Saturday, May 30, 2009

February 1864: Fire, Water, and Misery

The necessity for a sewer at Camp Douglas was again brought to the attention of the quartermaster's department. No immediate action was taken.

The Sanitary Commission returned and made a report detailing the poor condition of the camp’s hospital. They were disgusted to find that inmates were without a change of clothing, covered with vermin, and without proper beds. The death rate was mounting; two hundred and sixty prisoners out of eight thousand died between January 27th and February 18. The commission was quick to point out that at such a rate the camp would be emptied by death in three hundred and twenty days.[i]

Dr. Clark returned to re-inspect the camp. He reconfirmed the lack of sanitation and cleanliness.[ii]

“Sunday February 14th, 1864. Weather pleasant. A case of smallpox was taken outside of the camp to the smallpox hospital, from the next barracks below us, and several other cases are reported, causing considerable uneasiness among the prisoners, and the Yanks themselves. Some Yankee surgeon came around and vaccinated nearly all of the fifth and fourteenth KY reg’ts. I concluded to put it off to see how it served others, not believing that the matter was pure. Pa as Sergeant major of the fourteenth KY got permission to build or partition a room in number eight barrack for his mess. So five or six of us made a double floor and a partition making a room ten feet wide by twenty-five feet long, with one window back and one window and a door front. The prisoners were marched out by regiments and vaccinated. In times of peace this used to be Valentine day, but I see nothing here to remind me of such old times.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[iii]

On February 16th, William Huff recorded that the weather was almost as cold as it had been in January. He too expressed concern that smallpox was spreading amongst the prisoners.[iv]

The vaccine must have been of some use as Burke’s entries complain more over lack of holidays than lack of health.

“Monday, February 22nd, 1864. Weather pleasant. The prisoners are amusing themselves out of doors at running, jumping, flying kites, and playing ball. Mrs. Finnley’s new sutlers store opened today with prices very high. We made up a mess fund of four dollars in Yankee money and I took charge of it as secretary and treasurer for the mess. I got some things today at the sutler’s for the mess. In times of peace this day was celebrated as Washington’s birthday, but I have not seen the slightest signs of any demonstration whatever on the part of the Yankees, but we still honor his memory.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[v]

Escapes were still being attempted.

“Saturday, February 27th, 1864. Weather cloudy. The whole camp ground was nearly covered with standing water, looking almost like a large pond. The Yankee roll call sergeant had some trouble to get our regiment out in line in the mud. Last night four prisoners tried to escape. They put two ladders against the fence and two got away, and one, John Cecil of Co. K eight KY was mortally wounded and the other man reached his quarters without detection. The Yankees are busy raising our barracks higher with jack screws. We were two feet from the ground before, but now we will be five feet. This is being done to prevent us from digging out under the floors. The barracks will be set on six inch timbers legs so that the Yanks can see under them. There [are] some twenty odd new Yankee barracks being erected in their part of the camp. I received a letter from Miss D. R. of Richmond KY. The night was cold, and the ground froze up.

Sunday, February 28th, 1864. Weather pleasant. Sun out. The Yanks are at work as usual today. We have good news of a severe Yankee defeat in Florida. Jno. Cecil shot yesterday died at the hospital today. Most of us washed and shaved up. Each of us generally washed once a week.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[vi]

Even the smallest coincidences are striking as one reads these accounts. As Cecils married into both my maternal and paternal lines, the Cecil name struck me. Checking my files I discovered that James Edward Evans’ son Howard married John Cecil’s cousin (several times removed) Mayme Lee Summers. Had the two men known each other?

On February 29th, yet another fire blazed through Garrison Square. The cause does not appear to have but arson but rather a combination of flimsy wooden buildings and red hot stove pipes.

“Monday, February 29th, 1864. Weather cool. An old two story sutler’s store, and about two hundred feet of barracks and kitchens, also some sheds, wood, etc. were all burned in the Yankee part of camp today. Two steam fire engines and two hand engines were soon on hand. The evening paper stated that the sutler’s store was used as a carpenter’s shop, and a workman made a fire in the stove and went up stairs. By some means the shavings around the stove took fire and he was driven from the house by the smoke before he could save the tools. I made six dried apple pies today. A man or two escapes some way or other nearly every night.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[vii]


[i] Hesseltine, William Best. “Civil War Prisons”
[ii] Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Ser. II, Vol. VI, 908- 910
[iii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[iv] Diary of William Huff
[v] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[vi] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[vii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry

Saturday, May 16, 2009

January 1864: Frostbite, the Rumor Mills, and Moving Barracks

“ Fire and Ice
by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.”

308 prisoners died at Camp Douglas in January 1864. This feeble essay is dedicated to their memory.

On January 1st, 1864, the temperature at Camp Douglas was recorded as 18 degrees below zero during the day and 25 degrees below zero later that night. The snowfall was very heavy. In his diary, William huff recorded awaking with frozen ears, nose and chin. During the night, the moisture from the men’s breath had frozen and two inch long icicles hung from the rafters. Huff’s wrath over the conditions was so great he was determined to report it to Head Quarters. The Union guard atop the walkway on the fence had to be replaced every half an hour due to the artic atmosphere.

The prisoners made the best of the bitter conditions.

“Friday, January 1st, 1864. New Year’s day. Weather bitter cold. The snow in some places was four and five feet deep, and a regular gale was blowing it about in drifts so that it nearly took a man’s breath from him to go even a hundred yards. Six or seven of the guards froze on their beats last night and this morning, so that they had to be taken to the Yankees hospital. I put a pot of dried peaches to cooking on the stove to make a big peach roll for dinner. Near twelve o’clock a guard was put at every door in the barracks and no one allowed to go out except for fuel, water or a case of absolute necessity. The severity of the weather remains unchanged, and I think these guards were taken from the fence to keep from freezing and put at the doors to prevent our escaping. I and Henry White [ate] our peach roll by ourselves. I intended to invite Pa and others in his barracks to take dinner with us, but the blockade cut off my communication. The men had to carry all the fuel and water they used, and some came near freezing at it. They had to go about four hundred yards to the wood yard by details. The wood and coal had always been hauled to us till today. At dusk an officer came around and notified us and the guards that in half an hour no one would be allowed outside of out barracks under any pretext whatever until daylight. The night was very cold, but the guards kept the coal stoves red hot all night, which kept the barracks warm, and we slept well.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry [i]

“In each barrack there was only two stoves to two hundred men, and for a stove to warm one hundred men, it was frequently red hot.”

~ T. D. Henry, Company E, Duke's Regiment, Second Kentucky Cavalry[ii]

In contrast, the freezing weather brought the fury the camp leadership felt toward the escape attempts to a head. General William W. Orme placed new regulations in effect. Curtis Burke noted them in his diary:

“January 3rd, 1864. Weather cold, but moderated a little since yesterday. The snow lies mostly in drifts, some of them five feet high and so hard that a man can stand on them. A Yankees Sergeant came around to all the barracks and read a long list of new rules or orders signed by brig. Gen. Orme and H. Burr, Assistant Adjutant Gen. Commanding Post of Chicago. Co. De Land and the other officers at headquarters still remain in office. The substance of the new orders are as follows: 1st that we must only write every thirteen days and then only one letter of two pages of note paper each. The whole number of prisoners in camp was divided into thirteen squads each having a certain day to write. 2nd That we can not visit other squares unless we get a pass from the officer of the day. 3rd That we must be in our barracks by five o’clock p. m. and put out all lights and fires out at the beating of the drum at eight o’clock p.m. and no one allowed out side of the barracks till day, except to go to the sink. A man in F. Cluke’s’ eight Kentucky badly cut a comrade in a personal quarrel.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[iii]

“We now write by "squad" of which there are 13 in the prison and one letter oneach day that the squad writes is allowed to each prisoner in it; so you see we are allowed to write one letter every 13 days.”

~ Robert W. Taylor, 10th Kentucky

“S. C. Crawford died Jan 4th 1864 of a protracted illness at Chicago”

~Ezekiel A. Brown, CO. G. 62 NCI[iv]

The new regulations did not seem to matter. Burke reported that guards found more tunnels on January 6th.

“Friday, January 8th, 1864. Weather cold. We have had rumors for several days that prisoners of war were ordered to Point Lookout, under gen. Butler’s jurisdiction to be kept till the Confederate Government will consent to recognize Butler and exchange negro soldiers captured. As far as I can learn, most of the prisoners would rather remain prisoners a year longer than be exchanged through Beast Butler (as we call him) for negro troops.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[v]

Confederates first began to refer to General Benjamin F. Butler as “Beast Butler” on May 15th, 1862, when he issued General Order No. 28 which directed Union soldiers in New Orleans to treat “as a woman of the town plying her avocation’ any female who insulted in any way an officer of the United States.[vi]

“Saturday, January 9th, 1864. Weather cool. The ground has thawed some leaving standing water. There is a foolish rumor circulated through camp by some mischevious person to the effect that the whole number of prisoners in camp had to draw beans to get ten black beans. The persons getting the black beans to be shot, in retaliation for ten men reported shot at Richmond, Virginia. Absurd rumors of various kinds circulated through camp.

~Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[vii]

President Lincoln met with Congressman Brutus J. Clay, of Kentucky, and a very frantic woman by the name of Mrs. Haggard. Mrs. Haggard’s nineteen-year-old son Edward was a prisoner at Camp Douglas and she wished to petition Lincoln for his release.[viii]

“Executive Mansion,
Washington, Jan. 14, 1864.

To-day Hon. Brutus J. Clay calls with Mrs. Haggard, and asks that her son, Edward Haggard, now in his nineteenth year, and a prisoner of War at Camp Douglas, may be discharged. Let him take the oath of Dec. 8. and be discharged. A. LINCOLN

Do the same for William H. Moore. A. LINCOLN”[ix]

On January 18th, 1864, the number of prisoners at Camp Douglas reached 5,616. Overcapacity was noted during inspection. Dr. Edward D. Kittoe, of the surgeon-general’s office, found the prisoners “filthy” and their barracks overcrowded. He concluded that the camp was unfit for use.[x] Dr. Kittoe is noted for his tireless efforts to institute more sanitary conditions and better medical procedures during the war. The work of this single individual likely saved thousands of lives, Union and Confederate.

“ ‘The [camp] is low and flat, rendering drainage imperfect,’ admitted Surgeon Edward D. Kittoe, U. S. Volunteers, ‘ [I]ts proximity to Lake Michigan and consequent exposure to cold, damp winds from off this large body of water, with the flat, marshy character of the soil, must of necessity create a tendency to disease…At [times] the ground is covered with snow and the frost is severe. When the frost gives way and fogs and usual dampness of spring succeed, in conjunction with the surrounding with large cattle yards, slaughter-houses and other offensive matter usual to the suburbs of large cities…disease will assume as a low or typhoid type, and per consequence, the rate of mortality will increase.’” [xi]

Endless months of hunger drove men to eat anything they could find. Near starvation, some prisoners, desperate for protein, killed and ate the rats that ran from under floorboards as one of the old kitchen buildings was demolished.

“I have seen men eat rats and pronounce the flesh good and palatable.”

~ R. T. Bean, Company I, Eighth Kentucky Cavalry[xii]

“Two of the men gathered them up to clean them and to eat them. I understand that rat eating is very extensively carried on in the other squares, but my curiosity has never made me taste any rats yet…[the men] clean them like squirrels and let them soak well in salt water.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[xiii]

General Orme, determined to bring of order to the camp, began moving prisoners from White Oak Square to the new Prisoner’s Square in an effort to tighten security. To keep cost low, the old barracks were moved to the new square and set above the ground on five foot legs to prevent tunneling.

“The arrangements of the prison were changed. The barracks were all raised and placed on posts about four feet high, thus putting an end forever to future tunneling. An extra thickness of lumber was put on the fence to the height of about eight feet from the ground, and I realized that escapes were at an end.”

~ R. T. Bean, Company I, Eighth Kentucky Cavalry[xiv]

Prisoners were moved and shuffled in and out of various barracks for several days as the moving took place.

"Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! or The Prisoner's Hope" (1864)
As sung by Edwin Kelly of Arlington Kelly & Leon's Minstrels.
Words and Music by George Frederick Root

In the prison cell I sit,
Thinking Mother, dear, of you,
And our bright and happy home so far away,
And the tears, they fill my eyes
Spite of all that I can do,
Tho' I try to cheer my comrades and be gay.

Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,
Cheer up comrades they will come.
And beneath the starry flag
We shall breathe the air again,
Of the free-land in our own beloved home.

In the battle front we stood
When their fiercest charge they made,
And they swept us off a hundred men or more,
But before we reach'd their lines
They were beaten back dismayed,
And we heard the cry of vict'ry o'er and o'er.

Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,
Cheer up comrades they will come.
And beneath the starry flag
We shall breathe the air again,
Of the free-land in our own beloved home.

So within the prison cell,
We are waiting for the day
That shall come to open wide the iron door,
And the hollow eye grows bright,
And the poor heart almost gay,
As we think of seeing home and friends once more.

Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,
Cheer up comrades they will come.
And beneath the starry flag
We shall breathe the air again,
Of the free-land in our own beloved home.

Near the end of the month, the weather finally began to improve and the last of the barracks were rolled to their new locations.

“Wednesday, January 27th, 1864. Weather pleasant. We had to move out before breakfast. The whole number of barracks three hundred feet in all in length have the rollers under them and a capstan[?] on each side near one end to pull them along. The yanks told us to lay hold and help them and some of the men did so, but were ordered around so roughly that they quit. Then the yanks swore that we should not sleep in the barracks while being moved because we would not work. I received a letter from home dated the twenty-fist inst. And a notice from headquarters of some things for myself and Pa at the express office. Six or seven of us passed the guards with Pa and got our goods, etc. I got nearly everything that my letter called for. There [were] some apples in my box and the examiner gave me one and Pa one and a Yank sitting by wanted one of them, till the examiner told him that there was more in the box. We were not allowed to have the boxes for fear they had false bottoms etc. with money or contraband news in them. In the evening a good many of the men took their things outside of the square on a grass plot and erected some sheds out of old timber to sleep under. A lot of us got up on the new hospital on the sly and saw the lake, city, and surrounding country. The country outside of the city as far as I could see was nearly level and thinly settled. Near dusk an officer came around and made us all move back in the old square, where the mud was six inches deep, to spend the night. I and Henry White took our blankets over to number eight barrack where most of the fourteenth KY were and slept in an empty bottom bunk. This barrack with barracks No. nine and ten will also be moved as soon as our five barracks reach their new position. I did not think that so long a string of building could be moved without breaking to pieces. The rats kept me awake most of the night running around my head.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[xv]

The above date, “the twenty-first inst.,” refers to the 21st of the current month. Thus the letter burke received from home was written on January 21, 1864.

On January 28th, 1864, Dr. William D. Lee, who had worked in the prison hospital, was arrested and charged in connection with bribery and an escape plot.

“William Lee, M.D. entered the Federal records in October 1863, when he was hired as a contract surgeon (a rank also called "acting assistant surgeon") at Camp Douglas, Illinois, providing care for the Confederate prisoners there. The following month, this Memphis-born physician took the Oath of Allegiance, and described how he and his family had been driven from his native Tennessee, because of his activities with the Union League.

A few months later, the city police in Chicago arrested a William R. Messick and found in his pockets many letters from John B. Messick (William's brother and a prisoner at Camp Douglas), a receipt that John had received $20 from Dr. Lee,... On the reverse is printed "D. F. Brandon, Photographer, Camp Douglas, Ill." Above that, in Lee's own hand, is: "Dr. W. D. Lee, M.D., Camp Douglas, Dec. 22'd, 1863." Lee's only defense was that he had known the Messicks before the war, through church, and was only trying to be helpful.

Lee was convicted of smuggling a total of $35 into the prison (enough to bribe a guard) and with smuggling letters out, also a serious offense. Hc was sentenced to two years of prison.

Incarcerated at Fort Delaware, Lee impressed Brigadier General Albin F. Schoepf, the prison's commander, and the post surgeon, Dr. C. E. Goddard. Schoepf wrote that Lee was a well-behaved prisoner and provided valuable health services to the Confederate officer prisoners. The effects of prison life and the deaths of his two children wore Lee down, and Schoepf recommended early release; Surgeon Goddard reported Lee to bc a "competent and useful doctor." In September of 1864, Lee was released and quickly applied for another Army post; his request was rejected on grounds of his previous conviction. Again, Schoepf intervened, sending a letter to the Surgeon General on Lee's behalf. By early 1865, Lee had another Army contract, this time signed in New Orleans. For the next eighteen months he worked at Baton Rouge, doing sick call and visiting the ‘cholera tents.’’[xvi]

[i] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[ii] Deposition of T. D. Henry, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. I. Richmond, Va., March, 1876.
No.4. April - Pages 273 - 276
[iii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[iv] Civil War Diary of E. A. Brown
[v] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[vi] Trefousse, Hans L. “ Ben Butler: The South Called Him BEAST!” 1957, p. 111
[vii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[viii] Basler, Roy P., Marion Dolores Pratt, and Lloyd A. Dunlap, eds., “The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln”
[ix] ADS-P, ISLA.
[x] Levy, George .“To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 11, p. 183-184
[xi] Speer, Lonnie R. “Portals to Hell: Military Prison Camps of the Civil War” p. 136
[xii] Account given by R. T. Bean
[xiii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[xiv] Account given by R. T. Bean
[xv] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[xvi] The sharp end, Jul/Aug 1999 by Beck, Michael, Valentine, Scott, Lyon, Robert, Fitzpatrick, Michael, Et al

Sunday, May 3, 2009

December, 1863: No Colder place

"At Camp Douglas, President Bellows of the United States Sanitary Commission found deplorable conditions. Declaring that only some special providence, or some peculiar efficacy of the lake winds, could prevent the camp from becoming a source of pestilence."[i]

Alas, the winds blowing across Lake Michigan proved to be no blessing. These frigid blasts forced the prisoners at Camp Douglas to spend longer amounts of time inside their over crowded barracks. John Barker, of Cluke’s Regiment, wrote home claiming there could be “no colder place that God ever designed.” With little heat, inadequate shelter, and insufficient clothing, the prisoners were quite literally caught in winter’s icy grasp. The Diary of Private William D. Huff, copyrighted by the Chicago Historical Society, contains a riveting sketch of December personified as a dark and bearded male. To view this sketch and a handful of other drawings from Huff’s diary, one must download the History Lab lesson plans in “The Civil War” Up Close and Personal” section entitled “Who is William Huff? Blueback or Grayback” and “Look Out My Window. What Do You See? [ii] The lesson plans may be accessed at

On December 3, 1863, nearly one hundred of Morgan’s Men escaped through a tunnel dug in White Oak Square. Only fifty were recaptured.

“I learned that one hundred and two prisoners escaped last night. I went a few doors above here and saw the tunnel. It was commenced in one of the small rooms in the bottom of a bunk and ran out under the kitchen and guard line and came up just outside of the fence. If they had come up two feet back, they would have been seen by the guard. The Yankees were so mad that they came around and tore down all of the partitions [turning] all of the little rooms into one big room in each barrack. They also tore up the floors except under the bunks, and we enjoyed ourselves by jumping around on the sleepers. Col. De Land said that he would turn us all out in the weather if we did not quit digging out. The night air had free range through the barracks, but I slept well.”

~Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[iii]

“A great many escaped by tunneling. On one occasion a tunnel was discovered under the barrack occupied by (Cluke's regiment) the eighth Kentucky cavalry. Without trying to find out who dug the tunnel, the whole regiment was formed in column of eight deep, and a guard placed around them with instructions to shoot the first man who sat down; this was just after sun up; at two o'clock a man who had just returned the day before from the small-pox hospital, unable to stand longer fell; a guard saw him and fired; one man was killed dead, two others were wounded, one of them losing an arm, as it was afterwards cut off. This same fellow, who did the shooting, was promoted to a corporal's position, whether for this act or not, it is impossible to say, for he affirmed that he would not take $100 for his gun, as that was the eleventh prisoner he had shot with it.”

~ T. D. Henry, Company E, Duke's Regiment, 2nd Kentucky Cavalry[iv]

Infuriated with the frequency of escapes due to tunneling, De Land ordered that all planking be removed from the barracks’ floors. This was a drastic measure to take during freezing weather, but the young Colonel, who had once been incarcerated in a Confederate prison camp, showed no compassion for his prisoners.

De Land conceived a drastic remedy to counter the tunneling. ‘In view of this I have ordered all the floors removed from the barracks and cook-houses and the spaces filled with dirt even with the top of the joist…This will undoubtedly increase the sickness and mortality, but it will save much trouble and add security. ’” [v]

Even the removal of the floor and partitions did not quell De Land’s wrath. He ordered his men to confiscate the prisoner’s coats, tools, and personal cash citing that such items aided their ability to escape. Defective clothing that had been rejected as unfit for army use was issued to prisoners.[vi]

“We were all marched to the main square in front of headquarters where we found all of the prisoners from the other square also in line. All of the Yankee Lieutenants and Sergeants were set to work searching us. Some took our knives, money, etc. and put it on paper, but others kept no account. Like was done at Camp Morton. Then they came around again and took every good coat in the crowd, and distributed some thin cottonade pepper and salt jackets, and some thin black ridiculous looking tight spade tail Yankee coats in the place of their warm coats received from home. Some photographs were even taken from our men. In the meantime, a squad of Yankees and work hands searched our quarters and took all the good clothing they found, and the work hands stole some of the men’s rations. All of the axes, wood saws, and spades were taken away, depriving us of the means of cutting up our wood and cleaning up our quarters. They left a few rakes I believe and said that we could comb our heads with them.”

~Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[vii]

On December 4th, William Huff recorded a snow storm followed by sleet. The ground was covered in ice. He lamented the confiscation of the prisoner’s coats and the intensely cold weather.

By December 9th workmen had removed flooring from every barracks and prisoners were allowed to fill in the spaces between the floor joists with sand.

Edwin M. Stanton, the United Sates Secretary of War, ordered that there be no trade with sutlers. Thus, De Land ordered the sutler’s store closed on December 12th but permitted him to sell out his remaining stock. The barber shop and news stand were closed on December 17th and the sale of stamps, envelopes, and paper discontinued. However, those prisoners fortunate enough to procure Union “greenbacks” were allowed to spend their money “at the commissaries after eleven o’clock on ration days.” [viii] Curtis Burke and his messmate Henry White began laying in the necessary items to prepare a Christmas dinner.

Emily Todd Helm, half sister of Mary Todd Lincoln, visited the White house accompanied by her daughter Katherine. Mrs. Helm’s husband, Confederate General Benjamin Hardin Helm, had been killed during the Battle of Chickamauga.

"I never saw Mr. Lincoln more moved, than when he heard of the death of his young brother-in-law Ben Hardin Helm, only thirty-two years old, at Chickamauga. I called to see him about four o'clock on the 22nd of September; I found him in the greatest grief. 'Davis,' said he, 'I feel as David of old did when he was told of the death of Absalom.' I saw how grief stricken he was so I closed the door and left him alone."

~ Senator David Davis [ix]

"Mr. Lincoln and my sister met me with the warmest affection, we were all too grief-stricken at first for speech. I have lost my husband, they have lost their fine little son Willie and Mary and I have lost three brothers in the Confederate service. We could only embrace each other in silence and tears. Sister and I dined intimately, alone. Our tears gathered silently and feel unheeded as with choking voices we tried to talk of immaterial things."

~ Emily Todd Helm[x]

It was far from a pleasant trip. Northern newspapers made a great fuss over Mrs. Helm having passed through Union Lines, a U. S. Senator publicly insulted her and her daughter Katherine quarreled with Lincoln children. Feeling highly uncomfortable, Mrs. Helm returned to Lexington, Kentucky. There she wrote to Lincoln requesting permission to send clothing to the prisoners at Camp Douglas.

"I hope I am not intruding too much upon your kindness and will try not to overstep the limits that I should keep."[xi]

On December 23rd, General William Ward Orme replaced De Land as commander of Camp Douglas. Orme was the law partner of one of Abraham Lincoln’s close friends. Orme was also dying of tuberculosis. Disgusted by the chaos he found, Orme tried to bring order to the prison ration and clothing allotment systems.[xii] Meanwhile, in the wake of the Ninian Edwards beef scandal, De Land and the First Michigan Sharpshooters were ordered to the front.

Was my second great grandfather, James Edward Evans, imprisoned at Camp Douglas, struck with homesickness as Christmas neared? While I have never found any letters written by James Edward Evans, there was mail service into and out of the prison camp. Prisoners could even send letters from one prison camp to another. Prison correspondence was, of course, subject to censorship. Article XVII of a 20 April 1864 Federal circular specified that outgoing and incoming letters are to be examined by non-commissioned officers, and must be no more than one page in length.[xiii] Prisoners typically used the little space they were allowed to reassure loved ones of their safety and to request items needed for their survival.

“Bureaucracies take on a life of there own, and mail service between Camp Douglas and the Confederacy continued without a blink. It was only a matter of postage. Mail within the Union lines could come and go directly, and mail traffic beyond that went through ‘Flag of Truce’ exchange points in enemy territory. Aiken’s Landing behind the Confederate Lines was designated as such in March 1862. Prisoners attached three cents in Federal stamps and ten cents Confederate, if they had them; otherwise, they had to enclose cash in an outer envelope.”[xiv]

A letter sent by T. M. Page, 2nd Ky. Cavalry to Miss Mary S. Read of Decatur, IL .in which he thanks her for items send to him saying, “ you may rely on the earnest devotion and native courtesy of a follower of the Starry Cross of Dixie for the cordial appreciation of your kindness.” The black oval stamp on the envelope was stamp was applied after the letter was read by censors at Camp Douglas.

Colonel Hoffman, who must not have been in the holiday spirit, ordered the prisoners' rations cut by one quart of molasses and two ounces of bread on the day before Christmas, 1863.

“The regulation ration which prisoners were to receive consisted of 3/4 of a pound of bacon and 1 ¼ pounds of beef, 1 1/3 pounds white or 1 1/4 pounds of corn-bread, 1/10 pound of coffee, and 1 1/2 ounces of rice or hominy, 1/6 pound of sugar, a gill of vinegar, one candle, a tablespoon of salt, and beans, potatoes and molasses in small amounts. Contracts were made with various camps for local dealers for these rations."[xv]

"Since these rations, which consisted of... were considered too much for men leading a sedentary life, portions of the issues were ordered withheld. The sale of this non-issued portion went into the prison fund….”[xvi]

Curtis Burke’s Christmas included a hearty meal, gifts, and a visit from his father who was also a prisoner at Camp Douglas.

“The prospects for a dull Christmas were large. The cry of Christmas gift was seldom heard, and when it was, it was given more as a salute or a joke, no gifts being expected. When Pa came over to get Sergeants Millers and Browns morning reports, I caught him and invited him to take dinner with us. A Yankee Lieutenant came to examine the barracks and asked us if any of us were engaged in the gopher business (he meant digging out.) I got the following articles on order today, 10 candles, one bottle of pepper sauce, two lbs. of coffee, 7 lbs. sugar, 1 paper of black pepper, 1 paper of allspice, 1 lb. of butter, and 1 lb. lard - $2.45. Pa came over and made me a present of a pair of buckskin cavalry gloves, a pair of socks, a fancy shawl pin, and a fifty cent sutlers ticket. I did not get dinner till late. The stove was so crowded by other messes. My bill of fare was biscuits, tea, beans and bacon, buttered bakers bread, toasted, molasses, boiled onions laid in butter, cheese, peach pie, apple pie, onion pie, plain doughnuts, and sweet doughnuts. The tea cups, mugs, and glasses were refilled and Henry White offered the following toast.

Toast of Morgan’s Men

Unclaimed by the land that bore us,
Lost in the land we find,
The brave have gone before us,
Cowards are left behind.
Then stand to your glasses, steady,
Here’s a health to those we prize,
Here’s a toast to the dead already,
And here’s to the next who dies.

My guests were all well pleased. There was nothing going on at night except several men hollowing New York. The effect of too much mean whiskey aboard.

~Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[xvii]

The day after Christmas, Burke learned “that nothing would be sold at the commissaries after today.” He and Henry White devised a plan for hiding their store of food.

“Weather cold and windy with some snow. I got the balance of the order on the commissary filled and copied off three Southern songs for the Rebel clerk for his attention to filling our order properly. I and Henry White concluded to build a swinging bunk across the barracks near the roof for the safety of the contents of our cupboard. We nailed up the rafters for the new bunk after dusk. Henry White made a raid on the lumber pile where the new hospital is being erected and we walked on the planks to make them look old, so the Yanks would not notice it.

~Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[xviii]

Solomon Floyd Cook of Company G, 62nd Regiment, NC Infantry wrote home to his wife Martha Ann in East Laport, North Caroline.

“Camp Douglas, Chicago, IllDec. the 27th, 1863

Dear companion,

I take this method of letting you know I am well at present. Hoping these lines may find you and the children well. This day twelve months ago I left home. I have lived through many hardships since that time and I am yet alive and enjoying good health, better than usual. It is a sad misfortune that the horror of war has cast our lots in a foreign land but it is even so and we have to submit to its consequences whatever they may be. Hope it will not be long until we are exchanged and get back to our beloved homes and family.

The health of the reg and company is tolerable good at present.

Tell the friends of ____________[illegible], their relatives are generally well. M.M. Shelton is not very well but on the mend. ________ Hooper, L.W. and T.S. are all well. Send word to Pop and Elizabeth.

Martha I want you to write to me and let me know how you are all doing. You will be limited to a short letter otherwise it will not pass through. Write every week, probably I will get a letter after a while. Direct your letters to Chicago Camp Douglas Illinois marked to the Co. and Regt.

Nothing more but remains your affectionate husband until death.

S. F. Cook

Tell L. S. Shelton's family, he has been sick but getting well fast. Asks for them to write to him.”

Less than a year later, Solomon Floyd Cook died of smallpox while still incarcerated at Camp Douglas.

On December 30th, a blizzard and sub- zero temperatures were recorded at Camp Douglas. Neither more clothing nor additional firewood was allowed to the prisoners.

“Meigs [Montgomery C. Meigs, quarter master general of the Union army] vowed to provide supplies to prisoners with ‘the strictest economy’ and expected the prisoners of war to furnish their own clothing. This was impractical for prisoners who arrived at Camp Douglas wearing clothing unsuitable for winter.”[xix]


[i] Hesseltine, William Best. “Civil War Prisons” p. 52
[ii] Chicago Historical Society, History Lab activities
[iii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[iv] Deposition of T. D. Henry, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. I. Richmond, Va., March, 1876. No .4. April - Pages 273 – 276.
[v] Levy ,George. “To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 10, p. 165.
[vi] Hesseltine, William Best. “Civil War Prisons” p. 46
[vii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[viii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[ix] Helm, Katherine. “ Mary, Wife of Lincoln”, p. 216-217.
[x] Helm, Katherine. “ Mary, Wife of Lincoln”, p. 221-222.
[xi] Holzer, Harold. “The Lincoln Mailbag,” p. 118.
[xii] Heidler, David Stephen, Heidler, Jeanne T., Coles, David J. “ Encyclopedia of The American Civil War” p. 345.
[xiii] Official Records, Series II, Volume 7, p. 75.
[xiv] Levy, George. “To Die In Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Ch 2, p.44.
[xv] Hesseltine, William Best. “Civil War Prisons” p. 43
[xvi] Hesseltine, William Best. “Civil War Prisons” p. 44
[xvii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[xviii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[xix] Pucci, Kelly. “Camp Douglas: Chicago’s Civil War Prison” 2007 p.91.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

November, 1863: Secret Tunnels, Escape Attempts, and Turning Out for De Land

Running water sewers and toilets opened at Camp Douglas on November 6, 1863 creating a much more sanitary environment. Yet, no one appeared eager to remain in camp.

“Some of the men of Cluke’s and Johnson’s regiments in another square dug some underground passages for the purpose of escaping, and came near finishing them when some traitor told on them, and the Yanks marched them all out in the public square in front of headquarters and put a guard around them with the orders to shoot any person that sat down. The Yanks were trying to make the men tell who the headmen in the digging were. After standing several hours a guard fired into the crowd without cause, wounding three of Cluke’s regiment severely. I could not learn the truth about the affair. Some fifteen or twenty finally stepped out and acknowledged being the principal diggers and were sent to the dungeon. The rest were sent back to their barracks.”

~Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[i]

Escapees were not the only source of excitement. A serious fire occurred in Garrison Square the evening of November 11th. Barracks, fences, and sutler’s shops burned down.

“About dinner time the Yankee barracks in the main square took fire and attracted a large crowd of prisoners. The Yanks got scared for fear the prisoners would try to break out and brought out the company of Indians belonging to the first Michigan sharp shooters. They loaded their guns, at the same time ordering the crowd to disperse to their quarters, and we did so on the double quick. The Indians came down and the white officer in command put them on guard around the square. Then [he] came in and notified us that if we left the square we would be shot. I could see the fire from the kitchen. The frame barracks and pitched roof made a heavy cloud of smoke. The fire was stopped by cutting the barracks in two, after burning about three hundred feet of barracks and kitchens. Some of the new fence and Mrs. Finley’s sutler’s store was burned also. Most everything in the building got burned as the fire spread rapidly. The fire was accidental and caught from a stove pipe.”

~Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[ii]

While, strictly copyrighted by the Chicago Historical Society, the Diary of Private William D. Huff contains a drawing of this fire. It is possible to download Huff’s drawings from the History Lab lesson plans in “The Civil War” Up Close and Personal” section entitled “Who is William Huff? Blueback or Grayback” and “Look Out My Window. What Do You See? [iii] The lesson plans may be accessed at

Prisoners in Camp Douglas[iv]

Unaccustomed to so much leisure time, many of the men fell prey to homesickness.

“Do they miss me at home, do they miss me?
'Twould be an assurance most dear,
To know that this moment some loved one
Were saying, "I wish you were here."
To feel that the group at the fireside
Were thinking of me as I roam
Oh yes, 'twould be joy without measure
To know that they missed me at home.
To know that they missed me at home.”

Their suffering was compounded by cuts to the rations. What little the prisoners still received was hardly fit to eat. Ninian Edwards, husband of Abraham Lincoln’s wife’s eldest sister, supplied the camp with inferior beef.[vi] Likewise, a Chicago baker cheated the prisoners by cutting the weight of a loaf of bread to two ounces.

“We draw fresh beef every other day, but it is not a number one article being mostly neck, flank, bones, and shanks.”

~ Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[vii]

Colonel Hoffman came to investigate Camp Douglas on November 15th.

“Kentucky cavalrymen know as Morgan’s Raiders, named for Gen. John Hunt Morgan, worked diligently to escape and return to battle. One of Morgan’s Raiders, Samuel G. Grasty of Virginia, simply walked out of Camp Douglas to a friend’s house downtown and boarded a train for Richmond, but his fellow soldiers had to work harder to escape. One group of Morgan’s Raiders dug their way out of the dungeon, which was an extra-security prison, drawing admiration from guards for their ingenuity. Others hid their tools in a haystack at night and by daylight dug tunnels beneath their bunks to the other side of the perimeter fence.”[viii]

De Land became absolutely sadist in his punishment. He began hung prisoners by their thumbs and began shutting down the sutlers so that there was no means of procuring supplies save bribing guards.

“A prisoner of war's first duty is to survive; his second duty is to escape.” [ix]

In a sworn statement, Private Thomas D. Henry reported:

“I saw men punished thus until they would grow so deathly sick that they would vomit all over themselves, their heads fall forward and almost every sign of life become extinct; the ends of their thumbs would burst open; a surgeon standing by would feel their pulse and say he thought they could stand it a little longer. Some times he would say they had better be cut down.”[x]

Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address. In a few brief words, Lincoln gave dignity and honor to those who had fallen in battle and fostered resolve in the hearts of those destined to carry on.

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

~ Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863, The Gettysburg Address.

The same day, Curtis R. Burke recorded:

“Some rain fell. Col. De Land came down and called us all out in line [in] front of our barracks to look for tunnels. The barracks were searched, but no tunnels [were] found, and we were dismissed to return to our barracks.”[xi]

The next day, Colonel De Land returned.

“About dark Col. De Land and Capt Rhines, our commissary of prisoners, came down and made the whole regiment fall out in line in front of the barracks. Then we were marched under guard about a hundred yards out of the square toward the sutlers store. The night was chilly and the most of us had thrown a blanket over us not knowing how long we would have to stand out. The Yanks were looking for some of Duke’s regiment who had dressed up to escape and come down to our square and had been reported by some traitor as being among the fourteenth KY. The Yanks caught Wm. Overton, Chas. Steel, and Tho’s Von [Thomas Vaughn?] dressed in citizens suits and marched them off to the guard house, and we were permitted to return to our barracks having been out about an hour and a half.”[xii]

Colonel De Land was back yet again on the evening of Sunday, November 22nd:

“An hour before dark my regiment was called out in line and marched to the main square in front of headquarters. The most of us did not know what it was for, but Col. De Land soon called for four or five men by name. Three were in ranks and stepped out. The Yankees said that these men had threatened to hang a man by the name of Stovall belonging to my regiment for telling on some of the boys that were trying to escape. The Yankees said that they would protect Stovall, and they tied the three men up by the thumbs to the railing of the stand around the flag pole. Then sent Pa (our Sergeant Major) and Sergeant Wm. Miller back to our quarters to find the other two men called for with the pleasing information that if they did not find the men soon that they would be tied up by the thumbs in their places. The men that were tied stood it over a half an hour in silence and then commenced groaning and howling. It made me almost sick to hear them. Several times the Yankee officers asked them if they were ready to tell what they knew, and they answered that they knew nothing to tell. A Yankee surgeon examined them to see how much they could stand. There were some citizens standing around and they tried to get Col. De Land to take the men down. The men were taken down after having been tied up so [long] that they had to partly tip toe for an hour. One of the boys fainted, and another threw up all over himself. Their names were James Allen, John Sweeny, and Wm. Wason. Col. De Land gave us a lecture about threatening any person that choose to tell of our escaping and told us to return to our quarters and find the other two men or he would surely bring us back and make us stand out all night. We returned to our quarters and the two men, who had just returned from a visit to another square went to headquarters and gave themselves up and received their share of the punishment. They were let down when this traitor Stovall said that he forgave them.”

Burke went on to mention that Stovall chose to remain in the protection of headquarters rather than returning to the regimental barracks.

During the Civil War, prisoners, both Northern and the Southern, often attempted escape. It was generally accepted as an obligation of the uniform. Even the United States Christian Committee of Maryland reported:

“It is the duty of the government to keep prisoners as securely as possible, but on the part of the prisoner, it is his right and his duty to escape just as quick as he can…” [xiii]

None of the punishments De Land concocted swayed his prisoners’ determination to escape. Thus, on November 24th, the frustrated colonel issued an order against it!

“A Yankee Sergeant at roll call read a strict order against our escaping.”[xiv]

On November 27th, after four months imprisonment in the Ohio penitentiary, John Hunt Morgan escaped with six of his officers. They too tunneled out, using table knifes to dig their way to freedom. Morgan donned civilian clothing then calmly boarded a train. Alas, it was necessary to seat himself next to a Union major! Only moments later the train glided past the penitentiary.

“‘That's where the rebel General Morgan is now imprisoned,’ said the major. ‘Indeed,’ replied the disguised Morgan, ‘I hope they'll always keep him as safely as they have him now.' "[xv]

Morgan made his way south eventually arriving in Richmond where he was received as a hero with a parade and two days of being lauded over by the Virginia legislature. His imprisoned men were forgotten.

[i] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[ii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[iii] Chicago Historical Society, History Lab activities
[iv] Harpers Weekly, April 5, 1862.
[v] Mason, Caroline A. and Grannis, S.M. “Do They Miss Me At Home?”
[vi] Pucci, Kelly. “Camp Douglas: Chicago’s Civil War Prison” 2007.
[vii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[viii] Pucci, Kelly. “Camp Douglas: Chicago’s Civil War Prison” 2007, p. 78.
[ix] Doyle, Robert C. “A Prisoner's Duty: Great Escapes in U.S. Military History”
[x] Alexander, Dee. “Morgan’s Raiders” 1959.
[xi] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[xii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[xiii] Report of the United States Christian Committee of Maryland, 1864
[xiv] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[xv] Doyle, Robert C. “A Prisoner's Duty: Great Escapes in U.S. Military History”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Additional Views of Camp Douglas

“Harpers Weekly,” April 5, 1862

The F. Munson sketch.[i]

A copyrighted sketch showing how close Camp Douglas was to the lake may be found at

Superimposed the boundaries of old Camp Douglas.[ii]

Early sketch of Camp Douglas[iii]


[i] Leslie, Frank. “ Famous Leaders and Battle Scenes of the Civil War” 1896.
[ii] Bross, William. "History of Camp Douglas," Paper Read before the Chicago Historial Society, June 18, 1878, in Mabel McIlvaine, ed., “Reminiscences of Chicago during the Civil War”, New York: The Citadel Press, 1967 (originally published in 1914), p. 160.
[iii] Kirke, Edmund ."Three Days at Camp Douglas," “Our Young Folks: An Illustrated Magazine for Boys and Girls”, Vol. 1, No. 4, April 1865, pp. 252-262: p. 253. Drawing from “Our Young Folks” magazine reproduced in Victor Hicken, "Illinois Camps, Posts, and Prisons," Illinois Civil War Sketches, Illinois State Historical Library for the Civil War Centennial Commission of Illinois.

September - October, 1863: Camp Douglas under De Land's Get Tough Policy

Life in Camp Douglas was rather puritanical. Reading material consisted of religious tracts, new testaments, hymn books, and a religious news paper entitled “American Messenger. Occasionally, a local paper made it into the hands of a prisoner. Parson Orr held meetings at the chapel and started a library for prisoners willing to join his religious society. Those who broke camp rules were dealt with in the most humiliating of fashions. At least one thief was punished by being forced to wear a placard emblazoned “THIEF!” as he and a guard walked through the camp. The prisoners slept on bare planks and worked hard making drainage ditches to remove standing pools of water. Mail from home was slow to get through, always inspected before it reached the prisoner. Any money enclosed in the letter was removed and a credit applied at the sutlers store. Alas the prices at these stores were highly inflated.

Another difficulty was finding water. The prisoners were forces to use two certain hydrates with the third being reserved for the guards.. On cold or wind days the trip was quite miserable. Waiting in line could take three to four hours. The trip was made even more dangerous as guard often shot without warning if they felt a prisoner was making an attempt to escape.

The barracks were in poor repair. Prisoners did what they could to mend leaking roofs and crack that allowed the wind to whistle through the thin walls. This was a dangerous undertaking as guards had orders to shoot any prisoner found of the roof of a barracks.

Numerous Raiders attempted escape by donning civilian clothing, bribing guards, and/or attempting to leave the camp under the cover of darkness. Curtis R. Burke recorded such events as “nightly occurrences.”

Religious groups from Kentucky tried to ease the suffering of the men by sending clothing. Alas it was not enough to fill the needs of all the prisoners. Cart loads of boxes and bundles arrived for the prisoners. Food, blankets, money, and clothing were highly prized gifts.

The Autumn rains began on October 2nd . The camp had very poor drainage and became a muddy swamp.

John Curd, a negro, produced a Minstrel show on October 5th which drew hundreds of prisoners in attendance. With the price of admission was 15 cents in Yankee Money or $3.00 in Confederate money, the Minstrels made a tidy profit! However the Camp guards put an end to the show at about half way through despite Curd showing the Lieutenant of the guard a permit from Colonel De Land.

On October 9, 1863 U. S. Colonel Hoffman sent Dr. A. M. Clark to inspect Camp Douglas. Dr. Clark noted a lack of guards, insufficient water, open sinks (pit toilets), lack of hospital capacity and bedding, poor ventilation, inadequate sewer system, dilapidated barracks, lack of blankets and stoves, and lack of personal hygiene amongst the prisoners. [i]

A businessman erected a wooden tower outside the camp and charged sightseers 10 cents to climb it and get a birds’ eye view of the prison. The sketch on which this engraving is based was likely made from that tower. This view offers a chance to better comprehend the layout of the different squares within the prison.[ii]

Camp Douglas was not a place where any soldier, Union or Confederate, wanted to be. Yet, they tried to make the best of it. The prisoners found a variety of ways to pass the time. Recreation topped the list of favored activities. There were games of cards, checkers, ball, and marbles. Companies challenged each other to contests of jumping and foot races. Kite flying and snowball fights were indulged in as weather allowed. Industrious individuals set up workshops in an effort to earn money which needed to purchase extra food and supplies. They included a silversmith, a pipe maker, a buggy maker, toothpick makers, and nearly 30 ring makers. While few prisoners could afford to buy the items their fellow inmates created, many guards made purchases. Often the guards resold the items in Chicago for a tidy profit.[iii]

Suffering and want among the prisoners was wide spread. Letters pleading for assistance were written to every person a man could recall. Errors in spelling and grammar in the following letter remain uncorrected thus allowing the reader to “hear” the writer’s voice.

“Camp Douglass Ill Oct 16, 1863

Mrs. Joyce


I am a stranger to you but am a member of your sons company Cap E Joyce comp K 2 Ky Reg Voll and was taken prisoner at Chickamauga on Sunday the 20th and I am here in prison at Camp Douglass and I would be very thankful to you if you would send me a couple pare drawers and a couple pare of woolen socks and a blanket for I have none and I would like you to send me two or three dollars in money if you please. I am very bad of for clothes and I do not know how long it will be till we are exchange. You’re son was not very well the last time I seen him. He was not in the fight. He was sick at Mobile but would soon be well a enough for duty. If you should send the things to me, direct your letter and package to Frank Mullen Comp K. 2th. Ky Reg Inf Voll Prisoner of War Camp Douglass Ill in care Comp. C. 3. Ky Cav and than I can get it and will be under many obligations to you.

Yours Frank Mullen” [iv]

On October 24, 1863, Dr. Clarks damning report of the conditions at Camp Douglas became public. Highly offended and on the defensive, Colonel Hoffman proposed that repairs to the camp be made at the prisoners expense and imposed new restrictions. Cooking stoves were removed and replaced with boilers. Now prisoners would no longer be able to bake bread and pies. Their diet would be limited to soups, stews, and boiled suppers. Hoffman further required that all prisoners clean their quarters and police the grounds immediately after roll call.[v] These requirements only heightened tensions within the camp.

Twenty-six of Morgan’s Raiders escaped from the maximum security area of Camp Douglas known as the White Oak dungeon on October 26, 1863. These men cut a hole in the plank floor, and then tunneled into an adjoining garbage pit to make their escape.[vi] It was an extreme embarrassment to camp leadership.

In a classic example of disorganized and faulty Confederate record keeping, a Roll of Company I, First Regiment Cavalry, Kentucky Volunteers, Confederate Army was finally filed on October 31, 1863. This roll was long over due as the first Regiment had long since been reorganized into the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry back in the autumn of 1862! The listing for the First Organization shows that the original Regiment members enlisted for 12 months. No date of enlistment, nor place of enlistment, is recorded for James Evans. Enlistment dates on this roll range from Oct. 17, 1861 to March 1, 1863. The Roll itself is datelined Knoxville, Tenn. Oct. 31, 1863.

“Roll of Company I, First Regiment Cavalry, Kentucky Volunteers, Confederate Army Reorganization – Consolidated First and Third Regiments #27 Evans J., Rank: Private”[vii]

Meanwhile, at Camp Douglas, the escape attempts were driving De Land to distraction. Rather than remaining an unflappable leader, De Land began to take the attempts personally and reacted in fury and disgust.

“De Land’s get-tough policy started with a serious shooting on November 3, 1863. An escape tunnel had been found under the Eight Kentucky Cavalry Barrack. De Land lined up the regiment and told the guards to shoot ‘if any sat down.’ According to T. D. Henry, a guard fired when a sick man fell. Henry claimed, ‘One man was killed, two others wounded, one of them losing an arm, as it was afterwards cut off.’”[viii]

[i] Levy, George. “To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 9, pages 146 -148.
[ii] Engraving of Camp Douglas made from a sketch by F. Munson
[iii] Levy, George. “To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 18, pages 303 -305.
[iv] Letter written by Corp. Frank A. Mullen, Co. K, 2nd Ky. Inf.
[v] Levy, George. “To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 9, pages 150 -151.
[vi] Levy, George. “To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 9, 151-152.
[vii] McDowell, “The Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, Civil War, Confederate,” Vol. I pages 528 -529.
[viii][viii] Levy, George. “To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 10, p. 157.

Friday, April 10, 2009

August, 1863: Prisoner at Camp Chase and Camp Douglas

“Who but the Soldier knows the true definition of ‘War'?”

~ DeWitt C. Markle, 57th Indiana Volunteer Infantry[i]

Captured in Cheshire, Gallia County, Ohio on July 20, 1863, near the end of Morgan’s Great Raid into Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio, James Edward Evans was first sent to Cincinnati, Ohio then moved by steamboat to Camp Chase, near Columbus, Ohio on July 26, 1863.[ii] Camp Chase was originally a prison for civilian political prisoners but began processing military prisoners in preparation for exchange in 1862 under the policy of the Dix-Hill Cartel. After the collapses of the Dix-Hill Cartel on July 13, 1863, the population of Camp Chase rose dramatically. The prisoners were “accommodated” in wood frame buildings and huts. [iii] However, it quickly became apparent that other lodgings had to be found. Union leadership scrambled to find camps having room for prisoners.

Families of the Raiders appealed to government officials seeking the release of their captured loved ones. Unfortunately, while Kentucky had initially adopted a policy of neutrality in the war, the General Assembly now supported the Union. Thomas Bramlette was elected to replace Kentucky Governor James F. Robinson, who had served out Beriah Magoffin's unexpired term. Bramlette had resigned from the Union army in 1862 to accept President Lincoln's appointment as United States district attorney for Kentucky. Bramlette was not inclined to do anything that might assist in gaining the release of any of Morgan’s men.

Prisoners sent dozens of letters home reassuring their families and explaining the events of their capture. Imprisoned Captain Thomas M. Combs, in writing home to his wife Lou, answered my childhood questions of what became of the stolen horses:

“One man would frequently ride five horses down in one day. Mount a fine fresh horse in the morning, start off at a dead run, and before ten o’clock he would hardly be able to put one foot before another, then ride him up to a fine stable, change saddle and bridle, turn the tired horse loose in the lot and go ahead again.”[iv]

Camp Douglas, in Chicago Illinois, was selected as a fit prison for enlisted men. On August 17, 1863 the first group of Morgan’s Raiders arrived at the prison gates. A good number of Chicago citizens and the press turned out to capture a glimpse of the infamous Raiders.

“Generally, they are far better looking men than any of the secesh prisoners we had here before. Those butternut suits and shapeless slouched hats, would make an ugly man of anybody. All the colors of Joseph’s coat were represented in their wearing apparel: the butternut was worn by the careless quiet looking individuals, who had their horse blankets and tin cups strung across their shoulders. But the keen, black eyed out-and-out raiders of the dare devil stripe, had either a suit of black broadcloth, or a portion of our own soldiers’ blue uniform.”

~ The Chicago Tribune[v]

“Butternut” referred to the grey color of the Confederate uniforms. The material used to make Confederate uniforms was dyed in a process using the bark of the Butternut tree. While the Northern affront “secesh” was used to refer to secessionist and members of the Confederate army, “butternut” became the slur used when referring to both Southerners and those with Southern sympathies.

The following day, none other than Colonel Charles V. De Land was ordered to take command of Camp Douglas. Having been one of the officers that pursued and captured the Raiders, it was certain he would not look favorably upon his prisoners.

“Among the units chasing Morgan was the First Michigan Sharpshooters under Col. Charles V. De Land, aged 35. He entered the war as a captain in the Ninth Michigan Infantry in 1861 and saw some hard soldiering. Captured at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he was the only Camp Douglas commandant to have seen a Southern prison. Perhaps this explains his harsh treatment of prisoners at Camp Douglas.” [vi]

John Hunt Morgan and the few Raiders who escaped capture at Buffington Island continued to move northward through Ohio.

“Morgan’s Raid-Entry of Morgan’s Freebooters into Washington Ohio”[vii]

Those Raiders unfortunate enough to suffer capture and incarceration were being processed and sent to prison camps across the nation as a means to insure there would be no attempt at their rescue and less likelihood of a well organized mass escape attempt.

“As was the custom, the victor of a battle sent officers and enlisted men to separate prisons to prevent them from organizing a revolt. While their enlisted men were incarcerated in Chicago’s Camp Douglas, their commanding officers spent time at Fort Warren in Massachusetts and Johnson’s Island on Lake Erie.”[viii]
Curtis R. Burke arrived at Camp Douglas on Tuesday, August 18, 1863. He recorded his impressions in his journal:
"The guards said that we were going to Camp Douglas near Chicago, Ill. The cars run along the lake shore for some distance before we got to the suburbs of Chicago where we got out. I could see the city and a few sailing boats but no large crafts. We were marched about four hundred yards inland and arrived at the gate of Camp Douglas on Lake Street. I saw two street cars and several carriages of city folks waiting to see us. The gates swung open and in we marched. The camp appeared pretty large, with a high fence running around it. I saw a postoffice, barber shop, picture gallery, two sutler stores, a commissary house, and a chapel. The first square we entered was the Yankees quarters off to the left, with long barracks on the sides and flag pole in the center. Then we marched to another square that was vacant and they called it White Oak square. All of the barracks were long one story buildings. Four of them forming a square with a cook house on the outside of the square to each barrack and the length of the barrack."

On August 20, 1863 James Edward Evans was among a group placed aboard a railway car and transported to Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois. Here he languished for the next a year and a half as the Dix- Hill Cartel general exchange agreement had collapsed in July of 1863.[ix] The only remaining means of leaving the prison camp were death or taking the Oath of Allegiance.

“Prisoners were now stranded at Camp Douglas for the duration of the war. The cartel was dead, and the administration was skeptical about whether prisoners would honor the oath once released. For example, five of Morgan’s men earned jobs in the hospital by applying for the oath, but they promptly dug a tunnel and escaped.”[x]

It would not be impolite to describe Camp Douglas as a Hell Hole. From 1862–1865, more than 6,000 Confederate prisoners died from disease, starvation, and the bitter cold winters.[xi] Camp Douglas had not been not designed as a prison rather, it began as a training grounds for Federal troops. As a prison, it operated much like a minature city behind walls. Prisoners, guards, and sometimes paroled troops awaiting return to the front were all force to reside in appauling conditions. Situated in a biazzare location, Camp Douglas sat on swampy soil next to the University of Chicago. This land had been owned by Stephen Douglas and was donated to the city of Chicago upon his death.

“Survival at Camp Douglas depended upon many factors. Time and place of capture decided how much equipment and clothing a prisoner might save. Finding friends and forming groups for mutual aid, protection, and conversation was important.” [xii]

James Edward Evans was “lucky” enough to be in the company of other Raiders. What equipment and clothing he managed to bring to the camp is unknown. It is known that he was forced to drink from a contamined well upon his arrival.

“Only one water hydrant supplied the entire camp. It was not working when 558 thirsty prisoners arrived on August 20, causing them to use a contaminated well.” [xiii]

Once processed, the Raiders were assigned to crowded wooden bunk houses.

“The barracks were divided into little rooms with from two to ten bunks in each, and doors and windows to match, also one long room with a row of bunks on each side of the room, mostly three bunks deep or high, and making room for about eighty men.”

~ Private Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[xiv]

Record showing the James Edward Evans as a POW at Camp Douglas.
Curtis R. Burke also recorded that on Thursday, August 20, 1863:
"A good many citizens and ladies came to take a look at Morgan's men. In the evening Parson Orr held forth in the square and a good many of the boys attended, and service was given out for the next day."

With the influx of Raiders, the number of prisoners at Camp Douglas reached 3,100. Sadly, this was only the beginning of overcrowding at the camp.

“Unfortunately for the hapless De Land, not only were the conditions still very poor, but some of his new prisoners included members of John Hunt Morgan’s infamous raiders. These men proved especially adept at finding ways out of the camp, and under De Land’s command there were more than 150 escapes from Camp Douglas.”[xv]

A group of Morgan’s Men at Camp Douglas in August 1863[xvi]

Ministers were allowed into Camp Douglas to preach sermons and distribute bibles. Some charitable groups, such as the YMCA and churches, took up donations to provide prisoners with blankets, clothing, food, medications, and cleaning supplies. The Chicago Bible Society supplied religious tracts to the prisoners.

“One Sunday Dr. Eddy was reading a verse to them: Show pity, Lord, O Lord, forgive; the next line was, Let a repenting rebel live. He quickly read it, Let a repenting sinner live, but the verse was well known to the prisoners. There was a roar of laughter and all serious attention vanished.”[xvii]

Sutlers (business men who sold goods or services to the prisoners) were also allowed into Camp Douglas. They included a photography studio, a barber shop, two grocery stores, 23 card tables, laundresses, newspaper boys, and peddlers who sold milk, butter, and vegetables.

Raiders at a staged card game[xviii]

“Because music enhanced military morale and musical instruments posed no security threat, Union guards allowed music to ring throughout camp Douglas. Joseph Dunavan of Company D, 2nd Regiment, Kentucky Cavalry, spent his free time as a composer. One of his songs, ‘Twas a Pleasant Home of Ours, Sister,’ is still sold and sung today.”Small ensembles earned extra food, and a group of African American Confederate soldiers who organized a minstrel show played to sell out crowds, earning more than just their salary as Confederate soldiers. One homesick prisoner, Joseph Dunavan of Company D, 2nd Regiment, Kentucky Cavalry, spent his free time as a composer. One of his songs, 'Twas a Pleasant Home of Ours, Sister' is still sold and sung today." [xix]

[i] Markle, DeWitt C. "'...The True Definition of War': The Civil War Diary of DeWitt C. Markle," ed. Erich L. Ewald, Indiana Magazine of History 89, no. 2, June 1993, p.129.
[ii] Compiled Military Service Record of James Edward Evans 1862 – 1865.
[iii] Further information regarding Camp Chase provided by the National Parks Service can be found at:
[iv] Thomas A. Coombs’ letter to his wife Lou dated August 14, 1863.
[v] The Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1863.
[vi] Levy, George. “To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 9, p. 141.
[vii] Harper’s Weekly Vol. VII No. 346 New York, Saturday, August 15, 1863.
[viii] Pucci, Kelly. “Camp Douglas: Chicago’s Civil War Prison” 2007, p. 37.
[ix] Compiled Military Service Record of James Edward Evans 1862 – 1865.
[x] Levy, George .“To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 9, p. 144.
[xi] Camp Douglas (Chicago)
[xii] Levy, George .“To Die In Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,”1999, Ch. 3, p.59.
[xiii] Levy, George. “To Die in Chicago, Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65,” 1999, Chap. 9, p. 143.
[xiv] Diary of Private Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry
[xv] Heidler, David Stephen, Heidler, Jeanne T. Coles, David J. .“ Encyclopedia of The American Civil War” p. 345.
[xvi] Photo is accredited with some speculation to D. F. Brandon.
[xvii] Kirkland, Caroline .“Chicago Yesterdays,” 1919, 108 – 109.
[xviii] Photo is accredited with some speculation to D. F. Brandon.
[xix] Pucci, Kelly. “Camp Douglas: Chicago’s Civil War Prison” 2007 p.49.