Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1900
HE earliest beginnings of the present Chicago are marked by the site of old Fort Dearborn in the First Ward. The Second Ward contains the massacre monument, where in 1812 the garrison of the fort was killed by the Indians aroused to hostility by the second war with Great Britain. Following the logical sequence of events Camp Douglas was located in the Third Ward. So far as the war of the rebellion is concerned this is easily the most historical spot in Chicago, though the site of the camp has long since been covered with handsome residences, and its existence has faded from the memory of most Chicagoans.
During the early part of the war Camp Douglas was the mustering and training grounds for the volunteer regiments of Illinois. Later confederate prisoners were confined there, and finally, as a fitting climax, Camp Douglas became known as the place where the great Chicago conspiracy was hatched and almost carried to a successful conclusion.
In the Third Ward also was located the first racetrack ever built in Chicago. It covered all the territory now included between Cottage Grove avenue on the east, Twenty-sixth street on the north, Thirty-first street on the south, and Indiana avenue on the west.
In the Fourth Ward, next to the south, is the tomb and monument of the Little Giant, who after unsuccessfully fighting Lincoln for political supremacy in the State, finally, when the crisis came, gave to his administration all the support of his great influence, and so vindicated his title to the name of patriot. And just across Cottage Grove avenue from the Douglas statue is the site of the original Chicago University. It was the dream of Douglas’ life to establish in Chicago a university which should be worthy in every way of the metropolis of the West. To this end he signified his willingness to give ten acres of the oak grove along the present line of Cottage Grove avenue as a site for the university whenever assurances should be given that suitable buildings would be erected. It is a comforting thought that he died believing that his dreams were in a fair way to be realized.
Though it is less than forty years ago that Camp Douglas was originally laid out, the growth of the city after the war was so rapid that within less than twenty years the boundaries of the camp had been entirely obscured, and in 1878 it required much careful research before they could be established. Beginning on Forest avenue in the west, the boundary line on the north ran east on Thirty-first street as far as South Park avenue and then dropped to the south for a fraction of a block, continuing to the east to the present line of Cottage Grove avenue. The main entrance to the camp was on Cottage Grove avenue and the eastern boundary line ran as far south as College, now Thirty-third place. The southern limit of the camp at the west was Thirty-third street, the line being drawn diagonally to the south to meet Rhodes avenue at Thirty-third place.
Camp Douglas, as above described, was originally laid out in the late summer of 1861. The ground covered was all included in the estate of Stephen A. Douglas, and the camp was accordingly named after him. The Thirty-ninth, Fifty-first, and Fifty-fifth Infantry, Ninth Illinois Cavalry, and the Mechanics’ Fusileers were immediately concentrated at the camp, and afterwards sent from it to the front. The original intention was to make the United States camp of instruction, but this was afterwards abandoned, and it was made a military camp, pure and simple.
THE FIRST PRISONERS.
In February, 1862, the battle of Fort Donelson was fought and the government found itself with thousands of confederate prisoners on its hands. It was decided to place them in Camp Douglas, and shortly after the battle between eight and ten thousand Southrons were sent to Chicago. The prisoners were, as a rule, miserable, disheartened, ragged, and wretched. A public meeting was called soon after their arrival and all the help possible was given. A relief committee was appointed, with Thomas B. Bryan as treasurer, and medicines and delicacies were sent to the camp by the wagon load. A little later several thousand federal troops who had been captured and afterwards paroled, arrived at the camp. The paroled soldiers were unruly under strict military discipline, and at one time attempted to burn the barracks and escape. A change in commanding officers, however, put an end to this discontent. In 1863 the barracks of Camp Douglas were overcrowded. Several volunteer regiments were obliged to camp on the open prairie to the west of the camp, and at one time, including the prisoners, there were moren than 30,000 men under arms in the vicinity.
Among the confederate prisoners were many of Hood’s and Morgan’s famous raiders. The sudden change of climate in the midst of winter had a disastrous effect, and though good rations were provided and the sanitary arrangements were good, camp fever, and pneumonia counted their victims by the hundreds, the deaths averaging six a day.
By April, 1863, all the confederate prisoners had been removed, except a few too ill to go, and the camp was nearly vacant, only the Ninth Vermont and a few companies of paroled troops remaining. In the following summer, however, the barracks were again filled with confederate prisoners. These prisoners were set to work to insure the security of their own confinement. They were forced to build a fence twelve feet high about the entire camp, with a platform four feet from the top, for the use of the sentries. In spite of these precautions, however, a number of prisoners escaped during the next few months. It was during this period that the celebrated “gophers” conducted their operations. Their plan of procedure was to remove the board flooring of their barracks, dig down a few feet, and then burrow out until they had passed the fence. Fifteen or twenty of the prisoners were usually involved in each attempt to escape by burrowing. It was the duty of the leader to crawl out through the tunnel, and with only his head above ground observe the whereabouts of the nearest sentinel. When the guard walking his regular beat got out of the way for a moment the leader popped out if his hole to freedom, and as many as possible followed him. In November, 1863, more than seventy prisoners escaped in this way. In the last month of this year eight companies of the Veteran Reserve Corps and a regiment of the Michigan Sharpshooters were ordered to Camp Douglas as additional garrison, and the work of the “gophers” was finally stopped almost completely.
On Jan. 1, 1864, there were 5,650 confederates confined at Camp Douglas, and during the year more than 7,000 additional prisoners were sent there. New barracks were erected and every effort was made to put the camp in as good a sanitary condition as possible. In spite of these efforts, however, smallpox and other diseases made terrible ravages in the ranks of the prisoners, 1,256 dying during that year.
It was in 1864 that the two plots for the relief of the 11,000 prisoners confined in Camp Douglas were formed. The men, with the assistance of their rescuers, were to start and attack in the rear, with the intention of entirely overthrowing the government of the United States. In May, 1864, Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, who had been Secretary of the Interior during the administration of President Buchanan, went to Windsor, Canada, and under the assumed name of Captain Carson, having been supplied with large sums of money for the purpose by the confederate government, started to organize an expedition to release prisoners of war in the various prison camps of the United States in the Northwest. He also arranged to aid the “Knights of Liberty,” an organization of secessionists in the North, with arms and money, to the ned that they might raise an insurrection—starting in Chicago—against the United States government. On the 29th of August the Democratic convention was scheduled to meet in Chicago, and it was thought that large bodies of men secretly armed might be brought into the city at that time without exciting suspicion. On the 24th of August, many escaped prisoners and rebel sympathizers, after having been furnished with arms in Canada, gathered in Chicago, making their general headquarters at the Richmond Hotel. In addition to these leaders the “Sons of Liberty,” under the direct command of Brigadier General Charles Walsh, at one time a Democratic candidate for Sheriff of Cook County, were armed and ready for attack. t the time it was estimated that there were about 2,000 members of the order in Chicago. They were to be further aided by a miscellaneous mob of malcontents and disunionists.
Col. Benjamin Sweet, in command of Camp Douglas, had, however, been kept fully advised of the progress of the conspiracy. In plenty of time he asked for reinforcements and they were sent. An entire Pennsylvania regiment, together with four companies of a another regiment, and an Ohio battery were ordered to Camp Douglas. On the day set for the insurrection the troops were stationed so that at the first alarm they could command Camp Douglas with their guns, and all preparations were made to give the emigrants from Canada a warm reception. As a result the leaders became frightened and the day of the convention passed without the least excitement. Shortly after most of the troops which had been sent as reinforcements were sent home. In October, however, though deserted by their outside allies, the 11,000 prisoners confined in the camp made a determined attempt to escape. Out if the whole number of 100 had volunteered to practically sacrifice themselves in a fierce attack on the guard. In the excitement, which followed, it was thought that most of those remaining would be able to make their escape. A spy, however, brought advance news of the plot to the commandant. He posted his forces accordingly. When the brave 100 advanced to the attack they were met with a fire so sweeping that the attempt to break out was immediately suppressed.
THE FINAL PLOT.
But not even then had the plots of the Southern leaders in Canada and the more despicable conspiracy of the disloyal sympathizers in Chicago reached their limit. It was determined to take advantage of the excitement resulting from the Presidential election in November, 1864, to make another and even bolder attempt to loose the prisoners confined in Camp Douglas and to give to the government of the United States a blow from which it would not easily recover. The plan was to release the prisoners, to stuff the ballot boxes so that the city, county, and State might be carried for McClellan, and then to sack and loot the city, burning everything they could not carry away with them into the territory of Jeff Davis.
On the 6th of November a large number of the “Sons of Liberty” arrived in Chicago, most of them coming from the southern part of the State. They were armed and were ready for desperate work. Brigadier General Walsh was again in command of these forces. They were supplemented by a considerable number of confederate soldiers, who, in one disguise or another, had managed to get into the city.
At the time there were only 800 federal troops in Chicago, and most of them were needed to guard the more than 8,000 prisoners confined at Camp Douglas. Colonel Sweet, the commandant, was again advised of the progress of the conspiracy, and realized that the situation was desperate. He finally concluded that the only chance of safety lay in taking the conspirators by surprise. On the night before election he sent squads of men to the house and hotels where the leaders were quartered and placed them under arrest. As a result the plotters were overawed and no attempt was made to carry the carefully laid plan to its consummation, though on election day a hastily organized body of mounted militia patrolled the city in readiness for an outbreak.
The prisoners arrested by Colonel Sweet were afterward tried by a military commission which met in Cincinnati, and most of them were found guilty. In one case the death penalty was prescribed, but it was afterward commuted to imprisonment for life on the Dry Tortugas.
The fall of Richmond in the spring of 1865 and the subsequent collapse of the rebellion did not immediately cause the evacuation of Camp Douglas as a military post. Gradually, however, the confederate prisoners confined there were released after taking the oath of allegiance to the government of the United States, and by August, 1865, there were only a couple hundred left, most of them too ill to be removed. Until October the camp was used as a rendezvous for federal troops returning from war, but after that time it was practically deserted. In November of that year the government property was sold and Camp Douglas ceased to exist.
THE FOURTH WARD.
The most historical points in the Fourth Ward are the site of the Douglas monument and of the old Chicago University immediately opposite, on Cottage Grove avenue.
Artist: Louis Kurz
Publisher: Jevne & Almini
Location: Cottage Grove Avenue and Thirty-Fifth Street
Published: June 1866
In 1856 Stephen A. Douglas signified his willingness to donate ground as a site for a university, and a canvass was begun to raise money for the buildings. A large amount of money was subscribed, most of the contributors giving their notes instead of cash, and the cornerstone of the university building was laid on July 4, 1857. A few months later, before the notes given by contributors became due, the panic of ’57 struck the country and overwhelmed the university in financial disaster. The men who had contributed money for the erection of the building were unable to meet their notes, and the Board of Trustees was obliged to begin its work by placing a mortgage on the property of the university. Gradually this debt increased, and although at the time the university had more than 100 students, the load finally became greater than the trustees could carry. In 1885 foreclosure proceedings were begun, and a few months later the property was sold, the building torn down, and the land cut up into building lots.
There are many people still living in Chicago who remember the universal sorrow caused by the death of Stephen A. Douglas, whose devotion to the union in the hour of its peril had doubly endeared him to the State which he had so long served. He died in Chicago on June 3, 1861, his last words being a command to his children to “obey the laws and uphold the constitution of the United States.” His body lay in state at the old Bryan Hall, where it was viewed by more than 50,000 people. The whole city was in mourning, business being generally suspended. On June 7 the remains were taken from Bryan Hall and escorted to the grave on the shore of Lake Michigan, where the Douglas monument now stands. The funeral procession marched for three miles through the streets, while a hundred church bells tolled and cannon boomed. In the line were many military organizations, the Governors of Illinois and other States, Unite States Senators and Representatives in Congress, members of the city and county governments, foreign representatives, and other distinguished mourners. There were no religious services at the grave, but an eloquent eulogy was pronounced by the Rt. Rev. James Duggan, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Chicago. A high fence was built about the grave, but no attempt was made to make a monument until the following October, when a popular subscription was started. Finally, however, practically the entire cost of erecting the present monument was borne by the State. The sculptor was Leonard W. Volk, and the corner stone was laid on Oct. 6, 1866. At the laying of the corner-stone a distinguished company was present. President Andrew Johnson and Secretary Seward were among those who made addresses, and General Grant and Admiral Farragut were introduced to the enormous throng which had gathered about the tomb. Not until 1878, however, was the monument formally unveiled. Judge John Dean Caton, President of the Monument association, making the address.