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

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