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Setting the Stage

When the Civil War began in 1861, no one anticipated a war that would last for several years and cost the lives of nearly 500,000 men. Even less thought was given to prisoners of war. However, by the end of the war over 400,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were held as prisoners of war. In the North the Union Army oversaw 214,865 Confederate prisoners in 78 principal prisons. Prisoners were also held in many other small settings. Of the 194,743 Union prisoners of war, 30,218 died in Confederate prison camps. The 25,976 Confederate prisoners of war who lost their lives in Union camps can be found buried in cemeteries scattered across the north. ¹

The process of marking the graves of Civil War veterans evolved over nearly 70 years. Initially, the federal government focused solely on marking the graves of the Union dead. However, some northern state governments developed independent policies and entitlements for Confederate veterans.

The earliest government mention of marking Confederate graves was 1876 in a report of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs. It discussed the purchase of land for the burial of Confederate prisoners of war. "Should there be other Confederate prisoners who died under similar circumstances, lying buried upon private lands, it is the duty of the Government to make reasonable outlay to secure title to the narrow earth in which their remains do rest."² In 1901, a number of re-interred Confederate remains, as well as several existing graves, at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, were the first to be marked with the permanent headstones.

Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery now stands on what was one of the largest Confederate prisoner-of-war camps. Today the graves of the Confederate prisoners of war interred in this small national cemetery are here to tell the story of the treatment of these men and the evolution of the federal government's policy in marking their graves.

¹ Margaret E. Wagner, Gary W. Gallagher, and Paul Finkelman, The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference (New York: Simon and Schuster Publishing, 2002), 583-596.
² Final Report of the Commission for Locating and Marking Confederate Graves, 21 February 1916. RG 92, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

 

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