Confederate Prisoners of War in Illinois Prison Camps

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    Being a pro-slavery Union state, Kentucky played a pivotal role in the Civil War. Throughout the fighting thousands of Confederate soldiers were taken prisoner. The Union needed to create a series of camps to house the prisoners far enough from the front to prevent escape. The federal government commissioned a series of camps north of the Ohio River. Illinois hosted four such camps. The smallest was in Alton, a town on the Mississippi River. Another, named CampButler was located a few miles outside Springfield, the capital of the state. The Rock Island POW camp was located on an island in the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa. The fourth was created on land owned by Senator Stephen Douglas. Prime real estate was available along Lake Michigan for the construction of the largest POW camp in the state. This camp would go on to hold over 20,000 prisoners.

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

    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.

    Oak Woods Cemetery & Confederate Monument

    Oak Woods Cemetery is located on the south side of the city of Chicago, near the present day campus of the University of Chicago. Currently home to thousands of graves, monuments, and memorials, Oak Woods became the final resting place for many famous Chicagoans. Chicago’s first African-American mayor, Harold Washington, is buried there. Oak Woods was one of only three non-sectarian cemeteries located in the city of Chicago, and serves with distinction as the oldest.[8] Created by the Illinois legislature in 1853 the cemetery is protected land and the inhabitants can not be displaced.

    A monument to the Confederate solders buried in the mass grave was erected in the cemetery in 1893. It was dedicated in 1895, on Memorial Day, in a ceremony attended by President Grover Cleveland and his entire cabinet.[9] Credit for building the memorial went to General John C. Underwood. Underwood was the head of the United Veterans division and a POW from 1863 to 1865. His father served as a member of Congress from Kentucky. Underwood would go on to serve as the mayor of Bowling Green from 1870 to 1872, and from 1875 to 1879, as the lieutenant governor of the state of Kentucky. Money for the construction of the monument came from not only Confederate Veterans’ Organizations, but also from well-known Chicago businessmen and philanthropists like Potter Palmer, Marshall Field, and George Pullman.[10] The monument stands forty feet tall, and rests on a platform base of granite from the state of Georgia. Of the 6,000 Confederate men buried in the cemetery, only the names of 4,275 are known. Also buried alongside their Confederate brethren are twelve Union soldiers that died of disease at Camp Douglas.[11] In researching the names of the known dead, at least 281 soldiers from Kentucky are known to be buried at Confederate Mound. This total does not include those that were identified, and then reinterred back to their home state.


    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 nonton tv online 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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