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In 1861, Camp Chase was established in Columbus, Ohio, to replace Camp Jackson. Governor William Dennison had ordered Camp Jackson’s creation as a meeting place for Ohio volunteers during the American Civil War. In April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand volunteers to end the South’s rebellion. Governor Dennison encouraged Ohio communities to form and to send militia companies to the state capital at Columbus for the governor’s use. Camp Jackson served as the training ground for these forces. Military authorities also reorganized these individual companies into larger military units at the camp.
While the state militia system had deteriorated throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, numerous communities had maintained units. These units existed primarily to march in parades and to provide young men with something to do in their spare time. Among these units was the Lancaster Guards. This company quickly answered the governor’s call and was the first militia unit to arrive in Columbus at Camp Jackson in 1861. It served as part of the first two Ohio infantry regiments organized for the war. Governor Dennison dispatched these regiments to Washington, DC, to protect the nation’s capital, on April 19, 1861. This was just four days after President Lincoln’s call for volunteers. Ohio’s governor sent other units to Camp Dennison, near Cincinnati, to help defend Ohio’s southern border from a Confederate invasion. The soldiers at Camp Jackson usually remained at the camp for only a short time. After receiving a little training, military officials sent the men off to the war.
In 1861, the federal government authorized the creation of Camp Chase. Organized in Columbus, it eventually replaced Camp Jackson as a recruitment and training center for the Union Army. Camp Chase also served as a prison camp. Civilians loyal to the Confederacy and Southern soldiers were held inside the prison stockade. During 1861 and early 1862, most of the prisoners were from Kentucky and western Virginia and were arrested for their disloyal political sentiments. Following the Battles of Fort Henry and Donelson in February 1862, Union authorities detained numerous Confederate officers and enlisted men as prisoners of war at Camp Chase. During 1863, the number of prisoners housed at Camp Chase at one time was more than eight thousand men. Following the completion of a new prisoner of war camp at Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie, Union officials sent most of the Confederate officers at Camp Chase to this new location.
Living conditions at Camp Chase prison camp were harsh. While Union authorities never intentionally starved the prisoners, the primary goal of Northern officials was to feed and equip the men serving in their own army. This commonly resulted in shortages for the prisoners. The large number of men in close quarters also led to outbreaks of disease. During the winter of 1863-1864, hundreds of prisoners died in a smallpox epidemic. In November 1864, Union and Confederate authorities agreed upon a prisoner exchange hoping to alleviate the suffering of sick prisoners held by both sides. A total of ten thousand prisoners were exchanged.
During the course of the Civil War, over two thousand Confederate prisoners died at Camp Chase. Originally, prison officials buried the prisoners in a Columbus city cemetery. In 1863, the prison established its own cemetery, and the bodies already buried in the Columbus cemetery were re-interred in the prison cemetery. Following the war, thirty-one Confederate bodies from Camp Dennison near Cincinnati were moved to the Camp Chase cemetery. this brought the total number of Confederate burials to approximately 2,260.
The Union military closed Camp Chase at the end of the Civil War. Most of what remains of the site today is two acres of land, consisting primarily of the Confederate cemetery. In 1896, William Knauss, a former officer in the Northern army, organized a memorial service for the dead Confederates. On June 7, 1902, a monument to the Confederate dead was erected at the cemetery. Memorial services have been held at the cemetery every year since 1896.
References and Suggested Reading
- Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio’s War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007. – Available from Amazon.com
- Dodds, Gilbert F. Camp Chase: The Story of a Civil War Post. Columbus, OH: Franklin County Historical Society, 1961.
- Knauss, William H. The Story of Camp Chase: A History of the Prison and Its Cemetery,Together with Other Cemeteries Where Confederate Prisoners are Buried, etc. Columbus, OH: General’s Books, 1994.
- Leeke, Richard. A Hundred Days to Richmond: Ohio‘s “Hundred Days” Men in the Civil War. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. – Available from Amazon.com
- Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
- Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.
- Shriver, Phillip Raymond. Ohio’s Military Prisons in the Civil War. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 1964.
**Article Source: Ohio History Central