sofa and told me to go out and see if any one was outside. I did so and returned and told him there was only a little colored girl.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon in writing and tying up papers. I think I must have gone to bed before my parents, and late in the night or early in the morning (it was dark) I was awakened by hearing my father say: “Stand back! Stand back!” He was out in the hall at the head of the stairway, and in his night clothes. I heard him say, “The first man that comes up these steps I shall kill’ Now if you will wait till I can dress, and my wife can dress, I will deliver myself to you. But I have two pistols, and I shall kill you as fast as you come till I empty them, unless you do as I say.”

They took him at his word, and waited. He dressed and laid the pistols on the bureau, kissed my mother, held me in his arms, and never saying a word, kissed me and kissed me, and his face was so wet. That was the last I saw of my father for eight months, and I really never saw him again as he was, for he was then an erect, black-haired, blue-eyed young man. I stood on the sidewalk where he put me down, and looked and looked at all those soldiers with the yellow and red on their uniforms, marching away with my father. I have since been told by my father that he could have succeeded in getting away, as all plans were made and perfected, but that he could not resist coming to Richmond to see me and my mother and bid us farewell, with the consequences above stated.

For several days all seemed to be in a dread­ful state of woe and depression at our house. We had little or nothing to eat, and our friends were in the same helpless condition as we were. I had always been the inseparable companion of my mother, and I have a feeling that up to that time she had never left me, or I her, but during the days that followed I sat on the back porch steps in the sunshine, a little mite of a boy, alone in a deserted house; for Fanny, the only servant we had, was hardly ever to be seen. My mother found out in these days of search what had become of my father. He was confined in the state penitentiary, which was under Federal jurisdiction and located in Richmond. The penitentiary was a long, long way from our house. My mother and Fanny got out an old buggy from the carriage house; it was such an old dilapidated vehicle that it had been left as not worth the trouble of being confiscated. Some old harness that they pieced together and tied up with strings was put on Sumpter—on Sumpter the stallion, that none dared drive save my father or an expert horse-man. And that horse, through hot and cold, rain and shine, sleet and snow, day after day, pulled my mother and myself in that old ramshackly vehicle, when oftentimes the harness would break and fall at his feet—pulled us day after day for eight months to the penitentiary as gentle as a lamb. Sumpter also was our friend. He is dead now, and I often make a pilgrimage to the grave where he lies, under a flowering dogwood near the banks of the James.

The first morning that we reached the peni­tentiary I felt awed and strange. We drove through streets that I had never heard of or seen before, some with low squatty wood houses, some with no houses at all. We went down into the bottom (it looked as if we were going. into the country) and presently we reached a little hill, and as we ascended a great big brick building hid all the sky. Just before you reached the penitentiary there was a sud­den and steep rise, and there was gravel in the roadway, and it was wider in front of the gate; and a great big double iron gate was set back in an alcove. These iron gates would clang and sound so lonesome when they opened and shut.

There was a room to the left of the entrance, and a soldier marched back and forth before those awful gates with the iron bars, the gates that clanged when they were opened and shut. We sat in the buggy and looked and looked. And we sat there so long, and said nothing. We saw not a friendly face. After a while my mother said: “You go and ask that guard if he knows anything of your father,” but I was so afraid of that guard, and so afraid that he might stick me with his bayonet, as the other one did my father; but I went to him, and when I spoke I found I had no voice and could only whisper. He stooped and asked me, “What?” and when I recovered my speech he waved his hand to the door on the left-hand side. I went to the buggy and told my mother, and she saw that I could not do more that day, so we left and came back home without any news.

The next morning, off to the penitentiary again, and I went that day to the room that was at the left of the gates. There was a little flight of steps, one or two, or perhaps three, leading thereto, and there was a soldier in there, who asked me sharp and quick what I wanted, and when I told him that I wished to know how my father was, he said, “Who is your father?” and when I told him “Mr. Turner,” he told me he knew nothing of such a person. So we had no news again that day. When we reached home Fanny asked for news, of “Mas’ Dick,” and my mother told her she had heard nothing, and said, “He may be dead for all I know.”

We continued to make those trips, and one day I saw a soldier, and, as I remember, his hair was light red, and he was inclined to be stout or thick-set; his uniform pulled tight at the buttons, and he breathed hard, very hard, with a sort of snort. His face was red, his cheeks had red veins all through them, but the strang­est thing was his big nose, which was not the same color as the rest of his face, but was a blueish red, and had cracks or seams on the side of it; but he had an eye that was kind and smiled. I thought I liked him, and I knew I did when he said, “Bud, how are you?” I shook hands with him, and he asked what I was doing there, and I told him I came to see about my father, and he asked me who my father was, and I told him, and he said, “Oh, he’s all right!” and I felt so happy that I ran to tell my mother. Then the sergeant came to the buggy and spoke to my mother, and patted me on the shoulder, and said, “He is a brave little man,” and told my mother that my father was well, and that there was nothing to worry about. What a race to our house we had! Sumpter seemed to know the good news too, and the sun was shining brighter than it did before. Everything looked so happy, and everybody looked like they had had a good breakfast and plenty of it. When we reached home Fanny was at the gate, and she knew from my mother’s looks that there was news and good news. My mother never waited for her to open the gate, but leaped from the buggy and threw herself into Fanny’s arms, crying and laughing, while Fanny mingled her tears with those. of my mother, who kept cry­ing, “Fanny, he’s all right, he’s all right!” We were all so happy that we went in the house and forgot all about Sumpter, whom we had left standing at the gate, and when some time afterward, we thought of him and went to look for him, he was gone. (We found him a few squares from home, standing quietly behind a farmer’s wagon, munching hay.) We forgot we were hungry; in fact we were not hungry, for that sergeant with the wooden nose had given us food that filled our souls and hearts with happiness.

The sergeant and I very soon became great friends, and he gave me a ring that was made from a button, and had a little pearl heart set in it. Some days we would see him, and then some days we wouldn’t—sometimes it would be so that he could not speak to us, but he would give me the friendly smile that said, “All right.” I became so well acquainted with him that I told him my name was not Bud, but Will, and he said, “All right, Will, I’ll not call you Bud again,” but he did, to the end of our acquaintance. I did not know that his nose was made of wood till my mother told me (his own having been shot off during the war) and she cautioned me never to speak of it, and not to look so intently at it as she had seen me do. I remember the great-and consuming desire I had to tell him that there were big cracks on the side of it. I think I showed greater self-control about that nose than I ever did about anything else in my life.

One morning the sergeant (Sergeant Clacker was his name), told us that Captain X— was in charge of the penitentiary. (I do not wish to give pain to anybody, and therefore I will not give this man’s name, but he was from the 20th New York State Militia, a native of New York, and prior to the War a char-coal dealer.) I do not know how long he had been in charge, but the information conveyed to my mind was that Captain X— was not friendly.

For twenty-five years after the War, and till about ten years before my father’s death, I never heard him speak of that man without saying, “I shall kill him if I ever see him”; and X— was the only human being that I ever knew my father to bear malice against for an hour’s time. In speaking of others in authority over him, if he were telling a tale or relating an incident, and some auditor might perhaps say, “Why, that was harsh treat­ment,” or “That was cruel,” or something to that effect, my father would invariably have some reason or excuse to offer in- palliation. But for X— he had nothing but hate (it seemed maddening hate) and, as I have said, this never ceased till about ten years before my father’s death; and then, in talking, he would simply call his name.

We continued to make the trips to the peni­tentiary, and the cool crisp fall was beginning to turn to winter, and the bite of the cold was rather sharp, we being not any too warmly clad.

Ofttimes there would be days that we would not see the sergeant, but he had told us, “If anything happens you shall know it,” and we were ‘fairly contented. Very many times I had seen the commandant, but he had never deigned to notice or to speak to us. One morning while we were sitting in the buggy, he came to my mother and said: “Well, madam, I suppose you have come to see about your husband. He was hanged this morning, and that should have been done long ago.” My mother did not shriek nor faint, but turned as white as chalk, and calmly asked: “Can I have his body?” “No, madam,” he replied, “that deserves to rot as he caused others to rot.”

We returned to our home, and informed some friends that we passed on the way of what we had heard, and received their warm condolences and sympathy. When we were at home Mr. Marmaduke Johnson, the great attorney of Richmond, came and told my mother that he would make efforts-to obtain my father’s body, and the next day he quietly and considerately broke the news to my mother that my father was alive and well, and that it was all a mistake, or rather a wanton and base piece of cruelty, on the part of the commandant.

The next morning the sun was hardly up before we were on our way to the prison, and I felt when I saw the great big brick building rise into view that I was looking at the face of a friend, for it still held my living father. I do not know that we saw Sergeant Clacker that morning, but perhaps we did; at any rate, we saw him soon afterward, and he had nothing to say about the commandant, but told my mother that he would keep her informed, and not to worry; but that he could not be seen talking to her any more. Without going fur­ther, and dwelling upon this recollection, still harrowing to me, any more, I will say that the commandant repeated his dastardly deed a second and third time, and each time it might perhaps have been as painful as the first, but that in some way Sergeant Clacker always managed to be about; and I can see now the smiling face of that good man with his blueish-red wooden nose, standing back and making some kind of sign that all was well.

After a while we found out that Sergeant Clacker was in trouble. It seems that there were a great many visitors from one part of the country and another, coming every day to see “The Libby Lion,” as my father was called, and that he was ill with typhoid fever about that time, and orders had been issued that none were to see him. One day a lady came and asked to see “The Libby Lion,” and Sergeant Clacker informed her that she could not, and she replied that she would see him, as she was the wife of Governor or General So-and-So, to which he, being harrowed and incensed by certain things, replied: “Madam, if you are the wife of the Almighty, you cannot see him.” I expect he received a serious repri­mand, for when I again saw him he would only give me a half-friendly nod, but that was enough to tell me that all was well.

By this time I had become so familiar with the outside surroundings that it was my usual practice to wander round the front of the building, and I would often stand and look through the gates. It seems to me that I knew every column, every tier, every brick, to the left hand of the penitentiary looking in (for I knew my father was on that side). It was invariably-the custom of my mother to sit in the buggy. Sometimes we would remain longer or shorter periods,—sometimes for hours,—but she never left unless she had some informa­tion, or saw it was useless to wait any longer.

One morning I went and stood at the gates of the penitentiary, and then, as they were open just a little bit, I went in and walked to about the middle of the court of the enclosure, looking intently all the time for my father. I saw men walking about in front of the first row of cells; and some cell doors were open, and some shut, and I wondered if my father was in one of those that had the door shut. The first tier of cells was several feet from the ground, and, I think, had a railing around the outer edge. I saw an old gray-headed man who was having something done to his hair, but I paid little attention to him, and walked past. I reckon I must have been fifty feet from him, when all of a sudden I saw the bar­ber pushed away, and that old, bent, pale, emaciated, gray-haired skeleton of a man exclaimed, “My boy!” While I could not recognize the wreck before me as my father, yet I knew the voice, and I ran out of the enclo­sure at the top of my speed to my mother, screaming “I have seen my father! I have seen my father!” Sergeant Clacker was out-side and saw it all, and either went to blow his nose or do something with it; anyway, it came off, and he was holding it in his hand as he said: “Yes, madam, and by God you shall see him, too.” With that he marched us in, and we saw and touched what was left of my father.

That was the last time I ever saw Sergeant Clacker, but if he is on the face of the earth, or has left kith or kin, then he, or they, if need be, can share and share alike with me and mine.

We were guided in a very triumphant and defiant manner (as it seemed to me) to my father’s cell, which was a long narrow room with a brick floor, and the bricks in the centre of the floor, the long way, were worn away. There was one iron bed without a mattress, and a stool, and the cell was bare and cold. We found him lying on the bed, and my mother spread her arms about him, and just kissed him and rubbed his face. I would not touch him, and had to be forced by my mother to come to him.

I heard him tell her of so many sorrows, of so much suffering. I heard him tell her that one day there was some work going on in the yard in front of his cell, and that he looked over the bars at the top of the door, and saw a tall post being set in the ground, and the knocking and hammering began to worry and disturb him very much, and the more they knocked and the more they hammered, the more disturbed he became. He asked the commandant late in the evening what was being built, and he told him it was his gallows, from which he was to be hanged next morning at daylight. He told her of the agony of that night, how he implored the guards to take a farewell message to her; and how, when the hammering began again next morning, he found out that after all they were only building pigeon boxes. He told her of the coarse food he had to eat, of the stinging bitter cold and how he suffered from it, and how he walked hour after hour back and forth, up and down the cell, with his feet shackled together. “That,” he said, “is what wore the bricks away “

I found at the back of the bed, on the left hand side of the room, a little piece of paper stuffed in the wall, and nearly the same color. I started to pull it out, but he saw and stopped me; and then he told my mother that there was a hole drilled through the wall, and that it had been done with a pen. There was in the next cell a murderer by the name of Shields, and Shields had drilled a hole through his other wall to the next cell, where was an Englishman named Pole, a military prisoner like my father; and they had some plan of escape; but Shields had said he would kill a certain man (his accomplice, who had turned “State’s evidence”) and so they had to give up the plan on that account.

He told of being ill, and how a blacksmith had to come and cut off the shackles from his ankles, and how he was getting worse all the time till a Polish doctor came—a kind man who had been ever so long in prison in his own country—and he had the shackles taken off, and my father removed to the hospital upstairs. He told also about the commandant coming and asking how he felt, to which my father replied, “I feel like I am in heaven,” and the commandant said, “When you should be in hell!” and “This is too good for you,” and had him reconveyed to his cell. My mother said nothing, but just knelt at his bedside with her arms about him.

It has often been said that my father’s hair turned white in one night’s time, and when he died, and his obituary was published in over seventy papers scattered about the country, this statement was made in forty-eight of them; but it is a mistake. It was about the third week of his illness with typhoid fever that it began to turn gray, and in a week’s time it was as white as it was on the day of his death, and that seemed to me as white as snow.

I do not remember any more about my father being at the penitentiary. Very shortly after our visit the commandant was super­seded, perhaps by Lieutenant R. C. Hoysratt, 20th New York Militia.

Orders were issued to reconvey my father to the Libby, and he was carried there in an ambulance escorted by six guards. He was placed in a cell fronting on Cary Street, and in the large room upstairs. I recall seeing him but once while he was at the Libby. He had very kind treatment, and permission was given my mother to see him either once a week or once a month.

Captain Dick Winder, who was in the peni­tentiary as a military prisoner, had a message conveyed to my father to get him (Captain Winder) a gallon of French brandy. Now I reckon that French brandy in those days was about as scarce as radium is in this day; any-way, there was a great scuffling, and the brandy was bought (it cost four hundred dollars) and was sent to Captain Winder. He had the lib­erty of the prison, and would sometimes sit in the office in the evening and talk with those on duty at the time. There was a special officer whom Captain Winder had in mind, and one evening he invited this man to have a drink of brandy, and diligently set to work to get him drunk. At the opportune moment, Captain Winder asked him what was going to be done with Turner, and the officer replied, “Why, hang him, of course!” Captain Winder said: “On what grounds?” and the officer said: “In that safe are enough charges against him to hang a dozen men.” As a very special favor he offered to show him one or two. Captain Winder continued to ply him with brandy, and very soon had his man under the table. Then he opened the safe, took every charge out, and burned them up in the stove. These charges, it seems, were of all sorts and kinds—charges of cruelty, starvation, and pretty nearly every-thing one could think of, furnished by anybody and everybody; but the Governor of Ohio, who had been a prisoner in the Libby, notified Mr. Johnson that when my father’s trial took place he (the Governor) would come and testify in favor of him, as many others did, also. After this Captain Winder sent word to my father to demand a trial at once, and the great Mr. Johnson put the legal wheels in motion, and my father was released upon his parole the 18th day of June, 1866, fourteen months or more after Lee’s surrender.

This story of the burning of the charges was told to me in a very graphic manner by Cap­tain Winder himself (then the head of the Dental College in Baltimore) when I was about twenty-five years old.

After my father’s release from prison he gloried in his freedom; but how he never seemed to get enough of the air, the open air, how he carried his love of freedom to excess is another story. He loved the South and suf­fered much for the cause he loved so well.

He is resting to-day on the green hillside of a beautiful cemetery near the town of Smithfield, Virginia, where the waters of the winding creek flow by at his feet, and the southern sun shines all day long upon his grave. Beside him lies his beloved wife, and, thank God, they are at rest.


 

1 Erastus Ross, adjutant of Libby Prison

Page last updated on 02/12/2008