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Libby Prison

Richmond, Virginia

Following the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), the Confederates had to create new prisons to hold all the captured Union soldiers. Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia was one of these prisons, created out of a ship's chandler building. At first both enlisted soldiers and officers occupied the prison but soon the soldiers were taken to Belle Isle tent city. By 1863-64, the prison was so overcrowded that all faced starvation. There were many escape attempts in Libby Prison and one has become notorious: on February 9, 1864, 109 officers escaped through a 53 foot long tunnel dug with just a broken pocketknife, a chisel, a piece of rope and a cloth. Forty-eight men were recaptured but fifty-nine were able to reach Union lines, although two died from drowning on the way.

James W. Vanderhoef was taken prisoner at the Battle of Gettysburg and sent to Libby Prison, where he stayed for many months. To read his letters from prison, see Documents 62 and 72; for more on Libby Prison, see Document 57, an article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Other suggested Web sites:

Libby Prison, Richmond Virginia (

The Bloody Evidence - Libby Prison War Museum (

Citation - Document 63
Courtesy of the National Archives, no.165-SB-89

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