With the Civil War’s outbreak, both the North and the South were ill prepared for the conflict. Ohio Governor William Dennison hoped to utilize the state’s militia forces to assist President Abraham Lincoln in reuniting the nation.
With the Civil War’s outbreak, both the North and the South were ill prepared for the conflict. Ohio Governor William Dennison hoped to utilize the state’s militia forces to assist President Abraham Lincoln in reuniting the nation. Unfortunately for Dennison, many of Ohio’s militia units were no longer in existence. Those units that continued to operate were primarily social organizations that rarely practiced military maneuvers. Following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, in April 1861, President Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand volunteers to subdue the Confederate States of America. Despite the lack of a well-trained militia, Governor Denison beseeched communities to send their militia companies to Columbus for possible use by the North during the American Civil War.
To process Ohio’s volunteers, Governor Dennison ordered the creation of Camp Jackson. Camp Jackson was a military encampment where volunteers would be enlisted in the Ohio Militia, receive initial training, and also be formed into military units. Rarely did volunteers remain for more than a few days or weeks at Camp Jackson. Within four days of Lincoln’s call on April 15, 1861 for seventy-five thousand volunteers, Governor Dennison dispatched two regiments of men, who had enlisted for ninety days each, from Camp Jackson to Washington, DC to defend the nation’s capitol. Dennison also sent other units to Camp Dennison, a military encampment near Cincinnati, Ohio. At Camp Dennison, the men received additional training and stood ready to defend Ohio’s southern border from a feared Confederate attack.
The United States Army established Camp Chase in 1861. This federal recruitment and training base quickly supplanted Ohio’s Camp Jackson. Federal officials also quickly formed a prison at Camp Chase. Initially, most prisoners were civilians, principally from Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia, whom the Northern government deemed to be disloyal. In early 1862, as the Union military began to advance into Tennessee, prisoners increasingly became Southern soldiers. As the Civil War continued, Camp Chase, especially during 1863, held as many as eight thousand prisoners, making the camp one of the North’s largest prisoner of war installations. Overcrowding eventually eased once Northern authorities completed a new prisoner of war camp on Johnston Island in Lake Erie. This new installation principally housed Confederate officers. In Ohio, Northern authorities continued to hold most Confederate enlisted prisoners of war at Camp Chase.
Camp Chase remained in operation until the Civil War’s conclusion in 1865. At that time, Union authorities released all remaining prisoners at Camp Chase. Today, only two acres, consisting of a prisoner cemetery, remain of the former prison complex. Approximately 2,260 Confederate prisoners are interred in the cemetery, including thirty-one from Camp Dennison, near Cincinnati. Initially, Northern officials interred deceased Camp Chase prisoners in a public cemetery in Columbus, but in 1863, authorities established a cemetery at the prison. Officials disinterred the deceased prisoners from the public cemetery and reburied them at Camp Chase. Many prisoners died during a smallpox outbreak during the winter of 1863-1864, but other inmates may have perished from the poor living conditions within Camp Chase’s prison. Prisoners commonly experienced shortages in food and clothing, making them malnourished and susceptible to cold and to various illnesses. While there is no evidence to prove that Northern authorities intentionally starved Confederate prisoner of wars, there remains no doubt that Union officials’ first priority was to supply United States soldiers operating against the Confederacy. As a result of this priority, undoubtedly Confederate prisoners of war suffered more than necessary.
Beginning in 1896, a memorial service has been held each year at the Camp Chase cemetery to honor the deceased Confederates. A Union veteran, William Knauss established this event. On June 7, 1902, a monument was completed in the cemetery, commemorating Camp Chase and the Confederate prisoners of war interred in the cemetery.