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Union Camp Douglas: Chicago's Civil WarPrison War Camp Confederate Army
80 Acres of Hell – Camp Douglas
Many have heard of Andersonville and alleged allegations of mistreatment of Union POW's, but none come worst than that of Camp Douglas a prisoner-of-war camp in Chicago, Illinois during the
War for Southern Independence, or known as the Civil War, that held over a conservative number of 18,000 Confederate POWs.
1861, a tract of land at 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue in
Chicago was provided by the estate of Stephen A. Douglas for a Union
Army training post. The first Confederate prisoners of war—more than
7,000 from the capture of Fort
Donelson—arrived in February, 1862. Eventually, over 18,000
Confederate soldiers passed through the prison camp, which eventually
came to be known as the North's "Andersonville" for its inhumanity. It
is estimated that from
1862–65, more than 6,000 Confederate prisoners died from disease,
starvation, and the cold weather, although as many as 1,500 were
reported as "unaccounted." The largest number of prisoners held at one
time was 12,000 in December 1864. Accounts vary as to precise numbers.
"80 Acres of Hell,"
a television documentary produced by A&E and the History Channel,
the reason for the uncertainty is that
many records were destroyed after the war. The documentary also
alleges that, for a period of time, the camp contracted with an
unscrupulous undertaker who sold some of the bodies of Confederate
prisoners to medical schools and had the rest buried in shallow graves
without any coffin. Some were even dumped in Lake
Michigan only to wash up on the shore. Many, however, were initially
buried in unmarked pauper's graves in Chicago's City Cemetery (in
today's Lincoln Park), but were re-interned after the war in 1867 at
Oak Woods Cemetery (5 miles south of Camp Douglas).
1862 and 1865, there were some half dozen commanders in charge of Camp
Douglas. According to the A&E documentary mentioned in the above
paragraph, two of these commanders were so inhumane that they made this
camp worse than any other
prisoner-of-war camp in the Civil War. The last commander of the camp,
Col. (later Brigadier General) B.J. Sweet, denied any fruit or
vegetables to the prisoners and has been blamed for the rampant spread
of scurvy among prisoners during his tenure. Although some still
maintain that Sweet re-acted to a genuine threat
when he demanded and received permission to put the entire city of
Chicago under martial law in 1864--allegedly because civilians were
planning to free the camp's prisoners--others believe that this threat
was bogus and that Sweet used it as a pretext to arrest individuals
whose only crime was criticism of the camp's
inhumane conditions. Several of these civilians, including the wife of
a prominent Chicago attorney, were put in the camp with the prisoners
of war. They were tried and convicted before a military tribunal in
Cincinnati, Ohio. At least two of these civilians died in the camp.
Another committed suicide while awaiting
trial in Cincinnati. In 1866, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the
trial had been unconstitutional.
The camp was called "80 Acres of Hell" by many of the
captured soldiers. Inmates were deprived of blankets, medical
treatment, and food. To the immediate
south of the camp stood the University of Chicago, from which seminary
students provided charitable aid to the prisoners when allowed to do so
by the camp commanders. At one point, some prisoners ate a dog, and
even rat meat came to be regarded as a delicacy. The president of the
U.S. Sanitary Commission once
inspected the prison and gave a report of an "amount of standing
water, of unpoliced grounds, of foul sinks, of general disorder, of soil
reeking with miasmic accretions, of rotten bones and emptying of camp
kettles.....enough to drive a sanitarian mad." The barracks were so
horrendous, he said, that "nothing but
fire can cleanse them."
during the first year or so of the camp's existence a number of
prisoners of war were allowed to buy their way out of the camp, this
means of escape was eventually cut off. The only way out, aside from
escape, was to pledge loyalty
to the United States and agree to fight for the Union. Many soldiers
took this oath and were sent to fight Native Americans in the West. At
the end of the war, only prisoners who agreed to take the oath were
given train fare to the South. Those who
still refused were forced to return home by their own means which often meant walking across several states.
A Civil War prison camp by the lake : Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois 1993. by Fulton, Lori Renee. Master's Thesis, IL State Univ
A history of Camp Douglas, Illinois, Union Prison, 1861-1865. 1989. by Kelly, Dennis. National Park Service, Southeast Region.
A comparative study of
conditions at two Civil War prison camps : Camp Douglas, Chicago,
Illinois and Camp Sumpter, Andersonville, Georgia. 1979. by Kubalanza, Joan Marie G., M.A. Thesis, DePaul Univ.
Site of Camp Douglas. 1976. by Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks.
Confederate soldiers, sailors, and civilians who died as prisoners of war at Camp Douglas, Chicago, Ill., 1862-1865 1968. by Praus, Alexis A. E. Gray Publications, Kalamazoo, MI. [most buried at Chicago's Oakwoods Cemetery]
The History Of Camp Douglas, 1861-1865. 1961. by De Jonge, Karl Everard. Urbana, IL.
Camp Douglas & its prisoner of war letters. 1951. by Cabeen, Richard. American Philatelic Congress, Reading PA.
History of Camp Douglas 1942. by Clingman, Lewis B. MA Thesis, DePaul Univ.
A sketch of the Battle of Franklin, Tenn. ; with reminiscences of Camp Douglas. 1893. by Copley, John M. Eugene Von Boeckmann, printer,Austin, TX.
Biographical sketch of the
late Gen. B.J. Sweet. History of Camp Douglas. A paper read before the
Chicago Historical Society, June 18th, 1878 1878. by Bross, William. Jansen, McClurg & Co., Chicago.
The history of Camp Douglas : including official report of Gen. B.J. Sweet : with anecdotes of the rebel prisoners. 1865. by Tuttle, Edmund Bostwick. J.R. Walsh, Chicago.
Reply of the Judge advocate,
H. L. Burnett, to the pleas of the counsel for the accused : to the
jurisdiction of the military commission, convened by major-general
Hooker, commanding northern department, in the case of the United States
vs. Charles Walsh ... (et. al.) charged
with conspiring to release the rebel prisoners at Camp Douglas,
Chicago, Illinois, and to lay waste and destroy that city. 1865 by Burnett, Henry Lawrence. Moore, Wilstach & Baldwin, Cincinnati.
Chicago's Camp Douglas, 1861-1865. By Eisendrath, Joseph L.
LLC 501C- 4 UCC 1-308.ALL RIGHTS RESERVED WITHOUT PREJUDICE