Near this site, from about 1845 until 1889, stood the building that housed Richmond's famous Libby Prison. Originally built as a warehouse by wealthy Richmond businessman John Enders, Sr., a portion of the structure was leased prior to the Civil War by Northern-born Luther Libby, who sold groceries and shipping supplies here. When the war began Libby was evicted by the Confederate government, which used the building as a prison for Union officers captured at battlefields throughout the South.
Later in the war nearly all Union prisoners in Virginia came through Libby before being distributed to other facilities such as Belle Isle here in Richmond, or Andersonville in Georgia. On Feb. 9, 1864, 109 Union officers escaped from Libby through a 50-foot-long tunnel; only 48 were recaptured.
After the war Libby Prison was carefully dismantled and moved to Chicago, where it was reconstructed as the "Libby Prison National War Museum." It was demolished there about 1898 to make room for a coliseum.
Many prisoners felt inspired to record their experiences at Libby Prison. Pennsylvanian Clarence Willson remembered lying down at night "dovetailed together like sardines in a box, on the bare floor, without anything to cover us. I came out weighing about 90 pounds." The overcrowding affected Libby Hospital as well. Ohioan George Pett wrote of being jammed into one room with 110 other patients. From their mats of straw the men fought daily battles with maggots and filth, while "every now and then some poor fellow would get delirious and would shreik out; others were groaning horribly." Andrew Hamilton, who escaped from the building in 1864 recalled "great, gloomy rooms" in which nearly 1200 men sat, watching "the inexpressibly slow passage of time." Hope was all that sustained many," he concluded.
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