A Most Irksome Duty: Guarding the Rebels at Camp Chase with the 88th Ohio

    The wartime service of the 88th Ohio Infantry was monotonous and to some of the soldiers, absolutely irksome. Formed in the summer of 1863 from the core of the First Governor's Battalion, the regiment spent nearly its entire service within the confines of Camp Chase guarding Confederate prisoners of war. The officers of the regiment worked hard to bring the regiment up to a fine state of drill, earnestly requested that it be sent to the front, but to no avail. 

    In October 1863, in response to a perceived threat to Cincinnati, the 88th Ohio was sent to guard Camp Dennison and was relieved by a detachment of the Veterans' Reserve Corps. But this move proved to be both short-lived and entirely unsuccessful. "A detachment of the Veterans' Reserve Corps took the place of the 88th Ohio at Camp Chase but from looseness of discipline and a strong disgust for the duty, a complete failure was made; so much so, that the commandant informed the War Department that he should decline to be held responsible for the safe custody of the prisoners. Many of them already escaped through the negligence of the guards. Again the 88th was ordered to resume its old place at Camp Chase and on the 20th of December found it inside its detested limits. Nothing but the most perfect discipline prevented serious disturbance on the receipt of this order so great was the antipathy of both officers and men to returning to Camp Chase," Whitelaw Reid reported.

    And there the 88th Ohio remained for the rest of the war. Sergeant DeWitt W.C. Lugenbeel, who had previously served in the 86th Ohio of the three months' service, served in Co. H of the 88th Ohio and occasionally sent back letters to the Delaware Gazette describing life at Camp Chase; extracts of several are published below. 

Camp Chase in 1864; a muddy miserable place. 

Sergeant DeWitt W. Clinton Lugenbell, Co. H, 88th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Delaware Gazette (Ohio), September 4, 1863, pg. 2

Camp Chase, Ohio

August 24, 1863

          On the 20th instant, 700 Rebels were removed from here to Camp Douglas near Chicago and on the 22nd as many more took the same route; today nearly the same number followed suit. Men are detailed from our regiment to guard them safely to the land of Suckerdom, but the journey is not looked upon by the guards as a very envious one from the fact of their being en route in such close proximity to the lousy, dirty, filthy Rebs and thus return well-covered with graybacks, a class of vermin that cling to a person with a disagreeable tenacity, rendering necessary many applications of a compound of lye and water to remove them. When these Rebs get away, we will still have about 1,200 left in limbo.

          The prisoners removed from here presented a novel appearance, being dressed in every conceivable garb, one having on a vest made of untanned calf skin and all in good humor telling the guards who remained behind that they were coming back again by Christmas. One long-haired uncouth Reb was extended upward at least seven feet and being spare looked more like a flagstaff than a human being.

          Much sickness is prevailing among the Rebs which is not to be wondered at when we taken into consideration the filth amid which they live; some of them actually die from graybacks and other vermin with which they are covered. They have a hospital in prison No. 2 attended by one of their own surgeons. They say if any liquor is sent in for use in the hospital, he drinks it and rubs the bottles on the sick under his charge.

          Hucksters swarm the camp like flies. Chalk and water retails as milk at five cents per quart. One day beggars came around begging dry bread; the next day after, having made a preparation by soaking it in cold water, they put a little apple between two pieces and sell it to the boys at ten cents apiece as pies. One old man, humpbacked and bent nearly double, ragged and dirty, begging old scraps around camp, is worth several thousand dollars.

Delaware Gazette (Ohio), October 23, 1863, pg. 2

Camp Chase, Ohio

October 18, 1863

          We have now a Rebel family here under guard of at least 3,000. Occasionally one attempts to gain his liberty by bribing the guards, but the attempt is not often successful as the guards can’t see it in that light. A Company G boy is charged with allowing himself to be bribed and let one of the chivalry escape. Sometimes a prisoner refuses to work at cleaning up the prison, but a little moral suasion in the shape of hand cuffs and ball and chain with no rations soon brings him to his senses. Many of them die- they live so filthy there is no wonder at the great mortality prevailing among them. They are furnished well by Uncle Sam at great expense, some say they live much better than they did at home, yet they are not satisfied, but want to get out so they can do more mischief.

Delaware Gazette (Ohio), March 18, 1864, pg. 2

Camp Chase, Ohio

March 14, 1864

          Today we have had innumerable squalls of snow, the flakes falling thick and fast. At noon today, 500 Rebels were started for Fort Delaware under the directions of our worthy captain. Among them was one female who has been here some time. She styles herself Florence Washington, claiming some relationship to the immortal George Washington. If the General was to hear of this claimed relationship, his bones could not rest easy in the grave at Mount Vernon. They go to Philadelphia by rail and from there to the fort by water which is situated on an island in the bay bearing the same name as the fort 50 miles from the City of Brotherly Love. The removal of 1,500 prisoners from here within two weeks makes quite an opening, but the vacancy will soon be filled up with new recruits from the Confederacy; we received 160 of them on Friday last.

Regimental colors of the 88th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

          The camp is crowded with veteran regiments en route for the front. They have been at home, had a good time with their wives, little ones, and sweethearts, and are going back to help in squelching the damnable plot laid for the destruction of this blood-bought Republic. Many new boys have come with them and proudly do they walk in their suits of blue, well knowing that the eyes of those who are dear to them are upon them, watching with anxiety their bearing in the face of the enemy. Nobly boys. May He who tempers the wind to the lamb that is shorn, guard and protect them and bring them back in safety to their friends. Many who returned single from the South have been tied up since their return and more weddings have taken place since the 1st of January 1864 than had occurred in the same length of time since the discovery of the continent.

Delaware Gazette (Ohio), April 22, 1864, pg. 1

Camp Chase, Ohio

April 16, 1864

          All prospect of this regiment getting to go to the front is played out. For some time back, no soldier going to or come from Columbus could pass Franklinton after night without being knocked down, pounded senseless, then robbed. It was finally ascertained that a regular gang was in existence for the purpose of getting soldiers into a drinking hell in that played out old capital of Ohio, getting them drunk, then robbing them. If they resisted, foul means were to be used. During the early part of this week, a soldier was brought into our surgeons so terribly used up about the face that his own mother could hardly have recognized him; this was done the night previous by some of the highwaymen. Inquiry was instituted, their names ascertained, and a squad of men under the command of sergeants was started on the track of the thieves and would-be murderers. They were not long in gobbling up some of them and bringing them into camp. It would be useless for them to deny any connection with the matter for there are too many watch fobs and Irish shanties cut over and under their eyes as witnesses against such an argument. They turned out to be mostly citizens disguised as soldiers, though one was a member of the 60th O.V.I. now organizing here.

          There are about 1,000 paroled men here at present, a number of them having recently been released from Richmond and Belle Isle. The latter presented a horrible appearance when they came here so roughly did they fare amid the innumerable graybacks of Dixie. A short distance in the rear of the camp on the banks of a run is the city of the Rebel dead. Here lies buried the remains of 138 persons who died in the prisons here; this does not embrace the whole number who have died here for many bodies were taken away for burial. At the head of each grave is placed a board upon which is marked the number of the grave, the name, rank, company, regiment, branch of service, and date of death of the deceased. Those who died with smallpox have words smallpox written on the board. The board marking grave no. 40 contains in addition to the number these words, “name unknown.”

The Confederate Cemetery at Camp Chase

So after this cruel war is over and our country again becomes happy and prosperous, should anyone from Dixie visit the graveyard to take a look at the last resting place of those who gave their lives for a detestable cause, the bones of him who was placed in No. 40 will have no one to drop a tear to his memory for they could not tell who there sleeps his last long sleep. Our old native state, which is now about to stand forth redeemed of slavery, has but one degenerate boy sleeping here. His name is Virgil Smith and was a member of the 2nd Maryland Cavalry in the Rebel service. There is but one grave marked by a marble monument and it bears the following inscription: “Geo. Ranny, died Oct. 23d, 1863, 8th Ky., Co. G.” At one time the following was written immediately above the other but some ruthless hand has entirely obliterated it: “This tone was placed here by an only brother who are Shiloh and Perryville met his brother in mortal combat, I a federal, he a Rebel. Friends respect this stone for my sake. W.W. Ranny.”

Delaware Gazette (Ohio), June 17, 1864, pg. 1

Camp Chase, Ohio

June 10, 1864

          There are about 1,700 Rebels here in durance vile. The last batch brought in were a portion of Forrest’s command who indulged in the gentlemanly pastime of inhumanly butchering Negroes at Fort Pillow. They are a devilish-looking set and would undoubtedly cut a man’s throat for a five cent Treasury note and then kick him because it was not a quarter. An order has been received from the War Department to put the chivalry on salt rations. Of course, they will growl at this, but it is much better than our boys get while in their hands.

          A few weeks since seven of them were out under guard cutting sod. They watched their opportunity, sprang upon the guard, overpowered him, and took French leave. Some of them have since been recaptured, but a portion are still absent without leave. Not long since some of them tried to bribe a guard to let them out and before the bargain and sale could be affected, they heard the relief coming them vamoosed. The guard fired and brought one to the ground; but he quickly arose, put into the shanty, undressed, stuffed a silk handkerchief into the hole where the bullet came out, and feigned to be asleep, snoring loudly when they went to search for him. He is still living, the ball making an ugly though not serious wound.

Delaware Gazette (Ohio), July 15, 1864, pg. 1

Camp Chase, Ohio

July 8, 1864

          Among the Rebel prisoners here is one whose wife has followed him through all adversities. She is an educated, highly refined, and fine-looking lady. She is a native of the Sunny South, borne among the orange groves and reared in the lap of luxury. At an early age she was united to one upon whom she had placed her young heart’s purest affections. Upon the breaking out of the rebellion, he espoused the Southern side, shouldered a gun, and marched to the tented field. His young and devoted wife soon made her way thither and traveled over hundreds of miles to reach him. The fortune of war placed him in our hands and wounded and a prisoner, he was sent here. She soon followed and through the courtesy of the General commanding the Department and the Post Commandant, she gained admission to his prison and nursed him tenderly and fondly. She boards at the Four Mile House, patiently waiting the time when he will be exchanged or take the oath. Truly such affection is worthy of a nobler cause.


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