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Thomas M. Coombs Diary

Aug 1863 - Mar 1864

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Aug. 1 Arrived at Columbus, Ohio. Marched to Ohio Penitentiary and was locked up in cells 3 x 7 ft. Gen'l. Morgan and about 30 officers had arrived here about two days previous.
3 Taken to wash house, bathed, shaved and hair cut by a negro convict. I cannot express adequately the horrors of these, the most miserable days of my life. Subjected to the stringent regulations made for the government of the most desperate felons. Confined more closely to these cells, we are even more miserable than they. I will only mention the events that have occasionally broken the long, tedious & and terrible monotony of my life in a penitentiary.
I wrote a long letter to Lou giving a full account of our raid and our treatment here and hired one of the guards to mail it. Therefore, on the 3rd of Sept. I was separated from my 70 companions and placed in solitary confinement. I appealed to Capt. Marion, Warden of the Penitentiary, and on the 10th I was released.
Nov. 27 Gen'l. Morgan, Capts. T.H. Hines, S.B. Taylor, R. Sheldon, G. McGee, Bennett & Hocksmith escaped by means of a tunnel we had made from each of their cells to the wall, and scaling the wall by a rope ladder. Taylor and Sheldon were captured and returned in about a week. We were all locked up and did not leave our cells until Dec. 12, except to go to meals twice a day. We then had the privilege of the Hall about 5 hours in every 24.
Jany. Still in the Ohio Penitentiary.
Feby. 21 Cells searched by Capt. Marion and knives found in those of Majs. Webber & McCreary, Capts. Taylor, Sheldon, Perkins, Barton & Cole.
22 The above 7 men put in dungeon.
25 Perkins released and we were all moved to the West Hall.
26 McCreary released.
29 The remaining five released from dungeon.
Mar. 1 Col. Duke, who was released from here some two weeks since on parole to Camp Chase, today voluntarily returned.
2 Col. Duke left for Ft. Delaware.
4 Cal C. Morgan left for Richmond, exchd. for Capt. Flynn, U.S. Army.

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Tom was confined in Cell 2, Second Range, next to Col Leroy Cluke. Cell assignments noted here are from Hockersmith, in Johnson, 366. Return.

Tom's letter to Lou, dated 14 and 15 August 1863, was published in the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 46: 397-403, and is reproduced following this section of the diary. Return.

Nathaniel Merion (1814-1877), a merchant, was a partner in the wholesale and retail firm of Brooks & Merion. See Mary Martha Pedlar, Genealogy of the Merion - Kienzle and Allied Families (Columbus, OH: [author], 1956), 19. Return.

Thomas Henry Hines (1838-1898), of Co E, 9th Kentucky, from Butler, Kentucky, was noted for bold and imaginative efforts on behalf of the Confederacy, including a plan to rescue POWs and foment uprisings in the Midwest, are detailed in James D. Horan, Confederate Agent: A Discovery in History (New York: Crown, 1954). Return.

Samuel Burks Taylor (1841-1867), of the 10th Cavalry, in Cell 15, was a nephew of President Zachary Taylor. He died unmarried two years after his release. Mary Taylor Brewer, From Log Cabins to White House - A History of the Taylor Family (Wooton, KY: author, 1985), 292. Return.

Ralph Sheldon, Co C of Duke's 2nd Cavalry, was confined in Cell 18. Return.

Gustavus Magee, of Cynthiana, Harrison County, was in Cell 35. Return.

Jacob C. Bennett, Co A, 10th Cavalry, in Cell 29, was noted as the youngest Captain in the Partisan Rangers. Johnson, 276. Return.

Lorenzo Dow Hockersmith (1833-1915), from Anderson County, in Cell 28, was a lieutenant in Company C of Johnson's 10th Cavalry. His training as a mason made possible the escape. A sketch appears in Confederate Military History, 11: 398-400. Return.

The spectacular escape embarrassed both the Ohio civil authorities and the military. A flurry of letters and reports flew back and forth, everyone concerned attempting to blame someone else. A sampling is found in Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 2, 6: 665-678. A follow-up report by an Assistant Adjutant General to the Adjutant General of the Army provides more detail. Ibid., 723-734.

Hines, who was confined in Cell 20, left a saucy note for the warden which found its way into the Official Records (Ibid., 729):

    Hon. (!!) N. Merion, the watchful, the vigilant.
    Castle Merion, Cell No. 20.
    Commenced work November 4; number of hours worked per day, three; completed work November 8 [sic]; tools, two small knives. 'La patience est amere, sais son fruit est doux,'
    By order of my six confederates:
    T. Henry Hines, Captain, C. S. Army.


Their commander, John Hunt Morgan, had by this time made his way deep into the Confederacy, where his daring raid and thrilling escape raised the spirits of the Southerners. On February 7 he drew a huge throng in Atlanta, speaking to a patriotic gathering at the Trout House, where Tom had stayed almost a year earlier. Wortman, The Bonfire, 220. See above, 24 Mar 1863.


Thomas B. Webber was a Major in Duke's 2nd Cavalry, who commanded the regiment when Duke moved up to command the brigade. Return.

James Bennett McCreary. See above. Return.

Capt M. B. Perkins commanded Co C of the 6th Cavalry. Confederate Military History, 11: 334. Return.

Benjamin Barton, who led Co C, 5th Cavalry, "was so affected, that blood streamed from under his finger nails." Duke, History, 498. Return.

Capt Joseph B. Cole was in Cell 38, Second Range. Return.

According to Duke, those sent to the dungeon "passed the period of their confinement in almost constant motion (such as the limits of the cell would permit), and said they had no recollection of having slept during the whole time. When they came out they were almost blind and could scarcely drag themselves along." Ibid. Return.

Col Duke's transfer is noted in Official Records, Series 2, 6: 888, 953. Return.

According to Official Records, Series 2, 6: 998, Calvin C. Morgan was to be exchanged for Capt A. W. Stanton. The proposed exchange of a Captain Flinn is mentioned at about the same time. Tom may have confused the two. Return.


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This page updated 24 July 2010.