Jail Breaks General Morgan Escapes a Union Prison Part 1

About the famous Civil War jail break of General Morgan from a Union prison, history of the escape.


General Morgan Escapes a Union Jail-1863

Brig. Gen. John Morgan had set out in the summer of 1863 with 2,500 Confederate cavalrymen for a series of raids in Kentucky. A veteran of the Mexican War, Morgan had risen in the Confederate ranks from scout to general in just tow years as a result of his brilliant and unorthodox strategies. This meteoric rise led naturally to overconfidence, which in turn led Morgan from Kentucky into Ohio against orders. His troops ventured farther north than any other Southern forces throughout the Civil War, but without reinforcements and badly outnumbered, they were soon overrun by the Union Army. On July 31 Morgan was sentenced, along with 69 other officers, to the Ohio State Penitentiary at Columbus. No sooner had the cellblock door slammed behind them than they began plotting their escape.

Ohio State Penitentiary was a thick, solid, well-guarded, dog-patrolled prison, long known for its impenetrability. Not until October did a workable escape plan finally surface. It was devised by Col. Thomas Hines, who noticed that the floor of his cell, which was on ground level, was free of mold and moisture, even in its darkest corners. He deduced that there must be an air chamber beneath the cellblock, and that it could be used in a tunneling operation.

Work soon began. Morgan took charge of diverting the sentries, who checked the cellblock often and irregularly; Hines supervised the tunneling. Seven officers were involved. Some dug with table knives smuggled from the prison hospital; others fashioned bowie knives. Morgan's brother, Col. R. C. Morgan, set to work on a rope ladder made of bed ticking. The conspirators hid the debris from their digging in mattresses from which the straw had been removed and burned.

After several days' labor, they finally broke through 9 in. of cement and 9 thicknesses of brick into the air chamber. The chamber, 6 ft. wide by 4 ft. high, ran the length of the cellblock, but it afforded no exit. Once again they began digging. This time they piled their debris in the air chamber instead of hiding it in mattresses. They devised a system of tapping on the floor to warn of sentries.

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