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Harper's Weekly 10/17/1863


We reproduce on pages 668 and 669 several
drawings by Captain Wrigley, of the Topograph-
ical Engineers, illustrating the Libey Prison AT
Richmond, and the Place of Confinement
for Union Troops AT Belle Isle
. Captain
Wrigley was several months in the Libey Prison,
and had ample leisure to make drawings and ob-
servations. He also sends us (and we publish on
the same pages) portraits of Captains Sawyer and
Flynn, the two officers who were selected by Jeff
Davis to be murdered in retaliation for the execu-
tion by General Burnside of two rebel spies. The
despot of the Slave Confederacy has not yet carried
his threat into execution; but the sentence of death
still hangs over the two officers, and must be hard
to bear. Captain Wrigley has written us the fol-
lowing account of his observations:

“The military prison at Richmond, Virginia, is
situated on the corner of Twentieth and Cary
streets, directly on the canal and James River.
A fine view of the river, its beautiful islands, and
the distant hills is obtained from the south and
west windows. The tents on Belle Isle, where our
soldiers are kept, just peer above the long railroad
bridge leading to Petersburg. This bridge is near-
ly half a mile in length, and built of timber on
stone piers. Two and four hundred yards this side
are two other bridges, one for the Danville Road,
the other for foot travel. Below them the river
eddies furiously between huge rocks and hundreds
of beatiful little islands, covered in every availa-
ble inch with trees, bushes, small flowers, and ver-
dure of all kinds. Just at the bend of the river,
about a mile below the prison, is that part of Rich-
mond known as the `Rocketts'—formerly a village
of that name, but now connected with the city
by straggling tobacco factories, warehouses of all
kinds, and tenements usually found in the suburbs.

“Richmond lies, as it were, in an amphitheatre
of hills, facing the river, on whose bank is the pris-
on, and from which a fine view of the town is ob-
tained from the north and west windows. Far up
on the hill stands the Confederate capitol—a plain,
unpretending building, very similar to the ordina-
ry American church, as seen in its full glory in
some of our country villages. Comparatively few
people are seen in the streets, an able-bodied man
without a uniform being a rara avis of the first
class; and the few ladies who walk out appear to
be living, as it were, backwards on the finery and
fashion of other days.

“The name Libey, generally spelled `Libby,'
which is applied to the military prison, is derived
from the proprietors, Messrs. Libey & Son, ship-
chandlers and grocers, who formerly carried on
there an extensive business. It is really a row of
three buildings, three stories high, and having each
one room on a floor, each room being 105 feet in
length and 45 feet wide, making nine rooms in all
—three in each story. On the first floor, the west
room contains the quarters of the Confederate offi-
cers and the offices connected with the place. It
is in this room that the prisoner first enters; and
from it he is ushered to his future dreary abode.
The east rooms of the first and second floors form
the hospital of the building; the three upper rooms,
together with the west room of the second story,
communicate and form the officers'quarters; the
two remaining ones are used to receive temporari-
ly, for the night, small squads of captured prison-
ers, previous to sending them over to Belle Isle.
All these apartments have bare, unplastered, white-
washed beams and walls.


“Two of the four rooms allotted to them are
partly used as kitchens—a portion of the room be-
ing partitioned off, and large cooking stoves, of a
huge, square pattern, set up in them. The cook-
ing is all done by the officers themselves; they
form messes of whoever may be aggreable to each
other, and take their proper turns in preparing the
meals. The tin plates and cups taken from our
captured soldiers are given to them in sufficient
quantity to allow two messes to eat at one time.
Many, however, purchase their own dishes, and
are more independent. Two bath-tubs are placed
in these rooms, and five faucets supply all the water
for bathing, cooking, and washing. The ration
allowed is eighteen ounces of bread and a quarter
of a pound of meat per day, together with a little
rice; vinegar and salt at intervals.

“Although a hearty man would not perish with
this amount of food, it is not sufficient—in point of
quantity, quality, or variety—to prevent a gradual
disorganization of the system, and consequent total
unfitness for duty.

“Most all of the officers have money with them,
and, if they desire, purchase in the markets,
through the Confederate steward, vegetables, fruit,
eggs, meat, and butter—all these commodities, nev-
erthless, being enormously high; this is compen-
sated for, however, by the value of gold and United
States notes, they being worth, respectively, 14 and
11 to 1 in Confederate money.

“A few bunks in the upper west room are occu-
pied by the first-comers of the prison, the remain-
der of the officers sleeping on the floor in their
blankets, only two of which are allowed to each
man. There are 18,900 superficial feet of floor in
all these rooms; deduct 2900 for kitchens, sinks,
mess-tables, etc., and it leaves but twenty-six su-
perficial feet per man. No outdoor exercise is al-
lowed. The place is infested with vermin of all
kinds, beyond all power to drive them off.

“Our officers, even in the face of these discour-
aging facts, keep up good heart; earnestly hoping,
however, for a speedy release. Classes in Spanish
and French, the study of the law, a debating-club,
and a weekly paper—The Libby Chronicle—take up
all spare moments, and the ability displayed by
many in these matters is truly gratifying; and if
the officers there are a fair sample of our army gen-
erally, we may well be proud of the effect of our
republication institutions.

“The hospital is the best conducted part of the
prison. It cotains 120 beds—each a straw pal-
liasse —and pillow, sheets, and comfortable, on a
wooden cot. The fare is a shade better. The sur-
geons (three in number) are really skillful men,
and do all in their power to alleviate the condition
of the sick in their charge. Stimulants of all kinds
are difficult to obtain, but are furnished by the
Confederates to the fullest extent of their capabili-
ty. They will not, however, allow our Sanitary
Commission to send any thing of the kind.

“Gold or Confederate money will alone be re-
ceived by the Commissioners and handed to the
prisoners; all boxes of clothing, or delicacies of
any kind, will also reach them in safety.

“The writer had the pleasure of a trip through
the Confederacy, from Jackson, Mississippi—where
he was captured some five months since—to Rich-
mond. If the people of the Northern States could
but know and appreciate the total exhaustion of
the South in this struggle, they could not fail to
bend every effort at this time to trample out the
few remaining embers of the rebellion.

“Their railroads and rolling-stock are in the
most dilapidated condition, and they are without
the men to repair them. Eight miles an hour was
the average of the mail-trains on which we trav-
eled. Locomotives of the Baltimore and Ohio Rail-
road we saw near Atlanta, Georgia; and rolling-
stock also of other roads. The stations, however,
were filled with engines, but slightly out of repair,

EXTERIOR VIEW OF THE LIBEY PRISON, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA.—[From A Sketch BY Captain Harry E. Wrigley, Topographical Engineers.]

which they were unable to mend. Every bridge
throughout the South was well guarded, especially
so in North Carolina and Virginia; the principal
manufactories of war materiel out of Richmond
were in Georgia and Alabama, now within easy
`raiding' distance of our armies.

ENCAMPMENT OF UNION PRISONERS AT BELLE ISLE, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA.—[From A Sketch BY Captain Harry E. Wrigley Topographical Engineers.]

“The absence of not only luxuries, but even the
conveniences of life, seems to have given the whole
people a semi-barbarous air, and the almost total
extinction of the genus citizen made this all the
more apparent. We saw no slave who was not
anxiously waiting to be free; no man whose inter-
ests would allow it who did not wish to be back in
the old Union. Many would come and tell us, as
we waited for the trains, how the wave that swept
over the South in '61 carried them along with it,
and how earnestly they would rejoice at peace.
All this, too, at a time when their arms flourished,
and they were exultant. Now they are down-
hearted beyond conception. Let not our Copper-
head friends pour too much of their faith into the
Confederate tub, for the bottom will be out of it
ere they are aware.”

Captain Wrigley is now at home.


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