From the Richmond Dispatch, 7/14/1897, p. 4, c. 2
THE LIBBY PRISON FAKE.
The Libby-Prison War Museum has proved a failure in Chicago, and is to be or already has been, abandoned.
In Chicago there are hundreds of thousands of people who know nothing of the late war. Most of these were born in foreign lands, and have never concerned themselves about the gigantic struggle that took place between the North and the South. And of the northerners residents there, many now have trade relations with the South, and are quite willing to let by-gones be by-gones. Others still, moved, we doubt not, only by goodness of heart, have frowned down from the first the attempt to make the ghosts of the war walk the earth again in the Libby Museum. Then, there are in the Windy City many southerners who know that the story of Libby Prison, as retailed for the benefit of South-hating folk, is a monumental fake. All these have been obstacles to the success of “the enterprise.”
The celebrity the vendors of slander would attach to the Libby Prison is that it is, or was, a building in which Federal prisoners were inhumanely treated, and where many became martyrs for the cause of Cuffy and the Union. Similar lies have, of course, been told about our “prison-pens” at Belle Isle, Salisbury, and Andersonville, but the Libby has been seized upon and adopted as the type of them all.
Desirous of reviving the unhappy memories of the war, and making money by the process, speculators came to Richmond in 1888 and bought of a decedent’s estate the Libby building. This they took down, brick by brick, and removed by rail to Chicago. There the building was re-erected, and converted into a war museum. But it never was much of a success. From the start it was regarded as a “fake” enterprise, and it is now to be abandoned. A suggestion has been made that the building be removed to Washington, but we would hardly think the capital city would care to encourage that idea.
That the men confined in the Libby suffered much, we have no doubt. It could not be expected that we would give our prisoners better food than our fighting men had. That we couldn’t do, and did not attempt. But the people of this generation ought to know that in the northern military prisons, in sight of barns bursting with grain and cattle numbered by thousands, often our Confederates were driven to the necessity of catching rats and feeding upon them. There are here in Richmond living witnesses of the truth of this statement.
We had to give short rations to the prisoners held by us, but in northern prisons it was done, not through necessity, but through revenge.
Moreover not the Confederates, but the Federals, through General Grant, stopped the exchange of prisoners.
We hear a good deal nowadays about the doings of the Spaniards in Cuba, but let it not be forgotten that the refusal of the United States to continue the exchange of prisoners cost the lives of more men than all the wars in Cuba have ever cost, or could cost were they continued ten years longer.
Furthermore, towards the close of our war, when our soldiers had not even enough corn-bread to fill their stomachs, our government begged the Federal Government to send for its Andersonville prisoners and take them away without exchanges. Yet it was two or three months before this human offer was accepted!
The establishment of the Libby-Prison Military Museum was an effort to perpetuate the slanders against the South respecting the treatment of prisoners. That it has failed is to the credit of the western people. But Chicago ought to rid the world of the building, and wash its hands clean of the whole undertaking. There’s nothing but unhappy memories connected with it, and, rightly understood, there isn’t the least bit of capital to be made for the North out of its history.