Camp Douglas – from Union training facility to Confederate P.O.W. camp

Written by Iklima Ulfah on. Posted in

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    Iklima Ulfah

    Camp Douglas was created in September 1861. It started out as a military training and recruitment center. At the time, Chicago was a major rail city and an ideal location for a camp. According to records, over thirty-one regiments totaling 25,000 troops would pass through the facility.[1] The capture of Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in 1862, created the impetus to change the purpose of the camp. General U.S. Grant sent between 8,000 and 9,000 captured soldiers to Camp Douglas. Chicago was much farther away from the fort and initially the prisoners were going to be sent to Camp Butler. They were sent a longer distance due to the problem of housing so many Confederate troops near Springfield, which seemed to have some secessionist sympathies.[2]

    Many residents of the city of Chicago took sympathy with the men incarcerated at Camp Douglas and organized a “Relief Committee of Citizens”.[3] This committee worked to send medicine and clothing to the camp. There is evidence that conditions of the camp were deplorable for some soldiers, but not quite so desperate for others. In a letter found in the Kentucky State Historical Society archives, Henry Stone wrote, “I have everything I need, except my freedom”.[4] Many famous Southerners would end up calling Camp Douglas home, at least for a while. Sam Houston, Jr., Magruder Magoffin, the son of the Kentucky governor, and members of John Hunt Morgan’s crew all served sentences at Camp Douglas.[5]

    With so many people cramped into a mere sixty-acre campus, disease was rampant at Camp Douglas. In just a few years, typhus, dysentery, and smallpox claimed thousands of lives. The city had to decide how to properly dispose of the bodies. A site was chosen on the north side of Chicago to bury the dead, but they were later moved to a location in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood on the south side.

    With the risk of death from disease and exposure to the harsh Chicago winters, it is not surprising that there are many stories of prisoners attempting to escape. Some, like Henry Stone of Kentucky, were successful. After venturing to Canada, Henry Stone returned to Kentucky and joined up with John Hunt Morgan. There are stories of soldiers attempting to tunnel, bribe, breakout, and disguise their way to freedom.[6] It is estimated that 500 prisoners were successful in escape.[7] For those soldiers that did perish, a movement after the war commenced to memorialize their sacrifice. Led by Confederate veterans, the resulting monument would become the largest monument to Confederate dead in the North.


    The Confederate Mound Monument is the biggest burial location for Confederate solders in the former Union States.[12] Soldiers from all of the states in the Confederacy are buried there. At the conclusion of the war, there Merk yg Bagus was no further need for Camp Douglas and it closed. Over a century later work is progressing on the restoration of the camp. Historians and archeologists are working to uncover the camp and find evidence of the people who lived there. Further information can be found at the Camp Douglas Restoration Project.

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