Camp Butler Prisoner of War Camp

Camp Butler was located 5.5 miles east of Springfield, Illinois. It was a military instruction camp that was converted into a prison. The camp, named after William Butler (Illinois state treasurer), became a P.O.W. facility one day after Camp Douglas was established. The prison consisted of 3 separate compounds, totaling 40 acres, used for troop training. Nearby, a 15 acre site on the west side of the parade grounds was set aside to confine a portion of the 2,000 prisoners from the battles at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Two months later, a group of over 1,000 prisoners arrived after the battle of Island No. 10. They were housed in tents due to the prisoner barracks being full already.

The prisoners were housed in 21 wood-frame buildings, measuring 24×100 feet each and meant to house 100 men. Eventually, 3 of these buildings were used as hospitals. These prisoners were guarded by the 400 men of the 52nd Illinois Infantry. Due to the lack of a prison wall around the compound, the 12th Illinois Cavalry, from Camp Douglas, was sent to assist as guards. The first prison commandant was Col. Pitcairn Morrison, originally a military recruiter. On June 22, 1862, Morrison was returned to recruiting duties and Maj. John G. Fonda became the next commandant.

In January 1863, Col. William F. Lynch took over. On January 31, a group of 1,665 prisoners arrived. They came from the battles of Fort Hindman and Murfreesboro. Another 500 prisoners arrived a few months later.

LIFE & CONDITIONS:

At the camp, most prisoners suffered mostly from the weather. Pneumonia was the biggest killer among the prisoners. By the end of March 1862, 148 prisoners were buried in a nearby Confederate cemetery. All the deaths were caused by weather-related pneumonia. Most of the sickness and diseases were also weather-related.

Escapes were a big problem at the camp. Escapes became so frequent and the authorities so confused, they would often enter the date of the escape as “unknown” on their reports and seldom pursued the escapees. The camp was still used for an instruction camp, many of the Illinois Regiment units , either arriving or departing, were used as guards while they were there. As a result of this policy, few guards felt a responsibility for maintaining tight security of the prisoners. Visitors in the camp often encouraged escapes and, sometimes even provided help to the prisoners.

Due to the excessive escapes, in May 1862, a 12 foot high plank fence was built around the camp to try to discourage any future escape attempts. Three large gates, located on the east, south, and north sides, provided a limited access to the prison compound.

In March 1863, a tiny smallpox epidemic briefly broke out. On April 7, 600 prisoners left in one of the last prisoner exchanges of the cartel. Three days later, another 1,700 prisoners left.

On May 19, 1863, Camp Butler sent the last of the prisoners away and the camp closed for the remainder of the war. During its 13 month exsistence, a total of 203 prisoners escaped, 339 were released upon an oath of allegiance, and 866 prisoners died there. Most of the dead Confederate soldiers are buried at Camp Butler.

AFTERMATH:

After the camp ceased to be a prison camp, it continued as an instruction and demobilization camp throughout the war. Its main hospital also received Union soldiers released from Confederate prisons for months after the end of the war.

By 1874, most of the land that the camp was located on was returned to cropland and has remained so since.