Prisoners of Memory:
Camp Morton, Indiana, 1862 - 1865

Prisoners of Memory

With the start of the American Civil War, many needs arose across both the remaining states of the Union, and the newly formed Confederate States of America. One of these needs was a place to house prisoners of war from both sides. Both the Union and Confederacy quickly formed or converted camps in which to house prisoners. One of these places was Camp Morton in Indianapolis, Indiana at what was the newly built Indiana State Fairgrounds. Starting in February 1862 Camp Morton was a prisoner of war camp for captured Confederate soldiers throughout the war. While the conditions of Camp Morton have been highly speculated and scrutinized by previous historians, this focuses little on the camp itself, but rather looks towards the burials, relocations, and reburials of the Confederate prisoners of war after their deaths.

Civil War prisoner of war camps and prisons are frequently overlooked in American history, and those that are focused on are few and far between. The reasons for this are often obscure and not taken into consideration, since individuals rarely worry about those prisons not being studied or remembered. However, why some prisons become more important and well remembered over time is important, and is not an easy question to answer. Camp Morton held some 9,000 prisoners during its existence. Despite this, Camp Morton has been mostly lost to time and memory for multiple reasons. Understanding why Camp Morton is important, but yet has not been remembered is a significant undertaking that consists of a multi-step process.

This digital project explores and attempts to understand how and why Camp Morton was forgotten over time. For this project both primary and secondary sources on Camp Morton, as well as works on public memory, monuments, memory theory, and other areas of memory studies were examined in a variety of new and different ways. The primary sources coming from Camp Morton are few and far between in the Twenty-First Century, so the sources that are available and that were used in this project frequently speak volumes. All of these primary sources come directly from the men who were held as prisoners of war at Camp Morton, but all from different periods of time. This allows for an in-depth examination of sources applying memory theory and public memory studies. These valuable primary sources, along with secondary sources from varying fields allowed me to interpret all primary sources through established theory and scholarship. Tools such as Voyant, Timeglider, Google Ngram Viewer, and Google Maps Engine Lite were used in order to better understand the sources used, as well as to make the information easier to understand. The use of the tools also allows these sources to be examined in a new light – not only reading the words on the page, but comparing word usage, the context of different words, and gives the ability to look at multiple sources at once, instead of individually — this can be seen throughout the project.

The purpose of this project is important because the story of these men did not end with the end of the war and the release of their living comrades from Camp Morton, 1,616 Confederate Prisoners of War are still buried in Indianapolis, Indiana, left to their enemy’s memory, the bodies of these men have interesting stories to tell.