Few are aware of the four Illinois Civil Prisoner of War Camps - Camp Butler; Alton Penitentiary, Camp Douglas, and Rock Island. These four facilities held approximately 53,000 Confederate prisoners. There were more than 647,000 prisoners captured during the Civil War. Many were paroled in the field, but 215,000 Confederate soldiers (and citizens) were held in Union prisons; 26,000 died while being held. Of the 195,000 Union soldiers (and citizens) held in Confederate prisons, 30,000 died while imprisoned.
This activity may best be explained by the pre-civil war stance of Chicago's white population. Chicago City Council condemned the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. By 1860 there were over 955 free Negroes in Chicago, and 7628 free Negroes in the state of Illinois according to the census.
Henry Marshall and the Black Confederates
|Henry Marshall, Black Confederate|
A monument gives Oak Woods Cemetery credit for being the largest burial site for Southern soldiers in the North. The monument was erected "to the memory of six thousand southern soldiers." The National Archives - Prisoners and Casualties gives the official death count as 4454, but about 1500 were unaccounted for through record analysis.
For Union researchers at Camp Douglas, know that there were about 900 prison guards. There were black laborers early on, but prisoners were able to blacken their exposed features using a form of charcoal, and walk out the front gate disguised as a laborer. The city black laborers were dismissed, so escapees, healthy enough to do so, turned to the common tunneling method to leave the prison.
Where to Research?
As mentioned early, Camp Douglas records are grossly incomplete or missing. The fortunate researcher however, may find military records in the military files/folders of the NARA or personal diaries of Camp Douglas survivors.
Roll of Honor of Burial Places o f Solders, Sailors, Marines and Army Nurses of All Wars of the United States Buried in the State of Illinois may be found at the Illinois State Archives microfilm 1956. Confederates are identified as Confederate, Rebel, or CSA.
NARA microfilm, M598 - Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861- 1865. Captured confederate sailors information may be found in Microfilm Publication M598, additional information may be found on the NARA blog referencing: Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861 -1865. Alton: rolls 13-20.
- The history of Camp Douglas : including official report of Gen. B.J. Sweet : with anecdotes of the rebel prisoners. 1865. Tuttle, Edmund Bostwick. J.R. Walsh, Chicago.