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Camp Chase and the Evolution of Union Prison Policy

Written by Roger Pickenpaugh

Publication Year: 2007

Camp Chase was a major Union POW camp and also served at various times as a Union military training facility and as quarters for Union soldiers who had been taken prisoner by the Confederacy and released on parole or exchanged. As such, this careful, thorough, and objective examination of the history and administration of the camp will be of true significance in the literature on the Civil War.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

It may be a tired clich

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pp. 1-5

In 1861, with the guns of Fort Sumter still resounding in their imaginations, most citizens in what remained of the United States had one thought—“On to Richmond!” Initially not wanting to believe that the war would come, most now chose to believe that it would be a quick, easy, and relatively bloodless affair. Even...

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1. Training Camp

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pp. 6-19

April 12, 1861 fell on a Friday. The Ohio Senate was in session, “trying to go on in the ordinary routine of business,” Senator Jacob Cox later recalled, “but with a sense of anxiety and strain which was caused by the troubled condition of national affairs.” The previous fall, Abraham Lincoln had been elected the sixteenth president...

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2. Improvised Prison Camp

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pp. 20-46

At the time of its occurrence, it is doubtful that the moment seemed particularly auspicious. On June 29, 1861, a single prisoner, the first brought there “for alleged participation in the rebellion,” arrived in Columbus. According to the local press, he was lodged “in the Stationhouse.” Six days later Lt. J. E. McGowan of the Twenty- first Ohio...

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3. Parole Camp

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pp. 47-65

For thousands of families, Northern and Southern, whose relatives were being held as prisoners of war, the signing of the exchange cartel was a source of tremendous relief. For Union officials it quickly became a source of problems. Chief among them was the realization by Union soldiers that capture now meant a quick...

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4. Exchange and Escape

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pp. 66-85

While the cartel remained in effect, the number of Confederate prisoners at Camp Chase remained low. Between September 1862 and June 1863 it ranged from 756 to 1,367. During that time a total of 2,063 Confederate soldiers was exchanged. As the cartel collapsed in the summer of 1863, the prison population again began to rise, exceeding...

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5. The Search for Stability

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pp. 86-103

It is not clear when Union officials decided that Camp Chase would remain a Union prison. Indeed, there is no evidence that they ever consciously reached such a conclusion. The end of prisoner exchanges following the collapse of the cartel simply limited their options. As the number of captives in federal hands shot up...

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6. The Lives of the Prisoners

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pp. 104-120

For prisoners arriving in Columbus, the recent days or weeks had already been trying. Capture, layovers in jails that were often filthy, and long marches and rides in freight cars proved difficult for all and debilitating for many. After all this they reached the Ohio capital only to learn that a four-mile march from the depot to Camp...

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7. The Health of the Prisoners

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pp. 121-133

During Camp Chase’s four years as a Union military camp, the most common complaint from soldiers there was about the ubiquitous mud. The nuisance produced by wet weather, freezing and thawing ground, and the camp’s poor drainage garnished diaries and letters home, whether their writers were Union or Confederate. Recruit...

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8. “i think i feel a change”

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pp. 134-144

The case of Washington Pickens Nance was not unique. Among the saddest ironies of Camp Chase’s four years of service is the fact that the number of deaths peaked in February 1865, two months before Lee’s surrender and five months before the facility was virtually empty of prisoners. Camp officials were not entirely to...

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Afterword: Keeping Alive the Memory

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pp. 145-148

On July 14, 1865 Gen. Richardson sold “the prison property of Camp Chase” at public auction. There was little in which anybody would have been interested, windows perhaps being the most valuable offerings. The sale brought in $3,200. Richardson reported to Hoffman that another $1,000 worth of property...


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pp. 149-166

Bibliographical Essay

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pp. 167-169


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pp. 171-175

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380359
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817315825

Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Camp Chase (Ohio) -- Administration -- History.
  • Ohio -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Prisoners and prisons.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Prisoners and prisons.
  • Prisoners of war -- Ohio -- History -- 19th century.
  • Camp Chase (Ohio) -- History.
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