From the Richmond Dispatch, 7 February 1888
Has Been Purchased by a Western Syndicate.
TO CHICAGO IT GOES.
It Will be Pulled Down and Re-erected in the Lake City.
To Carry It Out $200,000 to be Subscribed.
A FAMOUS BUILDING.
Interesting Historical Incidents in Connection With It.
ESCAPE OF COLONEL STREIGHT’S PARTY.
Removal of the Prisoners at the Time of the Evacuation, &c., &c., &c.
Libby Prison is to leave Richmond.
Root and branch, roof and floor, it is to be plucked up and carried to Chicago, there to be made the gaze and show of the people of the West.
Brick by brick, timber by timber, nail by nail, it will be taken down, and as this is done each piece will be numbered, and the whole vast mass of material of this four-story structure transported to Chicago, there to be re-erected. The undertaking is one of the greatest on record, and Richmond loses one of her chieftest objects of interests for northern tourists.
A Dispatch reporter some years ago interviewed a number of hackmen as to what it was in Richmond that most tourists first wished to see. The answer from nearly all was “Libby Prison.”
Richmond has the finest monumental pile of bronze and granite in the world; it has the oldest American capitol and the oldest State records; it has within her limits the graves of Chief-Justice Marshall, Monroe, Tyler, A. P. Hill, Stuart, and Pickett; it has the church where Patrick Henry made his speech, “Give me liberty or give me death”; it has the house where President Davis lived while he waged on of the mightiest of modern wars; it has a thousand other important things that ought to interest the man of mind – but the northern and western tourist above all wished to see Libby Prison.
Hereafter they will not come to Richmond – they will go to Chicago to see it.
HOW IT ALL CAME ABOUT.
Mr. Gray, who originated the scheme, gives a Chicago reporter the following account of it:
“Last November,” said he, “when I was traveling through Eastern Virginia with Judge Moor, of Toledo, we met on the road to Old Point Comfort and Richmond Colonel Barnes, a former officer in the Confederate army and at present engaged in the business of fruit growing on a large farm near Richmond. In the course of a conversation on the events of the war reference was made to the old Libby Prison, and it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to purchase the building and transport it to Chicago. I took Colonel Barnes into my confidence and asked him to ascertain if the property could be purchased. Shortly after my return I received a letter from Rawlings & Rose, real estate dealers in Richmond, stating that the old prison was now the property of the Southern Fertilizing Company, and that it could be purchased for $23,000. At my request Mr. John A. Crawford, the general superintendent of the Chicago Towing Company, went to Richmond and looked over the ground and investigated the possibility of moving the building. He returned full of optimism for the enterprise. Some further correspondence with the real estate firm mentioned resulted in their obtaining for me, an option for thirty days on the property. The option cost just $50.
“The building is built out of red brick, is three stories high, and is covered with an old-fashioned gable roof. It fronts on Cary street and runs back almost to the dock, the first story in the rear being the basement in the front. It was built in the good old-fashioned substantial manner, which is a distinguishing feature of the plain architecture of the South, and is as solid to-day as when erected over fifty years ago. It contains about 600,000 bricks, stone caps, and sills, and is surrounded on three sides by a stone sidewalk. I have consulted with the architects and they inform me that it can be taken down, removed to this city, and rebuilt just as it stands. We – that is, the company – propose to number every brick; stone and shingle. The building will be taken down in sections, and the material will be boxed up and transported by rail to Chicago. We will carefully draw every nail that has not rusted away; we will bring on the mortar and use it as far as possible in the rebuilding. Every beam, joist, door, and window will be set in place.”
“What will the enterprise cost?”
“About $200,000. We will surround it with another building 200 by 100 feet, with a glass roof, and on the wall opposite the rear of the prison we will have painted a panoramic view of the James river and the country beyond.”
“Where do you intend to place it?”
“We have not determined. Some of the exposition people favor tearing down the conservatory at the south end of their building and giving us a site that will be convenient to the center of the city and easy of access. We estimate that the cost will be divided in this way:
For the building, $28,000.
For tearing down and boxing, $10,000.
For freight, $10,000.
For reconstruction, $23,000.
For the site, $60,000
Inclosing building, $75,000
“If we cannot buy the lot in Chicago we will lease. It is our intention to make an elaborate collection of relics of the rebellion; in fact, make it a perfect museum. We will have panoramic views of the engagement between the Monitor and the Merrimac and other well known events of the war.”
“When do you expect to get to work?”
“The contract for building will be closed this month. We hope to get early possession of the old store of Libby & Son and have this portion rebuilt in time for the Republican National Convention next June. As soon after as is possible we will complete the rebuilding of the remainder of the prison.”
“Will the Richmond people allow you to move the building? Do they take any local pride in it?”
“I am informed that up to two years ago, when the property came into the possession of the Southern Fertilizing Company, the Richmond authorities had to keep a guard around it to keep off the relic-hunters, who would have torn it to pieces. I am informed that some of the Richmond people may kick, but it will do them no good.”
Josiah Cratty, one of the corporators, in talking of the scheme, said: “It should be understood that there is no idea of waving the ‘bloody shirt’ in this. It is simply a business speculation for what there is in it.
THE REAL ESTATE AGENTS.
Messrs. Rawlings & Rose said yesterday afternoon that the above statement is correct as far as they know. The building is the property of the Southern Fertilizing Company, Colonel W. H. Palmer president, and is now chiefly used for storage of fertilizers. It fronts 132 feet on Dock street and runs all the way back from Cary street to Dock street – the latter being its tallest and chief front as, owing to the sloping ground, it shows only three stories on Cary street, whereas it shows four stories on Dock street.
Dock street separates it from the dock – that is, the upper harbor of Richmond into which vessels are lifted from James river by means of locks.
The only payment so far made is $50 as an option, but Messrs. Rawlings & Rose have inquired into the responsibility of Mr. Gray, and are satisfied that the sale is certainly made.
Negotiations were opened January 11th and were closed January 30th, but the Richmond agents felt in honor bound to keep them a profound secret until Mr. Gray gave them liberty to reveal them.
The only person who has visited Richmond is the Mr. Crawford who is mentioned above. He made no secret of the purpose of the purchase.
The purchasers pay $23,300 for the whole property – i.e., the lots of land and building thereon. The machinery in the building is not sold. It comprises a complete outfit for manufacturing fertilizers.
Mr. Gray is the general manager of the Knights Templars’ and Masons’ Life Indemnity Company of Chicago.
Messrs. Rawlings & Rose have received a telegram closing the sale and asking that the titles be verified.
The novelty and greatness of this undertaking is such that not a few people here find it difficult to believe that the project can be a real one. Messrs. Rawlings & Rose, who are experienced business-men, however, have no doubts at all about it, and the Chicago agent of the Associated Press, who knows all the men in the syndicate, in his dispatches yesterday gave full faith and credence to the statements of Mr. Gray and associates.
Libby Prison is on Twentieth street, east side, between Cary and dock.
Chicago is 950 miles form Richmond – a pretty distance to move a four-story warehouse.
The warehouse known as Libby Prison was erected about 1845 by John Enders, father of the present John Enders. They may have been first used as tobacco-factories; subsequently the corner house was occupied by Haskins and Libby, ship chandlers (Richard O. Haskins and Charles Libby). Mr. Haskins was a prominent local Democrat, and Libby gave his name to Libby’s Hill.
The Confederates used it mostly to confine commissioned officers and for the reception and registration of privates destined for Andersonville, Salisbury, and Belle Isle. In this way some 40,000 or 50,000 prisoners probably crossed its threshold. The office of the commandant was at the northeast corner. From this prison in February, 1864, 109 prisoners, led by Colonel Streight, managed to escape. They got into the basement and tunneled under the east wall into the premises adjoining used for stable and storage purposes. More than half of them were recaptured.
When the Federals possessed themselves of the city in April, 1865, they caused the arrest of a great number of “obnoxious” Confederates and kept them confined in the Libby. Colonel Robert Ould, Confederate Commissioner for the Exchange of prisoners, and Major Isaac H. Carrington, Confederate Provost Marshal of the city, were two of the prominent officers thus confined, and there they formed the co-partnership in law of the afterwards famous firm of Ould and Carrington.
Two regiments of Local militia, Colonels Thomas J. Evans and ______ Danforth, and the Twenty-fifth battalion of local troops (in which was the company of Captain L. L. Bass) guarded the Libby Prison, Castle Thunder, Belle Isle, &c.
The commandant of the prison was Major Thomas P. Turner and the adjutant was Lieutenant John Latouche.
Removal of the Prisoners at the Evacuation.
A recent writer, who signed himself “Carter,” and who was connected with one of the flag-of-truce boats, recently contributed the following, descriptive of the events of Evacuation Day, to a city paper:
That there was something wrong was evident to a casual observer; so after a late breakfast, I sauntered into the office of the Exchange Bureau to learn if there were any orders for us. I asked no questions, as the officer gave me no time, but intimated that I would do well to get to my work, and that “pretty d. q.” Hurrying past the Libby I found the inmates were being quietly filed out, while in front of the building there stood in line a body of some 500 prisoners just brought over from the Petersburg lines. Their speedy transit back to their own lines must have been a surprise to them; indeed they were not for one hour regularly prisoners. Their bright uniforms contrasted strangely with the thousand or more of their compatriots who had for many weeks or months known the luxuries that a prisoner of war had to put up with.
* * * * * * *
There were in all perhaps some sixteen hundred officers and men, although no rolls were furnished.
Of this large body the William Allison (Captain Gifford) took some thirteen hundred, while a smaller craft, the W. W. Townes, commanded by Captain Cunningham, received the remainder. [These two boats then comprised the entire force available for transportation, the A. H. Schulta, commanded by Captain D. J. Hill, having been blown up some few weeks before by one of our own torpedoes as she was returning from Coxe’s wharf, where she had landed three hundred Federal prisoners, but luckily brought back no Confederates in return.]
On our boat, the Allison, were some fifty or more Federal officers, from lieutenants to major-generals. I was repeatedly asked by persons of this party the reason why no paroles had been exacted of them. Not considering it my duty to ask questions or answer them, I replied in each case that a new system of exchange had been adopted by which the entire body would be paroled after landing.
Our little fleet landed at “Boulware’s” or “The Graveyard,” and a small force of colored cavalry were soon alongside. Through their officer communication was soon established, and General J. E. Mulford, the Federal exchange officer, came on board, repairing to the captain’s room, where he was for some time closeted with Judge Ould and Captain Hatch. During this interview we were quietly marching our passengers ashore, and in a very short time all were landed without the slightest mishap and were soon on the march for the camp of their own army, perhaps one mile away.
The day was waning. The guns from the Howlett-House batteries were “lumbering,” but knowing the sacredness of the truce flag we felt no uneasiness and yet this heavy firing gave proof enough that something “out of common” was afoot, as never before had the bellowing of a gun been heard while these exchanges were in progress.
* * * * * * *
Our prisoners were all ashore and en route for “the haven where they would be.” Hauling in our slight plank, we cast off, and headed for Richmond, the red artillery from the Howlett batteries still heavily booming. Within six hours their heavy guns were dismantled, their implements cast down the bluff, while the gallant garrison had commenced its weary retreat, ending with Appomattox.
Just below Drewry’s Bluff, in fact almost abreast of Chaffin’s Bluff, lay our three ironclads – the Fredericksburg, the Virginia, and the __________. On our downward trip they were quiet enough, and no sign was given to any one of our hostile passengers that the end was at hand.
But returning the scene had changed. Moored as they were forward and aft they had succeeded in breaking out their anchors, and having cut away all their outriggers (fixed to repel hostile drifting torpedoes) these three ponderous “rams” were, with their utterly insufficient engines, doing their best against a strong ebb tide to work their way up to the formidable river barricades at Drewry’s Bluff, at which point they were to be blown up. Only one, the Fredericksburg, got that far, and she by the aid of a hawser sent from our boat.
Turning her adrift, we steamed straight for Richmond. Night had shut down on us, but the gibbous moon lent ample light; for, be it remembered, we had then no regulation lights, no channel buoys; indeed, nothing to us up the deadly perils of James river save the level head and steady eye of such as Gifford and Cunningham. * * * *
The Streight Story.
[Dispatch, March 27, 1883.]
The name of “A. D. Streight, Indianapolis,” appeared upon the register of Ford’s Hotel Saturday night and denoted the presence here of a gentleman who created a great stir in Richmond during the war, for he was the leader of the band of officers who in February, 1864, tunneled out of the Libby, but less than half of whom, after overcoming great difficulties, reached the Federal lines.
Colonel Streight (now General Streight) stayed here till yesterday morning, when he left for Washington. On Sunday he was busy renewing his acquaintance with Richmond localities. He visited Miss Van Lew’s residence, and the old Libby and other places of interest to him, and was full of talk of his recollections of Richmond in other and to him less favored days.
The Streight movement from the Libby was executed by the prisoners getting into the basement of the building and tunneling under or through the eastern wall. After that they had only to get out of the old warehouse adjoining.
The matter of the greatest difficulty was to escape out of the Confederate lines and many were recaptured and returned to the prison.
Colonel Streight is about fifty years of age and has grown quite stout. His face is round and his appearance that of a man who has a good-natured and popular sort of bluffness. This visit to Richmond was the second of his life. His first was when he was brought here from Rome, Ga., where he was captured and incarcerated in the Libby.
He was fortunate enough not to fall into the hands of the newspaper-men, but he was chatty enough with others.
It seems that he and others had been told by some one who was allowed access to them that if ever they got out of the prison to enquire at the house of a certain named colored woman in the neighborhood and she would guide them to friends. After getting out of the Libby, Colonel Streight and three brother officers sought for this colored woman, but having misunderstood their direction they lost their way, and had to come back nearly to the place from which they started, and started over again. When they at last found the woman she promptly went off and brought to them a lady (now and for a long time employed in a department at Washington), who undertook to pilot them to a place of safety. This was about 10½ o’clock at night. Going up town – the fugitives walking two and two – they passed by a saloon where there were some twenty Confederate soldiers drinking and frolicking.
They walked past the door at a pretty good pace, but not quite quick enough for one of the men, bareheaded, ran out and caught the Colonel by the arm. The Colonel admits that his heart went down to the region of his boots. But to his great relief, the soldier said: “Mister, can’t you go in there and make them give me my hat?” With as much unconcern as he could muster, but with trembling lips he replied that he was in a great hurry, and that he would rather give him half a dozen hats than to be stopped, and so he walked off. The soldier had probably taken him for a policeman.
SEVEN DAYS SECRETED IN RICHMOND.
Having reached the place of safety which the lady had provided, they went into retirement, and so remained for seven days and nights.
They had long been in prison, were sick and weak, and this rest was as welcome on that account as to allow the excitement in the city over their escape to subside.
These friends provided them with food and revolvers, and they left Richmond late on night, and with full information as to the route they should follow, departed by way of the Brook turnpike, and subsequently followed the Fredericksburg railroad as closely as they dared. Their purpose was to reach the Potomac, secure a boat, and cross the river into their own lines.
THIRTEEN DAYS ON THE ROAD.
This object they accomplished after thirteen days of privation and suffering.
The man who owned the boat did not wish to take them across, but they threatened him so that he was compelled to furnish them with the aid they required.
At that time there was a good deal of blockade-running across the Potomac, and the Confederate cavalry were scouring the country to break it up, and on one occasion they came near capturing these fugitives.
A NEW STORY.
This story of their escape from Richmond is somewhat different from the one that has long prevailed here. The Colonel gave as the party who sheltered him one whose name has never heretofore been mentioned generally among Richmond people in this connection – [a Mr. Quarles, a northern man, since deceased, who lived on Twelfth street, in easy stone’s throw on President Davis’s house.]
Colonel Streight is now largely engaged in the lumber trade in the West, and having business in Washington he concluded to come over the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad via Richmond, intending to revisit the scenes of his imprisonment; of his escape from the hatless soldier; of his seven-days’ confinement in the house of friends, and of his setting forth on his journey on the Brook road – all of which he was no doubt able to do satisfactorily on Sunday.
A Union Agent in Libby Prison.
[Colonel D. D. Parker, July, 1883.]
“Miss Van Lew got young Ross, a nephew of Franklin Stearns, the rich Unionist of Richmond, appointed to an office in Libby Prison. Ross helped a great many of our officers to escape from that horrible place, and so well did he play his part that not only was he not suspected by the Confederates, but the most of our boys in the prison who did not escape considered him one of the most brutal of their jailers, and when the end came would have been very glad to put an end to him. Several years ago I met Captain Lounsbery, who had been confined in Libby, and he asked me about Ross, who died several years ago. [He was burnt up in the Spottswood Hotel.] Lounsbery said that one afternoon Ross came into the prison as usual to call the roll, cursing the d- Yankees, and as he passed him said in a low tone, ‘Be in my office at 9:30 to-night.’ Lounsbery did not know what to make of this, but he determined to find out what it meant. To his surprise he had no difficulty in getting to the office past several guards. Once there he found Ross, who gruffily said : ‘See here, I have concluded to try you and see if you can do cooking. Go in there and look around. See what you can find, and I will see to your case after awhile.’ Lounsbery went into a back room, where he found a Complete Confederate uniform hanging over a chair. He took in the situation instantly, and donned the uniform as speedily as possible and walked back into the office, which he found vacant, and stepped out into the street. The guard did not stop him, and he had walked only a few steps from the door when a black man accosted him and asked if he desired to find the way to Miss Van Lew’s house. He replied that he did, and was guided to her residence, on Church Hill, where he was secreted until an opportunity was found to get him out of Richmond. He got off safely and came into our lines.
Colored Guides for Escaped Prisoners.
“Miss Van Lew kept two or three bright, sharp colored men on the watch near Libby prison, who were always ready to conduct an escaped prisoner to a place of safety. Not all of them were secreted at her house – for there were several safe places of refuge in Richmond supported by her means. When Colonel Streight, of Indiana, and his companions dug their way out of Libby, he and several of his comrades were secreted for several days in the house of a man named Quarles, which was situated across a ravine only a few hundred yards from and in full view of the mansion occupied by Jefferson Davis. But Miss Van Lew was the guiding spirit, and she it was who took upon herself the dangerous duty of providing means of maintenance and escape for such of our men as were so fortunate as to escape from the horrible walls of Libby.”