The Libby Chronicle, 9/25/1863

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The Libby Chronicle

Devoted to Facts and Fun.


VOL. I.           LIBBY PRISON, RICHMOND, VA., SEPTEMBER 25, 1863.    NO. 6.


Revival. The preaching services on Sunday and the union prayer meetings every evening are more largely attended than ever, a growing interest being thereby evidenced. A revival in Libby is certainly one of the bright signs of the times. At any rate, the “spirits in prison” Have the gospel preached unto them, and many of them are thereby made to rejoice.

General Dow.  Major Henry’s lectures on “Mesmerism,” and the Hon. Neal Dow’s lectures on Temperance are attracting deserved attention.

Hucksters.  The huckstering propensities of some of our officers are receiving strong rebukes from some of our correspondents, who, perhaps, look upon this question only in one of its aspects. But if the spirit or motive of the hucksters is all wrong, certainly their traffic confers great relief to those of the Libby family, who can afford to purchase their articles of food. The modus operandi of our trafickers may not be known at all, so we give it. One of them forms an acquaintance with a Rebel guard outside. This guard takes Confederate money or “graybacks,” ties a stone inside the parcel, then tosses it to his Yankee acquaintance. The Yankee ties the same stone in a parcel of greenbacks, at the rate of one dollar of the former for five, six, or even eight of the former, as agreed between them, and tosses it back. This Yankee becomes a walking exchange office in Libby. All purchases in Richmond have to be made with Confederate currency.

Tonsorial.  Adjt. Lombard, respectfully informs the inhabitants of Libby, that he has opened a new tonsorial shop on Main street, four doors west of Sanderson’s eating saloon. Thankful for past favors, he solicits the patronage of the public.

Attorney and Counselor-at-law.  Major Rogers would announce to the public, that he has retired from active military life, and resumed the more important business of the bar. He may be found on Egan street, one door south of Ryan, Litchfield & Co.’s soap manufactory. All business promptly attended to.

Important Appointment.  We are happy to learn that Hon. John Halderman has been appointed prosecuting attorney for the commonwealth of Libby.

Medical  Dr. Uhler, physician and surgeon, after a long and successful practice in the armies of the United States, has returned to Libby, and located opposite Mitchell’s gymnasium.

Recovering.  We are informed that the Hon. Judge Willits is rapidly recovering from his dangerous illness, supposed to have been caused by bathing at a late hour of night, or by too much fatigue in performing the heavy task of presiding in the mock trial. He will be able to resume his duties in a few days.

Phonography.  We have received the following letters which illustrate the progress made in our phonographic classes. The two letters are written in short-hand and are good samples of what many of our pupils can do.

“Libby Prison.  Dear Comrade, - This is a fine day and a rather good time for small mess parties. Some of these messes report that they have too much meat on hand. But what meat! Is it not a burning shame for the Rebel authorities to furnish such food? May Heaven hasten the collapse of the Confederacy, and bring us into a land of plenty. So mote it be.” Pennington.

“Libby. Chaplain Beaudry, - Please find enclosed a little Confederate currency in part payment for valuable instruction in phonography received at your hands. I have no doubt that amid the gloomy associations of Libby, I will always remember with pleasure our phonographic lessons. If we are obliged to stay long enough to make further progress, it may be of great use to me. Truly yours, D. T. Kelly.”

Things not common.  1. A tooth from the mouth of the James river.  2. A hair from the head of ignis-fatuus, or Jack-with-a-lantern.  3. A hornet’s nest hung in the branches of education.  4. Conscience in a Rebel home guard.  5. A wise bachelor.  6. Summer in the state of celibacy.  7. A childless vermin in Libby.

Yankee questions.  1. When you close the shutters and door of a room, what becomes of the sun-light that was in it before?  What great American statesman, when asked what had been the greatest thought of his life, replied, “my individual responsibility to God?”  3. Who invented the multiplication table? The same curious fellow asks, “Who is the homeliest or ugliest man in Libby? and who is the most idle?” He offers a reward for true answers.



No. 6.

Amid hopes and fears, sorrows and joys, amid scenes of strife and toil, the day wears away. We have “skirmished,” cut bones, studied books, recited lessons, preached, and, we trust, practiced, heard numberless and contradictory rumors about exchange, witnessed new arrivals of “fresh fish,” swept our rooms, cooked and eaten our scanty allowances, formed new and lasting acquaintances, and the twilight at length with its mellow haze settles down around us and hides the weary day. Many a heart surcharged with burdens of sorrow and distress seeks something upon which to cast itself, and everyone naturally cries out, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” It is the true hour of prayer, and Libby becomes a sanctuary of worship. It is now that the weightier thoughts which lay deepest during the day rise to the surface, and become ruling forces. It is now tht the ruder passions hide themselves, or at least keep silent, (so it is in the case of the true Christian), while the sentiments claim control. It is now that the better angels of our natures fold us in their wings. It is now that memory with her busy hands gathers the richest fruits of by-gone days. Now imagination paints the loveliest pictures of the friends we cherish, though far away.

Under these circumstances most of the prisoners gladly welcome the call to evening prayers, to our vesper service. And what a moral in the scene! Man who never met before, of every shade of creeds, political and religious, seem moved by one common impulse, one common desire to worship God.

They gather in a circle, a familiar hymn is sung and we kneel in prayer. How appropriate to make these old, dingy walls echo with the strains of sacred songs! Would they might repeat the story to their cruel owners! It is well for us, that we can join in an exercise which has often claimed the troubled heart; sent joy to the disconsolate; inspired the reformer in his noble work; nerved the warrior in his dangerous path, and crowned the dying Christian with victory. Humility is felt as sins and shortcomings are confessed. Hope spreads her wings, and moral vigor is imparted to faith, as precious promises are pleaded. Patriotism kindles bright fires upon her altars as dear country becomes the burden of petition. Hearts glow with enthusiasm as the fervent prayer “Our Father” arises for our release from this cruel confinement, which is daily becoming more and more oppressive.

The well-known doxology is sung, or the oft-repeated prayer of childhood, “and now I lay me down to sleep,” rendered to the tune of Hebron, and the worshipers disperse with “strength renewed” and joys “divinely sweetened.” Darkness now enshrouds the landscape around Libby, and like caged birds we sit as near as the barred windows as possible and gaze upon the stars in the distance. Under somewhat similar circumstances, no doubt, the poet traced with a piece of charcoal upon the walls of a house occupied for hospital at the battle of Chantilly, the following touching lines:

“I am far from my home to-night,
            No cherished friend I see,
Though all the stars in heaven are bright,
            They are not as bright to me
As once they seemed in days gone by,
            Before I learned to roam,
Bespangling all the valley o’er,
            Above my distant home.

“My Flag and Country bade me go
            And I will not repine,
In all my wanderings to and fro,
            Whatever lot be mine;
For still, purchance, the day may come
            When no more shall I roam,
When those who sigh that now I’m gone
            Will bid me welcome home.”

As we thus sit at a safe distance from the window to avoid the sentry’s notice, and gaze at the distant stars, we can but reflect upon the purity of the Architect of the universe, whose “all-seeing eye the sun, moon and stars obey, and under whose watchful care even the comets perform their stupendous revolutions,” and yet who condescends to dwell in the heart of the lowly and contrite, even among the wretched creatures who inhabit this dingy prison. How true is the poet’s rhyme which we never understood so well as now:

“While blest with a sense of His love,
            A palace a toy would appear;
And prisons would palaces prove,
            If Jesus would dwell with me there.”


While thus musing we are accosted by a fellow prisoner, who has recently been converted to God in our evening meetings, one of a goodly number who have “passed from death into life,” and found this dungeon a Bethel to their souls. What a privilege to witness in such a place as this a work of true reformation!

Taking this young disciple by the arm we will saunter through the different wards or rooms of the prison for exercise, conversation and observation. A few flickering candles, bought by the prisoners, light our way. Objects of interest meet us on every hand. Here are the noisy and the quiet, the studious and the careless, the sad and the comparatively happy. We are led to exclaim, “How mysteriously are the lights and shades, the joys and sorrows, the good and bad, of this world mingled in one great mass!” Already at this early hour of the night lies a man upon the dirty floor for a bed, with, perhaps, a poor vermin-covered blanket under him. At his side are those who sing loudly or whistle to keep their courage up, or for amusement. Yonder is a group, like soldiers around a bivouac fire, engaged in conversation. Here an individual is striving to study by the pale light of a distant candle.

At length we are attracted to a noisy group, whose singular employment is subject of some query. Their attention seems wholly given to a pack of little paper billets, strangely figured outside and inside. Suddenly one of the party picks up the bunch of billets, shakes or shuffles them thoroughly, then deals them out to his comrades. We watch and listen. We hear one speak of “hearts.” We begin to think that these men have hearts after all that has been said against them. “Diamonds” shouts another. We draw nearer. Men with true hearts who deal in true diamonds ought not to be dangerous. We are becoming favorably impressed. But suddenly one shouts, “high, low!” and still another, “Jack and the game!” We are astonished and startled. What strange words! What do they mean? Do they mean? Do they mean high and low thoughts? Who is this “Jack,” and what is this “game?” We cannot understand this jargon. Suspicion seizes upon us. We fear these fellows are “jacks” at all “games” making use of “low” more than “high” principles to carry out their designs. As we soliloquize upon the scene, one of the parties cries out “clubs!” Our suspicions are not groundless. These men who profess to have hearts and to appreciate the beauty of diamonds, carry wit them clubs, doubtless to assassinate strangers or one anothers. Trembling with fear we start to leave, when the party cries out for “spades.” We are correct. These men are professional murderers. They have clubs to slay their victims, spades to dig their graves, and what else we do not know. We fly in terror from the scene and advice all well-meaning persons to do the same. As we fly, one calls for “trumps.” Poor fools! if they think that they can kill one another, and then Gabriel-like call one another to life again with their trumps. The men must be crazy or very childish, and their conduct, it seems to us, can be justified only on the ground that, especially in Libby,

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



Let us fancy ourselves at night around a bivouac fire among the sighing and soughing pines of Virginia. The few trees that remain as shelters are lighted up into grand chandeliers which reflect upon us a weird light of green and gold. Such a scene would furnish the pen of the romancist and the pencil of the artist their most pleasing designs. Our stacked arms or burnished sabres gleam far out into the darkness to where the sentinel paces his lonely beat.

Here the ludicrous and the romantic mingle confusedly. Perhaps mud is knee-deep to within a few feet of the fire, compelling us to stand so near the burning pile as at times to set our clothes aflame. If the weather is cold we freeze one side of us while the other burns, unless we frequently perform that somewhat unpleasant military feat of “changing our base of operations.” If the wind blows fiercely, making his fantastic gyrations among us, so that you never “know whence he cometh and whither he goeth,” you may be sure of getting your face horribly smoked or scorched betimes.

Around these fires gather the comrades of many a march and battle to discuss the experiences of the past, to applaud or censure certain men and measures, to lay plans and to entertain rumors with regard to future operations.

As several of us were sitting by such a fire one night and all on one side a comrade rode up astraddle a mule on the other side. He spurred the animal almost into the flame, so that the hair about his face was scorched. The mule made a fearful grimace and tossed his head most comically sidewise. It was as ludicrous a scene as one would ever witness.

Long will live in the memory of the soldier the scenes and yarns of the bivouac.



‘Twas night; and Rebel Libby, wrapped in sleep,
Was hushed to quiet, weird, sublime and deep.
Along the floor the moon’s pale, flickering beam,
Athwart each visage, shot with fitful gleam,
As if in pity she did not stoop to bless
And cheer each prisoner with a fond caress.

And what a sight that moon-lit floor displays!
In each pale face upturned to meet her rays
She shines resplendent, and paints in colors bright,
A cheerful soul within, content and light;
Yet through its workings, now in fit and start,
Reveals the sorrows of an anguished heart.

From scene like this we turn our weary head
To court unwilling Sleep to bless our bed -
When, hark! upon the stillness harshly breaks
A sound, which, to the base, old Libby shakes,
Like to the war of billows, tempest clad,
That beat old Ocean’s shore in foment mad,

Or cannon’s thunders loud, when heard afar.,
In battle’s dreadful strife, “grim-visaged war.”
It nearer, louder comes. “What can it be?”
Each wakened dreamer cries and starts to see.
And what a sight meets his astonished gaze
By light of moon and candle’s flickering blaze!

The vandal Yankees in “irruption” bold,
In numbers seventy and one all told
Are in a horde dark Libby’s cells invading,
And ‘long its files with stealthy tread are raiding.
Their guide a contraband; deceitful black
To thus direct the cunning Yankees’ track.

Surprised, awakened by the incoming foe,
The inmates rise to strike a mortal blow.
Aloft they rise in majesty so grand,
These dreamers, this incarcerated band.
With mingled cries of joy, of fear and rage,
They quickly haste the coming fight to wage;

When, lo! above the din cries out a wag,
“’Tis not the vandals, only Braxton Bragg,
Who comes to reinforce this garrison
With gobbled troops of Teuton Rosy’s men.”



Over the entrance to one of the Athenian temples of learning this motto was written in golden letters. The ancients made a great mistake, when in obedience to religious dictation they dedicated another temple To the Unknown God. In worldly wisdom no teacher or philosopher of any age has uttered a precept more important than “Know thyself.” It is in perfect harmony with the voice of God and the exalted destiny of man. Over all the magnificent temples of Nature whose beauty and grandeur invite man to enter that he may commune with God and with his own heart, this important precept is written.

But this ancient precept, in our day, seems to be quite disregarded. We now seem to hear “Know everything but thyself.” Our pupils are led by enthusiastic instructors to the remotest bounds of creation. Our astronomers take them to the communities of heavenly bodies, to scan them in their ethereal flight, to study their magnitudes, their distances and motions. Returning thence they descend with the geologist into the bowels of the earth to discover its formations, its changes and ages. With the historian they visit the distant past. The geographer leads them to distant parts of the globe. Returning at last to their starting point, what do we find? A man of great information, possessed of precious knowledge, for all knowledge is power, but a man who knows everybody but himself. He has seen figures resembling himself, it is true, but what he is himself he does not know.

He has penetrated the heights and depths of the universe, but his own system is left unexplored. He has studied the pulsations of heat in the sun, but the throbs of his own heart are a mystery. He returns burdened with the languages of many nations, yet when his own soul speaks he cannot interpret its utterances. He is familiar with the frame-work of creation, his own frame he has not studied. Thousands wonder at creation about them and never realize the wonders in themselves, that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. Science teaches that man is a microcosm, a little universe in himself, and yet how many live and die, in a world full of instruction, almost totally ignorant of themselves. Unlike Columbus they are content to live in the midst of undiscovered worlds that sleep at their door. They die in comparative barrenness, though they contain germs or rarest worth and beauty.

How many have doubtless lived and passed away in silent obscurity, who might have blessed the world with skill and goodness. Sad is the record which relates the end of a life only partially developed! Who but feels regret that the great discoverer of America should have died without knowing his grandest of exploits; that he had given to mankind a new world. But much more sad is the record of that man who never knew himself; never knew the glory and possibilities of his own nature; never knew the full extent of enjoyment and usefulness which were his in the higher regions of human conduct. Contented with mental and moral poverty, he lost himself in the cloudy vales of useless existence. The world is full of little, undeveloped giants, of unknown Napoleons, Washingtons, Websters and Bunyans. Let us then remember that

“While we still presume the work of God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is man.”

Capt. S. G. Hamlin.



The last Fourth was a red-letter day for the American people. Loyalty to the Union flag was at high tide, and patriotism kindled bright fire upon her altars. This was notably the case at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Libby Prison. If I put Libby Prison last it is not because the prisoners confined in this Bastile of the South displayed any less devotion to the Union than any of their comrades in the grand army of the red, white and blue.

Many a poet and orator has celebrated the virtues of the soldier who first mounted a rampart, or first entered the enemy’s lines, or led a forlorn hope; let me tell of the heroism of those who have been called to endure the ordeal of capture, and who are dragging out a miserable existence in prison pens, choosing rather to starve to death before they will listen to the overtures of treason. These are the men who can appreciate the spirit of loyalty to their country’s flag, for they themselves exhibit it.

Let us see how the Union was honored in this wretched prison on the Fourth of July, 1863. As the day approached it was felt the occasion must not be allowed to pass without some kind of demonstration. Committees were appointed to arrange a programme and select the personae dramatis. As perfectly as possible the Declaration of Independence was to be recited. Orators were to expatiate on the history and memories of the day. Chaplain McCabe was charged with the responsibility of the musical entertainment. Thus far the work of the committees was quite simple and satisfactory.

The great thing wanting, however, was a suitable stand of colors. “How can a genuine Union flag be procured?” was on the lips of all. There were Union flags, captured in battle, in the Rebel office below. Could not one of these be obtained? If love failed, might not money secure one? But where was the money? All suggestions and plans seemed abortive. At length a happy thought occurred: “Let us make our own flag?” But how was the bunting or other material to be obtained? Let the inventive Yankee prisoner plan this campaign. He starts out with the adage, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” During a careful search or inventory one of these Yankees exclaimed: “Take the flap of my nether garment.” No sooner said than done. It was the dernier resort. Threads drawn from the same stuff supplied the sewing. If more nimble fingers ever manufactured a flag, certain are we that no more loyal hearts ever guided the operation. Material, such as it was, was contributed for stars and stripes, and the work went briskly forward.

The glorious day cam but too tardily. No jubilant boom of cannon nor other demonstration of joy in and about Richmond ushered its dawn. In the midst of the awful stillness, this Sahara of Rebeldom, the only oasis of loyalty to freedom was Libby Prison. Here “the day we celebrate” received merited attention. The arrangements for the occasion were duly prepared. At the proper time and in the presence of a crowd nearly frantic with excitement the newly-finished flag was hoisted into position amid “salvos” of manly voices. The enthusiasm knew no bounds. The cheers and “tigers,” somewhat suppressed at first, soon broke out into thunderous applause. Men wept and laughed and stamped and clapped and shouted. These old walls trembled, and for a while, like those of ancient Jericho, seemed ready to fall.

Surely no other flag ever had so unique a history. But the loyal demonstration was, perhaps, a little too boisterous. If not the head, at least the tail, of the “copperhead” treason had been stepped up. Just as Chaplain Eberhart was about to open proceedings with a prayer, Dick Turner, accompanied with a guard, strutted into the audience. The exercises were interrupted. Dick seemed to be stupefied at the sight. Could he believe his own eyes? Was he indeed standing in the presence of a Union flag which, in the Rebel capital, floated triumphantly, defiantly, in the very face of Rebeldom? Had there been a spark of manhood left in him, he would have turned back in shame to hide, at least for the rest of the day, his rebellious head. But no! With fierce and blasphemous words he shouted, “Who put that thing up there? Take it down at once!” Silence prevailed. The order was repeated with more oaths and threats. These were met with remonstrance. It was claimed that such a celebration was a right of prisoners of war at least in a civilized country.

By this time Dick was furious. He commanded his orderly to tear down the flag. As the flag had been fastened to a high beam under the roof, the taking down was attended with some difficulty. At last the arrant Rebel held in his sacrilegious hands the sacred emblem of a great nation’s pride. Thus the craven coward added another trophy to the shame of the Rebellion. But he could not wrench from the hearts of these undaunted men what to them was a priceless boon, love to God and Country. Tell me now if these prisoners have not in them the stuff of which heroes are made?




We would call the attention of the readers (hearers) of THE CHRONICLE to the huckstering propensities of several officers in our midst. An officer in the Union army is supposed to be – if the contrary is not proven – a gentleman. These terms should be synonymous. He is allowed pay sufficient to support him in the dignity of his office. He should not stoop, therefore, to petty meannesses or paltry traffic. That the fare supplied by the Rebel authorities, scant as it is, should be a reason for stooping to peddling peanuts, apples, peaches crackers, etc., is to us most astounding. Many of the officers, like the author of these lines, are able to sustain life upon the prison diet. But this huckstering seems to be a mania – an over-mastering love for the almighty dollar. It has so far possessed some of our number, that one officer (?) who had money concealed on his person when he came in Libby, was here only three days when he had sold out, one at a time, two barrels of apples, and how much more I cannot tell. It may be natural for these officers to engage in this kind of occupation. If so, we hope our government will give them a speedy opportunity of attending to it exclusively. The blameworthiness is surpassed only by that officer who has shaved an indignant negro off the track, a negro who until that officer took up the razor in that hand that must have been powerful in wielding a sword! had picked up a few pennies by his labor.

Yours truly,

P. S. – “Oh, that some power the gift would gi’e us
            To see ourselves as others see us.”



[1] This poem was written on the occasion of the arrival into Libby of the officers captured at the battle of Chickamauga.

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