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Reading 2: Confederate POW Burials
Camp Chase cemetery had a key role in the development of the federal government's policy on marking Confederate graves. Immediately following the war, Ohio governors took notice of the poor condition of the cemetery. In 1879, the federal government took over the title to the cemetery;¹ however, the care of the cemetery continued to be poor. Ohio governors through the 1870s and 1880s continued to champion for proper care and attention for the cemetery, which sits less than six miles from the Ohio Statehouse.
When several of Ohio's politicians became involved in national politics, they continued to pursue the Camp Chase cemetery cause. Presidents William McKinley and Rutherford B. Hayes, and U.S. Senator Joseph B. Foraker all lobbied for proper care and marking of Confederate graves located in northern cemeteries.
1. Correspondence relative to "Confederate Prisoners of War," buried in the vicinity of the late Military Prisons in the State of Ohio:
To His Excellency Jacob D. Cox, Governor of Ohio:
SIR: I have the honor to inform you that I have attended to your instructions, directing me to procure, as an appendix to lists of the Union dead, lists of the Confederate prisoners of war buried in the State.
You will find the lists in the accompanying "Book of the Confederate Dead," with plats of the several cemeteries, showing the location of each grave--the numbers of the graves corresponding to the numbers in the lists.
There are 2,307 Confederate officers and soldiers buried in the State. Of these, 1,977 are buried in the Confederate cemetery at Camp Chase, near Columbus--93 in the city cemetery, southeast of Columbus--31 in the soldiers' cemetery at Camp Dennison, and 206 in the Confederate cemetery at Johnson's Island, near Sandusky.
A substantial board fence surrounds the cemetery at Camp Chase and the graves are well protected. Head-boards have been placed at the graves, properly inscribed, with numbers upon them corresponding to the numbers in the lists… …Many of the headboards in the Confederate cemeteries in the State are now in process of decay. I presume the U.S. Government will make some provision with reference to these cemeteries, for protection, renewal of headboards, &c. If not, I would recommend that it be done by the State. It is a simple matter of humanity.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
D. W. TOLFORD
Ohio State Soldier's Home
Columbus, O., Dec. 12, 1866.²
2. Excerpt from the annual message of the Governor of Ohio to the 67th General Assembly, January 4, 1887.
The confederate cemetery near Columbus.... The title to it is in the United States, and that Government should care for these graves; but it seems to have overlooked them. The fence that encloses the lot is in a dilapidated condition, and the entire burial place is overgrown with weeds and thistles and briars. It is recommended that unless the United States Government can be induced to do so, an appropriation be made to rebuild the fence and clean up the grounds and put them in orderly repair and condition.
The same should be done for the last resting place of about 200 Confederate dead who are buried on Johnson's Island. The hatred and detestation that all loyal people must and should ever entertain for the destructive political doctrines that these men fought for ought not to stand in the way of either a cordial feeling toward the living who have abandoned such heresies, or a proper regard and Christian respect for the graves of the dead who, although wrong, yet heroically and valorously contended for the convictions they entertained...³
3. In his autobiography, Notes of a Busy Life (1916), Senator Foraker states:
MARKING GRAVES OF CONFEDERATES.
…While I was Governor, I recommended in my Message to the General assembly of Ohio that provisions be made for the proper care of the graves of Confederate soldiers buried at Camp Chase, near Columbus, and on Johnson's Island, in Lake Erie, near Sandusky, and how, in pursuance of my recommendation, suitable provision therefore was made.
It was probably this fact that prompted the respective organizations of ex-Confederate soldiers to request me to introduce a bill in the 57th Congress making an appropriation to pay for suitably marking graves of Confederate soldiers who had died in Northern prisons and hospitals during the Civil War and who had not been buried at the places where they died. The bill was referred to the Committee on Military Affairs and there favorably considered. I made an extended report January 22, 1903, Number 2589, 57th Congress, Second Session, showing the number of graves to be marked, where located probable cost, etc. The bill did not pass in that Congress, but I re-introduced it in the 58th Congress, where it again failed, and then re-introduced it in the 59th Congress, which finally passed it….4
The 59th Congress passed Public Law 38 approved March 9, 1906. This bill states: "An Act to provide for the appropriate marking of the graves of the soldiers and sailors of the Confederate army and navy who died in Northern prisons and were buried near the prisons where they died, and for other purposes."
Questions for Reading 2
1. During the war and immediately afterwards, the families of Confederate soldiers tried to recover the remains of lost troops. Why do you think the creation of the "Book of Confederate Dead" may have been important to relatives of those who fought in the war?
2. Why do you think Tolford stated that marking and caring for the Confederate graves is "a simple matter of humanity?"
3. How did Governor Foraker describe the condition of the cemetery? Why does he make this appeal even though he knew these soldiers were fighting against the Union and for something in which he did not believe?
4. Why do you think it took over 40 years for the U.S. Congress to provide grave markers for Confederate soldiers that died in Union prisons?
5. Why do you think ex-Confederate soldiers requested that Foraker introduce a bill for suitable grave markers instead of a politician from a southern state?
6. How did Governor Foraker's experience with Camp Chase shape his views in the U.S. Senate on the issue of Confederate POW graves?
¹ Executive Documents: Annual Reports for 1886 67th General Assembly of the State of Ohio Part II, (Columbus, Oh: The Westbote Company, State Printers Columbus, 1887), 485.