Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Entries : Camp Douglas
Camp Douglas

Camp Douglas

Camp Douglas, 1863
Founded in the fall of 1861 as a training camp and staging center for Union forces, Camp Douglas was named after Stephen A. Douglas, whose property south of the city provided its site. In 1862 the camp was hastily adapted to serve as a prison for rebel soldiers captured by Ulysses S. Grant at Fort Donelson. Due to occasional prisoner exchanges during the first two years of the Civil War, the number of prisoners in the camp fluctuated, although for a time it was the largest military prison in the North. By the end of the war a total of 26,060 men had been incarcerated there.

Escapes were frequent from the camp, but only the abortive November 1864 “Chicago Conspiracy” roused broad concern. Federal informants foiled an ill-conceived attempt by local antiwar activists and die-hard prisoners to disrupt the 1864 election with a mass prison break.

Like all Civil War prisons, Camp Douglas had a high mortality rate: one prisoner in seven died in Chicago. Poor sanitation, hastily constructed buildings, and harsh weather conditions were to blame. In June 1862 a U.S. Sanitary Commission agent decried the camp's “foul sinks,” “unventilated and crowded barracks,” and “soil reeking with miasmatic accretions” as “enough to drive a sanitarian to despair.” By the end of the war more than 4,000 rebels had died in the camp.

Karamanski, Theodore J. Rally 'Round the Flag: Chicago and the Civil War. 1993.
Levy, George. To Die in Chicago: Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas, 1862–1865. 1994.