|From The Photographic History of the Civil War; Vol. VII|
Feb. 14, 1864—Col. Thomas E. Rose of the 77th Pennsylvania Infantry, Who, With Maj. A.G. Hamilton of the 12th Kentucky Cavalry, Planned the Tunnel by Which 109 Federal Officers Escaped from Libby Prison on Feb. 9, Was Recaptured Within Sight of a Federal Cavalry Command, Near Williamsburg, Va.
Fifty years ago today Col.Thomas E. Rose, of the 77th Pennsylvania infantry. who, with Maj. A.G. Hamilton of the 12th Kentucky cavalry, planned the tunnel by which 109 Federal officers had escaped from Libby prison, Richmond. on February 9. was recaptured within sight of a Federal cavalry command, near Williamsburg, on the peninsula.
On leaving the tunnel the escaped prisoners bad made their way in groups of two, three and four, out of the sleeping city. Only one was apprehended within the city limits. This was Capt. Junius Gates of Co. K. 33d Ohio regiment. While the prison authorities, astounded at the escape, were searching the prison to discover how it was accomplished, the others were either hiding in places indicated by friends, in the suburbs of Richmond, or were concealed in the thickets and swamps between the city and the Chickahominy river, the nearest stream to the city on the east, distant from six to 12 miles. Only the 109 Federals who passed through the tunnel on the night of February 9 ever used It. The other prisoners bad no opportunity again to approach its inner end, by way of the passage that had been formed to the cellar through a chimney from the cook room of the prison. The tunnel was not discovered by the prison authorities for several days after February 9. Then the outer end was found, by the removal of a plank with which the last prisoner to leave had covered It. This was under an open shed 57 feet across a vacant lot, in a yard opening upon 19tb street, by means of a gate under an arch In a building facing that street. A negro was forced at the bayonet's point to enter the tunnel and crawl through it. Its course to the abandoned east cellar of the prison was thus discovered
Warned by a Sentinel
Col. Rose and Maj. Hamilton, by virtue of their leadership in planning the tunnel and directing the work of the company of 15 who dug it, had been the first two to pass out of it, Rose leading. Opening the heavy gate In the arch,which was held by a bar, they stepped out Into the light of a gas street lamp. It was then shortly after 7 P. M. The life, of the city was passing as usual in the down-town streets near the prison. Only a block away was Main street, here rarely quiet.
Between them and that street a sentry paced his beat. His back was toward them as they slipped out of the arch, and when he turned and saw them walking away at an ordinary pace— for he could not have failed to see them—he did not attempt to stop them by a challenge. People were passing every few minutes, and there was nothing about the prisoners to distinguish them as such. They wore civilian clothes— secured from home— and wore Federal blue overcoats. This would excite no comment in Richmond, for the prison guards themselves wore blue overcoats, when they had any, captured from the Federals or a purchase from the prisoners having supplied them. Col. Rose had on a Confederate gray cap, and this helped him.
A few minutes after leaving the arch. Col. Rose and Ma]. Hamilton passed a hospital. In front of which was a sentry. He hailed them, asking them If they didn't know people were not allowed to use the sidewalk in front of the hospital after dark.
The two escaped prisoners made no reply, but started across the street. Hamilton started to run. Rose kept an ordinary pace and passed the hospital. The friends were thus separated and thenceforth Rose kept on alone. Col. Hamilton eventually fell In with other prisoners and succeeded to reaching the Federal lines at Williamburg.
After walking briskly for half an hour Col. Rose found himself outside the lighted section of the city and in the broken country of gullies and ravines lying east of the suburb on the James called Rocketts.
He struck rapidly for the York River Railroad, the line to the southeast, and followed it until, toward morning, he knew himself to be in the vicinity of the Chlckahominy. He was in a section of alternating, fields, thickets, swamps and forests, or one of the old battlefields of Gen. McClellan's campaign of the spring of 1862. Knowing that this region was picketed by Confederate troops, the escaped prisoner crawled into a hollow log at daybreak for real and sleep. He had labored Incessantly at digging In the last two days of the tunneling and wag exhausted. Furthermore, an old break in the bones of one of his feet, sustained In a Tennessee fight, was beginning to trouble him.
Sleeping soundly In the hollow log, in spite of bis cramped position and the cold. Col. Rose woke In the afternoon. Before leaving the log he lay for some time listening to the sounds in the woods about him. They were few until to his surprise he heard the neighing of horses, the talk of soldiers and various other familiar sounds of a camp. He had slept near the camp of a Confederate cavalry picket.
In the late afternoon Colonel Rose emerged from his tree and, carefully creeping past the camp, made for the Chickahominy. He was so fortunate as to reach it at a point where by deep wading, it was fordable. The water was icy cold, but he plunged in, and, though he fell into a few deep holes, he managed to reach the far side. He now found that before him lay a dense swamp, the extent of which, in the dim light, he could not Judge.
Hunted by Cavalry.
Entering the swamp Colonel Rose waded and splashed through water and mire at times to his waist. Under the trees It was now completely dark. After a long and exhausting tramp in the swamp, the weary fugitive reached firm ground, and almost at the moment found himself near a picket camp. Avoiding this he struck into a deep woods, in the recess of which a little later he built a fire with some precious matches he had kept dry In his cap. There was danger In the fire, but Its warmth was a great comfort, and beside Its grateful glow the exhausted man slept soundly until morning. Waking stiff and sore, with his foot paining him and his clothes frozen on one side and burned on the other, he set out again southeastward. Passing Crump's Cross Roads, where he avoided another picket, he reached the neighborhood of New Kent courthouse before dark. Here in crossing a field he was overtaken by a cavalryman, who asked him if he belonged to the local cavalry. Trusting to his gray cap, Rose answered yes. The man rode off and Colonel Rose saw that he soon entered a camp.
Fearing pursuit Colonel Rose plunged Into a laurel thicket. His fears were well grounded, for a troop of cavalry was soon engaged in a man hunt, beating the thicket and some woods beyond, which Rose had reached.
Seeing that his case was desperate Rose left the wood and hid in a drain In a field, through which be crept on his hands and knees for nearly half a mile, throwing his pursuers off the scent.
The drain brought him to the Williamsburg road, near which he lay for some hours resting.
Thenceforth his route was along this road. Pickets were encountered every few miles, but he crept around them and kept on until he had passed Dlascund Bridge and came to a place called Burnt Ordinary, which was but 12 miles from Williamsburg. Negroes who had fed and guided him at intervals had told him Williamsburg was in Federal hands.
Taken In sight of Friends
To the great Joy of the limping and weary fugitive on coming out of the edge of a wide cleared space he saw a troop of cavalry Tiding up the distant road. They were Federals. Weakened by the long fight for liberty that seemed now won. Rose sat down to wait their arrival.
This moment of indulgence in fancied security was fatal. Before the cavalry had come up Colonel Rose saw coming up behind him threw men who also seemed to he Federals. He approached them and too late discovered that they were Confederates wearing Federal overcoats. They commanded him to surrender and as their carbines covered him he could do nothing.
The Confederates now saw the approaching Federals for the first time, a ridge having cut off their view before.They now ordered Colonel Rose, under guard of one of their number, to the rear.
As he was escorted up the road Colonel Rose, watching a chance. with the strength of desperation wrenched the man's gun from him and firing it off threw it down and began to run Unhappily he ran headlong into a group of Confederates he had not before observed. They ware watching the approaching Federals, soon the officer in command@ them ordered a retreat and so the troopers who might have saved him came in sight over over the ridge Rose caught one fleeting glimpse of and then was hustled off, limping and discouraged, in the direction of Richmond. In less than two days he was back in Libby prison. In solitary confinement, on bread and water diet, sick, worn out and miserable.
In April, 1864, Colonel Rose was exchanged. He served with distinction to the end of the war and afterward in the regular army, being a captain in the 16th Infantry.
Of the 109 who escaped from Libby prison 69 reached the Federal lines, 48 were retaken and two perished by drowning. Of the 48 who escaped 26 were within the lines at Williamsburg on February 16 and the others continued to come in, there and on the upper Rappahannock and the lower Potomac, for the next two weeks.
-Buffalo Evening News, February 14, 1914