|CAMP CHASE FEDERAL PRISON
The letters and photos on this page came from "The Story of
Camp Chase" by William H. Knauss, published in 1906.
William H. Knauss was a Union veteran who'd been seriously
wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Years later, it was he
who would make it a life's passion to help preserve the memory
of the Confederate prisoners who were buried at the Camp
This wasn't popular in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
Newspaper editors filled the papers with editorials against him,
but he fought public opinion and managed to gather enough
supporters to undertake a complete restoration of the neglected
and almost forgotten cemetery. William Knauss, a hard-bitten
veteran in his own right, never faltered in his mission to
preserve the final resting place of the Confederate soldiers who
perished at Camp Chase.
I often wonder if my ancestor,
John Cain, is pictured among the
men in photographs I've seen of
prisoners at Camp Chase.
|A group of Southern members of the Woodmen of the World at
Camp Chase Cemetery, 1901. The stone, which sits atop one of
the mass graves in the cemetery, reads, "2,260 Confederate
Soldiers of the War 1861 - 1865 Buried in This Enclosure."
|Exterior and Interior, Camp Chase Prison
|Mr. Knauss sought out former prisoners of Camp Chase to learn more about life in
the camp during the war. Following are two of the letters he received.
W. C. Dotson of Atlanta, Georgia relates the following:
"I remained six months at Camp Chase, but the policy of starvation did not commence until afterwards, though many kinds
of petty tyranny were practiced. For some flagrant abuse, I forget now the circumstances, several of my mess addressed a
note of protest to the commander. It was written and signed by gentlemen of intelligence and refinement, and was
respectful. The response received was a squad of soldiers with handcuffs and balls and chains for the entire party. The
younger men made light of the punishment, but among the victims was a gentleman, Capt. S. F. Nunelle, of Center, Alabama,
much older than the rest, and who was disabled by a wound in the hip. The shackles of course rendered him practically
helpless, and we younger ones had to wait on him. To those of us nearest naked were issued inferior Federal uniforms."
Col. W. H. Richardson of Austin, Texas wrote:
"It is but natural that you should like to know something of the life in Camp Chase and of those who fill the graves you have
so kindly cared for. The story as it was written in hunger and suffering might bring to the surface bitter memories and be
considered unseemly and out of place. I will therefore deal only in a general way.
Arriving in Camp Chase early in August, 1864, we found an order curtailing rations to the lowest minimum possible to sustain
life. Therefore a constant want of necessary food to sustain life fast filled those graves. The weak went first, and the
unfortunate ones who contracted diseases next; while strong men, inured to hardship and short rations, wore on.
All this time the sutler was not allowed to sell anything in the shape of food, not even pepper.
It is little wonder, then, that any scheme to escape was readily entered into. Our mess, composed of officers only (mostly
border men), organized for the purpose of escape. We occupied a room twenty-four by twenty-four feet, with twenty-four
men in a room. With one blanket and one suit of clothes, cold and hungry, we dug and worked for eight long months, only to
be disappointed again and again. Secret tunnels and charging combinations all failed. That we might be betrayed by
weak-kneed brothers and probably shot bothered us but little, for a hungry man cares not a great deal for life.
Thirty odd years is a long time and you and I are through fighting and can look back on the scenes of long ago without
From the author, William Knauss:
"As probably could be said for most prisons during the war, North and South, the prisoners fared better in 1862 and,
perhaps, 1863. However, at Camp Chase and Johnson's Island, in 1863, the cords were drawn and unnecessary cruelties
were practiced. Had prisoners, North or South, been guarded by veterans who had fought, the stories of cruelty would have
been different. As a regiment, the 88th Ohio, at Camp Chase, was never outside the boundary of the State. Many of these
men, not all, perhaps, enlisted to stay at home and do guard duty. The veterans from the front, returning home for
reenlistment, disliked this regiment much more than they did any regiment of "Johnnies." The treatement of prisoners, as a
general thing, in 1864 and 1865 was a great, dark blot, an imperishable stain, upon American civilization."
|After undertaking my own research of Camp Chase, and other prisons of the war, both Union and
Confederate, I have to agree with Mr. Knauss' evaluation. Soldiers on both sides appear, in many
accounts, to have been well treated by the fighting forces who first captured them. Also, as the
war wore on, times became harder, supplies more limited, overcrowding occurred.....life grew much
more difficult for prisoners. I have, however, come to believe that, for whatever reason, some
prison officials and guards treated inmates substantially worse than did others. Even without
study, this can usually be deduced by the number of prisoners who died, compared to the
population of the prison. My maternal ancestor, Josiah Garrett, was seriously wounded and
captured in Virginia and sent to a prison hospital on Staten Island, New York. There he received
very humane treatment and the Union doctors were responsible for saving his leg, for which he was
always grateful. He had no complaint concerning even one Union prison official or guard.
However, John Cain was not so fortunate. He was sent to Camp Chase and, according to my
grandmother's memories of his stories about prison life, it was a nightmare from beginning to end
and, as was mentioned earlier, one in which only the strong survived to see the morning light of
|"THE VEILED LADY OF CAMP CHASE"
Louisiana Briggs, ca. 1917. Born in New Madrid,
Missouri, but in her teens was sent to live with
family near Columbus, Ohio, to protect her from
the ravages of war and never went home. She
later married Joseph Briggs, whose brother,
Henry, was Camp Chase's caretaker. Known as
the "Veiled Lady of Camp Chase," she decorated
Confederate graves when it was still unpopular to
do so, requiring that she wear a veil on her evening
walks to the cemetery.
|One of the results of William Knauss' tireless efforts:
"Decoration Services, Camp Chase, 1898: The Blue and The Gray"
Poem read at the ceremony:
"They hear a voice we cannot hear, which says we must not stay,
They see a hand we cannot see, which beckons us away.
The foeman need not dread this gathering of the brave,
Without sword or flag and with soundless tread,
We muster once more our deathless dead out of each lonely grave.
The foeman need not frown, these all are powerless now,
They gathered them here and laid them down;
Love, tears, and praise are the only crown we bring to wreathe them now."
As Mr. Knauss stated, life at Camp Chase was better for prisoners in the early years of the war. At the beginning of the
war only Confederate officers were held there. These letters were shared with him by the Librarian of the Ohio Historical
Library. A cache of letters from prisoners at Camp Chase had been discovered in the Library years after the war, no one
knew how they came to be there or why they were never sent out, but they were all written at about the same time.
Camp Chase, April 24, 1862
It snowed here this morning and it is pretty cold today. I have been tolerably sick. I was in the hospital six weeks; but, by
the goodness of God, I was spared. Pleas Dodson waited on me like a brother. I am going to Sandusky tomorrow or the
next day. We are not mistreated here, but will have better quarters and a healtheir situation there. I want to write a long
letter, but I am limited. I will write that I am well now and being treated well under the present circumstances. Jimmy
Cotheral is dead; died in Chicago about the middle of March.
Love to all, your son,
J. A. Cox
Camp Chase, April 20, 1862
Lieut. M. C. Pratt, Prattsville, Ala.
My Dear Merritt,
You have doubtless heard of the surrender of our forces at Island No. 10, which included the First Alabama. We all
regretted this much, but we were surrendered without knowledge or consent. Our boys stood up to the enemy like men and
brave soldiers. We were drawn up in line of battle in sight of the enemy several times, and not one of them flinched in the
least. I was very proud of them.
After our surrender, we were separated, the officers being sent here and the men to Chicago or Springfield. It was hard for
me to part with them, but such is war. We are well treated here, but are closely confined. We are anxious to get South.
J. F. Whitefield
|It is my intention, with this page, to honor my g-grandfather and the experiences he endured while a prisoner of
war. I had ancestors who fought for both the Union and Confederate Armies. It is not my intention to try to
assign blame at this late date, only to give voice to John Cain and the memories he carried with him. He died
before his time from the effects of alcoholism; a disease, according to my grandmother, brought about by the
prison camp ghosts he couldn't shake. -- Nancy