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Family Windows into Civil War Hell

Morgan’s Great Raid and Camp Douglas’s 80 Acres

Teddy Scruggs, who died in 1897 at the age of 97, with part of family, circa 1890-1897. Blount County, Alabama. 

By Mike Scruggs- My great-great grandfather, Theodoric (Teddie) Edward Scruggs was born in 1806 in upstate South Carolina. He moved his family to Blount County in northern Alabama sometime after his first wife died in 1854. He remarried there and had a total of 17 children by the two wives.

Four of his sons by his first wife, Nancy Stone, served in the Confederate Army. My great grandfather, John Berry Scruggs, and his brother James, enlisted in John Hunt Morgan’s 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, CSA, in May 1862 in Blountsville, Alabama.

Thomas and Sterling were already serving in the 19th and 26th Alabama infantry regiments respectively. The 26th Alabama was later merged into the 26/50th Alabama because the casualties in those two regiments had been so high. The 19th and the 26/50th Alabama were in the same brigade. All three regiments saw considerable combat, but all four brothers survived the war.

My first knowledge of the so-called “Civil War,” of 1861 to 1865 was learned from my grandfather, Greene B. Scruggs. When my grandfather was a boy, he and his brothers, sisters, and cousins loved to sit on the stairs of the two story, white frame Scruggs home of their grandfather, Teddie Scruggs, and listen, sometimes late into the evening, to the brothers and their father talk about the war.

Teddie Scruggs, who died in 1897 at the age of 91 is also said to have served in the war, but he may have served in the Blount County Home Guard or some other unit, in which many of the records were lost. My grandfather, who loved history, passed many of these war stories directly to me, when I was a boy. My father often repeated them to me as well.

Sterling was wounded by Union artillery at Shiloh in April 1862 but recovered to fight at the Battle of Nashville and the disastrous Battle of Franklin in November 1864, after which he was captured by Union troops.

Besides these four brothers, were many cousins serving in Alabama and South Carolina infantry regiments. I have read over 100 books on the Civil War and Reconstruction, but a great deal of my knowledge of the war came from family stories and records from both the Scruggs and Bradsher sides of my family.

On June 13, 1863, Confederate cavalry leader Major General Joe Wheeler, who had once commanded the 19th Alabama Infantry regiment, gave permission to the restless John Hunt Morgan to take 2,000 men on an expedition against Union forces and facilities in the vicinity of Louisville, Kentucky.

Their objective was to disrupt Union supply, transportation, and communications systems supporting Rosecrans’ forces in Tennessee. Morgan, however, went further than his orders. The daring and flamboyant Morgan took his famous raiders across the Ohio River and raided across the states of Indiana and Ohio.

This threw Union forces and the state governments of Indiana and Ohio into panic and diverted more than 60,000 Union troops to defend against the unexpected intruders.

This spectacular raid also had the potential of diverting Union troops from opposing Lee’s advance into Pennsylvania. In fact, Morgan’s expedition may have actually been planned to do just that.

The consequence for Morgan’s men, however, was that most were captured. On July 19, Morgan and his cavalry tried to escape across the Ohio River into West Virginia at Buffington Bar (Isle), but heavy rains upstream made the river extremely difficult to ford.

In addition, the high level of the river made it easy for two Union gunboats, the Moose and the Allegheny Belle, to get in position to bombard Morgan’s cavalry as it gathered on the Ohio side. The recently built Moose was a huge river gun-boat, 154 feet-long, displacing 194 tons, and carrying six 24-pounder guns.

The Allegheny Belle was smaller and older but carried two Union artillery pieces and a 10-pound Parrott gun. Morgan’s men were caught between advancing Union cavalry and infantry on one side and deadly naval bombardment from the Ohio. Major John McCreary, a future Governor of Kentucky, described the desperate position of the Confederates:

“Shells and minie balls were ricocheting and exploding in every direction, cavalry was charging, and infantry with its slow, measured tread moved upon us, while broadside after broadside was poured upon our doomed command from the gunboats.”

Years ago, my grandfather described part of this chaotic scene to me as my great grandfather had described it to him. My great grandfather, Berry, and his brother James were members of an Alabama company (G) of Morgan’s original Second Kentucky Cavalry. As the gunboats poured their deadly exploding shells into the mounted Confederate cavalry trapped on Buffington Isle, their horses became wild and difficult to control.

One gunboat shell exploded next to my great grandfather, Berry, and his horse reared, threw him off, and then fell on him, breaking his right leg. His brother, James, stayed with him until they were overrun and captured by Union infantry.

About half of Morgan’s men were captured at Buffington Bar on July 19. Most of the rest were captured further north in Ohio by the end of July. Only about 300 who managed to ford the river were able to escape. This reduced the Confederate Army of Tennessee cavalry by almost 20 percent at a critical time.

Berry and James were first taken to Camp Morton in Indiana, which generally housed wounded POWs. After a few weeks, they were transferred to Camp Douglas, near Chicago.

According to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, there are about 6,000 graves in the cemetery there. Official Union records list 4,454 Confederated deaths, but the Sons of Confederate Veterans estimate the number exceeds 5,600. Of Union POW camps, Camp Douglas was first in the list of infamy.

Other names topping this dismal list were Point Lookout, Maryland (3,584); Elmira, New York (2,933); Fort Delaware, Delaware (2,466); Rock Island, Illinois (1,960); Camp Morton, Indiana (1,763); and Gratiot Street in St. Louis, Missouri (1,140). About 27 percent of Confederate POWs held at Camp Douglas died.

Historian, Thomas Cartwright, has described Camp Douglas as “a testimony to cruelty and barbarism.” Because of its miserable living conditions and increasing degrees of deliberate cruelty toward Confederate prisoners of war, the camp gained the title, “Eighty Acres of Hell.”

Prisoners were intentionally deprived of adequate rations, clothing, and heating as punitive measures. From September 1863 to the end of the war, many were subjected to brutal tortures that often resulted in permanent maiming or death.

Camp Douglas consisted of 64 barracks, a small hospital, and other prison buildings. The top capacity of the prison was about 6,000, but eventually over 12,000 would be crowded into its confines.

The first Confederate POWs arrived there in February 1862. Crowds of onlookers, enraged by Union war propaganda, cursed them, and some even hurled rocks at them. But the captured Southerners would soon face the far more deadly ravages of nature and disease.

Unfortunately, Camp Douglas was situated on low ground, and it flooded with every rain. During the winter months, whenever temperatures were above freezing for long, the compound became a sea of mud.

Less than a handful of the barracks had stoves. Overcrowding and inadequate sanitation measures soon made the camp a stinking morass of human and animal sewage. Henry Morton Stanley, of the 6th Arkansas, who later in his illustrious career as an African explorer and journalist uttered the famous words, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume,” said this of Camp Douglas: “Our prison pen was like a cattle-yard. We were soon in a fair state of rotting while yet alive.” He later remarked that some of his comrades “looked worse than exhumed corpses.”

Steadily, sickness and disease began to increase. By early 1863 the mortality rate at Camp Douglas had climbed to over 10 percent per month, more than would be reached in any other prison, Union or Confederate. The U.S. Sanitary Commission (now the Red Cross) pointed out that at that rate, the prison would be emptied within 320 days. One official called it an “extermination camp.”

The fall and winter of 1862-63 were very wet, cold, and windy. The majority of deaths were from typhoid fever and pneumonia as a result of filth, bad weather, poor diet, and lack of heat and inadequate clothing. Other diseases included measles, mumps, catarrh (severe sinus and throat infection), and chronic diarrhea.

Furthermore, the escape of some of Morgan’s cavalrymen in September 1863 resulted in retaliatory action. A reduction of rations and removal of the few barracks’ stoves were ordered from Washington. Eventually all vegetables were cut off. This resulted in an epidemic of scurvy described by R. T. Bean of the 8th Kentucky Cavalry. “Lips were eaten away, jaws became diseased, and teeth fell out.” Before authorities could correct the situation, many succumbed to the disease.

In addition, an epidemic of small pox raged through the camp. Lice were everywhere. Most prisoners had to supplement their diet by catching, cooking, and eating the all too abundant rats.

Until the government in Washington put a stop to it, many people of Chicago and many Christian churches in the area offered relief to the prisoners at Camp Douglas. Many prominent people and local churches gave time, financial aid, and medicines to assist the post surgeon in the care of sick and destitute prisoners.

The famous evangelist D. L. Moody was brought in to preach on several occasions, which was appreciated. Some Confederate prisoners, however, complained of the high propaganda content of sermons by other preachers.

At the end of the war, the Confederate prisoners were offered transportation home by train, if they signed the Union loyalty oath. Most of the prisoners at Camp Douglas elected to walk home. Nothing remains of the camp but a monument and 6,000 graves at nearby Oak Woods Cemetery.

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