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Camp Douglas Illinois Prisoner
of War Camp, Chicago Illinois
Source: 80 Acres of Hell-Camp Douglas
Roster of The Confederate Dead
Morgan's Raiders POW's Camp Douglas 1862

Camp Douglas POW Camp Chicago, Illinois
Barracks At Camp Douglas Housed Confederate POW's
Confederate Soldiers Held at Camp Douglas, Illinois
The worst POW camp in the Civil War was Camp Douglas, Illinois located in Chicago Illinois. It was established in 1861 and located at 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago Illinois on a donated piece of property provided by the estate of Stephen A Douglas initially for a Union Army training post. It began to be used as a POW camp for Confederate soldiers in February, 1862 during the Battle of Fort Donelson when more than 7,000 Conferate soldiers were captured and brought there. The largest number of prisoners held there was 12,000 in December 1864.

Source: In February 1862, Ulysses S. Grant captured roughly 5,000 Confederate soldiers in a victory at the Battle of Fort Donelson at the Tennessee-Kentucky border. With nowhere else for the captured troops to go, Camp Douglas became a Union Army prisoner-of-war camp, and it stayed one for the duration of the war.

At the beginning of the Civil War (1861), the Union army set up Camp Douglas between 31st and 33rd Streets, first as a training facility for the Illinois regiment and subsequently as a prisoner of war camp for Confederate soldiers. Forty-four hundred Confederate soldiers died because of poor conditions at Camp Douglas. Source

According to "80 Acres of Hell," a television documentary produced by A&E and the History Channel, the reason for the uncertainty is that many records were destroyed after the war. The documentary also alleges that, for a period of time, the camp contracted with an unscrupulous undertaker who sold some of the bodies of Confederate prisoners to medical schools and had the rest buried in shallow graves without any coffin. Some were even dumped in Lake Michigan only to wash up on the shore. Many, however, were initially buried in unmarked pauper's graves in Chicago's City Cemetery in today's Lincoln Park, but were re-interned after the war in 1867 at Oak Woods Cemetery, 5 miles south of Camp Douglas.

Between 1862 and 1865, there were some half dozen commanders in charge of Camp Douglas. According to the A&E documentary mentioned in the above paragraph, two of these commanders were so inhumane that they made this camp worse than any other prisoner-of-war camp in the Civil War. The last commander of the camp, Col. (later Brigadier General) B.J. Sweet, denied any fruit or vegetables to the prisoners and has been blamed for the rampant spread of scurvy among prisoners during his tenure. Although some still maintain that Sweet re-acted to a genuine threat when he demanded and received permission to put the entire city of Chicago under martial law in 1864--allegedly because civilians were planning to free the camp's prisoners--others believe that this threat was bogus and that Sweet used it as a pretext to arrest individuals whose only crime was criticism of the camp's inhumane conditions. Several of these civilians, including the wife of a prominent Chicago attorney, were put in the camp with the prisoners of war. They were tried and convicted before a military tribunal in Cincinnati, Ohio. At least two of these civilians died in the camp. Another committed suicide while awaiting trial in Cincinnati. In 1866, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the trial had been unconstitutional.

The camp was called "80 Acres of Hell" by many of the captured soldiers. Inmates were deprived of blankets, medical treatment, and food. To the immediate south of the camp stood the University of Chicago, from which seminary students provided charitable aid to the prisoners when allowed to do so by the camp commanders. At one point, some prisoners ate a dog, and even rat meat came to be regarded as a delicacy. The president of the U.S. Sanitary Commission once inspected the prison and gave a report of an "amount of standing water, of unpoliced grounds, of foul sinks, of general disorder, of soil reeking with miasmic accretions, of rotten bones and emptying of camp kettles.....enough to drive a sanitarian mad." The barracks were so horrendous, he said, that "nothing but fire can cleanse them."

Although, during the first year or so of the camp's existence a number of prisoners of war were allowed to buy their way out of the camp, this means of escape was eventually cut off. The only way out, aside from escape, was to pledge loyalty to the United States and agree to fight for the Union. Many soldiers took this oath and were sent to fight Native Americans in the West. At the end of the war, only prisoners who agreed to take the oath were given train fare to the South. Those who still refused were forced to return home by their own means which often meant walking across several states.

After the war, the camp was discontinued and the infamous barracks and other buildings demolished. Today, modern condominiums fill most of the site.

Researched and edited by C. B. Pritchett
Pritchett Ford
Source of This Article

The South had Andersonville, an internationally known reminder of prison camp hardships and deaths, immortalized in song, literature, film and by many Union Monuments. The North had Camp Douglas, a little known civil war prison in Chicago that set records for prison mortality, hidden in lost and incomplete records and suppressed publicity. To the victor belongs the silence.

Andersonville is the National Prisoner of War Historical Site, with white headstones for each of the 12,912 Union prisoners who died there with a 475 acre park and monuments erected by every Union State and the National Government. All of the main highways of South Georgia have directional signs to aid the tens of thousand who visit there yearly. Look North to Chicago and you will find at least 6000 Confederate soldiers buried in a mass grave on one acre of land. There is only one monument to these prisoners who died, erected in 1895, 30 years after the war, by Southerners and their friends in Chicago and the North.

According to Dorothy Wells Earlandson, writing in Chicago's Heritage Guest, a few native Chicagoans knew of its existence, you see, Chicago has never publicized its one time camp There are no highway directional signs. We will never see a film about Camp Douglas or any of the other notorious Northern prisons. The winners write the history books, and for 130 years they have been silent about their prison camps. The Oak Wood Cemetery monument, erected "TO THE MEMORY OF THE SIX THOUSAND SOUTHERN SOLDIERS HERE BURIED - WHO DIED IN CAMP DOUGLAS PRISON - 1862 - 1865" sustains interest in the camp located near the shore of Lake Michigan. Before the camp closed, it had earned the dubious distinctions of an undisputed first place in mortality among Northern prisons.

Prisoners from Fort Donelson arrived at Camp Douglas in February, 1862, and within one year the monthly mortality rate was at ten percent, a rate unsurpassed by any other prison in the North or South. Ultimately, one in five prisoners died, establishing the camp=s reputation for Aextermination.@ The highest death rate at Andersonville was nine percent set for August, 1864. Three traits distinguished Camp Douglas from other Northern prison camps: high mortality rates, extreme acts of cruelty, and a low official count of prisoners who died compared to documentation from other sources Historical articles and research texts have publicized these facts, but somehow Camp Douglas has escaped the notoriety of Andersonville. The most complete treatment of the horrors of Camp Douglas is contained in George Levy=s To Die in Chicago (1994) from which some of the information for this article has been drawn. Levy was educated at the University of Chicago and he has served as Assistant Attorney General for the state of Illinois.

The high mortality rate can be attributed to several factors: overcrowding, unhealthy living conditions, ineffective medical treatment, inadequate food supply, and brutality. The war lasted longer than expected, resulting in more prisoners tan anticipated. By late 1862 there were 8,962 prisoners in the camp with fewer than 900 guards. Over 200 prisoners were crowded in to barracks averaging 70 feet by 25 feet. As the number increased, tents were erected to house them, with little protection against below zero winds. Huge latrines were left open, so rain washed raw sewage into the drinking water supply. Wooden floors were removed to discourage tunneling, so vermin infected the dirt floors. Rats and mice were commonplace. Some unnamed inmates recollecting the camp 37 years later said that they raised the kitchen floor to catch Abig gray rats@ which were made into rat pies. When cholera and a smallpox epidemic erupted, free medicine sent by the South was withheld as contraband of war. Food rations were restricted, partly to cut costs and partly as retaliation for Southern victories. When control of the camp was finally passed to the Chicago Police department, medical supplies were cut off and food severely restricted.

On June 30, 1862, Commandant Colonel Tucker was warned by D. V. McVickar, the Post Surgeon that Athe surface of the ground is becoming saturated with the filth and slop from the privies, kitchens, and quarters and must produce serious result to health as soon as the hot weather sets in. AColonel Tucker was overwhelmed; there were 326 patients in the hospital and many more in the barracks. Coincidentally, Henry W. Bellows of the Sanitary Commission sent a negative report on the camp to Colonel Hoffman the same day: ASir, the amount of standing water, unpoliced grounds, of foul sinks, of unventilated and crowded barracks, of general disorder, of soil reeking miasmatic accretions, of rotten bones and emptying of camp kettles, is enough to drive a sanitarium to despair. I hope that no thought will be entertained of mending matters.

The absolute abandonment of the spot seems to be the only judicious course, I do not believe that any amount of drainage would purge that soil loaded with accumulated filth or those barr4acks fetid with two stories of vermin and animal exhalations. Nothin but fire can cleanse them.@ The Chicago Tribune wrote on September 22, 1862, AIt is not wonder they died so rapidly. It is only a wonder that the whole eight-thousand of the filthy hogs did not go home in pine boxes instead of on their feet.

Civilian doctors, who inspected Camp Douglas on April 5, 1863, called it an extermination camp. They drew an unrelenting picture of Awretched inmates without change of clothing, covered, with vermin, in wards reeking with filth and foul air, and blankets in rags . . . it will be seen that 260 out of 3,800 prisoners had died in twenty-one days, a rate of mortality which, if continued would secure their total extermination in about 320 days.

Prisoners were deprived of clothing to discourage escapes. Many wore sacks with head and arm holes cut out; few had underwear. Blankets to offset the bitter northern winter were confiscated from the few that had them. The weakest froze to death. The Chicago winter of 1864 was devastating. The loss of 1,091 lives in only four months was heavies for any like period in the camp=s history, and equaled the deaths at the highest rate of Andersonville from February to May, 1864 (OR Ser-II-Vol. 8, 986-1003). Yet, it is the name of Andersonville that burns in infamy, while there exists a northern counterpart of little shame. Mortality rates increased as Colonel Sweet complained on October 11, 1864, that mortality at the camp was up to 35% since June. In November 1864, the death toll was 217; another 323 died in December, 308 in January 1864, and 243 in February.


The Sparrow diary specifically mentions the dead line at Camp Douglas. Prisoners were shot for crossing the line there just as at such other Federal prisons as Camp Morton, Indiana; Camp Chase and Johnson=s Island in Ohio; Point Lookout, Maryland; Newport New, VA; and Fort Delaware for violating stated bounds, usually to answer the call of nature. Several Confederate prisoners were shot or bayoneted to death while in the very act of relieving themselves.

The arctic weather led to additional suffering. AAnother punishment was to make the men pull down their pants and sit, with nothin under them, on the snow and frozen ground. I have know men to be kept sitting until you could see their prints of some days after in the snow and ice. When the [guards] got weary of this they commenced whipping, making the men lay on a barrel, and using their belts, which had a leather clasp with a sharp edge, cutting through the skin.

A prisoner swore that when the men who were being punished this way attempted to sit on their coattails they were cruelly kicked in the back by the guards and forced to sit longer on their bare bones. Prisoners were forced to stand in the snow for hours without moving, and guards checked footprints to see if they had moved. Those who did received lashes. Some prisoners who arrived in the bitter cold weather lost toes, fingers and ears. One improvised two wooden pegs as substitutes for feet and hobbled around surprisingly well.

The mildest cruelty took the form of random firing into the barracks to disturb the prisoners' sleep, shooting prisoners who moved too slowly, or hanging them by their feet to encourage them to take the Aoath to the United States. The more common severe tortures included reaching for the grub, bending over without bending the knees for several hours, causing blood to gush from the prisoners nose and protruding eyeballs almost bursting from their sockets with pain, or being lashed a hundred times with the metal buckle end of a belt.ASolitary confinement meant being squeezed into a ten foot square room with twenty others, with only a ten-inch window for ventilation.

A fearsome animal came to Prison Square on June 28, 1864. AThe Yanks have fixed a frame near the gate (to Prison Square) with a scantling piece of timber across it, edge up, and about four feet from the ground, which they make our men ride whenever the men do anything that does not please them. It is called The Mule. Men have sat on it >till they fainted and fell off. It is like riding a sharp top fence. The mule could be made more painful by adding weights. Sometimes the Yanks would laugh and say, AI will give you a pair of spurs which was a bucket of sand tied to each foot. Other prisoners confirmed that men had to ride the mule in the worst winter weather. By 1865 it had grown to 15 feet tall and required a ladder to mount. There was a mule for the garrison in White Oak Square, except there it was called the horse.


From February 1862, till all the Secesh had left there, nearly all of the Medical Colleges in the northwest were supplied with the bodies stolen from the dead buried at the city cemetery and the appearance of the graves gives evidence of the truth of this statement. On June 9, 1862, a difference between the Chicago Tribune and Official Records was reported, with 1,480 men unaccounted for according to the Tribune. One of the reasons was that some deaths were unreported. On July, 1862, commandant Tucker, in taking command of Camp Douglas, reported, "there is scarcely a record left at camp and it will be difficult to ascertain what prisoners have been at the camp or what has become of them." By March 31, 1863, mortality was again out of control, and diseases claimed 706 prisoners. If true, the toll in two months was only 277 short of the 1862 record. Suspiciously, there are not Camp Douglas returns in the official records for March 1863. The Tribune appears to have counted the dead carefully and indicated that the toll could have been upwards of 700.

Unfortunately, record keeping was atrocious. It seems that in the period from February, 1862, to April, 1863, about 728 Confederates were missing. This in not the worst of it. If 700 died in early 1863, as the Tribune and some historians of the period believed, the superintendent should have found 1,636 graves. Various explanations were put forward for this discrepancy. The bodies were being washed into the lake, according to the Tribune, toward the water one mile south. The cemetery was also a favorite hunting ground for grave robbers. Another explanation is that the dead were dumped into unmarked gave and soon lost in the swampy soil. By 1864 about 2,235 prisoners had lost their lives since the prison opened according to the Official Records. This may be 967 short of the true figure at the time, based on the Tribune's figures.

There were 23,637 cases of sickness in 1864, according to the study made at the time. This is more than three times the number shown in official records for the entire 700 days at Camp Douglas; August 1863 to August 1865. Since they were not reporting to Washington, the number is of the sick in the Barracks (Levy), a lack of reporting deaths would certainly follow. According to the History of Camp Douglas, close to 12,000 prisoners had suffered through the bitter winter of 1862, and 1863 when temperatures fell below zero. From 1,400 to 1,700 lay dead but only 615 could be counted in the desolate graves far from camp. Between 700 and 1000 had disappeared. On December 1, 1866, only 1,402 graves (of the earlier 2,968) could be identified. Very little care seems to have been taken in the interment of bodies. General A. Hoyt warned that close to 2000 bodies were now unaccounted for. Somehow Camp Douglas was exterminating the dead as well as the living.


Oak Woods Cemetery could have become the largest Confederate burial site outside of the South, but subsequent events made it impossible to learn the number buried there. The Oak Woods Cemetery simply buried whatever the O'Sullivans, (unqualified grave removers) brought in, and numbered the grave markers at Oak Woods according to City Cemetery records. These records cannot be verified because no Confederate burials were recorded with the City Clerk. Also the army failed to supervise, inspect or validate the removals. History had been blindfolded, and there is no way of knowing how many Confederates, or which ones, are at Oak Woods.

On September 1, 1880, General Bingham reported, Amany of the graves are sunken and many of the corner stakes are missing. There is evidences that one of the sections has been used as a roadway. The ground around these lots has been raised and improved which gives them the sunken appearance. The mound area was later filled in to the level of the rest of the cemetery. Other than the modest obelisk on this mound, completed in 1893 by sympathizers from the South, from Chicago, and other parts of the North, there was nothing to distinguish this burial site. Thirty years later, bronze tablets were added with a partial list of the dead. About 100,000 sympathetic persons, including President Grover Cleveland, attended the dedication of the edifice on Memorial Day, 1895. Since that time, nothing has been done to memorialize these unfortunate Confederate prisoners of war, other than a small gathering of supporters each year on Memorial Day. Camp Douglas has to be the North's best kept secret of the Civil War "their Andersonville" but a camp that must be identified with extreme cruelty and convenient record keeping of the dead.

Researched by:
C.B. Pritchett Jr.
Pritchett Ford
P.O. Box 200
Albany, Ga 31702-0200

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