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1863 December 12: The Escape Of John Hunt Morgan

December 13, 2013

The following very detailed report on the escape of Confederate “guerrilla” John Hunt Morgan is from The Prescott Journal of December 12, 1863.

The Escape Of John Morgan—How It Was Effected—Carelessness Of The Guards.

There were seven prisoners, including John Morgan, who escaped, the following are their names:  General John H. Morgan, Captains J. C. Bennell [sic],1 L. D. Hockersmith2, T. H. Hines3, G. S. Magee [sic],4 Ralph Sheldon5 and S. D. Taylor [sic]6.  All these prisoners, with the exception of Morgan, had their cells on the first range, or ground floor of the south side.  Morgan’s cell was on the second range, on the same side of the wing.  An air chamber, built and arched with brick, runs the whole length of the wing, directly under the cells.  This air-chamber or ventilator, as it is sometimes called, is seven feet in width and four and a half feet high, and at the end and fastened into the foundation of the main wall, strong bars of iron were placed.  We are informed that this chamber was built for the purpose of keeping the cells dry.  The air passed in at the end where the iron bars were fastened, and communicated from this chamber out at the top of the building by means of flues built in the middle, or partition wall.  The floors of the cells were made first by the brick, arching over the air chamber, about nine inches thick, then a heavy layer of mortar from sand and line, and the last coating, or that which served as a floor, was a cement about two and a half inches thick.  Perhaps the whole thickness is two feet.

From "The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army"

From “The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army;” No. 5 is the hole cut through to the air chamber below (see footnote 7).

The first holes made through the floor to the air-chamber, was in cell No. 20, occupied by Capt. Hines.  It was made in the corner of this cell, under the bed-stand, and we should judge was easily done.  After getting into the chamber below, he had plenty of room to reconnoitre and work.  The balance of the six holes were made from below by removing the bricks and mortar, leaving only the thin crust of cement, which, when all things were ready, could easily be broken by the heel of a boot or shoe.  After getting into the chamber, the question was how to get out into the outer world.  They first went to the end of the chamber, and removed the foundation stones about four feet in length, but here they met with an obstruction.— There had been about 80,000 bushels of stone coal piled up against the end of the prison, through which they were unable to make a hole, and their game was blocked.  Nothing daunted, they went back about twenty-five feet , and selecting a spot, they dug a hole from near the top of the arch, south, and came up, under the foundation of the main wall, opposite [t]he female prison, inside of the prison yard, and then proceeded to the south-east gate, and by means of a rope made out of bed ticking, formed into long lines, scaled the wall and made their escape.

From the purport of Capt. Hines’ letter to the warden, found in the air-chamber after their escape, it is evident that their reason for delaying the time for their escape seven days was to wait until a dark night, or that the arrangement between Dick Morgan and John in regard to the exchange of cells, could not be affected with safety until Friday night.  The letter referred to had the following superscription:  “Hon. (!!) N. Maron,” “The Faithful,” “The Vigilant.”

There was a want of vigilance on the part of the guards on Friday night, in permitting the Morgans to exchange cells or in not detailing the deception when they locked the cells.  Another, and perhaps the greatest, want of watchfulness, was in not examining the cells.  We learn that the warden and directors of the penitentiary claim that they delivered over to the military authorities the solo control of Morgan and his men on the 3d day of November, and that up to that time he caused their cells to be swept out every morning and examined.  On the other hand it is contended that the military were only requested by the warden and directors to receive  the funds of the prisoners and disburse them, at meal time, and attend to their medical treatment, and that in all other respects they remained there as they had previously.  The following is a copy of the request alluded to, which is dated Nov. 3d, 1863.

“The directors and warden have requested Gen. Mason8 to receive the funds belonging to prisoners of war here, and through the agency of the United States officers of his appointment to disburse them at meal time, and to attend their medical treatment, subject as far as possible to the rules of this prison.”

During the time that Gen. Mason remained here as commander of the forces of the United States, subsequent to the arrangement with the warden and directors, Lieut. Judkins, of the General’s staff, was acting as inspector.  His duty as we understand, was to inspect the letters written by the prisoners, and decide what was necessary for them to purchase, and in this we think he was somewhat careless, for he permitted them to purchase saws, vices, etc., for the purpose as they represented to make rings, “to while away the tedious prison hours.”

When General Mason was ordered to California, Col. Wallace9 being the ranking officer assumed the command (much against his own will) until another appointment should be made.—This, in addition to his duties as commander of Camp Chase, has made his labors very onerous, but we believe that he has done his duty in every particular, and that no blame can be attached to him.  Capt. R. Lamb,10 his acting aid[sic]-de-camp, has been the inspector since the departure of Lieut. Judkins, and the supply of different articles to the prison since that time have been limited.

We have endeavored in the above to give an impartial statement of the facts as far as they have come to our knowledge.

1.  Jacob C. “Jake” Bennett (1840-1904) enlisted in the 8th Kentucky Infantry and was elected 1st lieutenant of Company H. He was wounded and captured at Fort Donelson in February 1862 and imprisoned. He escaped and joined Confederate Col. Adam R. “Stovepipe” Johnson’s 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers, and became captain of Company A. The 10th Kentucky became part of Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry division. After the escape described here, Morgan and Bennett parted ways and Bennett formed an independent company based in Overton (now Clay) County, Tennessee. He raided towns in western Kentucky, including Owensboro, where he burned a boatload of Federal supplies guarded by a company of United States Colored Troops. Bennett is regarded as fighting the last battle of the Civil War in Tennessee, around May 1, 1865, at Indian Graves in Clay County. After the War (in 1872), he became the second Sheriff of the newly-formed Clay County, Tennessee, and was elected three times. He was working as a guard at the Nashville prison when he died.
2.  L. D. Hockersmith (d. 1915) was a brick mason in Madisonville, Kentucky, before the War. His obituary states: “When the war came on he went to Tennessee and joined John Morgan’s command. He was a third lieutenant, but later was made captain of Company C, 10th Kentucky Cavalry. He was one of the guard of honor at the marriage of General Morgan to Miss Ready, of Murfreesboro. He followed Morgan in that noted raid into Ohio and was captured, with the greater part of the command, and taken to Johnson’s Island, but later sent to Columbus, where the officers were confined. It was Captain Hockersmith who discovered that there was some sort of passageway under the prison, and he started the work of cutting through the cement floor with an old case knife. The plan worked all right, the men taking turns in working at night until an opening was made into the old tunnel, and their escape was easy.” (Confederate Veteran Magazine, January 1916.)
3.  Thomas Henry Hines (1838-1898) was a grammar teacher in Kentucky before the War. During the first year of the war, he served as a field officer, initiating several raids. He was an important assistant to John Hunt Morgan and one of his best spies. He did a preparatory raid–known as Hines’ Raid–in June 1863 to gather intelligence in Indiana prior to Morgan’s “Great” Raid. After being captured with Morgan, organized their escape from the Ohio Penitentiary. He was later involved in espionage and tried to stir up insurrections against the Federal government in selected Northern locales. After the War, he practiced law, which led him to serve on the Kentucky Court of Appeals, eventually becoming its Chief Justice.
4.  Captain J. S. Magee.
5.  Ralph Sheldon, captain of Company C, 2nd Kentucky Cavalry (Morgan’s Cavalry).
6.  Samuel Burk Taylor (1841-1867) was a nephew of President Zachary Taylor. He was the captain of Company E, 10th Kentucky Cavalry. Morgan often picked him for dangerous missions and he helped capture steamboats at Brandenburg, Kentucky, and scouted deep into Cincinnati.
7.  From The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army, edited by William J. Davis (Louisville: Geo. G. Fetter Co., 1904):380.  Digital copy available on the Internet Library.
8.  John Sanford Mason (1824-1897) graduated from West Point and was was a career military officer, serving in the Mexican War and at a variety of western posts in the U.S. In the Civil War he participated in the Peninsula Campaign; the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam; the Battle of Fredericksburg, where he was cited for gallantry. In November 1862 he was promoted to brigadier general. After two bouts with yellow fever he asked for and received administration duty, and thus was assigned to overseeing the prison in Columbus, Ohio. He spent last two years of the War in California and Nevada as an Adjutant General, and was promoted to major of the 17th U.S. Infantry in the Regular Army in 1864. From March to July 1865 he commanded the District of Arizona. He remained in the Army after the War.
9.  William Wallace (1828-1886), colonel of the 15th Ohio Infantry. “Wallace enlisted in the 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on April 18, 1861 and was appointed captain of Company B. on May 22. This was a 3-month regiment and Wallace mustered out on August 30, 1861. He then re-enlisted in the 3-year regiment as lieutenant colonel and was promoted to colonel on October 24, 1862. He led the 15th Ohio at the battles of Shiloh and Stone River. Going home on leave, he was assigned command of Camp Chase Prison Camp in Columbus, Ohio. He returned to the 15th Ohio for the start of the Atlanta Campaign. He suffered a severe back injury at the Battle of Pickett’s Mill in May of 1864 and was given a medical discharge on July 19, 1864. He returned home to Belmont County but was unable to work due to his injury… By 1870, the family moved to Philadelphia where Wallace worked as a Gauger at the Customs House.” (for more, see Biography of Colonel William Wallace)
10. Robert Lamb, was the captain of Company F, 88th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The 88th Ohio regiment spent most of the duration of the war serving as guards at Camp Chase. In October 1863, the entire 88th regiment served as provost guards in Cincinnati. This duty ended by December 20, 1863, after the soldiers assigned to replace the regiment at Camp Chase allowed several prisoners to escape. The 88th then returned to Camp Chase, remaining there as prison guards until the end of the War.

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