Discussion Camp Douglas

Belle Montgomery

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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-city/chicagos-forgotten-civil-war-prison-camp/92844206-a9bc-4f62-8786-d5afef093379
 

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Good documentary on the camp. It seems very much kept under the radar compared to Andersonville.
Although there was immense mistreatment, suffering and high death rates, I think it's over the top that the narrator referred to Camp Douglas as an "extermination camp" which puts it on the same level as those of WW II that were purposely designed and used as such. Likewise I would not refer to any other Federal or Confederate POW camp as an "extermination camp."
 

Rebforever

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Although there was immense mistreatment, suffering and high death rates, I think it's over the top that the narrator referred to Camp Douglas as an "extermination camp" which puts it on the same level as those of WW II that were purposely designed and used as such. Likewise I would not refer to any other Federal or Confederate POW camp as an "extermination camp."
You really think that? After Lincoln cut their rations? And men starving to death? You know better than that, my friend!
 
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You really think that? After Lincoln cut their rations? And men starving to death? You know better than that, my friend!
Any ration cuts to prisoners were not made by Lincoln or his orders and it has been shown with numerous sources on a number of other threads that the any ration cuts ordered were made to match the exact rations that Confederate soldiers in the field were given by their own government.
 

Rebforever

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Any ration cuts to prisoners were not made by Lincoln or his orders and it has been shown with numerous sources on a number of other threads that the any ration cuts ordered were made to match the exact rations that Confederate soldiers in the field were given by their own government.
One of the officers that ran the prison was a good friend of Lincoln (Wiki) So much for that.
 

Rebforever

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Lincoln had many friends, don't mean HE dictated everything THEY did, does it.

Kevin Dally
He ran the army so he is in charge. And he had the chance to feed those prisoners. Andersonville sent a Union Soldier who wanted to go talk to Lincoln about some meds, and food for the Union solders there. He and his minions wouldn't even do that
 

scone

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lot of reenacting friends In the "80 acres of Hell". Think most was filmed in Gallatin , TN not sure location... Regardless Union had the the ability to help southern POWs while as it went on Southern army couldn't feed themselves much less POWs... I would say it say it was more barbaric than Andersonville … Due to the union had the ability to make things better while the was doing all the they could … just my 2 cents though... Had Family in several POW camps Andersonville one I think Douglas was other will have to look
 

KianGaf

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Never been to Douglas not much of a place to see have been to Andersonville .. a must visit as the National POW museum is there ...
Only seem to have a recently installed historic marker, not sure if there is much to see.

The difference between the camps in the CW to WW2 is that the cruelty in WW2 camps was systematic, where the CW camps seem suffer from willing negligence.
 

CSA Today

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He ran the army so he is in charge. And he had the chance to feed those prisoners. Andersonville sent a Union Soldier who wanted to go talk to Lincoln about some meds, and food for the Union solders there. He and his minions wouldn't even do that
If Lincoln and his political cronies didn't care the plight of his own people in Confederate POW camps they weren't likely to care about Confederate POWs.
 

Tin cup

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The South had food, Sherman's men got plenty of it on the "March", the Southern folk strike me as not caring for the Union prisoners either. Davis and HIS cronies didn't care a hoot about union prisoners. We can go tit-for-tat here all day long if you want on prison camps on both sides.

Kevin Dally
 


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