Battle of Buﬃngton Island
Was it an Inside Job?
Entering the prison gates, the captured Confederate
officers were immediately stripped, washed, shaved,
and taken to their section of the prison. The men
were treated much like the other inmates rather
than prisoners of war, and were even subjected
to solitary confinement in "the hole" when caught
with contraband or badmouthing the guards.
They were, however, allowed many amenities
such as outbound mail, visitor privileges,
and packages of food and clothing sent by
friends and relatives.
Complaining of indecent, unlawful treatment,
the Confederates continued to antagonize the
guards and prison warden. The prisoners did
not know when they would be released so they
began to plot a desperate escape. On the night
of November 27, 1863, after four months in prison,
Morgan and several of his officers tunneled out
of their cells, scaled the prison walls, changed into
civilian clothes, and boarded a train for Cincinnati.
From there, Morgan crossed the Ohio River into
Kentucky. Inside help with the escape has always
Safety for Whom?
The Ohio Penitentiary was well known by
the public as a place of horrific crimes.
Newspapers published stories about
bloodcurdling screams echoing throughout
the prison, inmates attacking one another
shovels and axes, and corrupt guards torturing
prisoners. While Morgan and his men were
confined at the prison, they complained
about their treatment as common criminals.
They did not realize, nor perhaps care,
that they were given preferential treatment
and were expected to follow certain rules
for the safety of all prisoners.
Top left: One of the keys to John Hunt Morgan's jail cell.
Bottom left: A sketch of Morgan's escape by scaling the prison wall along with
Top right: A postcard image of the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio.
The jail opened in 1834 and served as Ohio's maximum security
prison until 1979.