Camp Douglas Restoration Project: Urban Archaeology Builds Community while Unearthing History

Many people are familiar with Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp that held Union soldiers during the Civil War, but fewer know of Camp Douglas, a Union camp that held Confederate prisoners on Chicago’s South Side. Between October 8th and 14th, we—and others from Loyola, DePaul, and the community—worked as volunteer archaeologists on a dig with the Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation, uncovering elements of Chicago’s Civil War past, and learning some basics about archaeology and the processes that go into a dig.

From 1861 to 1865, Camp Douglas occupied about 80 acres in what is now the Bronzeville community. Initially, Camp Douglas was a training ground for Union soldiers, and would later train enlisted African Americans. The camp was designed to be temporary, since the Union was confident the war wouldn’t last long. But by February 1862, Camp Douglas had become a prison camp for Confederate soldiers captured in battle, since the Union Army had nowhere else to put them. Camp Douglas became one of the largest prisoner of war camps in the nation and had the most Confederate deaths of any camp. Poor sanitation and overcrowding in makeshift wooden shelters spread disease among the prisoners, resulting in approximately 4,500 deaths (the prison housed roughly 30,000 prisoners through the course of the war).  Security was slack and escapes were frequent; an estimated 500 Confederate prisoners escaped during the camp’s operation. After the war Camp Douglas was quickly dissolved, and for the most part, forgotten.

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Balancing Preservation and Interpretation at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

A  tension persists between two main enterprises comprising cultural resource management: preservation and interpretation. The objectives and effects of each undertaking are not easily negotiated in many contexts, making the task all the more difficult for cultural resource managers. Many question the utility and purpose of preservation if its ultimate objective is not to interpret the resource to the public. With public interpretation comes increased traffic, however, which can impact the resource negatively. Such degradation can, in turn, reduce the prospects for effective interpretation or necessitate a complete revision of the interpretive program. The best way to preserve a resource is to keep people away from it; the best interpretation draws people from far afield. Continue reading “Balancing Preservation and Interpretation at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument”