Camp Douglas
3232 S. King Dr.

Griffin Funeral Home

2003 NB

The Griffin Funeral Home sits on the site of Camp Douglas, a morbidly fit marker of one of the deadliest prison camps of the Civil War. A sign says a soldier named Charles H. Griffin enlisted here in the U.S. Colored Infantry; almost as an afterthought it mentions the thousands of Confederate prisoner deaths. This Web site says his grandson, Captain Ernest A. Griffin, was born on the property.

In February of 1862, Ulysses S. Grant captured Fort Donelson in Dover, Tennessee. It was the North's first major victory and earned Grant a promotion to major general. It was also a blow to the South, keeping Kentucky in the Union and giving the North an opening into Tennessee (where they made Nashville a key supply depot). About 8,000 Confederate soldiers captured at Fort Donelson were the first prisoners to arrive at Camp Douglas in Chicago. 

The camp was originally a Union training base located at 31st and Cottage Grove. The land belonged to Stephen Douglas (of the Lincoln-Douglas debates), who died less than a year before the capture of Fort Donelson. The prisoner camp was located here on the west side of Douglas' estate, along what today is King Drive.

Conditions were miserable at Camp Douglas, which housed a total of 26,000 prisoners in the last three years of the war, including Sam Houston Jr. and eventual African explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley. Prisoners were punished for trivial offenses by being thrown into the pitch black basement room of "the white oak," a small house made of white oak logs. Smallpox and dysentary spread through the camp, killing one in five prisoners, a total of 6,000. The more than 1,000 deaths at Douglas during the brutal winter of 1864 drew comparisons to Georgia's notorious Andersonville. Chicago detective Allan Pinkerton, who founded the Secret Service for Abraham Lincoln, got wind of a plot among the prisoners to revolt and claim Chicago for the Confederacy and broke it up. 

The prisoners who died at the camp were initially buried in what is now the southeast corner of Lincoln Park. Two years after the war, the remains were moved to Oak Woods Cemetery a few miles south of the camp, where a monument stands today. 

At the Griffin Funeral Home, a display exhibits weapons and other mementos of the Civil War.  -NB

-Facts about Camp Douglas from IllinoisCivilWar.org
-Picture of Camp Douglas during the war
-Diary of a prisoner at Camp Douglas
-More from genealogy portal CensusDiggins.com


© Copyright 2001-2003
Nathan L.K. Bierma