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Camp Randall 

Civil War Prison


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Confederate Rest Cemetery

Camp Randall Confederate Prison Camp was located near Madison, Wisconsin.  During it's short three month existence, 139 men died.  Most were Confederate soldiers from Alabama.  They are buried at Confederate Rest Cemetery.   Those who survived were sent to various Confederate prisons.

 

Camp Randall was originally the site of the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds. At the outbreak of the War in 1861 it was converted into the largest of several camps for the organization, training and mustering into Federal service of Wisconsin Militia and Volunteer organizations. It served this purpose admirably throughout the entire War.


In the Spring of 1862 the Camp was taken entirely by surprise that some 1300 Confederate Prisoners of War captured in the operations at and around Island No.10 were to be sent there for confinement. The camp had no provisions for housing prisoners. A corner of the camp was stockaded off and numerous wooden frame huts were built.


On April 20th, 1862 the first group of prisoners arrived in Madison by train, some 881 men, according to contemporary accounts. Most of these men were in good health, though some ill and wounded did accompany them. They were taken in charge at the depot by soldiers of the 19th Wisconsin Infantry, a raw regiment that was assigned the task of being prison guards because they were the only military organization at that time in the State capable of the job. A huge crowd of Madison civilians turned out to see the prisoners who were described at being dressed in the dirty, ragged remnants of their grey and butternut uniforms. They were described as being in generally good spirits and as they marched to the Camp the band of the 19th played "Dixie" at which the step and military bearing of the men improved considerably. Many good natured remarks passed between the prisoners and the Madison natives. Only one citizen showed disdain by saying "this is what you get for your treason!: To which a prisoner loudly replied "I reckon you are one of the stay at home sort, left here to do all the windy work. You'd do better service to join your folks down south!"

On April 24th, 1862 another train arrived bearing some 275 severely sick men. They had not fared well on the journey and Madison's natives were outraged by their condition, even if they were enemies. As the newspaper put it "These are still our fellow citizens, misguided though they be." The city residents were very generous in bringing food, medicine and clothing for the ill men. The Typographical Union and the Masonic organizations were especially active. The Surgeon the the 19th was joined by a Confederate Surgeon named Moore who had accompanied the men, and also by a civilian contract surgeon. These three men worked tirelessly, but many of these men were too far gone. For approximately the next four weeks at least several died each day until some 145 died. 140 graves are marked by name and regiment in the Confederate Rest Cemetery plot about a mile away where they were buried. It is said there are also 5 unmarked graves of unknowns.


On May 6th and event occurred which in the long run had a bad effect on the camp's public image. Two of the prisoners escaped by bribing a guard. They were shortly afterwards recaptured, but the commandant was forced to lock down the camp from outside visits and in this air of secrecy, with the death toll mounting, charges of neglect were raised by the public. Only one man successfully escaped, a member of the Washington Artillery of Memphis, described only as "a small man with a long beard".


Then on May 26th occurred an event which horrified Madison natives and caused a breakdown of the generally good relations between the prisoners and guards. A prisoner named Spears was emerging from the Hospital compound, and having dysentery felt the need to empty his bowels. This he attempted to do in a spot not approved for such activity. A guard threw a stone at him hitting him in the cheek and causing him to fall over. The prisoner's brother, Corporal G. W. Spears, approached the guard and called him "A Bull Run son of a bitch". The guard, a 17 year old recruit, raised his rifle and fired shooting Corp. Spears dead on the spot. A court of inquiry cleared this young recruit, Clarence Wicks by name, of any wrongdoing. (He eventually died of wound received at Petersburg, Va. ) Needless to say after this event the relations between prisoners and guards were very tense.


The prisoners able to travel were shipped out in early June and were paroled and exchanged near Vicksburg later that summer. The sick men stayed behind until the deaths stopped and the survivors were well enough to travel at which point they too were sent south for exchange.


This ended the history of Camp Randall as a prisoner of war camp.

Today only a few acres remain as a memorial park containing some artillery pieces and monuments, and one of the prisoner huts, the last remaining structure from the camp. Confederate Rest cemetery is well maintained and is the site of services each year on Confederate Memorial Day and on the National Holiday of Memorial Day. The City Council has, however, banned the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag, lest someone be offended!

The men held at Camp Randall were mostly of the lst Alabama Regiment and the consolidated lst Ala, Tenn, and Miss Regiment. There were also quite a few men from the 40th Tenn and the 55th Tenn, plus several from the l2th La
and the 4th Battn Arkansas Infantry. Also confined there were some 38 members of the Washington Artillery of Memphis, Tenn, a militia unit which had never been mustered into Confederate Service. These men wrote to the Federal Government protesting their incarceration as they were a State Militia Unit following the orders of their legitimate commander in chief, the Governor of Tennessee.

Hope this will be of interest..... George T. McDonald, Madison, Wisconsin.

Submitted 7/16/2004.

 
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