A melancholy ghost haunts the rows at Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery, 2900 Sullivant Avenue, on Columbus's west side. Her name, according to some, is Louisiana Rainsburgh Briggs, but she's better known as the Lady in Grey. She weeps quietly over the grave of one Benjamin F. Allen, a private in the 50th Tennessee Regiment, Company D. Allen's grave is number 233 out of 2,260 Confederate soldiers laid to rest in this two-acre plot in the capital city of a very Northern state.
The Confederate cemetery in Columbus's Hilltop neighborhood marks the place where, 140 years ago, a prisoner of war camp stood. At that time the location was well outside the city limits. In May of 1861 a Union military training ground was established here under the name Camp Jackson; by July of that year, when the first prisoners were admitted, its name had been changed to honor President Lincoln's Secretary of State (and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), Hamilton County native Salmon P. Chase.
At first, Camp Chase took only officers as prisoners, with enlisted men going to Fort Warren, near Boston Harbor. A large number of officers came from 1862 Union victories at Fort Donalson, Tennessee, and Mississippi Island No. 10. In 1863 a new stockade was built on Johnson's Island in Lake Erie, and most of the Camp Chase officers were sent there. By 1863 there were 8,000 men incarcerated behind the high, staked walls of the Camp.
Although there were at least 160 buildings at the camp, giving it the appearance of a sizable town, most of the prisoners--especially enlisted men--were housed in tents, as you can see in this photo, taken over the wall sometime during the war.
The camp served other functions while it housed captured Rebel soldiers. Units were mustered into regiments there, and regiments that had finished their service were discharged. Union POWs released from Confederate prisons were processed through Camp Chase. Among the Ohio Volunteer Infantries based there were three future presidents: Lieutenant Colonel James Garfield served in the 42nd OVI, while Major Rutherford B. Hayes and Private William McKinley were both part of the 23rd.
The camp as a whole occupied only about six acres of land between the National Road (now Broad Street) and what is today Sullivant Avenue. Its eastern border was the current Hague Avenue. The map below, taken from a 1994 Timeline article about Camp Chase, gives the relative location of the barracks, POW camp, and other associated buildings.
Take a walk between the graves at the Camp Chase Cemetery and you'll find yourself among many soldiers who died in the smallpox epidemic of 1863. Overcrowding forced two or three men to share single-occupancy bunks, and led to severe shortages in food and medicine, as well as clothing and blankets. The men were malnourished and cold, and therefore highly susceptible to disease. In the February of 1863 alone, 499 men died from smallpox.
In addition to the soldiers, members of the community who lived near or worked at the POW camp were considered part of it, and their graves stand side by side on Sullivant Avenue. The photo below shows #73, Thompson Cooper, Citizen.
A cemetery was established at the Camp near the end of 1863. The Confederate dead who had been buried in the city cemetery were moved back to Camp Chase. They were buried under cheap wooden markers in a plot surrounded by a low fence. When the war ended, most of the camp itself was dismantled. Some of the cabins where POWs had been housed were used as cheap shanties for a few years, but for the most part every indication that the military base had been there was gone--except for the graveyard, which was left to deteriorate.
It wasn't until 1895 that William Knauss, a retired Union Colonel who had been injured on the battlefield at Fredericksburg, found the graveyard and determined to restore it. He held memorial services there, featuring speakers such as Governor Nash, and drew crowds as big as five thousand by 1898. One by one, the soldiers received proper stone monuments instead of wooden slats. Their regiments and states of origin were carved beneath their names--a whole field full of men from Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and the Carolinas, buried in the capital of the state that produced Phil Sheridan, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Ulysses S. Grant.
A new wall was built to enclose the cemetery, and the signature memorial arch, complete with a statue of a Rebel soldier, was unveiled on June 7, 1902. The boulder underneath reads, "2260 Confederate Soldiers of the War 1861 - 1865 Buried in this Enclosure," but the sentiment carved across the arch is one word long: AMERICANS.
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Not necessarily haunted, but interesting nonetheless, is prisoner 855's name: J.G. Deathrage. I wouldn't want to piss somebody with that name off.
So many men died miserably at a young age here that it's surprising there aren't more ghosts at Camp Chase. The Grey Lady of the Confederate Cemetery is rather nondescript in her flowing grey dress and grey veil which hides her face from view. Is it Benjamin Allen's Tennessee bride, weeping over the reunion that never happened? Some say she made the trip before she died.
I visited the cemetery in June of 2003, and didn't hear anything out of the ordinary. (Several photos on this page were contributed by Katydid, Renee, and others.) If you visit Camp Chase, visit Ben Allen's grave, listen closely, and let me know if you hear the sound of the Grey Lady's tears.