Discussion Camp Douglas

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From 2017 but does a great job summarizing the history of including pics of Camp Douglas by Loyola history professor and the author of "Civil War Chicago: Eyewitness to History" and some others perspectives of it, including a memorial and potential museum, today in Chicago. Even has a radio interview on the site:

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Photo courtesy Chicago History Museum

When Chris Rowland’s co-worker told him that Chicago was once home to a Civil War prison camp, he almost didn’t believe it. But a bit of Googling led Chris to a name, Camp Douglas, and a location, Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. It also led him to the camp’s gloomy history, one that included dismal living conditions and a death toll that numbered in the thousands. Beyond that, though, Chris, a 36-year-old sales engineer at a South Side manufacturing company, found hardly any information about the camp. So he came to Curious City for help:


Why was there a prison camp in Chicago during the Civil War and why did so many people die there? What happened to it?

Camp Douglas was one of the largest POW camps for the Union Army, located in the heart of Bronzeville. More than 40,000 troops passed through the camp during its nearly four years in operation. What’s more — and this is where it gets gloomier — it’s been hyperbolically remembered by some historians as the “deadliest prison in American history” and “eighty acres of hell.” So the fact that Chris, despite his earnest attempt, didn’t find much on Camp Douglas interested Curious City, too. How could one of the deadliest Civil War prison camps virtually disappear from our collective memory? Answering this part of Chris’s question had us consider how a city acknowledges the darker parts of its past and the benefits, if any, of remembering them at all.

Why Chicago?

Located on the South Side of Chicago around 31st Street between Cottage Grove Avenue and present-day Martin Luther King Drive, Camp Douglas occupied roughly four square blocks — about 80 acres total — and operated from 1861 to 1865. Back then the area was the country, outside the city limits. Today, it’s Bronzeville.

When it opened in 1861, Camp Douglas was a training and enlistment center for Union soldiers, a pit stop or starting point for soldiers headed to the battlefield. In other words, it had been improvised, and wasn’t meant to hold prisoners or last more than a couple years. After all, no one thought the Civil War would go on as long as it did.

But then, in February 1862, Ulysses S. Grant captured roughly 5,000 Confederate soldiers in a victory at the Battle of Fort Donelson at the Tennessee-Kentucky border. With nowhere else for the captured troops to go, Camp Douglas became a Union Army prisoner-of-war camp, and it stayed one for the duration of the war.

As it turns out, Chicago’s role as a transportation hub made it an ideal location first for a training camp and, later, for a prison. Eight railroads crisscrossed the region in a spaghetti soup of tracks that allowed goods to move to and fro. Young men could travel from various parts of the state to enlist. From there, the Union Army would assemble regiments and brigades and ship soldiers by rail to the front lines.

What’s more, the camp’s location was directly off the Illinois Central Railroad. At the time, this was the longest railroad in the world, running from Cairo, Illinois, along the Ohio River, to Chicago. History buffs may recall that at the beginning of the war Cairo was General Grant’s staging location for Union attacks on the Confederacy. Once he captured Confederate troops, they were only a steamboat and train ride away from Camp Douglas.

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“Camp Douglas was Chicago’s principal connection to the Civil War,” says Theodore Karamanski, a history professor at Loyola University in Chicago and the author of Civil War Chicago: Eyewitness to History.

‘Eighty acres of hell’
Camp Douglas’ makeshift nature showed in its rickety wooden barracks and crude sewer system. Soon, though, the camp was taking on more and more prisoners and keeping them for longer and longer. But because neither side intended on taking large numbers of prisoners for extended periods of time, Camp Douglas — as well as most other Civil War prison camps — proved unprepared to handle them.
That is when all the prison camps got a lot nastier,” Karamanski says.

The camp was meant for no more than 6,000 prisoners, and as its ranks grew to roughly 12,000 at its peak it became more dangerous than any battlefield. Overcrowding and poor sanitation spread diseases such as dysentery, smallpox, typhoid fever and tuberculosis. Illness became the camp’s leading cause of death, claiming roughly 4,500 Confederate soldiers, or 17 percent of the total number of men imprisoned at the camp during its nearly four years in operation, according to Karamanski’s estimate. In his book, Karamanski cites an 1862 report by the U.S. Sanitary Commission, wherein an agent admonished Camp Douglas for its ...
REST OF ARTICLE WITH PICS:
https://www.wbez.org/shows/curious-...son-camp/92844206-a9bc-4f62-8786-d5afef093379
 

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