Posted - 02/19/2006 : 23:43:54
This is a fine book, not only to fill in missing details for US Civil War buffs, but also a moving history on the eternal subject of man's inhumanity to man, and humanity's ability to survive hardship.
Today, Oak Woods Cemetery in south Chicago holds the graves of Olympic great Jesse Owens, mobsters, former mayors, many members of of Chicago's African American community, and civil rights activists. Unknown to most Chicagoans, it also holds the largest mass grave in the Western Hemisphere, the bodies of about 6,000 Confederate enlisted POWs, who died in nearby Camp Douglas military prison. (My great grand-uncle happens to lie there, too, dead of smallpox, though two of his brothers survived.)
The Confederate prisoners were denied food and water, were beaten and tortured. Commandants withheld medications and medical attention even as smallpox, dysentery and pneumonia swept the camp. Though they were Southerners, unaccustomed to the harsh northern winters on Lake Michigan's shore, blankets and much of their light-weight uniforms were taken away by guards. In short, Camp Douglas was a death camp, like its counterpart, Andersonville in the South, a shame of the American nation.
Camp Douglas in 1864
In the early days of the prison, a number of Rebels managed to escape, some even eluding capture and making their way back to the South. A small number of "Copperheads," pro-slavery Democrats, in Chicago had a grandiose, but hopelessly unrealistic and incompletely organized plan to break out most of the Confederates and arm them, then to take over Chicago for the South. This plan was uncovered by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and was quashed. But one of Camp Douglas' commandants took advantage of the hysteria created by the Copperhead plot to seize personal control over Chicago, ruling it with Federal troops, and rounding up and imprisoning at Camp Douglas many prominent citizens that he deemed to be seditious.
Now an attorney, George Levy was once on the campus of the University of Chicago when he happened to look to the east toward an area next to Lake Michigan. He then learned that the area had once been a Civil War POW camp. He decided to research the subject, and To Die in Chicago: Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862-65 (Pelican hardback, 1994 edition, 446 pages) is the result.
Levy is a fair and unbiased researcher (something not always to be taken for granted in Civil War writing), and this is a very well-written, well-researched, eye-opening read.
An anecdote from the book: One of the successive camp commandants had a terrier dog which he kept in the camp, and which was generally liked by the prisoners. One day, the dog went missing. The commandant posted a notice, demanding the dog's return. One Rebel wrote beneath the notice:
For lack of bread,
the dog is dead.
For want of meat,
the dog was eat.
“Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
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Edited by - HalfMooner on 02/20/2006 01:17:01