Monday, October 3, 2016

Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery



Camp Chase Cemetery, Columbus
Arriving at the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery, which is located along Sullivant Avenue in the Hilltop region of Columbus, the first thing I noticed was there was no parking for visitors. Only after driving around for a couple of minutes I finally located a parking spot a couple blocks away.

The only bad thing about the spot I found was it was located on the opposite side of Sullivant Avenue than the cemetery. Taking my life in my own hands, I quickly crossed the four way street to the Camp Chase Cemetery.

Near the entrance to the cemetery was a brown Ohio Historical Marker and I walked over to read the history of Camp Chase. Camp Chase was organized in the spring of 1861 as a place for recruitment and training for the Union Army and was named in honor of Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln and former governor of Ohio.

The front of the historical marker
The back of the historical marker
Most people recognize Camp Chase for being used as a prisoner of war camp. The camp consisted of 160 buildings that housed both Southern soldiers and also civilians loyal to the Confederacy. At one point in 1863 the camp contained more than eight thousand prisoners.

The living conditions at Camp Chase were harsh for those who were detained there. The Union was focused more upon feeding and training the new recruits than the welfare of the prisoners. With the prisoners starving and the prison being overcrowded, outbreaks of disease were fairly common. The worst outbreak was during the winter of 1863-1864 when smallpox wrecked havoc among the prisoners killing close to five hundred men in one month.

Over two thousand Confederate prisoners died at Camp Chase. Initially the dead were buried in one of Columbus’ city cemeteries, but when the prison established its own cemetery in 1863, those dead were dug up and reburied at the current location. After the close of the war, thirty-one Confederate soldiers who were buried at Camp Dennison (near Cincinnati) would join their fellow comrades at the Camp Chase Cemetery. While the government purchased the land in 1879 but it appears that little was done to upkeep the cemetery until Union veteran William H. Knauss became involved with improving the cemetery. Due to his efforts both Union and Confederate veterans donated money towards the cemetery’s upkeep. In 1904, Congress allocated money for upkeep of the Camp Chase Cemetery.

In 1973 the Camp Chase site, including the Confederate Cemetery, was placed on the National Register of Historical Places.
Monument to those buried here
 After I had finished reading the Ohio Historical Marker, I made my way up the steps pausing at the open gate. The noise made by the traffic passing by seemed to disappear as I took in the rows and rows of white headstones of those buried on this sacred piece of land.. The vast majority of them belonged to the Confederates who died in the Prisoner of War camp that once stood here, though I had read that a number of graves belonged to Union soldiers and also to locals. A quick scan of the cemetery did reveal a number of flags, flags from both the Union and the Army of the Potomac flapped in the breeze.

As I stood there, I took in a number of monuments located within the walls of the cemetery. Immediately to my right was a cannonball on top of a small granite stone. The memorial states it was fired by Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Vicksburg. A little farther to the right is an educational sign with information about the cemetery and the improvements that have been made over the years.

In the middle of the cemetery is a bronze Confederate soldier standing atop a granite arch watching over the dead buried here. Engraved into the arch is the word “Americans.” Originally the memorial was a wooden arch that was replaced with the current one in 1902.

Within the arch is a three-foot tall boulder that was placed in the cemetery in 1897. The inscription on the boulder states “2260 Confederate Soldiers of the war 1861-1865 buried in this enclosure.

The memorial boulder
An interesting note: When looking into the history of Camp Chase, I found the official government website for the cemetery. They note that the number of Confederate dead buried here is slightly less than noted on the boulder. Their claim is 2,168 people are buried within the walls of the cemetery, not the number listed on the boulder.

As I wandered among the stones, I took in the names and the various units they fought for. I finally paused at grave number 233, the grave of Benjamin F. Allen, who is probably the most noted burial in the cemetery. Allen served with the Company D of the Fiftieth Tennessee Infantry, which was formed in Stewart County.

Benjamin isn’t why many visit his grave. Most arrive in an attempt to see the supernatural visitor who is known to leave freshly picked flowers on his grave. Known by most as The Lady in Grey and also as The Grey Lady, many believe her to be the ghost of Louisiana Ransburgh Briggs.

According to many, Louisiana was engaged to Allen before he was captured and sent to Camp Chase. While this is the story that most hear (and often repeat), I this is not true. Reading all the stories about the Lady in Grey, I was fascinated by them and almost fell victim to repeating the false story.

Mrs. Louisiana Briggs would have only been in her early teens at the time of the Civil War. Louisiana was from New Madrid, Missouri and had been sent to live with relatives in Columbus at the start of the war. After the end of the war she would marry a local man, Mr. Joseph Briggs. Her love of the South was still strong and Mrs. Briggs would visit the cemetery and place flowers on all the graves, not just Benjamin’s. She would dress in a grey gown with a matching veil as a means of hiding her identity. After all, the idea of decorating the graves of those deemed to be traitors was a very unpopular one. Though death claimed her in 1950, she is still said to still haunt the cemetery.

The grave of Benjamin Allen
The Lady in Grey is most often at the grave of Benjamin Allen, although some have seen her standing at the grave of the Unknown Soldier. Other times, though she isn’t spotted, the sound of a lady’s crying can be heard at Benjamin’s grave. Exactly why she seems to have an attachment to Benjamin’s grave is not known.

Another note of interest: I found one source that suggests that two different ladies in grey wander the cemetery. One is Mrs. Briggs who decorated the graves while she was alive and is called the "Veiled Lady." A second lady (also dressed in grey) is the one who searches for her lost love who died at Camp Chase and it is this lady who haunts the cemetery. I’ve only found one place that this is mentioned, but it is an interesting theory.

On this day the Lady in Grey failed to show up: I did not see her, nor did I hear her crying. There were no flowers on Benjamin’s grave, though a couple of the graves did have artificial flowers decorating them. After paying my respects to those buried there, I slipped silently out the gates leaving them to their eternal slumber.

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