Camp Chase Prison

        Until Nov. 1861, Camp Chase, named for Sec. of the Treasury and former Ohio governor Salmon P. Chase, was a training camp for Union volunteers, housing a few political and military prisoners from Kentucky and western Virginia. Built on the western outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, the camp received its first large influx of captured Confederates from western campaigns, including enlisted men, officers, and a few of the latter's black servants. On oath of honor, Confederate officers were permitted to wander through Columbus, register in hotels, and receive gifts of money and food; a few attended sessions of the state senate. The public paid for camp tours, and Chase became a tourist attraction. Complaints over such lax discipline and the camp's state administration provoked investigation, and the situation changed.
        Food supplies of poor quality resulted in the commissary officer's dismissal from service. After an influx of captured officers from Island No. 10, officers' privileges were cut, then officers were transferred to the Johnson's Island prison on Lake Erie. The camp's state volunteers and the camp commander were found to have "scant acquaintance" with military practice and were transferred, the camp passing into Federal government control. Under the new administration, rules were tightened, visitors prohibited, and mail censored. Prisoners were allowed limited amounts of money to supplement supplies with purchases from approved vendors and sutlers, the latter further restricted when they were discovered to be smuggling liquor to the inmates.
        As the war wore on, conditions became worse. Shoddy barracks, low muddy ground, open latrines, aboveground open cisterns, and a brief smallpox outbreak excited U.S. Sanitary Commission agents who were already demanding reform. Original facilities for 3,500-4,000 men were jammed with close to 7,000. Since parole strictures prohibited service against the Confederacy, many Federals had surrendered believing they would be paroled and sent home. Some parolees, assigned to guard duty at Federal prison camps, were bitter, and rumors increased of maltreatment of prisoners at Camp Chase and elsewhere.
        Before the end of hostilities, Union parolee guards were transferred to service in the Indian Wars, some sewage modifications were made, and prisoners were put to work improving barracks and facilities. Prisoner laborers also built larger, stronger fences for their own confinement, a questionable assignment under international law governing prisoners of war. Barracks rebuilt for 7,000 soon overflowed, and crowding and health conditions were never resolved. As many s 10,000 prisoners were reputedly confined there by the time of the Confederate surrender.
Source:  "Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War

This Page last updated 01/20/02

 

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