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Indiana Commission on Public Records

ICPR > State Archives > Collections > Civil War Records > Camp Morton > 1863 1863

Beginning in January more than 600 prisoners were housed there for approximately three months. Col. James Biddle, 71st Indiana Volunteers, was now commandant of the camp. Between late May and early June over 4,000 prisoners arrived, including 250 East Tennesseans who would later take the oath of allegiance and enlist in Indiana Regiments and the 5th Tennessee Cavalry. By the end of June the majority had been sent to Camp Chase in Ohio and only slightly more than 100 men remained in Camp Morton. In July, Capt. Albert J. Gutheridge and a reduced guard replaced Col. Biddle and his regiment and a few weeks later Capt. David Hamilton, of the 7th Indiana, replaced Col. Gutheridge. In July and August 3,000 prisoners arrived including a number of Morgan's Raiders, effectively killing rumors among the prisoners of a rescue by the raiders. About half of these men were exchanged at the end of August and Capt. Gutheridge was recalled as commandant when Capt. Hamilton was transferred in mid-September.

The condition of the camp, the prisoners and their guards deteriorated during the fall. Successful escapes increased dramatically from August to October and 85 prisoners died during the same period.

As rumored mistreatment of the Union prisoners in Confederate camps became common knowledge throughout the northern states, the attitude toward the confederate prisoners of war changed. The prisoners were now guarded by men whose officers were still held prisoners in the south. Guards had fought in the south and had seen comrades killed by southerners. Very few families were still untouched by the war.

The lack of permanent leadership in the camp continued and conditions worsened. A medical inspector who visited the camp in July and September reported the poor condition of the camp including the overcrowding in the unfit barracks and generally filthy condition of the camps and the grounds. Ironically, the next inspector arrived on the same day as the last commandant, Col. Ambrose A. Stevens, of the 5th Indiana Regiment. Inspector Augustus M. Clark's report details the extremely poor condition of the camp and concludes: "...this camp is a disgrace to the name of military prison. It is filthy in every respect." Col. Stevens filed his first report on November 9 and he noted that the lack of officers for the guards had resulted in low morale and lack of discipline. He could not determine the cause of ill health among a large number of the prisoners since the guards housed nearby were unaffected.

Problems in the camp continued as the weather turned cold and hundreds of prisoners were already ill and inadequately clothed for a northern winter. In December Captain Ekin telegraphed Wm. Hoffman reporting that hospitalized prisoners lacked basic clothing. Hoffman responded to Col. Stevens on December 17 telling him that "...there is no good [reason] why at any time there should be any deficiency of necessary articles..." Col. Stevens had to operate on a fine line, for a previous communication from Hoffman ordered Stevens to "..issue no clothing of any kind except in cases of utmost necessity. So long as a prisoner has clothing upon him, however much torn, you must issue nothing to him, nor must you allow him to receive clothing from any but members of his immediate family, and only when they are in absolute want." Return to Index