Confederate POWs and Prisons in St. Louis

Gratiot Street Military Prison, St. Louis, Missouri 1864, located at intersection of Eight and Gratiot Streets, was originally the McDowell Medical College before the war. This prison held Confederate POWs, civilian political prisoners, and Union deserters. The prison is gone now, nothing remains. It's original location is occupied by the headquarters of Ralston Purina.
The background Midi tune, "Rebel in the woods",  is from a song received in the prison mail, that was  written by a Confederate in North Missouri, to a POW friend confined in a St. Louis prison. Please see the lyrics.


Execution of Innocent Confederate POWs

It was at this prison where seven Confederate soldiers were picked at random, and condemed to be be executed  in retaliation for the killing of a seven Yankee soldiers (near Union, Missouri) by Confederate Guerillas, under Col. Timothy Reeves who were seeking revenge for earlier killings. Gen. William Rosecrans in October of 1864 ordered seven Confederate prisoners from Gratiot Street Prison to be shot in retribution. The names selected were:

Major Enoch O. Wolf (Marmaduke's Mo Cavalry, age 47)
Pvt. Harvey H. Blackburn (A  Florissant area resident served in Co A Coleman's Arkansas Cavalry, age 22)
Pvt. George T. Bunch (3rd Mo Cavalry, age 21)
Pvt. James W. Gates (3rd Mo Cavalry, age 34)
Pvt. Asa V. Ladd (Co A, Burbridge's Mo Cavalry, age 21)
Pvt. Charles W. Minnekin (Co A Crabtree's Arkansas Cavalry, 21)
Pvt. John A. Nichols (Co. G 2nd Mo Cavalry, 21)

According to a fellow prisoner, after these men were told that they were to be shot the next day, "Never, so long as I live, will I be able to forget or cease to hear the cries and pleadings...after the death warrant had been read." Because it was found that Major Wolf was a Mason, a local Masonic Lodge pressured prison authorities to delay his execution until it was eventually dropped entirely. The other men were not so lucky. On Oct. 29, 1864 they were taken to Fort No. 4 located in an area near present day, "Lafayette Square" (block surrounded by Jefferson, Missouri, Ann, and Shenandoah Streets). After each man was tied to a post, and the death sentence read, one prisoner was allowed to make one last address.  Charles Minnekin, before a crowd of 3000, declared:

"Soldiers, and all of you who hear me, take warning from me. I have been a Confederate soldier four years and have served my country faithfully. I am now to be shot for what other men have done, that I had no hand in, and know nothing about. I never was a guerilla, and I am sorry to be shot for what I had nothing to do with, and what I am not guilty of.  When I took a prisoner I always treated him kindly and never harmed a man after he surrendered. I hope God will take me to His bosom when I am dead. Oh Lord, be with me."

Read, "I Am Condemned to Be Shot", for the last words of Pvt. Ladd to his wife and children.

At 3:00 PM the firing squad consisting of members of the 10th Kansas and 41st Missouri Infantry USA opened fire killing all six men. Their  graves can now be found at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis.

Maj. Abasalom Grimes, Confederate Mail Carrier and Gratiot Street Prison Inmate

Maj. Abasalom Grimes

A Friend of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), Grimes was a former riverboat pilot from Hannibal, Missouri. After serving in the pro-southern State Militia with Twain, Grimes followed Gen. Price into Confederate Service. Grimes carried the mail for the Missouri troops serving in Mississippi back to their loved ones in St. Louis. Using a secret network female carriers, he was able to collect and destribute mail from all across Missouri and even Kentucky. Grimes having a $2000 bounty on his head as well as a death sentence, was on more than one occasion captured behind enemy lines. Furthermore, he displayed an amazing ability to escape from Yankee prisons. Earlier he escaped from a Federal prison in Springfield, Mo and another in Cairo, Illinois. He served twice at Gratiot Street, on the first occasion he successfully escaped, but on his second confinement he was shot in the attempt. 

His execution was delayed while he recovered, in the meantime, unionist friends were able to obtain a pardon from Lincoln. For some unknown reason, Grimes was sent to a Jefferson City, Missouri prison. Here, even with Lincoln's pardon sitting on the warden's desk, prison authorities knowingly withheld his release, so they could inflict him with further suffering. After receiving 161 lashes, Grimes was able to send a message, by way of a paroled prisoner, to his St. Louis friend, Capt. Hudson L. Downs, informing him of  his abusive treatment. Capt. Downs being in charge of  Federal Steamboat Transportation in St. Louis, was able to get an immediate release for Maj. Grimes.

In 1872, Grimes and family moved to St. Louis, where he was the pilot of the excursion boat, the Colorado. Later he piloted the Chas. P. Chouteau, Helena, and the Charles Morgan (1883) which was "the largest steamer in service at St. Louis".

Grimes  in 1910-1911 narrated his story, "Abasalom Grimes: Confederate Mail Runner" which was recorded by his daughter, Mrs. Charlotte G. Mitchell, concerning the events that took place during the war. He writes, " In the year 1878 I took my wife and three children (our eldest son had died) and with a party of friends visited the old Gratiot Street prison. It was like the abandoned ruins of old castles which writers of fiction describe. Bats and pigeons were aroused by our  intrusion and flew about the deserted, silent rooms. Most of the flooring had been torn up and carried away; the outer walls, especially those that separated  the prison from the Christian Brothers' Colloge, showed where they had been cut in thirty or more places by prisoners who had tried to escape. A great many had succeeded, œor when they were once inside the College they were shown the street door and no questions were asked them.

My old marks were still visible on the walls, and I  had the pleasant task of answering the many questions asked by my children concerning my sojourn  in that once thriving hostelry. I pulled out and brought away with me a large spike which had been driven into the casing of my window to hang a lantern on so that the guard 'night see what was transpiring in my room. I searched the ground where I  had buried my ball and chain in October, 1862, but  failed to find it. I wanted to keep it as a souvenir of that escape. However, I have the rivets from the  shackle and the handcuffs. I also have the scars left  by the two bullets that hit me when I tried to escape  on June 18, 1864, and the marks of Warden Miller's villainy on my back."

 Grimes' First Escape from Gratiot Street Prison

 "I was escorted to the Gratiot Street prison by the detectives who had arrested me. The McDowell Medical College, now the Gratiot Street prison, was a large building with two rooms on each side of a hallway on the lower floor. The part in which I was confined was the old McDowell dwelling and this was connected with the college portion by a passage at the second story. One of the rear rooms on the first floor was used as a dining-room for the prison officers. The front room adjoining this was used as an office. There were two large vacant rooms on the north side of the hall. I was kept in the office for a few days and had access to the dining-room, where the guards and officers could see me all the time. A large porch extended across the entire length of the house in front and from this there were eight steps that led to the pavement.

The handcuffs I wore were similar to the ones I wore in the Cairo prison; the only difference was a tap, or nut, secured on one end of the bolt which went through the top of the clevis-like portion that was around my wrist. The handcuffs were placed on me with my hands and arms behind my back. One day Captain Bishop, keeper of the prison, and the military captain, Allen, together with two of the sergeants and clerks of the prison were seated at the table enjoying their dinner. There was one vacant place. Captain Bishop jokingly said, "Ab, have some dinner with us" "Thank you, Captain Bishop," I replied. I at once "skinned the cat" backward through my arms and the handcuffs and walking over to an iron mantel in the room, I hammered the iron tap on the handcuffs against the mantel. This soon loosened the tap, which I easily unscrewed, pulled out the bolt, laid the handcuffs on the mantel, and sat down to the table. They all laughed and Captain Bishop said, "That is pretty good, you have earned your dinner." When we had finished dinner I replaced the handcuffs and tap.

Next day I was provided with a pair of cuffs of a different type. A thirty-two pound cannon ball and chain was placed on my ankle, and I was transferred to the rear parlor on the north side of the hall in solitary confinement. In this room there was a large grated window that overlooked the back yard. There was one door that led into the hall; this was fastened with a padlock, the key to which was kept in the office. One guard stood outside this door and another outside the grated window, on the porch, where he could look into my room. They had nothing to do but guard me. I had no furniture of any kind except a large, high-backed rocking chair, an empty soap box, a tin washpan, a cotton-top mattress and two quilts, with the floor as a bedstead. At night a lantern was hung on a large spike driven into the outer edge of the window casing. A folding door, which was barred and nailed shut, led from my room into the front parlor. In the parlor were two ladies, Mrs. Sappington and Mrs. Zeigler, who were imprisoned for aiding Confederate soldiers.

On September 10, escorted by four guards and wearing my handcuffs and the ball and chain, I was taken out of the prison for trial. My shackle chain was just long enough to permit me to carry the big cannon ball in my arms, and I attracted much attention as I passed along the streets. I was escorted to General John B. Grey's headquarters on the corner of Fourth and Washington avenues, the same room where Sam Clemens [alias Mark Twain], Sam Bowen, and myself had slipped away from General Grey at the beginning of the war. When I was taken into his office he rose and shook hands with me and laughed about the trick I had played on him. I had to force a smile, as I was too much concerned over the outcome of my impending trial to be in a mood to laugh. The charges made against me were that I was a Confederate mail-carrier and a spy. General Grey was president of the court-martial.

Provost Marshal McConnell was present with the letters that had been captured by the boy in a skiff, so the evidence was indisputable. I plead guilty to the charge of mail-carrying but not to that of spy. I was convicted on both charges, notwithstanding, and sentenced "to be shot to death on the first Friday in the month of December, 1862, in the center of the parade ground in Benton Barracks near St. Louis, or at such other time and place as the commanding general may direct." I was escorted back to my parlor prison room in a very sorrowful frame of mind. I concluded the only way I could evade that sentence was to escape from the prison and make my way back to General Price's army in Dixie. I began to plan that trip ere the time of my execution should arrive.

I have mentioned that Mrs. Sappington and Mrs. Zeigler were prisoners in the front parlor. I could easily converse with them through the closed folding door. They were both friends of mine and had aided me in my work of mail collection. My meals were brought to me from the table of the prison officers by an old negro woman named Maria. She would bring the key from the office and the guard stationed outside my door would unlock the door for her. She then placed the tray holding my meal upon the soap box and when I had finished eating she would return the key to the office after the guard had locked the door. At my request the guard at my door would get the key and escort me to the toilet, a small shed in the yard.

One day as I stepped into this shed, the guard remained outside. I found a man named J. G. Chapman in the shed, hidden behind the door, unknown to my guard. I requested him to procure some tools by which I might make my escape: ile was to hide them in the shed beneath the seat, where they would not be discovered. When I left the building Chapman again stepped behind the door and the guard was unaware of his presence. That evening Chapman passed my window and raised his hand, which was the signal agreed upon. After dark I requested the guard to escort me to the yard. I found a large butcher-knife which Chapman had procured from the kitchen and a bar of iron about three feet long, an inch wide, and half an inch thick, which had been used as a poker for the kitchen stove. The knife and poker I slipped inside my underwear and the guardescorted me to my room.

The ladies in the front room were permitted to receive visitors. A number of my friends called on them in order to communicate with me, as we could easily converse through the doors. At the bottom of the doors, in the center, was a small hole where a bolt that had fastened the doors to the floor had been broken off. The rats had eularged the hole and through it my friends passed me small articles. Among those who thus visited me was Mrs. Deborah H. Wilson. She gave me, through the hole in the door, a spring-backed, single-blade knife, or dirk, which was very valuable to me, as I will now explain.

It had been my custom to lie on my mattress in a corner of the room for hours at a time rocking my chair with my fo9t. The chair had a high back and I placed a newspaper or my coat over it. The chair stood in such a position that the guard at my window could not see me as I lay on the mattress rocking the chair, but as lie saw the chair in constant motion he was sure I was close by. I slipped the mattress out from the wall a bit and with the knife I split the tongue in the flooring and with the aid of three places where the planks "butted" together I had no difficulty in removing three pieces of flooring, each four inches wide and three feet long. These planks I could then take up and replace at will. By inserting three small pieces of wood in the cuts at the ends of theplanks it was almost impossible to discover that the floor had been tampered with.

In the meantime I met Chapman in the yard again as before and made known to him my plans to escape. Between the building I occupied and the medical college part of the prison was an entrance or alley, about four feet wide, leading out to Eighth Street. Over this alley was a second floor passageway connecting the two buildings. At the end of the afley next to Eighth Street was a board fence composed of four large planks set on end so that they reached from the second-floor passage to the sidewalk, thus closing the opening from the yard to Eighth Street. The four planks were of poplar, two inches thick. They were fastened together by a scantling four inches square nailed crosswise of the planks. In this alley was kept the prison woodpile, which was heaped up almost to the floor of the overhead passage. Chapman was among the prisoners who had access to the yard in the daytime. I instructed him to plimb over the woodpile to the front entrance where the plank partition was and pile the wood behind him so that it would not obstruct my entrance into the alley when I had cut a hole in the foundation wall under the room in which I was imprisoned. When the roll was called in Chapman's room daily someone would answer "present" for him.

When a11 was in readiness I tied a long string to the rocking chair and passed it through the hole in the door to Mrs. Sappington. She pulled the string, thus rocking the chair as I had been accustomed to do with my foot, giving the guard the impression that I was lying on the mattress. Mrs. Zeigler danced and sang and made all the noise she could in order to drown any noise I might make under the house while cutting on the wall. When I went through the floor to the space under the house I found there was no excavation, the ground being about one foot from the joist at the rear of the house and sloping to four feet below the floor at the front, or Eighth Street side. The wall was eighteen inches thick, built of large stones mortared together. I undertook to dig under the foundation but found it impracticable, so I sat on the ground with my feet in the hole I had dug and set to work on the wall where the stone and brick joined, using my butcher-knife and bar of iron.

I succeeded shortly in removing a large stone, which I drew under the house. Unfortunately, Chapman had not succeeded in removing the wood from the spot where I removed the stone from the foundation, so I decided to wait until next day to finish the work. I crawled back to my room, replaced the planks in the floor, and went to sleep. Previous to the above incidents I had eitracted two nails from the wall of my room and scraped them on the stone wall until they fitted the locks of my handcuffs and I could removethe cuffs at will.Next morning I held another consultation with Chapman and he worked on the woodpile again so that he could get to the plank partition at the end of the alley next to the street and endeavor to uncover the hole I had made in the wall. Then he slipped, undiscovered, back to his room on the second floor of the prison.

Next night about ten o'clock I went to work again. The ladies rocked the chair as before. They provided me with a candle to use under the house and in the alley. I pulled about half a cord of wood through the hole and placed it under the house. When I had removed the wood I crawled out through the hole and found Chapman in the alley waiting for me. With the knife Mrs. Wilson had given me I cut a place across one of the broad poplar boards about four feet above tile ground and three and a half feet above the scantling that held the boards together. With this leverage I easily bent the plank down, which afforded us an opening to the street. Chapman had obtained for me a ease knife which I hacked with the butcher-knife until I made a hacksaw of it. With this I sawed off the two rivets which fastened the shackle and thirty-two pound cannon ball to my ankle. I placed the rivets in my pocket and still have them as souvenirs. I left the shackle and the ball and chain in the hole I had dug under the foundation, covering them with a little earth.

Mrs. Sappington and Mrs. Zeigler had provided me with thread, needle, and some yellow envelopes, which were much used in that day. I had an extra red flannel shirt, the lower part of which I tore into strips and sewed them together, forming a long sash. The shirt cuffs I sewed to the shoulders of my coat, together with the envelopes, thus making a pair of artillery lieutenant's epaulets, or shoulder straps. In this way I was disgulsed as a Federal officer of the day. When we finished cutting the planks it was about eleven at night. The moon was shining bright. Across the street was a long row of three-story brick houses, called Johnson's Barracks, which were occupied by a regiment of Federal soldiers who did guard duty around the prisons and storehouses in St. Louis. It was the custom to sound a call at twelve o 'clock at night, when the twenty men who guardedthe prison would assemble in the middle of Eighth Street.

After the roll was called they marched to the north part of Gratiot Prison, which was a large four-story building, about one hundred and fifty feet long and ninety feet wide. The top storv was used as a hospital, the second and third stories for quarters forprisoners, and the lower story as a cook-room. The number of Confederate prisoners in the entire building varied from three hundred to one thousand. When the twenty guards passed into the door from Eighth Street the two men in front took their stations on either side of the door, the relieved guards from the door walked behind the relief guards and followed on around the prison, until all the guards were replaced by relief. As the twenty guards going off duty left the prison they passed across the big porch where the two guards stood, one on each side of the head of the steps, and walked down the eight wooden steps leading to the sidewalk. As they turned south on Eighth Street to go around to Gratiot Street, Chapman and I left our secluded corner in the alley, which was shaded by a projection of the building, and walked north on Eighth Street, passing within three feet of the two guards who stood at either side of the north entrance to the prison.

My disguise as a lieutenant and our bold movements prevented any suspicion. They evidently supposed that we were some of the relieved guards and paid no attention to us. We went on north around the Christian Brothers Academy and then turned west on Ninth Street, and south on Chouteau Avenue, and east on the south side of Choutean Avenue. We had proceeded about a block when we passed a house that was all lighted up, with an entertainment or party evidently in progress. A man was standing at the front gate and as we passed I recognized him as Father Ryan, who in after years became Archbishop of Philadelphia. We were great friends, and he was much interested in my welfare throughout the war. He was overjoyed to see me, knowing that I had been condeinned to death and was to be executed in a short time. He requested me to wait at the gate a moment while he brought his sister out of the house and introduced her to me. I have forgotten who lived in the house, but a wedding was being celebrated and he had performed the ceremony.

Just before my escape from Gratiot Street prison there was an epidemic of smalpox in the prison and in the city of St. Louis. Many of the Confederate prisoners were stricken with it. The Federal soldiers who acted as home guards were a regiment of old men known as "Gray Beards." One day several of the prison officers went up town together, leaving only the guards in charge of the main entrance. There was a prisoner upstairs who had a large boil on the side of his nose. The other boys in his room put him on a cot and with some red ink and dough made pimples on his face, so that he was a repulsive sight. Colonel Robert McDonald, a prominent lawyer of St. Louis, who was one of the prisoners, wore a black silk hat and a long coat, and had a gold-headed cane.

A plan was laid by the prisoners to permit several to escape. McDonald started down the steps and one of the boys called out: "Oh, doctor! Wait a moment! What are you going to do about that man in our room who has the smallpox? We will all be certain to takeit if you leave him here!" McDonald replied, "I will go right now and get a conveyance and take him down to the quarantine hospital." The guards thought he was a doctor and permitted him to pass out of the prison. lie returned shortly with a baggage wagon and went upstairs. In a few minutes down went four men carrying the cot with the smallpox victim thereon. lie was covered to his neck with a sheet, and his face presented a frightful appearance. The two guards moved as far away from the head of the stairs as they could. Colonel McDonald went down in front and the patient was placed in the baggage wagon.

The four who carried him climbed into the wagon and with the doctor they drove off. When Captain Bishop and Sergeant Streeter returned they inquired of the guards if any of the officers from headquarters had been there during their absence. The guards told them no one had been there except the doctor and that he had taken that sick man to the quarantine. Captain Bishop was amazed at this statement and an investigation was made. The result was the old Gray Beards were relieved from duty and an Illinois regiment was substituted in their place.

The day before I escaped from Gratiot I had notified Mrs. Pickering through Mrs. Vail that I would be at her house on October 2 about midnight and she was to leave the door unlocked. When Chapman and I arrived at Mrs. Pickering's we found quite a party of Young people. They had grown tired of waiting for us and were asleep on the floor. When we walked in we received a most hearty welcome. Mrs. Pickering's home was on the corner of Christy Avenue(now called Lucas Avenue) and Nineteenth Street.

It was a small frame house that stood away back in the yard, and there was a hydrant Just inside the front gate. Knowing that the Federal authorities were aware of the fact that Mrs. Vail and Mrs. Pickering were Sisters and great friends of mine, I felt certain that her house would be the first place that would be searched for me. I left just after daylight and went to Mrs. Wood 's house on Fourteenth Street between Market and Walnut, While Chapman remained at Mrs. Pickering's. About nine o'clock in the morning he came to me with a needle and thread hanging to his coat, and scared within an inch of death. His explanation was that his coat had been torn on the woodpile at Gratiot and while one of the girls was mending it four soldiers had entered thefront yard; he did not wait to ascertain their business, but went over the back fence as fast as he could go. We afterwards learned that the soldiers had entered the yard merely to obtain a drink at the hydrant and knew nothing of Chapman Later in the morning I met Mrs. Vail, who told me She had a permit to enter the prison and get my soiled 1inen that day. I told her to go on and not to hint that she knew I was out and then to report to me how the prison 0fficers' pulses were beating.

When she reached the prison steps she met Sergeant Heutershirt, a German, who was just going on duty. She told him she had a permit to get Mr. Grimes' soiled linen for laundrying. He said, "Gif me your baskit." When he returned some fifteen minutes later he threw the basket down- the steps and said, "Dere is your baskit!" "Well, where are the clothes I" "Grimes is gone and he took every damned rag mit 'im!" "Where is he gone?" "How in hell do I know? He is gone-nobody didn't go mit 'im. If you want to know so damned bad where he is gone you go down to the corner and you can find out when you see all dem holes he cut in de house." By this time she was very much amused, but restrained her laughter as she dared not anger the man. She walked to the corner of the building and there stood a soldier guarding the holes as unconcerned as if he did not know why he was there. As she was leaving the spot Captain Hinter escorted her back to the prison office. After a half-hour's grilling Captain Bishop said to her, "You know very well where Grimes is." He told her to go away and stay away.

I was later told by the Boogher brothers that the morning following our escape from Gratiot old Aunt Maria, the negro waitress, entered my room with my breakfast, as was her custom, and found it vacant. She was very much excited and dropped the tray of dishes and food upon the floor and shouted to the guard to lock the door quick as Mr. Grimes had "done gone up de chimney." She ran to the dining-room and office and announced my departure in a loud voice, which caused a grand rush of officers and guards to my room. When I left the room I managed to work the planks in the floor into place and arranged the mattress so it would fall down over them when I went under the house. The first thing they did was to jerk the mattress aside, but as there was little light in the room the floor did not show where it had been cut. Finally Sergeant Streeter stepped on the end of one of the cut planks and he went down.

I remained in close hiding at Mrs. Wood's house for three days, but that was no task, as Mrs. Wood was a refined Southern lady and had three charming daughters who were good musicians and entertained me delightfully.  However, I did reluctantly bid them good-bye on the night of October 5. With Mrs. Vail and Mrs. M. A. E. McLure as escorts Chapman and myself went out into the suburbs to the home of Mrs. Rogers. It was on what is now Benton Street near Twenty-First, where the old reservoir was in after years. Mrs. Rogers owned quite a large tract of land there, set with fruit trees and shrubbery. On our way we noticed two men following us and our knees shook as we made that midnight journey. Mrs. McLure and Mrs. Vail left us at Mrs. Rogers' home and went back to town alone. Such trips were no novelty to these two undaunted Southern women and whenever they had an opportunity to escort a Confederate prisoner to safety they feared nothing. Mrs. Rogers had a lovely daughter, Miss Josie, who entertained us.


Mrs. Margaret A. E. McLure

Southern sympathizer, aided Confederate POWs.  She placed under house arrest and later banished from Missouri.


At the breakfast table Mrs. Rogers asked her gardener why he had been late getting home the night before. He said he had been down at Bechner's Garden drilling. "Drilling for what?" "I am going to join the state militia under Frank P. Blair and we have to drill every night." Mrs. Rogers retained her equilibrium. Chapman rolled his eyes toward the gardener and told the most elaborate untruth he could summon by saying, "I think that is a fine organization and I have been intending to join for some time." I had been enjoying my breakfast, but that gardener's remark took away my appetite and I soon excused myself and left the table. "is being associated with the state militia was not conducive to my safety just then, so we bade Mrs. Rogers and her accomplished daughter adieu. It is needless to say that Mrs. Rogers granted her gardener all his time to drill.

We went back to the city and made preparations to go south on the steamer G. W. Graham. My efficient distributors, the ladies, had placed a large num ber of letters in care of Miss Amanda Bowen of Hannibal, a sister of Captain Bart Bowen and Sam Bowen, the pilot. The Bowen brothers owned the Graham. Miss Bowen had been banished from her home at Hannibal for giving assistance to Confederates and was spending her time with her brothers on the steamer, which made round trips from St. Louis to Memphis. Chapman was but little known and he made the trip as a cabin passenger. I occupied my usual stateroom, which extended over the entire lower deck and was not numbered.

The Graham was usually late in getting away from port, so I made it convenient to be late going aboard. Miss Bowen and Chapman carried my clothing and I wore a suit of hobo attire. I met them at Frank Keaton's boat store on the levee at Memphis. Miss Bowen turned the mall over to me and then returned to the Graham. Mr. Keaton referred us to the Eagle Hotel, a private house kept by the two Misses Rudisell, who entertained only Southerners."

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Grimes' Second Stay at Gratiot and Foiled Escape

Gratiot Street Prison is shown on the left next to Christian Brother Academy

           After I was sentenced to be hanged on July 10 [1864] I planned to escape ere that day should arrive. It was   now drawing near and I realized that the time for me to act was at hand. I talked the situation over with my roommates and many plans were advanced, but none satisfied me. I was sick a few days and was placed in the hospital on the third floor of another part of the building. While there I had an opportunity to familiarize myself with the location of houses, fences, alleys, guards, etc., surrounding and adjoining the prison yard. We were occasionally taken into the yard for exercise for an hour while the floor of our room dried out after we had scrubbed it.

Sergeant Mike Welsh had special charge of the prisoners in rooms number 1, 2, 3, and 4. He would escort us down to the lower prison yard, where we were left in charge of three special guards. This yard ran the length of the common prison building. It was about one hundred feet long and thirty wide, and was enclosed on the west and north sides, next to the Christian Brothers' College building, by a board fence about sixteen feet high. On the east side of the yard was the building for common pnsoners, 100 by 80 feet, and 31/2 stories high, with a lower story that was half under ground. This lower story was used as a cookhouse, laundry, etc. The third story was a hospital, containing about one hundred and fifty iron cots. On the side of this building next to the yard were at least thirty windows that looked out into the yard. Old Mike would leave us in charge of the threeguards and go to unlock one of the other rooms so the prisoners could scrub it. These "lock-up" rooms were in the third story of the big six-cornered stone building, a cross hall dividing the rooms.

From one to ten men were kept in each of these four rooms, and a guard always patrolled the hall. The doors  were all locked with large padlocks and Mike carried the keys. A duplicate set of keys was kept in the office. A long flight of outside steps led up to these rooms. At the foot of the stairs was a hydrant and near by was a brick toilet-room, the same one I have spoken of in connection with my first escape from Gratiot in October, 1862. Between the upper and the lower yard (where we were) there was a narrow passageway about eighty feet long. A guard patrolled this passageway to prevent prisoners from the upper quarters and the lower ones from mingling. The recital of these minute particulars is tedious, but it is essential to an understanding of later events.

    When I had my plans laid, I gave my roommates instructions regarding leaving the prison when we shoul attempt to escape, and warned them of the danger from the guards' guns. The instructions were to pass through the gate after it had been broken open, run directly west two blocks, and then south to Chouteau Avenue. There was a guard stationed in the yard of Mike's home adjoining the south end of the yard in which we were exercised. Another guard was in the Christian Brothers' yard on the north end, and two guards patrolled the alley on the west. From our yard not one of these guards could be seen, but during my stay in the hospital I had noted minutely their location and movements. There were now only five men in Room Number 3.

After I had fully instructed my roommates I placed my Bible on the table; we laid our left hands upon it and with our right hands raised we took a solemn oath that we would stand by each other to the death, and in the effort to gain our liberty would kill anyone who tried to stop us in our dash for freedom. With the exception of Schultz we were all under sentence of death, and it was liberty or death to four of us.  That was a solemn moment for us as we five men stood with one hand on the Bible and the other lifted toward heaven imploring the Almighty God for success pledging our lives to meet the enemy and death face to face. We knew we were five unarmed men against eight armed guards, and three of us wore  irons, handcuffs, and an ankle shackle with ball and chain. We then took five slips of paper and wrote on three of them, "Catch guard." On the fourth was,  "Break gate open." On the fifth slip was, "Throw axe out of window." These slips were placed in a cap and each man in turn drew out a slip and held it unseen in his hand until the entire five were drawn and then each man read in a distinct, solemn voice what duty was written on his slip. Mine read, "Break gate open." Schultz had, "Throw axe out of  window." Colciazer, Douglas, and McElhenny each had, "Catch guard."

           Mike took us down into the yard while our room dried and as soon as he left us the three men whose duty it was to catch the guards carelessly took up positions near the three guards and walked back and forth. Those five or six hundred Rebel prisoners who were at the prison windows stared at us as if we were a lot of cannibals and the guards were so interested in watching them that they did not suspect our men passing to and fro so near them. I sat down near the low window that opened into the yard from the kitchen, where the axe was kept. Schultz stepped quickly down the four steps into the kitchen door,  grabbed the axe, and threw it out of the window to my side. I slowly and carelessly picked it up and started toward the woodpile that was just inside the gate. When the guard who stood between the window and the woodpile ordered me to put down the axe I said,  "I only want to split a little wood for exercise." He began to bring his gun down from its upright position when Douglas seized him and pinioned his arms  while the other two men instantly pinioned the other two guards in the same manner. I raised the axe to  strike the guard and he dropped his gun, whereupon Schultz immediate1y picked it up and ran to the assistance of McElhenny and Colclazer. Douglas quickly jerked the revolver from his guard's pocket and went to the assistance of the two men who were struggling with the guards. When the latter saw that we had the advantage they dropped their guns. Colclazer and MeElhenny got their revolvers and ran  for the gate. I did not delay a second, but gave a loud  signal yell and jumped to the gate and struck the big padlock that held a large iron bar across the gate        with the axe, smashing the lock to fragments. I pulled  the long iron bar from its fastenings and with my right hand threw the gate open.

     Just as I did this the two guards in the alley ran up and fired blindly through the gate. One ball struck the shackle on my leg and passed between the two lower bones of my right leg. The other ball passed entirely through the 4 by 4 pine post at one side of the gate and buried itself in my neck, knocking me downand out on the woodpile. Colclazer disobeyed instructions and climbed over the fence into Mike's yard and as he did so the guard stationed there shot him through the head, killing him instantly. Schultz ran north instead of west and was shot through the heart by some soldiers who were sitting on the ground playing cards when he ran into them unexpectediy. McElhenny ran as directed, but by this time the excitement was so high that the soldiers were shooting in every direction at everything in sight, and his knee cap was shot off. Of our party of five, only Colonel Douglas succeeded in escaping.

          On the day before we made our attempt to escape we threw a note from our window across the hall into the window of Room Number 2, informing the inmates of our plan. There were five men in the room, Lieutenant William H. Sebring, John Carlin, Jasper Hill, Bob Louden, and Yates. Thus they were informed of our purpose and when they heard the Rebel yell they were to rush down into the lower yard and join in the fight. In order to do so they had to pass the guard in the narrow passage between the two sections of the yard. At the hour of the attack they were in the upper yard. Carlin was in the lead and he was prepared for the guard. He struck him on the head with a brick and the guard let him pass. When they reached me I was lying on the woodpile, bleeding profusely from the wounds in my leg and neck. Lieutenant Sebring bent over me to pick me up. I insisted that they must not stop for me, but run for their lives. The gate was still wide open, the guards who belonged there having deserted their posts for safer quarters after they shot me. Hill, Sebring, Carlin, and Yates ran through the gate andmade their escape. Two months after this John Carlin, who was a son of Governor Carlin of Illinois, was shot and killed in that state by a sheriff who was trying to capture him.

As I lay helpless on the woodpile some guards ran up and would have shot me had not good old Mike** thrown himself across my body and shouted, "I am in charge of this man and I order you to stand back and not to touch or injure him!" Of course, Mike's authority was above that of the guards and they stood back. Mike was a huge fellow and he gathered me up in his arms and carried me to the hospital on the third floor, the tears streaming down his face as he went. One of the prisoners walked alongside and carried the thirty pound ball that was attached to my leg. The shackle and ball were removed from my ankle when I was placed on the cot in the hospital.  I had worn them constantly (with the exception of a few days) from December 19 until June 18, and my leg had become very sore in consequence. Doctors Youngblood and Dudley extracted the ball, which had passed between the two bones in the calf of my leg and lodged next to the skin. The ball in my neck popped out upon slight pressure. It had passed through the post and was spent when it struck me. I still treasure the ball that went through my leg. McElhenny was placed on a cot near mine in the hospital, while the bodies of Schultz and Colciazer were taken to the dissecting room. My wound did not seem inclined to heal, and although a silk handkerchief was passed entirely through the leg at the time the ball was extracted, five days later a piece of my trousers about five inches across came into sight and was pulled out by my nurse, Mr. Preston Westerman."

[**Note: Sgt. Mike Welsh (or Walsh), a Federal prison guard that befriended Grimes. In this prison escape, the POWs were to stay away from Mike's section of the prison, but as he mentions this was not followed by Colclazer, who was shot to death as a result.]

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Myrtle Street Prison

Was located at corner of present day Clark and Broadway.  These streets were originally named Myrtle and Fifth Streets. This prison was formerly called, "Lynch's Slave Pen" where slaves were held prior to being sold. It was located only two blocks from the courthouse (now "Old Courthouse"). Below the prison was the infamous dungeon which Major Abasalom Grimes describes during his stay there:

"I was sent to the Myrtle Street prison, where I was placed in a dungeon under the sidewalk. It was an excavation in the ground which had been lined with boiler iron and this in turn with boards. There were two apartments or cells in the box, each about eight feet square and seven feet high. I was placed in the front cell next to the door. After the irons had been placed on my wrists and ankle I  heard someone walking around in the rear cell, rattling a ball and chain. I asked Lonegan (the guard who put me there) who was in the other cell. He said, "Hist! That is a steamboat burner and they will hang him sure." After the guard had left me I called out, "Hello in there, partner." He answered, "Hello "When I asked his name he said, "Smith." That name was in such common use during the war as a disguise that it excited my suspicion. I asked him how long he had been in there, and he replied by asking me what day it was? I said it was Tuesday. He said, "I have been in here two weeks to-morrow." Chief Tallon had told me the cell had just been completed and that no one had occupied it and I knew at once that either he or Smith was lying. I decided that "Smith" was a detective. We conversed quite a while about things in general and then he asked me if I knew Bob Louden, which confirmed my suspicion that be was seeking information about our activities.

    After we had been in the dungeon two or three days Lonegan came in and told Smith that he would have to go uptown for trial. He was returned to his cell late in the afternoon. As Smith did not enjoy the freezing and darkness of his cell this was a ruse to give him a vacation. The weather was bitter cold and we bad no light except his candle. I was not permitted the luxury of a light. I was taken into the officeonce a day to warm up or I should have frozen to death. I was well fed and friends brought me food

         and clothing. Smith's real name was John Murphy. He was a devout Catholic and on one of his outings for "trial" he met Father Ryan, who told "Smith" I was a warm personal friend of his and that he thought a great deal of me. When Smith returned to the dungeon he told me of his meeting with Father Ryan and also that he was a detective and had been detailed to the cell to extract information from me. He said he now wanted me to understand that the authorities could  never learn anything through him that would incriminate me. I told him that I knew he was a detective because of the disparity between his statement  and that of Captain Tallon regarding the age of the dungeon. He informed me that he would be relieved from duty in a day or two and that I might write any private letters I desired and he would promise to deliver them safely for me.

 The dungeon under the sidewalk in which I was confined was so cold that I suffered intensely and after Smith's removal I was sent to Gratiot Street prison and placed in room number 3 with several other Confederates, among whom were Lieutenant William II. Sebring, Colonel John Carlin, Joe Leddy, Sam Clifford, and Shed Davis. Someone told the prison keeper that Colonel Carlin and myself had a plan to escape. Carlin was removed from our room and we were both put in irons. I became very angry and threatened dire things and the escape of our roomful of men. The irons were removed from my ankle but the handcuffs were left on and I was taken back to the dungeon in Myrtle Street. Part of the time I had no candle and the cell was in absolute darkness and so cold I was taken to the office occasionally  to sit by the stove. Finally, I wrote to Colonel Broadhead, the provost marshal, and asked that he remove me from the dungeon, as I was about to freeze to death. On December 19 he ordered me sent back to Gratiot Street prison, where I was again placed in Number 3."

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"Rebel in the Woods"


 The Background tune is the music to the following song, "Rebel in the Woods", written by a anonymous Confederate Guerilla in North Missouri to his friend condemned to die in a St. Louis prison. The song was found from a St. Louis newspaper clipping dating back to around 1863.  The phrase "my jacket so blue" may appear that the writer was a Union soldier, but this is not the case since in Missouri, rebels frequently wore the clothes removed from their victims.


1st Verse:

The winter is gone and the spring has come once more.
The rebels rejoice that the winter is no more,
For now it is spring and the leaves are growing green,
And the rebels rejoice that they cannot be seen.


Then home, soon home, home they will be;
Home, dearest home, in this our country,
Where the rose is in bud and the blossom's on the tree,
And the Lark is singing home to North Missouri.
We have taken up arms in defense of our farms,
And if the Federals trouble us we'll surely do them harm,
For we have declared that our land shall be free
But if they stay away how quiet we will be.


Then home, soon home, home they will be;
Home, dearest home, in this our country,
Where the rose is in bud and the blossom's on the tree,
And the Lark is singing home to North Missouri.

3rd Verse:

The rebels from their homes are compelled to go
And stay in the woods in the bushes thick and low,
For if they go home and there attempt to stay
The Federals will come and force them away.


Then home, soon home, home they will be;
Home, dearest home, in this our country,
Where the rose is in bud and the blossom's on the tree,
And the Lark is singing home to North Missouri.

4th Verse:

Away from their sweethearts they have to stay
And lay in the woods by night and by day,
For if by the Federals they should captured be
They will be carried to the penitentiary.


Then home, soon home, home they will be;
Home, dearest home, in this our country,
Where the rose is in bud and the blossom's on the tree,
And the Lark is singing home to North Missouri.

5th Verse:

Now my song is almost ended, and since it is so,
Back to the wars with all speed I must go.
With my gun in my hand and my jacket all so blueu
Farewell, my dear friends, I must bid you adieu.
Then home, soon home, home they will be;
Home, dearest home, in this our country,
Where the rose is in bud and the blossom's on the tree,
And the Lark is singing home to North Missouri.

6th Verse:

When the war is over I will return to thee,
And we will get married if we can agree,
And when we are joined in wedlock's happy band,
Then we never more will take the parting hand.


Then home, soon home, home they will be;
Home, dearest home, in this our country,
Where the rose is in bud and the blossom's on the tree,
And the Lark is singing home to North Missouri.

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The MIDI file, "Rebel in the Woods"  used in this webpage is courtesy of Scott K. Williams.