Camp Chase and the Evolution of Union Prison Policy
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
List of Illustrations
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It may be a tired clich�, but it is also an accurate one: nobody produces a book like this by himself, and in writing this one I have incurred numerous debts. Among those to whom I owe thanks are the staff members at the institutions where research for this work was conducted. They were...
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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...
1. Training Camp
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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...
2. Improvised Prison Camp
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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...
3. Parole Camp
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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...
4. Exchange and Escape
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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...
5. The Search for Stability
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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...
6. The Lives of the Prisoners
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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...
7. The Health of the Prisoners
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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...
8. “i think i feel a change”
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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...
Afterword: Keeping Alive the Memory
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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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Publication Year: 2007