From the Richmond Dispatch, 7/28/1880, p. 3, c. 1

Libby and Castle Thunder in the Hands of the Union Men.


[From an article in the Philadelphia Times, by Captain J. M. Schoonmaker, who succeeded Colonel A. Ordway as Commandant of Prisons at Richmond.]

      Immediately assuming the duties and responsibilities imposed by General Patrick’s order, I, for the ensuing eight months, was in a position to know much that has never been given to the public, much of real drama and tragic incident hidden from the gaze of other men. I remember how, on the evening following my succession of Colonel Ordway, I sat with that officer in my private office discussing certain matters relative to prison-management, when an orderly opened the door and announced two ladies. I went forward into the room for the reception of visitors. Two female figures, heavily veiled, and dressed in the deepest black, met me. But the somber garb did not suffice to conceal the finest forms I had ever seen at the South, and the voice of her who addressed me was one of those soft, clear, mellow tones that most characterize the true lady of the Old Dominion.
      “We want to see Judge Ould – he is a prisoner,” she, with some hesitation, explained.
      “I cannot allow you that favor at this hour in the day,” I rather reluctantly replied.
      “You cannot – why not? Sir, you must.” There was indignation in the voice.
      “The prison rules pre-”
      “Prison rules? Sir, you refuse because you have the power – not for any other reason. We are weak; you are strong. We ask a favor – no, we demand a right – and you are pleased to annoy us. Brave soldiers! The scorner of helpless women. Colonel Ordway, I had expected better than this of you; but Yankees -”
      “You speak too hastily,” I interrupted. “I only insist that prison rules shall not be broken. Come to-morrow before noon and you shall have the privilege you ask. However,” I continued, “do not charge my refusal to Colonel Ordway; I am not he.”
      “Then, where is he? I want to see him; I did not ask for a subaltern.”


      Ordway came forward from the inner room and was about to explain that he had been superseded as commandant of the prisons and that my action was just, when of a sudden there came a change in the importunate visitor’s address. Her anger seemed to have all passed, and sweeping by me with an air the superb haughtiness of which I have never seen since equaled, she threw back the veil that had been kept down in my presence, and thick and fast came eloquent entreaties for interference in her behalf. It was a beautiful face, and such eyes! My officer friend was visibly affected by her appeal, and I could easily see that it had been a mere matter of option he would have joined his voice with her’s in petitioning that her request be granted. As it was, however, he told her that the hour for allowing interviews with the prisoners was past. “Wait until to-morrow,” he added, “as Captain Schoonmaker advises, and you shall then be allowed what you ask.”
      “Do you promise this, Colonel Ordway?”
      “Captain Schoonmaker has promised it,” he answered, “and I pledge you that he will keep his word.”
      She bade him good-bye, and as she passed me near the doorway of the outer office down came her heavy veil – that mark of disrespect to the Federal which southern women most delighted to exhibit. This lady had departed from an almost universal rule in her conversation with Colonel Ordway, wherefore I was altogether unable to surmise. Later, however, I learned.


      The next morning she and her companion put in an early appearance, and so did Colonel Ordway. A guard brought down the prisoner they desired to see – Judge Ould of Virginia. These two ladies were his relatives, who had not seen him since the early days of the war. In 1862 they had been arrested in Washington as southern spies and sent under guard to a New England village, and there held in arrest, being under parole to make no effort to escape, and pledging to in no wise betray the reason of their detention. It was a choice between this parole and a Vermont jail. They were connected with the first families of the South.
      Ould had only recently been arrested. Before the war he had ranked as the leading lawyer of Virginia, and been foremost among those who had championed the cause of the Confederacy. Throughout the war he had occupied the position of Rebel Commissioner of Exchange. ***** It was soon after my present experience to accompany the Judge on afternoon to St. Paul’s Episcopal church, where Jeff. Davis, worshipping a few months before, had been stricken by General Lee’s dispatch announcing that the lines were broken about Petersburg. But this visit had not to do with war or war’s calamities. There was a wedding party and the bride was she who had visited me on that 10th day of June and turned from me to Ordway, and he it was who, advancing with her to the altar, became her husband. I had all along expected it would end in just this; and later Mrs. Ordway was frank in her admission that her meeting with Colonel Ordway was a case of love at first sight. That gallant officer had admitted as much on his own account a long time previously. “That was the reason,” she coyly acknowledged, “I threw back the veil to him that I kept down before every other northern man.”
      Colonel Ordway and I had been fast friends; he was a model man, even as he was a model soldier. *******
      On the evening of July 17, 1865, I went down to the old Richmond Theatre, and was interested in a little love comedy, when, suddenly, in the midst of the first act, my attention, with that of the greater part of the audience, was attracted by the clanking of a sabre down the aisle. It was not customary for any of the troops in the city to wear side-arms, and thus the equipments of this man evinced that he was from another point. He marched – attended by an orderly – direct to General Terry’s box, on the left of the hall, and a moment later a staff officer approached me with instructions to come to the same place. I obeyed, was introduced to the strange officer, and by direction of General Terry followed my newly-made acquaintance from the hall. A carriage was awaiting us at the door, and it was not long before we were put down at the headquarters of General Terry – that residence which a few years previously the State of Virginia had presented to Jeff. Davis as a token of esteem. Entering a private room my companion said to me:
      “Captain Schoonmaker, I come directly from the Secretary of War; here are my credentials.”
      He handed me a sealed letter bearing no address, but to it was appended the signature of Edwin M. Stanton. Its contents were in substance: “Act as directed by bearer, and that which he delivers to you keep subject to my personal orders.”
       The officer continued: “I bring you a prisoner of State from Washington. Your own life depends on his safe-keeping. We came up the James this afternoon on a revenue-cutter and anchored off the Rocketts, waiting till after dark to land our man. We had to smuggle him out of Washington the same way last night. Remember, this is no ordinary prisoner, and Secretary Stanton has directed me to instruct you to allow no man other than yourself and your personal guard to see or speak to him save by an order from the Secretary of War in person. You fully understand?”
      “Then follow me.”
      We went into a dimly-lighted room, and there, guarded by three soldiers, was a tall, rather slimly-proportioned man. He was neatly attired, had an intellectual cast of countenance, and withal, deported himself with the air of a thorough gentleman. He was informed as to my position, and the guard instructed to obey my orders. That night the prisoner was confined in the strongest cell of Castle Thunder; his parole was taken to speak to no one, and a trusty man was detailed to watch the cell, the door of which was doubly locked, and the keys in my own pocket. Arrangements were made the next day to receive him at the State penitentiary, and at midnight he was aroused from his slumbers, masked, placed in a closed ambulance, and, surrounded by a mounted guard, driven rapidly across the city to new quarters. In the State penitentiary there was, upon the second floor, a short gallery containing two cells, one opening into the other. There were now set apart for my prisoner of State. No other two cells in all the prison were so secure – so far removed from possible approach. In the inner cell he was confined, while in the other one was stationed a sentinel. Never was a prisoner more securely confined.


      Once each day I visited the penitentiary and did what I could to give the captive comfort. I found him a genial gentleman despite the fact that his spirit was visibly depressed. I had learned to call him “Professor,” from having heard him so addressed by the officer who had delivered him over to me. Other than this I knew nothing of his name or history and was utterly ignorant of the reason for his close confinement. Nor could I deem it my privilege to question relative to personal matters. On morning, however, he insisted that I should listen to his story. He said:
“Captain Schoonmaker, you have treated me with marked kindness and have allowed me many favors I had no right to expect. I assure you this generosity is esteemed most highly, and I trust the day will some time come when, as a free man, I shall be able to prove my thankfulness. You have never asked me my name,” he continued; “now, Captain, I fear this reserve on your part is due to an over-care for my feelings. I want to tell you something of myself. Stay with me a little while. I am sure I can interest you, and the recital of my experience to some one who takes an interest in my will do me a vast deal of good. My name is McCullogh – Robert S. McCullogh. At the outbreak of the war I was Professor of Chemistry in Union College, but my sympathies were with the southern people, and I resigned to accept a position upon the staff of President Jeff. Davis. However, it is not for that I am under arrest. After coming South I perfected an explosive compound upon which I had labored and experimented for years. This explosive was especially adapted to torpedoes, and the Confederates, quick to discover its value, made such use of it, by my permission, as resulted in the loss to the North of millions of property and lives innumerable. Robert E. Lee said to me only a few weeks ago: “Professor McCullogh, you have done more for our cause on the sea than any other living man!”
      “Secretary Stanton discovered that the southern torpedo was my invention, and many have been his efforts to capture me, in all of which he failed till Richmond fell. Stanton knew me intimately while I was connected with the Philadelphia Mint. When Lee surrendered I escaped to Florida, and was well nigh Cuba in a skiff when a gunboat ran me down. I was recognized and carried to Washington. It was an exciting interview I had with Stanton when we first met. He demanded that I should make known to him the secret of the manufacture of my torpedo explosive. He offered me instant release and a large sum of money as an inducement. I refused, and he grew exceedingly wroth, threatening to starve me into submission. But, Captain Schoonmaker, I shall never tell him. I will die first.”
      The prisoner’s face grew very pale as he spoke these last words, and rising from the side of his cot, where he had been sitting, he hastily paced up and down the cell, his hands tightly clasped behind him, and his always expressive eyes fairly flashing fire. His agitation was past description, and I thought it best to leave him to himself.
      I had hardly arrived at my quarters when the card of a well-known Washington detective was brought me. Giving the man an audience, he abruptly remarked:
“Professor Bob McCullogh is here with you; I want to see him.”
      The insolence of the fellow astounded me, and I responded in a manner much more expressive than polite. But he was not to be easily checked, and he continued:
      “Pshaw! Now, Captain, it’s no use a tryin’ to fool me. I’ve worked this thing down fine, and there’s a cool thousand in it for you if I can have a ten-minutes’ talk with your prisoner. Cash it is, too, Captain, and -”
      “Another word, sir, and I’ll lock you up. There’s the door – leave.”
      He left.


      It was my custom to visit Professor McCullogh’s cell more frequently than any other. I had conceived a deep interest in the man, and the days were not many ere we were bound to one to the other by the strongest ties of friendship. He gave me the full story of his life without reservations. Of his family connections he loved particularly to speak, having most to say in honor of wife and daughter, then residing in New Jersey. The time came when those two relatives were allowed, by a special permit from the Secretary of War, to correspond with the prisoner, it being only provided that I carefully examine and read all letters received and dispatched. Wife and daughter were in ignorance of the whereabouts of him whom they addressed, only knowing that he was under my charge, and probably in Richmond. One other correspondent of the prisoner was a brother, the head of one of the heaviest firms doing business in the celebrated “swamp” of New York. It was through the influence this brother brought to bear at Washington the favor of correspondence with his family was allowed McCullogh; and to the brother also were due other indulgences granted at a later date. “You will draw on me for any sum necessary to meet the needs of my brother,” wrote this great dealer in leather to me. “Do not spare money in providing for his comfort. Attend to his every request without regard to cost.” So far as was within my power I complied with these instructions, and all the luxuries in the market were at the prisoner’s command. At the close of each month I submitted a bill to a Richmond commission merchant – Nelson, if I remember aright, was his name – for expenses. Never were items called for; the cash was always forthcoming on the instant.
      ****Early in 1866, at my own request, I was relieved of the command of the military prisons by Lieutenant Edward Hunter, a gallant officer, who later fell doing gallant service in the Modoc war. There were remaining but few prisoners of importance. Castle Thunder had been given up to its owners, the city jail and State penitentiary had been turned over to the civil authorities, and two thirds of Libby was again in use as a storehouse. The small portion remaining as a prison was not filled. Yet there were a few to whom I hesitated to say goodbye. Of these was Professor McCullogh, who, however, was soon after released, and is, I believe, at present a resident of Maryland. It has been only a few years since his testimony as an expert in chemistry saved a woman in Baltimore from the gallows, she having been indicted for the murder of her husband by poison.


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