Prisoners in the City
More than 40,000 troops passed through Chicago during the first nine months of the war. Many of them trained at Camp Douglas—named for US Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who donated its 60 acres of land. The camp opened in 1861 between 31st Street and 33rd Place near Cottage Grove Avenue. In the fall of 1862, the US Army began to use the camp to detain prisoners of war. By 1864, it had become horribly overcrowded, housing perhaps as many as 26,000 prisoners, though it was intended for 6,000. In 1864, some prisoners allegedly began planning to escape, and rumors of a “Great Northwestern Conspiracy” circulated widely, including in this account by I. Winslow Ayer. The camp was decommissioned and the buildings razed by the end of 1865.
Lay Me Down and Save the Flag, published by the Chicago firm Root and Cady in 1864, was one of many songs celebrating fallen heroes. Colonel James A. Mulligan, who commanded Camp Douglas from February through June 1862, is rumored to have ordered his troops to “lay me down and save the flag” when he was wounded during the Second Battle of Kernstown.