Test Excavations at Camp Douglas
Via Michael Lynch at Past in the Present, archaeologists in Illinois believe they’ve uncovered remnants of Camp Douglas, the infamous Civil War prison camp in Chicago.
Under 150 years worth of accumulated dirt, Demel and his team of mostly volunteer diggers uncovered limestone that likely made up the foundation of Camp Douglas, the most important legacy of Chicago’s role in the War between the States. “It’s exciting,” said Demel, a Northern Michigan University archaeologist, as he stared at a piece of Camp Douglas poking through the dirt for the first time in more than a century. . . . Named after U.S. Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, who owned the 60-acre site where the camp’s 200 buildings stood, Camp Douglas was initially a training site for about 25,000 Union soldiers, many of them black. In 1862 it was adapted as a prison camp. In 1864, anti-war activists staged the “Camp Douglas Conspiracy,” a failed attempt to free prisoners in hopes of disrupting that year’s presidential election, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. By the end of the war, more than 4,000 rebel soldiers had died there — and the final resting place for many of them was Oak Woods Cemetery, where such famed black Americans as Harold Washington, Jesse Owens and Ida B. Wells are buried. Camp Douglas was demolished after the Civil War, the wooden posts and limestone structures that remained eventually sinking into the Near South Side earth. Now a small but enthusiastic group of academics and volunteers is trying to bring Camp Douglas back into the city’s consciousness. “This is probably the most significant Civil War site in Chicago,” said historian Robert Girardi, who was at the dig site early Friday morning.
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Camp Douglas was located just back from the Lake Michigan shore on the south side of Chicago, not far from present-day White Sox home at Cellular Field.
This image shows the approximate boundaries of Camp Douglas overlaid in Google Earth. The gold star shows the approximate location of the excavation.