The Confederate cemetery in Columbus's Hilltop neighborhood marks the place where, 140 years ago, a prisoner of war camp stood. At that time the location was well outside the city limits. In May of 1861 a Union military training ground was established here under the name Camp Jackson; by July of that year, when the first Civil War prisoners were admitted, its name had been changed to honor President Lincoln's Secretary of State (and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), Hamilton County native Salmon P. Chase.
The camp served other functions while it housed captured Rebel soldiers. Units were mustered into regiments there, and regiments that had finished their service were discharged. Union POWs released from Confederate prisons were processed through Camp Chase. Among the Ohio Volunteer Infantries based there were three future presidents: Lieutenant Colonel James Garfield served in the 42nd OVI, while Major Rutherford B. Hayes and Private William McKinley were both part of the 23rd.
Many soldiers buried at Camp Chase died in the smallpox epidemic of 1863. Overcrowding forced two or three men to share single-occupancy bunks, and led to severe shortages in food and medicine, as well as clothing and blankets. The men were malnourished and cold, and therefore highly susceptible to disease. In the February of 1863 alone, 499 men died from smallpox. In addition to the soldiers, members of the community who lived near or worked at the POW camp were considered part of it, and their graves stand side by side on Sullivant Avenue.
A cemetery was established at the Camp near the end of 1863. The Confederate dead who had been buried in the city cemetery were moved back to Camp Chase. They were buried under cheap wooden markers in a plot surrounded by a low fence. When the war ended, most of the camp itself was dismantled. Some of the cabins where POWs had been housed were used as cheap shanties for a few years, but for the most part every indication that the military base had been there was gone--except for the graveyard, which was left to deteriorate.
It wasn't until 1895 that William Knauss, a retired Union Colonel who had been injured on the battlefield at Fredericksburg, found the graveyard and determined to restore it. He held memorial services there, featuring speakers such as Governor Nash, and drew crowds as big as five thousand by 1898. One by one, the soldiers received proper stone monuments instead of wooden slats. Their regiments and states of origin were carved beneath their names--a whole field full of men from Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and the Carolinas, buried in the capital of the state that produced Phil Sheridan, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Ulysses S. Grant.
Many locals say they have seen a sad ghost haunting the rows at Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery. Her name, according to some, is Louisiana Rainsburgh Briggs, but she's better known as the Lady in Grey. She weeps quietly over the grave of one Benjamin F. Allen, a private in the 50th Tennessee Regiment, Company D. Allen's grave is number 233 out of 2,260 Confederate soldiers laid to rest in this two-acre plot in the capital city of a very Northern state. So many men died miserably at a young age here that perhaps it's surprising there aren't more ghosts at Camp Chase.
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Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery
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