Camp Chase prisoners to be remembered
Carrying on a 116 year old promise, the Hilltop Historical Society will host the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery Memorial ceremony on June 12 at 3 p.m.
According to Monty Chase, community leader and descendant of the cemetery’s namesake, this year’s ceremony will also honor the families of Colonel William H. Knauss and Louisiana Ransburgh Briggs (see sidebar) – whose roles in the mid 1890s were pivotal to the establishment of this memorial.
“Union Col. Knauss was left for dead on the field of battle at Fredericksburg in December 1862, having received a serious facial wound which exited his body through his lower extremities. The severity of these wounds made it impossible for him to return to military action,” Chase said.
Chase added, “Following the war, he traveled to Virginia and North Carolina where he met a Confederate who was wounded at the same battle having lost his leg, and both made a gentlemen’s agreement to care for the other’s final resting places for those soldiers who paid the ‘ultimate sacrifice of war.’”
Three decades later, in 1893, Knauss moved from New Jersey to Columbus and stumbled upon a Confederate cemetery with more than 2,000 Confederate soldiers who had died as prisoners at Camp Chase. Knauss took notice of the conditions of the cemetery.
“The gate and gateposts of the stone wall enclosing the cemetery were down, the ground overrun with briers, bramble bushes, and weeds, and it had become a resort for animals,” Knauss wrote in 1906.
Through Knauss’ efforts and the hiring of local farmer, Henry Briggs, as caretaker for the sum of $25 per year, the cemetery experienced rejuvenation. According to Chase, the grounds and brush were cleared, a stone wall, which still stands today, was erected and new headboards were placed over the soldier’s graves.
For a number of years, Knauss organized the first series of memorials – inviting local government officials, Confederate veterans, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). Knauss wrote that, while the annual memorial created buzz throughout the city, and people attended in masses – it also made him unpopular with his Union comrades.
Knauss described the feelings as, “enmities born of that first service.”
“At the dedication in 1902, as many as 5,000 people were in attendance when then Gov. Nash unveiled the arch over which stands the southern soldier looking south and below him is the inscription, ‘Americans’,” Chase said.
After the unveiling of the arch, Knauss passed the torch to the UDC who continued the annual memorial until the 1990s – when the Hilltop Historical Society assumed the reins.
“The cemetery at Camp Chase has received regular care since 1894. Those who went to sleep so far away from home were, in the main, plain, simple folk, and the world knew little about them,” Knauss wrote. “Here and there in the South a heart ached because a man in gray marched away from home and never returned.”