Civil War prisoners were kept in two Ohio jails
Written by Sentinel-Tribune Staff
Thursday, 15 March 2012 09:34
(Editor's note: "Josh Franklin's Far Out Family Blog" is 10 chapters of Civil War history focusing on Ohio's role, written in a modern tone. Students, parents and teachers are invited to take the series a little further after reading it, and discuss the topics suggested below. The series is published through Ohio Newspapers in Education and was written by Steven Coburn-Griffis. The illustration is by Isaac Schumacher.)
December 23, 1863
Happy Christmas, brother. It seems impossible to believe that another Christmas will pass and I will not see my family, my friends, my home. My heart aches at the thought, but there is nothing for it.
It is cold here in these southern hills, and colder still higher up. We range across the country, moving from battlefield to battlefield. The battles are fearsome and the skirmishes, the unplanned meetings of small contingents, even more so. We kill as we find it necessary, but do what we can to encourage surrender. That does not happen nearly as often as I would like. Even so, it does happen and seemingly more so as we approach this blessed season.
Enough of this, though. This is a soldier's life, and while one that I will gladly shed myself of, it is of my own choosing and, for the moment, I would not have it any other way.
Give greetings of the season to Ma and Da, though I do not doubt this missive will find you long after the beginning of the New Year.
Hey. Just reading this letter made me sad. And even though it's nowhere near Christmas, Merry Christmas to anyone reading this blog. That's my shout out. And it's done.
Another thing this letter made me was curious. OK, so, yeah, there are always prisoners of war during a war. But what did they do with them during the Civil War? It seems that Ohio had a role to play there, too, because there were two pretty unique prisons here: one in Columbus and one on Johnson's Island in Lake Erie.
The prison in Columbus was called Camp Chase. Originally, it was supposed to be a training camp for new Union recruits, but it wasn't long before they just turned it into a prison. All in all, about 25,000 Confederate prisoners were locked up there, including some rebel officers and, get this, their "man servants." Seriously. These guys were allowed to keep their slaves in prison, even during a war that was at least partly about the abolition of slavery. At least for a little while.
It seems that there was such a "hue and cry" about the whole deal that a couple of months after they were confined, the "man servants" were released. I guess somebody somewhere finally figured out that it was the right thing to do. And a good thing, too, 'cause this place was something of a pit.
Most of the prisoners were confined in shacks made out of thin planks and the food was terrible. Between the bad food and the lousy living conditions, quite a few prisoners wound up dead from malnourishment and disease.
And then there was the prison on Johnson Island. Now, I'm not going to say that this was a resort, but it was a whole lot better than Camp Chase and had about the lowest mortality rate of any other Civil War prison.
At first, Johnson's Island was used just to hold Confederate officers. When it was just officers, it was kind of like one of those white-collar prisons they have today. They had crafts projects available to them, they could publish stories and they even had an amateur acting group. Some of the more famous prisoners there were Generals Isaac Trimble, James Archer, Thomas Benton Smith and M. Jeff Thompson.
The only downside to the prison, as far as the Union was concerned, was that it was awfully close to Canada. It seems that some prisoners made their getaway by walking across Lake Erie once it had frozen.
Not the kind of thing I like to do on a winter's day. No way.
hue and cry
Chapter eight: questions and activities
Seventy-five prisoners at Camp Chase were African Americans. They were released because of public protests. Are there any public protests noted in today's news? What do they hope to accomplish? Do you think they will succeed? Why or why not?
The size of the huts in which some of the men lived measured 20-feet-long by 14-feet-wide. How does that compare to the size of the room that you are in now? Imagine what prison camp conditions were like in 1861. Describe five of these conditions. Could you survive in your room under those conditions?
Locate Johnson Island on an Ohio map or a map of Lake Erie. Research the winter temperatures and conditions of winter or on the Great Lakes. Using the scale of miles on the map, how far would Civil War prisoners have had to walk across frozen waters to reach Canada and what would they have had to face on the journey?
Last Updated on Thursday, 03 October 2013 14:48