Why Camp Douglas
“…after Boston Chicago has been the chief instrument in bringing this war to the country.”
A. Lincoln, February 23, 1865
This statement made to Joseph Medill and a delegation of Chicago leaders when discussing the 1865 military draft is an example of the influence of Chicago and Illinois during the Civil War. Not only were they vocal abolition spokesmen but, Chicago (with an 1860 population of 108,000) provided 17,000 of the approximately 40,000 Union troops from the greater Chicago area. The 260,000 Illinois soldiers ranked fourth, by states, in troop enlisted in the Union. Nearly 35,000 Illinois troops died in the conflict ranking third among all states.
Chicago was a major producer, not only in man power, but of war material, transportation and food for the Union cause. The influence of the Civil War on the growth and development of Chicago and Illinois can not be understated. Much of the population growth of Chicago to nearly 300,000 by 1870 can be attributed to the war effort.
Camp Douglas, which was located on the near south side of Chicago, was one of the most significant Union Civil War prison camps. Operational from 1861 to1865, its reconstruction and preservation well serve to retain the history of Chicago during this important period of American history.
Camp Douglas was distinguished by the following facts:
The oldest and largest Union military camp in the Chicago area
Consisted over over 200 buildings on 60 acres of land
Housed and trained over 25,000 Union troops
One of 8 Union camps to train African American Union soldiers
Was the center of many satellite camps located up to five miles south and two miles west of the camp
One of the longest continuous operating prison camps in the Civil War
30,000 total prisoners were held and 12,100 were the most prisoners held at one time
Greatest number of prisoner deaths in any Union prison
Since Camp Douglas was razed in 1865 there has been little recognition of its existence. Currently small commemorative plaques in the parking lot of the shuttered Griffin Funeral home and its boundaries noted on a sidewalk map of the area at 35th and ML King Drive are the only public identification of the camp. The Confederate Monument at Oak Woods cemetery, five miles south of the camp site, is the only remaining acknowledgement of the prisoners who were held at Camp Douglas.
The Bronzeville community is rapidly becoming a significant historic site in Chicago. In addition to the existing Stephan A. Douglas Monument and the renovated Old Soldier’s Home, plans have been developed for a military museum in the nearby 80th Regiment Armory and a museum commemorating the Black Migration to Chicago near the Camp Douglas site.
Nearly all of the Camp Douglas is in the Lake Meadows development owned by Chicago developer Draper and Kramer. Draper and Kramer has plans to redevelopment the site which include increasing population density and creating additional commercial space. This plan will significantly reduce current open space on the camp site. The redevelopment offers a unique opportunity for private developer cooperation with the community to provide a lasting tribute to those who served or were prisoners at Camp Douglas, as well as a commemoration of the African American contribution to the Civil War.
Camp Douglas is an important part of the history of Chicago, of Illinois and our nation. Now is the time to take action to preserve this important part of history. After redevelopment it is likely that any opportunity for a meaningful tribute to Camp Douglas will be lost forever.
Now is the time to act.
SUPPORT THE CAMP DOUGLAS RESTORATION FOUNDATION.