In 1861, Camp Chase was established in Columbus, Ohio, to replace Camp Jackson. Governor William Dennison had ordered Camp Jackson’s creation as a training ground for Ohio volunteers during the American Civil War. In April 1861, following President Abraham Lincoln’s call for seventy-five thousand volunteers to end the South’s rebellion, Governor Dennison encouraged Ohio communities to form and to send militia units to the state capital at Columbus for the governor’s use. Camp Jackson served as the training ground for these units. Military authorities also reorganized these individual units into larger military bodies at the camp.
Fortunately for Dennison and the federal government, while the state militia system had deteriorated throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, numerous communities had maintained units. These units existed primarily to march in parades and to provide young men with extracurricular activities. Among these units were the Lancaster Guards. This unit quickly answered the governor’s call and was the first militia unit to arrive in Columbus at Camp Jackson in 1861. It served as part of the first two Ohio infantry regiments organized for the war. Governor Dennison dispatched these regiments to Washington, DC, to protect the nation’s capital, on April 19, 1861, just four days after President Lincoln’s call for volunteers. Ohio’s governor sent other units to Camp Dennison, near Cincinnati, to help defend Ohio’s southern border from a Confederate invasion. The soldiers at Camp Jackson usually remained at the camp for only a short time. After receiving some training, military officials would send the men into the South to war against Confederate forces. The Lancaster Guards, along with several other similar units organized and mustered into service at Camp Jackson, helped strengthen the United States military for the war that lay ahead.
In 1861, the federal government authorized the creation of Camp Chase. Organized in Columbus, it eventually replaced Camp Jackson as a recruitment and training center for the Union Army. Camp Chase also served as a prison for civilians loyal to the Confederacy and also for both Southern officers and enlisted men during the course of the Civil War. During 1861 and early 1862, most inmates were prisoners from Kentucky and western Virginia arrested for their disloyal political sentiments. Following the Battles of Fort Henry and Donelson in February 1862, Union authorities detained numerous Confederate officers and enlisted men as prisoners of war at Camp Chase. During 1863, the number of prisoners housed at Camp Chase at any one time surmounted eight thousand men. Following the completion of the prisoner of war camp at Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie, Union officials sent most Confederate officers at Camp Chase to this new location, leaving enlisted men at Camp Chase.
Living conditions at Camp Chase were harsh for the Southern prisoners. While Union authorities never intentionally starved the prisoners, the Northern officials’ primary goal was to feed and equip the men serving in their own army, commonly resulting in shortages for the prisoners. The large number of men in such close quarters also caused diseases to thrive in the prison. During the winter of 1863-1864, hundreds of prisoners died from a smallpox epidemic. In November 1864, Union and Confederate authorities agreed upon a prisoner exchange hoping to alleviate the suffering of sick prisoners held by both sides. A total of ten thousand prisoners were exchanged, illustrating the harsh conditions in military prison camps.
During the course of the Civil War, over two thousand Confederate prisoners died at Camp Chase. Originally, prison officials had the deceased interred in the Columbus city cemetery. In 1863, the prison established its own cemetery, and the bodies already buried in the Columbus cemetery were re-interred in the prison cemetery. Following the war, thirty-one Confederate bodies buried at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati were re-interred at the Camp Chase cemetery, bringing the total number of Confederate burials to approximately 2,260.
The Union military abandoned Camp Chase at the end of the Civil War. All that remains of the site today is two acres of land, consisting primarily of the cemetery. In 1896, William Knauss, a former officer in the Northern army, organized a memorial service for the dead Confederates. On June 7, 1902, a monument to the Confederate dead was erected at the cemetery. Memorial services have continued at the cemetery every year since 1896.
For more information on the development and use of Camp Chase you will want to look at the following sites:
The Ohio Historical Society has many resources documenting Camp Chase. A search of our online catalog at www.ohiohistory.org/occ will show our holdings. Researchers can access our library holdings by choosing to do an “Archives/Library Collections” search. A General Keyword search can be done by the term: Camp Chase.
OHS holds the following prisoner records:
Military prison record, Camp Chase and Johnson’s Island, 1861- 1862.
Author: Ohio. Adjutant General’s Dept.
Description: Original: 1 v. Copy: 1 microfilm reel.
Notes: Includes index.
Summary: Entries include prisoner’s name, characteristics (rank or occupation), date received, home state, where imprisoned, discharge information, and remarks.
State Archives Series 1425
As of July 1863 this prison was taken over by the Federal Government and all records reside at the National Archives in Washington DC.
National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Rd
College Park, MD 20740
The items listed in the Online Collection Catalog are not available to be read in full-text online. If you find items of interest, you are welcome to come into the library to review them. If you are not able to visit, please let us know so that we can explain our policies for getting access to them.