Camp Douglas POW cover
During the American Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy operated prison camps where soldiers were held—and in many cases, where those soldiers died. The South’s Andersonville is perhaps the most infamous of those camps, but Chicago’s Camp Douglas is arguably also among the worst.
The following cover was mailed from Camp Douglas on April 19, 1864, to a Miss E. Fort of Allensville, Kentucky, who could have been a girlfriend or sister of the now nameless soldier who penned the letter it carried. In addition to the blue Chicago, Illinois, postmark which canceled the 3¢ George Washington stamp that paid postage, the cover bears a handstamped censor marking reading “Camp Douglas Prisoner’s Letter, Examined.”
The reverse of the cover bears no markings.
Camp Douglas, which opened in 1862, was named for Senator Stephen Douglas.1 2 Estimates of the number of prisoners held at the camp during the Civil War range from 18,000 to 26,000, including as many as 12,000 at one time.3
Some sources claim as many as one in five prisoners at Camp Douglas died while being held there, although other scholars believe the death rate was lower.4 Conditions were so poor, and the barracks so dirty and infested, that an inspector as early as June 1862 said, “Nothing but fire can cleanse them.”5
In addition to the poor living conditions and high mortality rate, Camp Douglas is known for a conspiracy in November 1864 to free thousands of prisoners being held there. Authorities arrested several men linked to the plot, and the planned prison break was not carried out.6
- Karamanski, Theodore J. Camp Douglas. Encyclopedia of Chicago. Accessed 15 Aug. 2011.
- Hucke, Matt. Oak Woods Cemetery: Camp Douglas Confederate Mound. Graveyards.com. Accessed 15 Aug. 2011.
- Camp Douglas, Illinois. Illinois in the Civil War. Accessed 15 Aug. 2011.
- Camp Douglas Civil War Prison. CensusDiggins. Accessed 15 Aug. 2011.
- Thompson, Holland, ed. The Photographic History of the Civil War: Prisons and Hospitals. Springfield, Mass.: Patriot Publishing Co., 1911. Accessed 15 Aug. 2011.
- Wiley, Edwin, and Irving E. Rines, eds. Lectures on the Growth and Development of the United States. New York: American Educational Alliance, 1916. Accessed 15 Aug. 2011.