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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Richmond, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Libby Prison

1861-1865

 
 
Libby Prison Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, September 20, 2011
1. Libby Prison Marker
Inscription. Libby Prison, one of the most notorious prisons of the Civil War, housed mostly Union officers. It was located at the southeast corner of 20th and Cary streets (the doorway in the floodwall is at 20th, and the wall runs through the site of the building). Its appalling conditions — overcrowding, lack of sanitation and rampant disease — were chronicled by numerous inmates, including Robert Sneden, a Union soldier, who wrote that the prisoners “walk up and down, ragged, shoeless and crawling with vermin.” It is estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 prisoners of war came through Libby during the Civil War. Usually after a short stay, they were transferred to larger prisons, such as Belle Isle or Andersonville. In 1889, the building was disassembled and rebuilt in Chicago as a Civil War museum.

Prisons and Hospitals

During the Civil War, the Union naval blockade closed many Richmond businesses, such as tobacco factories, that depended on trade. Once fighting began in 1861, dormant factories and warehouses were taken over for hospitals and prisons. A prison hospital was set up in Seabrook’s Warehouse on 17th Street. Castle Thunder (between 18th and 19th streets) and its neighbor Castle Lightning, both tobacco warehouses, served as prisons. The first was used for civilian criminals: murderers,
Libby Prison Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, September 20, 2011
2. Libby Prison Marker
thieves and the like. Castle Lightning held Confederate deserters and soldiers who had committed crimes.
 
Erected 2011 by Virginia Capital Trail.
 
Location. 37° 31.839′ N, 77° 25.626′ W. Marker is in Richmond, Virginia. Marker is on Dock Street west of South 21st Street, on the left when traveling west. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Richmond VA 23223, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Libby Prison CSA (within shouting distance of this marker); a different marker also named Libby Prison (within shouting distance of this marker); Early Quakers in Richmond (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Oldest House (about 600 feet away); Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (about 800 feet away); City of Richmond Bicentennial (approx. 0.2 miles away); To Honor (approx. 0.2 miles away); Franklin Street Burying Grounds (approx. 0.2 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Richmond.
 
More about this marker. Photo captions:

Union prisoners of war in Libby Prison
Lithograph after drawing by Otto Botticher, 1862. Virginia Historical Society

Libby Prison in wartime
Photograph by Charles R. Rees, 1863. Valentine
Libby’s warehouse, situated on the edge of the canal, ca. 1860 image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, September 20, 2011
3. Libby’s warehouse, situated on the edge of the canal, ca. 1860
Built between 1845 and 1852 by John Enders, Sr., the warehouse was leased by Captain Luther Libby
Richmond History Center


Great escape
In February 1864, more than a hundred prisoners escaped from Libby Prison by digging a tunnel to an adjoining warehouse. Forty-eight were recaptured, two men drowned, and 52 were able to reach Union lines. Virginia Historical Society
 
Categories. War, US Civil
 
Old "Libby Prison" building, Richmond, Va. image. Click for full size.
By Charles R. Rees, 1863
4. Old "Libby Prison" building, Richmond, Va.
Library of Congress [LC-DIG-stereo-1s02434]
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 720 times since then and 18 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on , by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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