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Camp Chase Prisoner Writes

Milton Asbury Ryan,
Camp Chase POW

As to our rations: there was just enough to keep us ravenously hungry all the time; one half loaf of bakers bread eight inches long divided between eight men, one inch to the man twice a day; with that one tablespoonful of navy beans with a piece of pickled beef or salt pork about the size of a person’s forefinger. We had a kitchen sergeant who had the cooking done for his barracks. When ready it was handed to us through a window in a tin cup, with the liquor it was cooked in. The guards would throw down apple cores and peelings and enjoy seeing our poor starving boys scuffle for them. The hospital was just outside the prison wall. There was a ditch four feet wide and three feet deep. It was planked up side and bottom and from the hospital it passed through our prison, and in it all the filth of the prison was deposited, including the scraps from the hospital, such as scraps of meat, bakers bread, onions and beef bones, etc. At the head of the ditch was a large tank. It was pumped full of water every day by a detail of prisoners. We all knew when the flood gates would be raised and the water turned loose. It would come sweeping down, bringing the garbage with other filth deposited in it during the day. Our boys would be strung along the sides of the ditch and as it came floating by they would grab it and eat it like hungry dogs. Beef bones was a choice morsel. We would take them and pound them up and place them in tin cups and boil them until the marrow was boiled out. When cold there would be a thin cake of tallow on top. We would spread it on our bread like butter. Had Lazarus been laid out at (our) gate he would not have gotten a crumb. A little snowbird would have starved to death at our feet. I now, after fifty years, recall some of the fitful scenes of the starved, emaciated young men. Those once proud Southerners who had been victorious in many a battle kicked and cuffed, starving and sick at heart, and in despair with no hope sitting waiting for the scraps from the hospital to be washed to their feet with the garbage and excrement all clumped in the same ditch together. There are no words adequate to depict the outrageous cruelties and barbarities perpetrated upon helpless prisoners by some of those who had them in charge. The small pox was raging all the time but we cared nothing for that. We did not have vitality enough to produce a scab. I used the blanket of one of my comrades that was carried to the pest house and was glad to get it. The scurvy was also terrible, eating the gums away and the teeth falling out, leaving the victim a perfect wreck, all for the want of proper food. There was another species of suffering that befell the tobacco users. It was pitiful to see them following those who were lucky enough to have a little money to buy tobacco, watching until they threw it out of their mouths to pick it up off the ground and put it in their own mouths or take it to their quarters and dry and smoke it....


On May 10th, 1863, Dr. Wm. H. Van Buren, of New York, on behalf of the United States "Sanitary Commission," reported to the Secretary of War the condition of the hospitals of the prisoners at Camp Douglas, near Chicago, and Gratiot street, St. Louis. In this report he incorporates the statements of Drs. Hun and Cogswell, of Albany, N. Y., who had been employed by the Sanitary Commission to inspect hospitals, and Dr. Van Buren commends these gentleman as men of high character and eminent fitness for the work to which they had been assigned. It is from the statement of these Northern gentlemen that we quote. They caption their report from Albany, April 5th, 1863, and say, among other things, as follows:

In our experience, we have never witnessed so painful a spectacle as that presented by these wretched inmates; without change of clothing, covered with vermin, they lie in cots, without mattresses, or with mattresses furnished by private charity, without sheets or bedding of any kind, except blankets, often in rags; in wards reeking with filth and foul air. The stench is most offensive. We carefully avoid all exaggeration of statement, but we give some facts which speak for themselves. From January 27th, 1863, when the prisoners (in number about 3,800) arrived at Camp Douglas, to February 18th, the day of our visit, 385 patients have been admitted to the hospitals, of whom 130 have died. This mortality of 33 per cent. does not express the whole truth, for of the 148 patients then remaining in the hospital a large number must have since died. Besides this, 130 prisoners have died in barracks, not having been able to gain admission even to the miserable accommodations of the hospital, and at the time of our visit 150 persons were sick in barracks waiting for room in hospital. Thus it will be seen that 260 out of the 3,800 prisoners had died in twenty-one days, a rate of mortality which, if continued, would secure their total extermination in about 320 days.

....SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS ,Volume XXX.Richmond,Va.Jan -Dec 1902 , pg. 77

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