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Private Albert E. Myers
Oil on canvas
19½ x 22¾ in.
Chicago History Museum, Gift of Mr. George S. Hamilton
Imagine being Private Albert E. Myers of Company F, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. It is 1864 and you are stationed at Camp Douglas in Chicago. You are also an amateur painter who wants to record the scene for your family and friends back home. So, you climb the tower of a nearby hotel for a “birds-eye” view. Below are dozens of wooden buildings surrounded by a high, white wall. A large American flag flies at the center of the camp. Outside the wall is a semi-rural neighborhood of small homes and neat streets, and beyond the smokestacks of a factory and Lake Michigan along the eastern horizon. Just beyond the rising sun, you can see the steam from a locomotive on the Illinois Central Railroad. The facility, named after U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, opened just four miles south of Chicago in June 1861, shortly after the Civil War began. It originally served as a Union army camp, recruiting and training more than 25,000 men from Chicago and Northern Illinois during the early months of the war. In February 1862, however, after General Ulysses S. Grant captured Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee, Camp Douglas began housing Confederate prisoners-of-war. Their numbers steadily grew, reaching many thousands. By war’s end, Camp Douglas held approximately 26,000 Confederate soldiers, making it the largest prisoner-of-war camp in the North. Tragically, about six thousand men died at the prison camp from overcrowding, poor sanitation, and Chicago’s harsh weather.
1. Why do you think the artist did not include any people in his painting?
2. The site of Camp Douglas lay between Cottage Grove Avenue on the east and the present-day Martin Luther King Drive on the west, and between 31st street on the north and 33rd street on the south. What is unusual or unexpected about the camp’s setting for a modern-day inhabitant of Chicago?
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