From the National Tribune, Thursday, 12/19/1889
A UNIQUE CELEBRATION.
How the 4th of July, 1863, was Spent in Libby Prison.
EDITOR NATIONAL TRIBUNE: That 4th was a red-letter day for the American people. Loyalty to the Union flag was at a high tide, and patriotism kindled bight fires upon her altars. This was notably the case at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Libby Prison. If I put Libby Prison last it is not because the boys in their confinement displayed any less devotion to the Union than any of their comrades in the grand army of the red, white and blue.
Many a poet and orator has celebrated the virtues of the soldier who first mounted a rampart, or first entered the enemy's lines, or led a forlorn hope. Let me tell of the heroism of those who have been called to endure the ordeal of capture, and who dragged out a miserable existence in prison-pens, choosing rather to starve to death before they would listen to the overtures of treason.
Let us see how these heroes celebrated the 4th of July in Libby Prison in 1863. It is certainly the most pathetic celebration ever recorded in the annals of American history. As the day approached, it was felt that the occasion must not be allowed to pass without some kind of demonstration. Consequently, committees were appointed to arrange a program and select the personae dramatis. As perfectly as possible the Declaration of Independence was to be recited. Orators were to expatiate on the history and memories of the day. Chaplain McCabe was charged with the responsibility of the musical entertainment. Thus far the work of the committees was quite simple and satisfactory.
The great thing wanting, however, was a suitable stand of colors. "How can a genuine flag be procured?" was on the lips of all. There were a few Union flags, captured in battle, in the rebel office below. Could not one of those be obtained? If love failed, might not money secure one? But where was the money? All suggestions and plans looking in this direction seemed futile. At length a happy thought occurred: "Let us make our own flag." But where was the bunting or other material for this purpose? All the stores, except of Yankee ingenuity, were about exhausted. Punch says: "A Yankee baby will creep or fall out of his cradle, take a survey of it, invent a new style, and apply for a patent before he is six months old." This is the time to verify the saying. After a careful search, or inventory, one of the prisoners exclaimed: "take the flap of my nether garment." No sooner said than done. It was the dernier resort. Threads drawn from the same stuff supplied the sewing. If more nimble fingers ever manufactured a flag, certain are we that no more loyal hearts ever guided the operation. Material, such as it was, was contributed for stars and stripes, and the work went briskly forward.
The glorious day came but too tardily. No jubilant boom of cannon nor other demonstration of joy in and about Richmond ushered its dawn. In the midst of the awful stillness in this Sahara of Rebeldom, the only oasis of loyalty to freedom was Libby Prison. There the day we celebrate received merited attention. The arrangements for the occasion were duly prepared. This was in the upper west room, where were quartered Col. Streight and his officers, on this occasion reinforced by the unfortunate officers of Gen. Milroy's command, who occupied the room below At the proper time, and in the presence of a crowd nearly frantic with excitement, the newly-made flag was hoisted into position amid "salvos" of manly voices. The enthusiasm knew no bounds - the cheers and "tigers," somewhat suppressed at first, soon broke out into thunderous applause. Men wept and laughed, and stamped and clapped and shouted. The old walls echoed and trembled, and for awhile, like those of ancient Jericho, seemed ready to tumble down.
But the patriotic demonstration was, perhaps, too boisterous. If not the head, at least the tail of the copperhead treason had been stepped upon. Just as Chaplain Eberhart was about to open proceedings with prayer, Dick Turner, accompanied by a guard, strutted into the audience. The exercises were interrupted. Dick seemed to be bewildered at the sight. Could he believe his own eyes? Was he indeed in the presence of a Union flag which, in the rebel Capital, floated triumphantly, defiantly, in the very face of treason? Had there been a spark of manhood left in him, he would have turned back in shame to hide, at least for the rest of the day, his rebellious head. But no! With fiercely-blasphemous words he shouted: "Who put that thing up there? Take it down at once!" Silence prevailed. The order was repeated, with more oaths and threats. These were met with gentle remonstrance. It was claimed that such a celebration was a right of prisoners of war, at least in a civilized country.
By this time Dick was furious. He ordered his guard to tear down the flag; and, as it had been fastened to a high beam under the roof, the taking down was attended to with some difficulty. At last the arrant Turner held in his sacrilegious hands the emblem of a Nation's pride. He could not wrench from the hearts of those undaunted prisoners what to them was a priceless boon - love to God and country. Had not these men in hem the stuff of which heroes are made? No one, surely, will ever contradict this assertation: that no flag ever had a more unique history, and that no 4th of July ever witnessed a more loyal demonstration. - LOUIS N. BEAUDRY. Department Chaplain, G.A.R., State of New York, Albany, N. Y.