From the National Tribune, 1/1/1891, page 4
The Great Sugar Raid by Union Prisoners.
EDITOR NATIONAL TRIBUNE: The prisoners of war who were in
Richmond in the Fall of 1863, ad were in the Pemberton and Crews Buildings, have
good reason to remember some of the extraordinary experience of that time. Most
of them had been captured at Chickamauga, and had, after a week or ten days’
journey, arrived at Richmond about Oct. 1. They were a wild set of men, and
while going to the prison house were quite noisy. A Richmond paper said that
they were a fine set of men, and that they feared no orders.
After a short stay in the first prison house they were
finally taken to a three-story brick building situated on a northwest corner,
with a front of about 50 feet and length of about 100 feet, which was divided in
the center by a brick wall from cellar to roof into two buildings. “The east
one was called Crews Building, or Little Libby; the west one Pemberton Building.
Both together holding about 1600 prisoners.
A small vacant lot was on the opposite corner to the south,
while on west side of the vacant lot was Libby Prison, with its front extending
to the next street corner west. At this corner, the northwest corner of the
prison, was located the prison office, with a sign over the door, “Libby &
Son, Ship Chandlers and Grocers.”
On the first Sunday in Richmond a Chaplain, it is said, of
the 5th N. Y. Cav., was permitted to come over from Libby Prison to
preach in the Crews Building. His text was “Come unto me all ye that labor and
are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” His sermon was quite interesting
We had not long been prisoners before we began to get
acquainted amongst ourselves, and to know more about the building and its
mysterious apartments; and the prisoners who were first to know about those
apartments were our neighbors on the west side, in the Pemberton Building, who,
in their search and explorations by means of a board taken up from the floor,
got down into the cellar and found salt. Ass the prison rations were too fresh,
salt was a good discovery and an improvement to the rations, and was soon in
great demand. The Pemberton prisoners soon supplied themselves, and had some to
trade to their neighbors of the Crews Building by the spoonful, through a
It was now a question what was in the cellar of the Crews
Building. It was soon decided by two comrades who were located along the side of
a row of tobacco presses, about 20 feet south of the northwest corner of the
first floor. Close to or nearly under one of the presses they cut or sawed a
hole though the floor, and with a half shelter-tent climbed down into the cellar
and found bran and sugar. Sugar was a better discovery than salt, but a
discovery of so much importance could not be kept secret for more than one day.
Of course, when it was known that sugar was found a large crowd soon congregated
for the purpose of getting a supply, and in order that all should have an equal
chance, an arrangement was made that a certain number of men every night should
go down into the cellar, and the sugar they got should be rationed out, the
ration being a pint a day to every man in the building.
This arrangement lasted about a week, during which the east
side of the building prisoners had their sugar, and the west-side prisoners had
their salt. Some who had sugar began to trade sugar for salt by the spoonfull
through the nailed doorway. But this trading was destined not to last long, for
some of the Pemberton prisoners took it into their heads that they would have an
equal chance at the sugar, and therefore concluded to dig through the wall
between the two cellars. They accomplished their purpose. It was on the night of
Oct. 22, 1863, about six or seven days after the first discovery of the sugar.
It was their first and last chance at the sugar, for the sugar raid then played
out. Either too much noise had been made, or the owners of the sugar were
suspicious that it was not safe in a cellar under so many Yankee prisoners.
Whether on account of any noise or suspicions about its safety, or for no
earthly reason, some one happened to come into the cellar on the morning of Oct.
23, and made the discovery that a considerable quantity of the sugar and salt
was missing and that it had probably been taken by the Yankee prisoners.
On account of the hole in the wall it was supposed that the
prisoners of the Pemberton Building, the salt raiders, had taken all the sugar
and salt, and therefore, as a punishment, the Pemberton prisoners had their
rations cut off for one day while the prisoners of the Crews Building, the ones
most guilty, escaped without punishment.
The sugar and salt was immediately remover, and it is
presumed was taken to some place where it would be safe. If the loss had not
been discovered it is a question how long a time the balance of the sugar would
have lasted. About 40 or 50 hogsheads of sugar were removed, and how much that
was not taken out, but was consumed by the prisoners, can be learned by the
following official account concerning the great sugar raid, which was published
in the Richmond Examiner in the latter part of October, 1863:
“TOO GOOD TO
“Certain officials in this city, who have charge of the
Yankee prisoners, have recently been made the victims of a practical joke which
would be irresistably funny but for the fact that the laugh is on the wrong side
of Cousin Sally Ann’s mouth, and too expensive by half. It appears that a
number of Yankee prisoners confined in a warehouse, in which is stored a large
quantity of sugar, recently took it into their heads to illustrate the
well-known fondness of their race for sweet things by disposing of 8,089 pounds
of the sacharine compound for their individual and collective gratification. It
is reported that the aforesaid officials are abundantly satisfied with the
gastronomic experiment, and will be prepared to furnish in their report of the
same some very valuable statistics for those interested in the science of animal
This was copied in Castle Crews, or Crews Building, Oct.
30, 1863. I don’t know whether Oct. 30 was the date of the paper or date of
the time it was copied. It was copied from a paper loaned by a fellow prisoner,
and as the paper was several days old it is possible it was the date of the day
it was copied. This is the second account, so far as the writer knows,
concerning the sugar raid. The other account did not have a copy of what was
published in the Richmond paper.
Would like to hear from some other comrades on the same
subject. C. T. and F., 84th Ill., La Grange, Mo.
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