Joseph L. Eisendrath, Jr.
If you were to ask each of Chicago's busy motorists hurrying along the Outer Drive on the South Side what the monument just west of the Illinois Central Railroad at Thirty-fourth Street is supposed to represent, probably not one in a hundred could tell you that it was erected over the tomb of Stephen A. Douglas. Even fewer would know that the land around it was once Camp Douglas, mobilization center for volunteer soldiers during the Civil War and a prison camp for thousands of captured Confederates.
In April, 1861, shortly after the fall of Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln issued his first call for volunteers. The regular army was not large, and it was decided that the individual states should be given quotas and asked to raise military units, which, after proper training, would be turned over to the federal government for muster into service as volunteer forces.
Governor Richard Yates, in filling the Illinois quota, p38 divided the state into military districts, with mobilization centers for each. The Northern Illinois Military District, composed of the twenty-four most northern counties in the state, was canvassed by the Illinois Adjutant General, A. C. Fuller, for a suitable mobilization center, and in September he determined on a site along Lake Michigan east of the United States Fairgrounds, •about four miles from the Chicago courthouse. Stephen A. Douglas, late senator for Illinois, who had died early in June, had owned •160 acres of land at this point, •forty-two acres of which — in open prairie — was made available by the Douglas estate. The land lay west of Cottage Grove Avenue, then the road to the village of Hyde Park, and just north of the grounds of the recently established Chicago University (not to be confused with the present University of Chicago, which came into existence some thirty years later). Part of the Douglas farm was reserved by the estate, primarily because the Senator had been buried there but partly because all the land was not needed for the camp site. At that time, the Illinois Central Railroad ran along the shore of the lake, on a wooden trestle, and farm land came down to the water's edge.
The Governor appointed Colonel Joseph H. Tucker to command the district and to construct barracks to house the trainees.1 Colonel Tucker remained in command from the beginning of construction until February, 1862, when the last of the volunteers left for battle. Captain John Christopher, United States Army recruiting officer, then took over for the federal government, which assumed the construction costs, although the state had paid a few bills before he took charge.
p39 The camp extended from Cottage Grove west to South Parkway and from Thirty-first to Thirty-sixth Street, north to south. The farmhouse of Henry Graves2 on Cottage Grove near Thirty-third Street was responsible for a U‑shaped deviation in the rectangular stockade constructed there. The main entrance to the camp was near the present Chicago street number 3212 Cottage Grove; the other gate was at the southern end, to the rear. East of this area were grounds used first for recruiting and training Union troops and later for housing paroled federal prisoners. In February, 1862 the fairgrounds to the west were acquired for the latter purpose but were used only temporarily.
By the end of the war Camp Douglas had three divisions: the eastern, near the lake, with post headquarters and parade ground, officers' quarters and barracks; the southern, with hospitals and offices; and the western, where the prisoners were housed. A tall observatory tower, opposite the main gate, and surrounded by fenced fields, gardens, trees, and houses, faced the public road in front of the camp. The entrance, like that of an old castle, was guarded by six soldiers with fixed bayonets, who stood in front of a gatehouse leading to a broad open yard paved with loose sand. The yard alone occupied •about twenty acres. Surrounding the camp and separating the various compounds within were •three miles of •fourteen‑foot-high board fence. The yard fence was constantly patrolled by thirty sentries, each with a beat of •120 feet. On dark nights they operated immense reflecting lights for security purposes. Within the compounds were low railings or "deadlines" beyond which no prisoner could pass. Part of the yard was open space where prisoner p40 squads gathered for political meetings and recreation.
A bird's-eye view of Camp Douglas (from Our Young Folks magazine, April, 1865). This drawing differs in details from those in other contemporary publications and from some of the written descriptions — but the camp changed, too, from time to time.
Most of the camp was arranged with •fifty-foot streets, rounded in the middle, with deep gutters on each side. Barracks were almost all one-story affairs, •ninety by twenty-four feet, mounted on •four-foot posts. Each barrack had two rooms and a kitchen and contained benches, a stove, and three-tiered bunks to care for 125 to 180 men. At the time the camp was dismantled there were 158 buildings: 40 company barracks, 64 prison barracks, 14 offices, a number of structures with quarters for officers, the post headquarters, the general hospital with four wings, the post hospital and the smallpox hospital (each with two wings), warehouses each for the quartermaster, the commissary and ordnance officers, a garrison guardhouse, a camp guardhouse and court-martial hall, a wash house, a dispensary, the camp bakery and the post church. Except for the original buildings, p41 all else was constructed by the prisoners. Just outside the walls was the camp burial ground, which was abandoned before the war's end.
When building the camp in 1861, Tucker had proposed that a $7,000 sewer run diagonally across the camp into the lake — but this expenditure was not approved by the state government. Later, the lack of a sewer and proper sanitation accounted for a tremendous amount of sickness and death, and, although eventually proper sewage disposal was developed, the cost was exceedingly high. Tucker had planned to accommodate eight thousand troops and two thousand horses, together with necessary storage facilities. As units were trained and began to leave, a new presidential call for volunteers and the arrival of the first prisoners on February 7, 1862 made expansion of the camp imperative, but plans for the exchange of prisoners halted the proposed enlargement. In the meantime, volunteer groups were quartered outside the stockade; tents could be seen all over the landscape.3
The first volunteer units arrived at Camp Douglas in September, 1861,4 and soon several regiments previously quartered in Chicago moved to the new site. The 9th Illinois Cavalry was on the grounds when the camp was set up. The 55th Infantry was the first unit to be mustered into federal service at the camp and was the first complete regiment to leave camp (on December 9). The 39th and 51st Infantry and the Mechanics' Fusileers were also among the first in camp. In all, about 25,000 troops were trained and thirty-one units sent out from Camp Douglas. Other infantry p42 groups included the Rock Island regiment,5 the 19th, 23d, 24th, 42d, 44th, 45th, 53d, 56th, 57th, 58th, 60th, 65th or Scotch, 67th, 69th, 71st, 72d or 1st Board of Trade, 88th or 2d Board of Trade, 89th or Railroad, 3d Board of Trade, 90th or Irish Legion, 93d, 105th, and 113th or Van Ammen's. In addition there were the German Guides and Lynn Color Guards (infantry companies later merged into regiments), the 9th, 12th, and 13th Illinois cavalry regiments, and artillery units with such names as the First, Bouton's, Bolton's, Silversparre's, Phillips', Ottawa, Mercantile, Elgin and Board of Trade batteries.
By March 1, 1862, prisoners captured at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, had been divided between Camp Douglas and Camp Butler, near Springfield, and by July, Camp Douglas had received 7,850 of them. In the meantime, Tucker was relieved by Colonel James A. Mulligan, an officer who had been sent back to Chicago after the Battle of Lexington to reorganize the Irish Brigade as a three-year unit. Several three-months' regiments assumed the garrison duty.6 Tucker, now in command of the 69th, took over again in June,7 and remained in charge until the end of the year, when Brigadier General Jacob Ammen, an officer of extensive prison experience, arrived from Camp Dennison, Ohio.8 During the fall of 1862, about eight thousand United States troops who had been captured at Harpers Ferry and paroled by the Confederates were sent to Camp Douglas, supposedly on their way to the Indian frontier. They were under the supervision of Brigadier General Daniel Tyler, who ruled them with an p43 iron hand. These men were dissatisfied, feeling that it was not right for them to be treated as prisoners and compelled to do garrison duty. Many attempted to escape, and some set fire to their barracks.9 When Secretary of War Simon Cameron ordered Tyler's severe disciplinary action relaxed, the incendiary fires stopped and the men became more manageable. The eight thousand men added to the regular prisoners overcrowded the camp, and until the last of the paroled troops moved out in April, 1863, life at Camp Douglas was hectic.
When the first Confederate prisoners arrived in 1862, the weather was extremely cold. The southerners were lightly clad and unaccustomed to northern food. They suffered from idleness, homesickness and low spirits, and there was much sickness and death in the camp.
A typical day at Douglas was dull and monotonous. Reveille at sunrise was found by breakfast half an hour later. Within an hour came roll call, the prisoners assembling in the streets in front of their barracks. Dinner was at noon. After roll call and dinner came the various details; in 1864 those on detail were paid ten cents daily if working as mechanics and five cents if working as laborers. The money could be used to buy stamps and tobacco. Those not on detail generally loafed, whittled or made gold rings, whistles and pipes. (There was considerable trading of such items.) At sunset the drums beat retreat, and the prisoners went back to quarters. There they could write, play euchre, read, talk or argue by candlelight. At nine o'clock, lights were put out. The monotony was varied on Sundays, when there was generally a full inspection, for which the men turned out with all p44 their possessions. Cleanliness was the subject of strict orders. If prisoners were found dirty, they were scrubbed, marched around in packing boxes marked "vermin" and jeered at by their comrades. Most of these early prisoners were quite young. Southern "poor whites," they were uneducated; only half of them could read or write. After inspection they had dinner and then attended church services conducted in the barracks by their own chaplains. Later in the war, the citizens of Chicago raised $2,300, and Chaplain E. B. Tuttle, with the aid of the prisoners and guards, built a chapel for six hundred men near the main entrance. A church bell, made of silver and copper coins donated by guards and prisoners and cast at Springfield, Massachusetts, was presented by St. Mark's Episcopal Church of Chicago.10
This drawing of "one of the streets" at Camp Douglas and the pitures that follow in this article, were made by a prisoner, Samuel B. Palmer of Knoxville, Tennessee. His sketches of the prison and prison life were used originally to illustrate a series of three articles, "Three Days at Camp Douglas," written by Edmund Kirke (pseudonym of James Roberts Gillmore) and published in Our Young Folks, April-June, 1865.
The prisoners received little harsh treatment; some even p45 claimed that prison life was better than the life they had lived at home. If punishment became necessary, the culprit had to ride a rail or a wooden horse or stand on a pork barrel. Others, on occasion, had to draw a ball and chain around the camp, and a few dangerous prisoners were confined to a small dungeon on a diet of bread and water. Generally, however, the prisoners were treated humanely and frequently with kindness, but they knew they were prisoners, and this knowledge made them thoroughly discontented.
(p60) Except for a few prisoners who were considered dangerous and were confined to a dungeon on bread and water, punishment at Camp Douglas was seldom harsh. The culprit at the left, sentenced to draw a ball and chain about the camp, "lights his pipe, assumes a nonchalant air, and tries to make you think he is having an easy time of it."
"A half hour's ride" on a rail often made the culprit "long for 'a chance afoot.' "
A third form of punishment was to force the prisoner to stand on a pork barrel "a longer or shorter time, in the centre of the prison-yard."
Local citizens wanted to see the prison, and, during the early part of the war, complimentary passes to Camp Douglas were given to well-known persons, many of whom had worked hard to raise funds for clothing and toiletries for the prisoners. Later, no visitors were allowed except for relatives of those seriously ill. Gifts and letters to prisoners were strictly censored. Letters into or out of camp could be only one page long and could deal only with personal affairs. Politics could not be mentioned, and each man could only send one letter a month.
As the food-rationing system improved, there was an excess in the commissary fund which was used to buy articles for the health and comfort of the prisoners. Such things as tables, furniture, cooking utensils, and bed ticks and straw were provided at reasonable rates by sutlers, who were licensed and taxed.11
The prisoners wore butternut-colored clothes. In the winter they made overcoats of their brown or gray blankets by cutting holes in the middle of them and thrusting their heads through.
Rations served to the prisoners were about the same as those given to their guards and to Union soldiers throughout p46 the army. The typical ration issued daily consisted of •14 ounces of beef or •10 ounces of pork, and 14 ounces of bread per man; and — per hundred men — •8 pounds of hominy or rice (or a similar amount of beans), •47 pounds of tomatoes and •4 gallons of vinegar. Early in 1862 the camp used 50 barrels of beef and 50 barrels of flour each day, and the daily food bill averaged $8,540. In addition to these rations, each man received issues of bacon, soap, candles, molasses, coffee, tea, sugar and pepper. Each man was supposed to cook his own food, although frequently messes were formed to save labor.12
Possibly the greatest problem, other than that of guarding the prisoners, was keeping them healthy. The table on page 47 reveals an appalling amount of sickness, disease and death. In February, 1863, in the coldest part of winter, 3,884 new prisoners arrived; 387, or approximately one in ten, died, and 623 were sick.13 Temperatures that month were reported as low as •forty degrees below zero.
During the war a total of more than 18,000 prisoners was in Camp Douglas, the high point being 12,082 in December, 1864. Besides these, another 25,000 paroled Union soldiers were accommodated. Over 3,100 prisoners died and were buried in Chicago cemeteries. The high mortality rate was a direct result of the weakened and destitute condition of the prisoners when they arrived in camp. Their own surgeons cared for them, but often a heavy burden was placed on Union doctors when Confederate physicians were released and sent south. In July, 1862, for example, twenty-two Confederate doctors were detached. The camp commandant p48 contracted with Chicago doctors, and four of them labored in the camp, aided by four medical assistants. The worst illnesses were scurvy and diseases of the lungs and bowels; many men had colds and dysentery. Because scorbutic conditions existed, extra rations of vegetables were provided, and these extra vegetables helped relieve the situation. Once or twice a smallpox epidemic broke out,14 and the disease was spread when the prisoners were transferred to other stations. It was not uncommon to see soldiers walking with reversed muskets behind the coffin of a prisoner, with muffled drums and wailing fifes sounding a requiem as the procession passed through the camp gate on the way to the cemetery.
Escapes from Camp Douglas were common, although the escapees were often recaptured. The soil was so soft that it was a simple job for the prisoners to burrow tunnels under the barracks and beneath the wood fence to freedom.15 The soil they removed from their digging was packed into the floors of barracks or disposed of on the parade ground. (About five hundred prisoners escaped in this fashion in the four years the camp served as a prison.) In October, 1863, twenty-six men escaped from the camp dungeon by digging under the plank floor until they were •ten feet beyond the fence. Others escaped by posing as workmen repairing the outside fence, which had been partially burned. Some escapees were killed, or wounded and recaptured, often through bribes offered the "good citizens" of Chicago. In December, 1863, sixty-five of John Hunt Morgan's men16 escaped on a dark foggy night, but patrols soon picked up many of them. Their tunnel, •forty feet long, was the eighth attempt at digging, and the second to be successful.
At one end of "each barrack is . . . a long hall, with three tiers of bunks on either side, where [the prisoners] do their sleeping."
p49 On another occasion one man, employed in a sutler's shop, was placed in an empty sugar barrel and rolled onto a cart with other barrels and empty crates. When the driver was •half a mile outside camp, he heard a noise, turned around and saw the prisoner climb out of the barrel and make his way to freedom.17 At least one attempt was made by Union bounty-jumpers and deserters to help Confederate prisoners escape from Camp Douglas. A group of these "Union" men were caught in Chicago in November, 1864 and court-martialed at Douglas early in 1865 on a charge of conspiring to release rebel prisoners.18
The security of the camp was the responsibility of the Veteran Reserve Corps — units of convalescent and disabled Union soldiers not yet able to return to combat duty. The size of the garrison varied with the number of prisoners and p50 paroled troops, but it averaged from eight to nine hundred men. On July 24, 1862 the detail consisted of a captain, 7 lieutenants, 13 sergeants, 24 corporals and 382 privates, plus a patrol force which operated outside the fence. A year later there were 978 guards, with requisitions pending for 50 more. In December, 1863 the guard force totaled 1,196, of whom 859 were on duty. Late the following summer army inspectors reported that the prisoners were "more uneasy than usual" and recommended that another regiment be sent to Camp Douglas or that the 8th and 15th Reserve Corps be filled "to their maximum number"; they also suggested that two howitzers with fifty rounds of ammunition be sent to the camp. The request for the howitzers was denied since the battery of artillery already at the camp was deemed sufficient along with the five hundred revolvers furnished the guard. No new regiment was ordered to the camp, but by November five hundred additional men had been added to the existing guard force.19
In the summer of 1864, at the time of the so‑called Northwest Conspiracy, there had been 796 guards, divided between the 8th and the 15th Veteran Reserve Corps, and implemented by the 24th Ohio Battery. The 48th Missouri Volunteers were called to guard duty for a few months during that summer. (Previously, in 1863, the Michigan Sharpshooters had done garrison duty.) The Missourians were reinforced in August by the 106th Pennsylvania, a three-months' regiment, which stayed on until October, when its term of enlistment was up. Artillerymen never really performed guard or picket duty but were kept primarily as a reserve force for unforeseen emergencies. At the end of 1864 p51 the garrison consisted of 990 men in the 8th Veteran Reserve Corps, under Lieutenant Colonel Lewis C. Skinner, 980 in the 15th V. R. C., under Lieutenant Colonel Martin Flood, and 164 in the 24th Ohio Battery, under Captain John L. Hill — a total strength of 2,134 men. Colonel Benjamin J. Sweet commanded the camp at this time, resigning in the summer of 1865. After he left, Captain Edward R. P. Shurly, the post adjutant, was in charge until October, when he in turn was relieved by Captain E. C. Phetteplace, who had charge until the camp was abandoned shortly afterward.20
Camp Douglas was subjected to regular inspection by the army's Commissary of Prisoners, who sent regular reports to the Adjutant General's office in Washington. The welfare of the camp can best be examined through excerpts from these reports. Prison conditions were also reported by officers of the United States Sanitary Commission, which served about the same purpose as the Red Cross organization does today. When Henry W. Bellows, commission president, visited Camp Douglas on June 30, 1862, he found standing water, foul sinks, unventilated and crowded barracks overridden with vermin, general disorder, "miasmatic accretions," rotten bones and a great deal of garbage in evidence.21 That same summer Colonel William Hoffman, Commissary General of Prisoners, asked for an appropriation to improve the poor camp drainage — which was responsible for much of the sickness in hot weather — but on July 5 Quartermaster General M. C. Meigs refused the request, saying that ten thousand men certainly should be able to keep the place clean.22 On July 8 law was declared over an area p52 •one hundred feet outside the chain of sentinels. Severe penalties for violations of this military area were announced; two hundred posters were placed about the camp, and notices appeared in the Chicago papers — the Tribune, Post and Times.23 About this time Hoffman indicated that many prisoners had enlisted in the federal forces, joining the 23d and 65th Illinois Volunteers.24
A week later, five female prisoners, two of whom were with their husbands, arrived from Island No. 10,25 presenting a new kind of a problem; but it was soon solved, for most of the women became nurses and laundresses. In the next few weeks, incendiary fires destroyed some of the unoccupied barracks; these fires probably were set by unparoled Union troops, who also destroyed fences, tools, and other equipment valued at $7,652.70.26
In the fall of 1862 the paroled troops began to depart, but new prisoners soon arrived,27 unequipped for barracks life in the bitterly cold northern climate. Many became sick, through bad sanitation, lack of proper clothing and unaccustomed diet. By March 11, 1863, however, Inspector H. W. Freedley reported that conditions had improved and that the barracks and fence had been repaired. He said the camp was comfortably heated and was not too crowded. The prisoners were at work repairing the drainage system. Eight hundred of them had been under medical care when they arrived at camp, and there were still 125 cases of smallpox, which was to cause nineteen deaths. Most of these new prisoners p53 had come from Texas and Arkansas. Freedley also reported that rations supplied by private contractors cost $14.43 per hundred. About this time General Ambrose E. Burnside, in command of the district, transmitted a suggestion from the camp medical director that the prison be moved to Des Plaines; General Henry W. Halleck replied on March 29 that such a move was not possible.28 In April, General Ammen was transferred to Springfield, leaving the camp in command of Colonel Daniel Cameron, who was soon succeeded by Captain John C. Phillips, who, in turn, relinquished control to the new permanent commander, Colonel C. V. DeLand of the First Michigan Sharpshooters.
Early in May, before Colonel DeLand arrived, the camp was ordered cleared of all prisoners except those too sick to leave and a guard large enough to watch them — two companies of the Scotch Regiment and a few men of the 9th Vermont. Colonel DeLand took over that summer, about the time a new group of prisoners was sent to Douglas. To prepare for them, Colonel Hoffman had directed in June that a sewer system be installed. In September he recommended rebuilding the barracks burned the previous fall, but War Secretary Stanton refused this request because of the reported harsh treatment accorded Union prisoners in the South. It is interesting to note, however, that early the following year the barracks had to be rebuilt to alleviate overcrowded conditions. Some $52,000 was spent for this purpose; $182,000 went for new fences and sewers, $61,000 for the prison square and $80,000 for other buildings — a total of $375,000.29
Camp Douglas prisoners waiting for roll call — "Those who have the misfortune to be at the foot of the column may have to wait half an hour before they hear the welcome sound; and in cold or rainy weather this delay is not over-agreeable."
p54 Among the new prisoners who arrived in the summer of 1863 were such distinguished men as Sam Houston, Jr., Polk Johnson (son of Cave Johnson, then a Unionist member of the Tennessee State Senate), young Magruder Magoffin, the son of Governor Beriah Magoffin of Kentucky, and Henry M. Stanley, later to become a noted correspondent (of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" fame). DeLand apparently made a vigorous effort to improve conditions for those confined there, although an inspection on October 9 by A. M. Clark, surgeon and medical director of all prisoners of war, reported conditions bad. Clark indicated that 6,085 prisoners were guarded by a force of 978 men. He said there were only three water hydrants in the entire camp; there was much rain; the prisoners were annoyed by high winds that blew in sandy soil from the prairies. Discipline was reported as very lax, and ventilation was bad in the barracks. Although p55 the hospital and guard barracks were well heated, other buildings had little heat at all. Poor sanitary facilities still prevailed, and sinks were still open. Food was good and abundant, the hospital was good, but even the hospitalized men needed blankets and clean clothes. Twelve hundred prisoners had no blankets, and most of the men were filthy. Hospital facilities needed to be increased to care for 325 prisoners sick with typhoid, pneumonia and measles. Clark asked for two more doctors and reported that he had arranged to get ten more hydrants. He found the ditch on the north side along the fence filled with stagnant pools because the ground was uneven. The prisoners' barracks, he said, needed repairs and more ventilation and heat. A dungeon used for close confinement was •eighteen feet square, and had only one small window, a trap door in the ceiling, and a small, ill-smelling sink. Twenty-four men were confined there, although it had been designed to hold only three or four; not surprisingly, many had attempted to escape.30
As a result of this report, DeLand was ordered, on October 24, to rectify these conditions.31 At the close of the year there were about 1,800 Union men at camp, many of them caring for horses, since Chicago had been made a depot for the purchase of government horses. About 1,500 had been purchased at a cost of $1,800,000.32
On November 12, DeLand and his command were ordered away from Camp Douglas, but the order had to be suspended until he was relieved.33 Suddenly, on December 1, all trade with the sutlers was prohibited because of suspected p56 profiteering. Fowler and Company, provisioners, were ordered to make restitution for deficiencies in the beef, soap and molasses they had provided, and on February 20, 1864 DeLand was ordered court-martialed because of his neglect in these matters. The practice had been for contractors to deliver supplies directly to the rebel commissary sergeants, and the contractors had greatly cut deliveries although they invoiced for the full amounts.34
During November, 1863, fires that were caused by overheated stoves destroyed six barracks, as well as •four hundred feet of fence and much other property, despite the fact that city fire engines were brought in to help put out the blazes. By December the camp was so overcrowded that one thousand men had but sent to the military prison at Rock Island, Illinois. By the end of that month, coal stoves had been installed in all barracks. All the cot beds in the hospital now had hay mattresses, sheets, pillows stuffed with hay or hair, pillow slips and two or more blankets. New hospital clothing was adequate and rations were the same as for federal troops sick in government hospitals.35
To start 1864 in proper fashion, a new four-ward hospital was erected. During the preceding December hospital wards for prisoners took care of 134 cases of measles, 168 cases of mumps, 84 of pneumonia and 233 of catarrh. Of the 2,011 prisoners reported sick at the end of the year, 57 died. At the beginning of February there was an inspection of 1,781 U. S. troops and 5,581 prisoners. Other reports were about the same as before — the men were still filthy, although drainage was now good; policing was much neglected, but rations were abundant and good; clothing was poor and p57 there was a shortage of overcoats. The hospital was very clean, but the barracks were filthy. All barracks were being moved to the western end of the camp because the dirt floors in the other sections were muddy. Vaccination was thoroughly enforced.36
On May 2, 1864 the command fell upon Colonel James C. Strong, of the 15th V. R. C.; he was under the supervision of Colonel Benjamin J. Sweet, commander of the military district. Sweet's headquarters, formerly on Washington Street in Chicago, were removed to Camp Douglas, and he assumed personal supervision of the camp. For greater security, he had all the prisoners' barracks raised several feet above the ground to prevent tunneling. He cut the amount of rations served to prisoners, saying there was too much waste and that hominy, tea and candles had been taken into the tunnels. He thoroughly policed and drained the camp grounds, cut apart and moved barracks. Each of the thirty-two barracks was •ninety feet long, and housed 165 prisoners. p58 Sweet wanted thirty-nine more, which would cost $19,500 to build and would increase the capacity of the prison to about twelve thousand. In fact, so many prisoners came in that on June 13 Sweet had to requisition tentage to care for two thousand of them. He improved the post headquarters, built more apartments for officers' quarters and increased the company barracks sevenfold. He built many large warehouses for the quartermaster, commissary and other departments and added two large hospitals in the garrison enclosure.37
Colonel Benjamin J. Sweet, commander of Camp Douglas in 1864‑1865.
Prisoners continued to arrive so fast that Sweet had to double accommodations. Most of these recent arrivals were "souvenirs" of Hood's defeats. Again, these men were weak and destitute when they arrived at Camp Douglas. The table accompanying this narrative shows 7,652 new arrivals during 1864. Two hundred federal enlisted men also were held at Douglas during the year; 23,037 prisoners were treated in the hospitals, and 1,156 died. With only 420 hospital beds, one can well understand the urgent need for more facilities.38
this activity on the part of Sweet was reflected in the report of July 25, 1864, which indicated that the camp was in excellent condition, well disciplined and policed. The change since April was astonishing. For example, there was the new hospital with 225 beds, well kept. Only forty-six cases of smallpox were known; interment now was made by a sexton under contract. On September 9 the smallpox hospital was ordered removed to Dull Grove, the move to be p59 paid for from prison funds. About this time, Sweet received authorization to build new quarters on the prison square to take care of expected new prisoners, at a cost of $500 per building.39
During the summer the famed Northwest Conspiracy came to a head. A group of subversive elements called the "Sons of Liberty," or "Copperheads," planned to seize various prison camps throughout the country, release the Confederate prisoners and assume political control of the North. Their original intention was to strike during the convention of the National Democratic Party at Chicago in August. The "Supreme Grand Council" of this group met in Chicago on July 20 and planned a series of training meetings for their people. They set August 16 as the date on which to strike. Through particularly good detective work, their movements were known and watched. On August 9 General Samuel P. Heintzelman, at Columbus, Ohio, alerted Washington,40 and cautioned the authorities there to watch for disturbances in the Midwest, especially in Indiana and Illinois. Camp Douglas was reinforced by a new guard regiment — the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Another was sent to the prison at Rock Island. Meanwhile, August 16 came and passed without any serious action. But the Sons of Liberty had set a new date for their uprising — August 29 — and had sent Confederate officers to Chicago to prepare for action. United States authorities were kept apprised of the plans and assigned I. Winslow Ayer, a patent medicine vendor, and Thomas H. Keefe, a secret service operative, to Chicago, where they joined the Sons of Liberty and were soon in a position to keep Sweet posted. On August 28 the leaders met again and p61 learned that the prisoners within the camp were organized to help, once the attack started. To the prisoners' amazement, they learned that the attacking force had not been organized and that the conspirators were very weak. The crowning blow came when the leaders were told that the garrison had suddenly been strengthened. They abandoned their plan, but later set a third date for the liberation of the prisoners — November 8, the day of the presidential election. This time the plot was foiled by General Sweet, who made simultaneous arrests of the leaders on the night of November 6‑7.41
By this time the 8,352 Confederate prisoners were filling nearly every job in camp. About one-third of them were Texas Rangers and Morgan's guerrillas — wild, reckless fighting men. They served out rations, ammunition and clothing to their guards, and some kept records in Sweet's office. Suddenly all of their activities were curtailed and they were confined to barracks. They made an abortive attempt to break out September 15, 1864 — the same day that saw the seizure of the steamers Parsons and Island Queen and affair at Johnson's Island, Ohio; it also was the day the new draft had been advertised to start.42
Shortly afterward, inspection reports indicated a general discouragement among the prisoners, most of whom had now been confined for more than a year. The prisoners needed better medical officers, doctors who would be more efficient in caring for the sick. On October 8, 984 men, of a total prisoner population of 7,402, were reported sick in barracks. There was an insufficient ration of potatoes and p62 other vegetables, especially of the antiscorbutics sutlers were not permitted to sell. In the inspection reports of August and September it was recommended that a •six-inch water pipe replace the three-inch pipe then in use, and also that new kitchen boilers for the barracks replace eighteen boilers considered unsafe. The request for the pipe was granted and Sweet was informed that he had authority to replace the boilers whenever new ones were needed.43 inspection reports of November 6 indicated that Morgan's men were behaving badly and that smallpox cases were increasing.44
On January 15, 1865 conditions were reported to be good; there were only sixteen new cases of smallpox and varioloid. The only need was for new blankets. Because of good hospital facilities, it was suggested that sick prisoners be transferred from the prison hospital at Camp Douglas to the post hospital without guards and that Union sick use the prison hospital as well.45 Five days later a guard shot a prisoner in the prison square for committing a nuisance (urinating). A military commission called this shooting justifiable. On March 15 one prisoner murdered another by stabbing him.46
Early in the spring the discharge of prisoners started. After the collapse of the Rebellion and the fall of Richmond, prisoners were released quickly. As early as February, 178 had taken the oath of allegiance to the United States, and in May — the month after the war's end — 1,496 were released. By the beginning of July only thirty men, patients in the hospital, remained in Camp Douglas. Shortly thereafter, the garrison guard was demobilized.47
p63 For a short time the grounds served as a place of rendezvous for the regiments of federal troops returning to be mustered out. On November 24, 1865, the government started selling the camp property. For a time the hospital was used as a city hospital. Then the barracks were torn down and the lumber sold. The fences were sold for what they could bring in; in all, 158 buildings were destroyed.48
In the years since then, the city of Chicago has expanded, and streets and subdivisions have spread over the camp property. The last relic of Camp Douglas was found in 1919 when the excavation for a new house uncovered the foundation of one of the camp offices. About the only Civil War associations remaining in the neighborhood are the home of Senator Lyman Trumbull — nearby on Lake Park Avenue south of Thirty-ninth Street — and the monument to Stephen A. Douglas, which stands on the camp site.
1 Elias Colbert, Chicago: Historical and Statistical Sketch of the Garden City . . . (Chicago, 1868), 93.
2 William Bross, Biographical Sketch of the Late Gen. B. J. Sweet . . . (Chicago, 1878), 11.
3 Colbert, Chicago, 94, 99; Edmund Kirke, "Three Days at Camp Douglas," Our Young Folks, 1 (April-June, 1865): 252‑60, 291‑298, 357‑60.
4 A. T. Andreas, History of Chicago from the Earliest Period to the Present Time (Chicago, 1884‑1886), II: 302.
5 Bross, B. J. Sweet, 13‑14; Colbert, Chicago, 94.
6 Ibid., 93.
10 E. R. P. Shurly, "Historic Bell of St. Mark's," The Diocese of Chicago, Vol. XXXIV, No. 9, pp14, 18.
** Except in March, 1865, when 304 men were transferred, these figures include only 64 other transfers; the remainder were "delivered or exchanged."
† In hospital.
17 Chicago Daily Tribune, May 26, 1895.
18 Colbert, Chicago, 99.
20 Colbert, Chicago, 95; Bross, B. J. Sweet, 27; Andreas, History of Chicago, II: 303.
26 Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 18, 1862; W. A. Goodspeed and D. D. Healy, eds., History of Cook County, Illinois . . . (Chicago, 1909), II: 466; Official Records, Ser. II, Vol. 4, pp644‑45 and Vol. 5, p214.
40 George Fort Milton, Abraham Lincoln and the Fifth Column (Washington, 1943), 211‑16.
41 Ibid., 223; Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, eds., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois (Chicago, 1907), 74‑76.
48 Andreas, History of Chicago, II: 303.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
American History Notes
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 16 Apr 19