Members of Morgan's Raiders at Camp Douglas

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Members of Morgan’s Raiders at Camp Douglas
Chicago History Museum

These men were members of General John Hunt Morgan’s Raiders, an infamous Confederate unit of the Civil War.  They staged daring raids into the North, the most famous of which occurred in July 1863, when Morgan and 2,500 horsemen galloped through southern Indiana and Ohio, robbing banks, stealing horses, and skirmishing with Union troops. Eventually, Union forces captured Morgan and several hundred of his men, who were then imprisoned at Chicago’s Camp Douglas. In late October 1863, twenty-six of them attempted to escape by digging a tunnel ten feet underground past the fence, right under the guards’ noses. All of them were captured and returned, but their daring attempt made headline news, and they tried to get away again on more than one occasion. These men considered themselves an elite group, far superior to ordinary rebels, and this photograph clearly shows their sense of daring and comradeship, as well as the effects of army and prison life. You might wonder about how the photo was taken at all, and how it was that the prisoners had a rifle (center) in their possession! But the prison camp did boast a photography studio run by D. F. Brandon within its walls. Perhaps this is where Morgan’s raiders had their photo made, in which case one must assume that the rifle was unloaded and merely a prop! But it is also possible that the prisoners had the portrait taken when on the run in the city after one of their repeated, if ill-fated, escapes.

1. Why do you think this group wanted to be photographed?

2. How do you think they wanted viewers of the photograph to think of them?

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