Yesterday, April 12th, was the 150th anniversary of the opening shots of the Civil War, at Fort Sumter, in South Carolina. It was, as any war is, a terrible time of incredible hardship and cruelty.
Everyone knows or has heard all the stories. We all know the names of the battles and where they were fought. We've all seen the battered pictures of places, battlefields and soldiers taken during the War. Sometimes the pictures are of soldiers laying on battlefields, dead. All those pictures look so much the same. There's a look to those old 19th century photographs that separates us from them and their time. It takes away some of their impact. Some of their meaning. It makes them matter less, somehow, because it's so obvious those pictures are of another place and time. They're just 'stories' now - or, in many cases, they're just 'pictures', because the names, dates and places are lost to time.
But 600,000 died. If it happened today, in the same proportion to the population, it would be 15,000,000. Dead. Fifteen million men dead. Just let that run around in your head for a moment.
In 1861, Chicago was one of the largest cities in the country. And 4 miles southeast of downtown Chicago, on land owned by Stephen A. Douglas, a camp was thrown together to handle the volunteers being assembled for the Union Army. By mid-1862, what had originally been a hastily thrown up military encampment became a Union base and a prison for Confederate Soldiers. It was called Camp Douglas. The Confederates called it "80 Acres of Hell". Although largely forgotten now (unlike Andersonville, in the South) Camp Douglas was a terror; an evil place governed by evil men who had the power to do - and therefore did - evil things. Between late 1862 and May of 1865, when orders came to release all the prisoners, 4062 confederate soldiers died. Officially. According to the records of the Chicago Tribune, there are more than 1500 missing. They went in. They never came out. Almost 6000 men. Many of whom died with no record of their name, no funeral, no recorded burial. They just disappeared.
This happened within rifle shot of one of the largest cities in the United States. Men starved to death. They died of scurvy, in America's heartland. They had little or no real sanitation. They had little water. Medical facilities were primitive or non-existent. The camp flooded in rain. The prisoners would often eat rats, when they could catch them. And they had a series of Camp Commanders who seemed to specialize in torture and cruelty.
This isn't how I thought this post was going to go. As a kid, I used to study the Civil War. I knew that my Great-Grandfather had fought in it. And, as a kid, the Civil War and WWII and Korea were things that me and the other kids in the neighborhood used to play at. War and Cowboys and Indians. Anyway. I was going to tell you what I knew about Camp Douglas - because most people have never heard of it. And I thought it would be worthwhile to tell you about something you may have known nothing about. But you can find all this stuff out, if you want to. You can Google it. You can go to your library, if you want to, and find it in books.
The thing is, I'm not real happy with the way things are going, lately, in our country and I wonder if all those old soldiers who died during the Civil War would think their sacrifice was worth it.
Back then, you could walk up to the front door of the White House, knock, and ask to see the President. You could actually talk to him. You might even be able to impress him with an idea you might have and affect his decision making.
It's true. You can look it up.
Today? Today we have the finest Government that money can buy. The problem is, if you don't have enough money, you're S.O.L.