1864: John Wesley Daniels to Col. James Taylor

This letter was written by John Wesley Daniels (1832-1915) of Grants Lick, Campbell county, Kentucky. Daniels served as a private in Co. C, 1st Kentucky Cavalry (Butler’s). He was married to Cynthia Bryant Colvin (1834-1909) in 1850 and divorced during or soon after the war. He married his second wife, Mary Ann Bravard in 1868.

Daniels wrote the letter to Col. James J. Taylor of Campbell county, Kentucky, a wealthy man who may have been sympathetic to his pro-Confederacy neighbors but remained a Union man throughout the war.
(Kenyon County Public Library)

Daniels wrote the letter while serving as a prisoner of war at Camp Morton near Indianapolis. The camp was located on a tract of land bordered by 22nd Street, Talbott Avenue, 19th Street and Central Avenue. The land had been established as state fairgrounds. In 1861 it was converted to a military training camp, and named after the governor. In 1862 the facilities were used to house Confederate prisoners of war. Approximately 4,000 prisoners arrived in February of that year. In the summer of 1864 the prisoner population reached nearly 5,000. Weary of fighting many took the oath of allegiance to the United States Constitution and to the Union according to Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction of 8 December 1863. On 1 April 1865 1,408 prisoners were at the camp. In June 1865 the last of the Confederate prisoners were released. In 1868 the State Fair returned to this location, where it continued to be held until 1892.

Daniels wrote the letter to Col. James Jones Taylor (1802-1883) of Campbell county, Kentucky.

Camp Morton in Indianapolis, Library of Congress


Camp Morton, Indiana
19 July 1864

Col. James Taylor

The fate of war has made me prisoner and process of time has so far exhausted my funds here that my absolute needs compel me to tax the goodness of friends to administer temporal relief unto me. Our acquaintance (though limited) prompts me to address you with full faith that my request will be granted.

I am one of the company who acted as body guard to General [George Baird] Hodge. I lived in Campbell County near your lands, have carried the chain on several occasions surveying for you, [and] am intimately familiar with your agent, Esqr. Yelton. Notwithstanding, hard fate has so fixed me that I ask temporal pecuniary aid. Can you send me say 5 or $10 until I meet with a chance to replace? If so, do it by express to “care of Col. [Ambrose A.] Stevens 1 Command & Camp” and charge your friend, — J. W. Daniels

N. B. I belong to General Hodge’s Brigade and he chose our company as his body guard. — J. W. D of Co. C, 1st Ky.

1 Col. Ambrose A. Stevens of the 5th Indiana Regiment became the commandant of the Camp Morton Prison near Indianapolis in November 1863. He found the camp “a disgrace to the name of military prison—filthy in every respect.” Camp Morton had the third highest number of dead for both January and February among Union prisoner of war camps. Almost twenty-five years after the war controversy over the condition at Camp Morton during that winter surfaced again in the form of an article in The Century Magazine written by a former prisoner of war, Dr. John Wyeth. Entitled “Cold Cheer at Camp Morton” the article charged camp officials with deliberate cruelty.

The prison lacked the order, discipline, and cleanliness found among properly managed soldiers. The April 29 inspection report by A.M. Clark, Surgeon and acting inspector of prisoners of war reported that the barracks had been whitewashed and improved through ridge ventilation, but that the sinks were simply open excavations and needed improvement. Rations were sufficient but scurvy was still common due to a lack of vegetables. Over the next three months 2,500 prisoners arrived as Col. Stevens continued to try to improve the camp. In mid May he reported to Hoffman that he had “commenced a thorough cleansing” of the barracks and grounds and planned to build a bathhouse, a laundry and a cookhouse.

An increase in the mortality rate over the summer drew the attention of the federal authorities and on 30 July Charles J. Kipp, Surgeon, U.S. Volunteers, replied to a request for an explanation regarding the number of recent deaths among the prisoners. Dr. Kipp wrote that the lack of vegetables, the overcrowded, poorly ventilated barracks and the crowding of almost 5,000 men into 4.5 acres accounted for the mortality rate. He calculated that the prisoners had approximately 80 cubic feet of air space. The reply is forwarded to the U.S. Medical Director’s office with a note by Tripler that unless these conditions improves “the large mortality of last year will occur again.”

“I find this camp in anything but a favorable condition.” was the conclusion reached by C.T. Alexander in his August 6 inspection report which also determined that the camp was too small with 4,885 men held in less than 5 acres. The barracks were “overcrowded and not sufficiently well policed,” the tents old and worn, and prisoners clothing bad and deficient. He found the hospital in relatively good condition and blamed the 81 deaths (9% mortality) of the previous month on the “crowded state of the camp, quarters, and tents, the want of change in the positions of the tents, the foul condition of the sinks, the want of good police, the want of vegetables…, and is influenced some what by the inevitable nostalgia existing among the prisoners.'” [Indiana Archives & Record Administration]

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