Camp Life, Death, and Reconciliation

Some say 100,000 people were in the Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago on May 30, 1895. Many participated in the parade on Michigan Avenue before gathering in the cemetery. There were 15 carriages, a platoon of Chicago city police, and a detachment of National Guard cavalry. One of the carriages had a massive liberty that bell rang thirteen times, followed by a forty-four-gun salute fired by Artillery Battery D of the Illinois National Guard.

30 years before the parade they were buried in the City Cemetery which is now Lincoln Park. In 1867, the US Government paid $1.98 per body to move the dead 12 miles south. The contractor moved 3,384. Most of the men died just 5 miles away in a camp named for the great Illinoian Stephen A. Douglas.

Camp Douglas started out as a recruiting and training facility for the US Army. In the winter of 1862, it was converted into a camp for Confederate prisoners of war. 26,000 Confederates would pass through the camp and many thousands would die. This 60-acre camp had 64 barracks buildings designed to hold 95 men each. They often housed more than 180. Surrounded by 3 miles of 14-foot fence in overcrowded conditions, without adequate sanitation facilities many died of disease. A lack of heat contributed to the suffering in the cold Chicago winters.

John C. Underwood was a member of the Chicago branch of the United Confederate Veterans (UCV). The first money he raised for the memorial was from a lecture given by former Confederate General John B. Gordon. He needed $10,000. Underwood was an engineer by training and designed the obelisk. He imported the stone from Georgia.

The master of ceremonies was Reverend H. W. Bolton. He was a former Union soldier, Methodist minister, and a former commander of a Grand Army of the Republic Post. Almost 20 years later, another leader in the Grand Army of the Republic would speak at Arlington National Cemetery to dedicate a Confederate Memorial. That spirit of reconciliation is waning. What kind of government would consider destroying a memorial in a cemetery?


Career consultant turned substitute teacher and writer. I enjoy the outdoors and poker.

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