Bruce A. Dixon
The Confederate army was a draftee army, but any white man who owned 20 or more slaves was exempt from the draft. For them it was a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.
Though I haven’t been to the site of Chicago’s Camp Douglas monument since the 1980s I’m willing to bet the memorial exhibit says nothing about the reason those four or five thousand white boys in Chicago and fifty thousand more white boys in the other camps north and south died.
They died because by 1863 the federal armies began fielding regiments of black troops. By war’s end there were more than 200,000 black soldiers in the Union Army, most of them former slaves. The Confederates refused to treat captured black soldiers as prisoners of war. Captured black soldiers were murdered on the spot, or sold into slavery. White officers and noncoms leading black troops were supposed to be tried and summarily executed for leading slave insurrection, a capital offense, so they also took pains not to be captured alive.
The federal government demanded that captured black soldiers be treated as prisoners of war. The Confederates refused. The north stopped exchanging prisoners, and the numbers of captured prisoners of war mounted up into the hundreds of thousands. The South could barely feed its civilians and soldiers, let alone its prisoners, and the north simply would not. The 56,000 Civil War prisoners who perished at Andersonville, at Elmira, at Camp Douglas and elsewhere died because the South preferred to murder captured black soldiers or sell them into slavery.
Unlike the slaveholding generals, the dead POWs deserve some kind of memorials.