Those Who Fought on Both Sides of Civil War Deserve Our Respect

Camp Chase Cemetery

Camp Chase Cemetery

On the west side of Columbus, OH in a deteriorating inner city neighborhood, is Camp Chase, a two-acre cemetery holding the remains of 2,260 Confederates. They had died of illness, malnutrition, exposure to cold or other 19th century maladies that affected the POW camps of both sides during the Civil War.

In its heyday, Camp Chase was a bustling 160 acre facility, a training ground for thousands of Union troops and the fifth largest prison camp in the U.S.

Today, it is a minor responsibility of the National Park Service, and most Columbus residents, even those who live nearby, know little or nothing about it.

But one small group of Ohioans gathers on the second Sunday of June each year to hold a memorial service. Few have ties to any Confederates, much less to those who lie beneath fading sandstone markers.

The memorial service began in 1896, when the cemetery had fallen into disrepair. Union Army veteran William Knauss organized a cleanup and the first service, driven by the hope that North and South would let their animosities be forgotten.

On the second Sunday of June, 1902, a 10-foot tall stone arch was erected with a statue of a Confederate soldier on the top. On the arch is a one-word description of those buried there: AMERICANS

Near the cemetery, also part of the old Camp Chase acreage, is a city park. The wall of an outdoor handball court there has been decorated with a mural about the camp. It includes a likeness of Confederate Gen. Basil W. Duke, the protagonist of Thunderbolt Raiders. Duke was briefly imprisoned there before being transferred to the Ohio Penitentiary.

The Columbus Dispatch coverage of the 2011 Camp Chase memorial drew the ire of one letter-to-the-editor writer. The headline was “Confederate troops deserve no ceremony.”

The letter-writer wrote: “These Confederate soldiers died for the cause of protecting and saving a slave economy in states that broke away from the Union.”

That is true of course, but misses the fact that nearly all Americans, North and South, have moved on. In fact, most veterans of the war moved on before they died. In 1913, tens of thousands of veterans crowded Gettysburg on the 50th anniversary of the war’s most famous battle. Those men had long since dropped their mutual animosity and spent several days of remembrance and fellowship. Some of them even reenacted “Pickett’s Charge.” In his book, “Blood, Tears & Glory: How Ohioans Won the Civil War” author James Bissland tells it far better than we could:

“Most of the men in ‘Pickett’s Second Charge’ wore the suits, neckties and fedoras expected of gentlemen at the time, but some were in their old blue or gray uniforms. About 300 old Confederates emerged from the woods and, waving their hats, pottered toward the stone wall that had formed the battle’s famous ‘Blood Angle.’

“Sitting on the wall this time instead of crouching behind it, 300 elderly Union men waited. The ground rose sharply the last few feet to the wall, but the smiling Federals reached down to pull up the Confederates, and suddenly Blue and Gray were mingling together, embracing, shaking hands, showing each other where they had been that day when had first met.

“The old men did not leave until sundown, and then they departed slowly, together, down Emmitsburg Rd. ‘Pickett’s Second Charge’ ended with Billy Yank and Johnny Reb walking side by side.”

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