Camp Chase Ohio

American Civil War - Camp Chase Ohio

Union Prisoner of War Camp - Camp Chase Ohio
Actual photograph of Camp Chase circa 1864-1865 with Confederate Prisoners of War pictured

In another article on the Touring Ohio website Camp Chase is documented.  The conditions of the imprisonment are represented in a section titled “A prisoner’s view of Camp Chase” in that article .  The segment of the article from Touring Ohio is below:

A letter to the Avalanche newspaper in Memphis Tennessee from A. J. Morey, a Confederate prisoner that escaped from Camp Chase, wrote this about his incarceration at the camp:

Having made my escape from the Federal prison located near Columbus, Ohio, I deem it due to the 240 brave but unfortunate Southern men whom I left incarcerated there on the 29th of October last to make known to the South and to the world the suffering and indignities to which they are subjected by their inhuman jailers.  It will be remembered that Columbus is in a very cold country. The winter winds blow fiercely from those Northern fresh-water lakes over the State of Ohio and Camp Chase prison receives its full share of the chilling blasts. Yet while I was prisoner there, including the month of October, when the weather was very rainy and cold, no fires were allowed in the prison to warm the half naked and shivering prisoners. Promises were made from time to time by the subordinate officers that the prison should be warmed either by stoves or by a steam-heating apparatus but up to the 29th day of October no steps had been taken looking to that end. To add to the discomfort of the poor prisoners the wretched shanties, their only shelter, leaked badly, keeping the floors, their only bed, and even their scanty bed clothing soaked with water. This treatment of human beings by those calling themselves Christians is unparalleled.  The food furnished the prisoners, with the exception of the bread, was of the most inferior kind and in insufficient quantities for the sustenance of the famishing men. The pork was absolutely rotten. But the great complaint was the difficulty in obtaining enough wood to cook the half-spoiled and scanty meal, only five small sticks per day being allowed for a mess of twenty-five men and that often not furnished until away in the night, leaving the men starving for want of their scanty meals during the entire day.  It is but justice to the ladies of Columbus to say that they offered to furnish comfortable beds and bedding for us but were denied the privilege by the commandant because he said it was not permitted by the orders. When these kind-hearted ladies visited us in our vile prison and beheld our wretched condition they involuntarily burst into tears. They gave us all they were permitted to bestow–their sympathy and tears.  I do not whine nor ask the sympathies of any one. I am loose from Yankee despotism and with my musket in one hand and the black flag of extermination to the foe in the other I intend to avenge my own and my country’s wrongs.

Conditions as noted were common for both Union and Confederate prisoner of war camps.  Camp Chase was originally built to house approximately 4,000 men.  By the end of the war there were approximately 10,000 prisoners of war housed there.  Conditions were so bad that both the Union and Confederate sides exchanged prisoners to attempt to alleviate the inhumanity.  

Absolutely no one with any moral, ethical or the slightest shred of human decency would condone slavery.  I am certain that Americans would agree the facts surrounding the period of time that lead up to and including the American Civil War was one of the darkest periods in American history.  The reasons for the American Civil War should never be forgotten.  In an article on Virginia Tech’s website  entitled History Repeating there are references to quotes from Irish Statesman Edmund Burke (“he was actually misquoted but the misquote was “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”).  Spanish philosopher George Santayana’s aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is mentioned as well as British statesman Winston Churchill who wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  Simply “erasing” our history does not make it disappear.  Reparations are not a way to heal 160 year old wounds, they will just bring them to the surface and potentially create new ones.  The destruction, mutilation and removal of national monuments, renaming of places and failing to teach our children American History can and will lead us down a path to repeat tragic instances in our history.  In essence we should be striving for equality amongst all Americans regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic factors or political affiliation.  Only where we can see where we went wrong can we learn and grow better.

Camp Chase was one of the many prisoner of war camps operated by Union Army and the Confederate Army.  Conditions were extremely poor and the men imprisoned in them typically were malnourished and very prone to communicable diseases such as small pox and cholera.  During the Civil War (1861-1865) nearly 409,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were captured and imprisoned.  During that period there were a total of 12 union prison camps and 14 confederate prison camps. On average 12% of prisoners in northern camps died and 15% in southern camps.

Andersonvillesurvivor
A Captured Union Soldier Imprisoned at Andersonville, Georgia

Our Family Connection to Camp Chase

My third Great Uncle Absolom Crossam Russell was captured at Magoffin County Kentucky on  February 22 1864 and imprisoned at Camp Chase until his release on May 15 1865.  

US Civil War Prisoner of War Records 1861-1865 Confederate Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War 1861-1865
Civil War Prisoner of War Compound - Camp Chase
Another actual photograph of Camp Chase
The Yard at Camp Chase

A War Between Brothers

It was not uncommon for people from the same family to find themselves on opposing sides of the Civil War.  In my lineage there were both Union and Confederate veterans bearing the same surname.  My third Great Grand Father William Hall Russell (younger brother to Absolom Crossam Russell) is listed on a Union Army Draft record dated February 1 1864.  The  individuals on both sides of the conflict were parents, grand parents, sons, brothers and cousins.  

US Civil War Draft Registrations Records 1863-1865 Kentucky 8th Vol 2 of 3

Black Americans Role in the Civil War

On both sides of the conflict black men were involved.  On the Confederate side blacks were not permitted to be combat soldiers but were noted in nearly the 50 volumes in the Official Records of the Rebellion there are seven eye witness accounts of Black Confederates. The Union side did have units of Black Soldiers as is evidenced by the 1st Louisiana Native Guards as documented on the American Battlefield Trust website.

1st Louisiana Native Guards

Where This Brings Us Today

Camp Chase as it appears today

In Closing

We as genealogists cherish the documentation of our family’s past and strive to preserve the memory of each and every family member.  We are deeply rooted within our family and celebrate their accomplishments, shed tears and feel sadness over failures and above all remember.  We remember each and every one of our family.  We learn from them and use the lessons as a pathway to improve who we are.  

After the war the buildings at Camp Chase were torn down to permit new building in the area.  What remained was a 2 acre cemetery containing wooden tombstones rotting and being overgrown with weeds and trees.  A Union Civil War Veteran named William Knauss found the cemetery and began caring for it.  William organized the first services on the site and in 1906 wrote a history of Camp Chase.  Eventually, a wall was constructed and the United States took over care and responsibility for the cemetery.  Services on the site are held yearly on the 2nd Sunday in June at 3:00PM to remember the forgotten Americans buried there and within the grounds of other places in our country.  These grounds and the people buried there underscore the lesson we learned about the immorality of slavery.  The consideration and respect of William Knauss is a lesson of how we as a nation can heal from our wounds and learn to respect one another.  

Camp Chase Cemetery
Camp Chase Cemetery circa 1897