From the moment Colonel Thomas J. Rose of the 77th Pennsylvania was captured at Chickamauga in 1863 and brought to Libby Prison in Richmond, he had one goal: escape captivity. He engineered one of the most successful prison breaches during the American Civil War. Aided by Major A. J. Hamilton, Colonel Rose crafted a plan to escape from Libby Prison. With earnest perseverance, he put his considerable engineering skills to work on the task of organizing nightly digging parties in the basement of Libby Prison, an area known as “Rat Hell” for its infestation of rats.
His plan was to dig a tunnel from the basement of the prison to a vacant lot beside a nearby tobacco warehouse. There, the escaping prisoners would resurface and continue their escape by foot. After weeks of digging with makeshift tools through the floor of the dark and abandoned basement kitchen, the soldiers succeeded in breaking through the surface at their intended destination.
On the night of February 9, 1864, imprisoned officers began to escape. By morning 109 prisoners had fled Libby Prison. Of the 109 that escaped, 59 made it back to Union lines, 49 were recaptured, and two drowned in the James River. Among the captured was Colonel Rose, who continued his determined quest to avoid captivity as he made yet one final attempt to escape the Confederate scouts who re-captured him. This attempt failed, and he was returned to Libby Prison where he remained until exchanged on April 30, 1864.
Colonel Rose returned to the war, was brevetted Brigadier General in July of 1865, and is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery.