© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Confederate Legacy Honored At Camp Chase Cemetery

A proposal to eliminate Confederate flags and symbols from federal parks and cemeteries flared tempers in Congress Thursday. Columbus has one such cemetery. Two-thousand Confederate soldiers are buried on the west side at the site of Camp Chase, which served as a prison camp during the Civil War. We talked with a local historian about the cemetery’s past, as well as the recent events surrounding the Confederate battle flag.

Four miles west of downtown on Sullivant Avenue, the Camp Chase Cemetery serves as the final resting place for nearly 2,300 Confederate soldiers and Union dissidents.

A large granite arch sits near the entrance.  A Confederate Civil War soldier stands at the top of the arch. Rows and rows and rows of century-old white headstones surround the memorial.   

“And there’s one word written where the arch comes together, and it says, 'AMERICANS,'" said Monty Chase. 

Chase, of the Hilltop Historical Society, said the arch signifies the coming together of the north and the south.

“We’re all Americans, and we must remember that.”

Originally a training camp for Union Soldiers, Camp Chase is named for former Ohio Gov. Salmon P. Chase. And, yes, Mary Chase is a distant relative. He said the camp opened around June of 1861.

“But it evolved, especially after February of 1862 at the Battle of Fort Donelson. There was a high influx of prisoners that came here, well over 2,000, and they didn’t have any place for them," he said. "So they made some accommodations and made some buildings and built a prison ground here at Camp Chase.”

At the time, Camp Chase’s boundaries spread to the edges of today’s Hilltop Neighborhood. More than 175,000 Union soldiers passed through the camp.

“The Confederate prisoners reached almost 10,000 at one point towards the end of the war.”

And by the end of the war conditions were dire. 

“Some came here shoeless. Some came here without hardly any clothes on their back. They were issued one blanket and a pair of underwear, and that’s just about all they had," Chase said. "The weather was sub-zero for the month of January, February. In fact, the highest death rate was in February 1865 when 499 of this 2,260 died here.”

Not every headstone has a grave. Chase said the camp had a few mass graves.

After the war, a Union soldier fought to find money for the cemetery’s upkeep and commemoration.

Each year, the historical society remembers the soldiers with a ceremony, which includes the playing of “Dixie” and placement of confederate flags on the graves.

Now Chase wonders about the flags.

“The Hilltop Historical Society is very sensitive to the recent events in South Carolina," he said. "It’s going to be on the agenda when we take back up, in September. So we will discuss how we’re going to perform these ceremonies in the future.”

Chase said over the years a few people have refused to attend the ceremony because of the Confederate flag. But he wants the traditions to continue.

“These men were patriots to the South. They were loyal to their states. They shared fidelity with the people of their own blood," Chase said. "And they were devoted to the cause they believed was right, whether you believed it was right, whether I believed it was right, they believed it was right."

"And they were soldiers, American soldiers, and that’s why we do what we do," he said. 

According to VA rules for its cemeteries, Camp Chase can only display Confederate flags one day a year.  This year it was June 14.