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[Civil War] Grave robbing CSA POWs in Cleveland/Camp Chase

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 29 December 2004, Vol. 7, No. 52. Reposted to CMH Forum by permission.

Digging Deeper

By Dennis Brooke

Some people hit the so-called brick wall while searching for their ancestors. However, David McDONALD of northern Georgia ran into a real one. For more than two years he posted on many sites asking for help.

Finally, one person, Marlitta PERKINS heard his plea, but was unable to do anything other than to post her request on her website. It was in a discussion group that I first encountered Marlitta and heard her strange story. A new piece of history was about to be discovered and a genealogical dream come true.

An excellent source of information on the American Civil War comes from the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, commonly referred to as the OR.

According to the OR's Series 2, Volume 7, pages 1161-1162 the following is what happened at Camp Chase [Ohio] on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 24,

"On the night of the 24th instant the bodies of six deceased prisoners
were stolen from the grave-yard attached to camp where prisoners only
are buried. I arrested the perpetrators of this outrage and referred
the matter to General Hooker and was by him directed to turn the
prisoners and papers over to the prosecuting attorney of this county,
which I have done. Respectfully referred to the Commissary-General of
Prisoners."--W. P. Richardson.

And on November 30th 1864 the newspaper, the "Crisis," confirmed the macabre event.

"Body Snatchers"
"It has been discovered that an organized band of body snatchers,
resurrectionists, exists in this city, whose practice it is to rob the
graves at Camp Chase of dead bodies which are shipped to the medical
college at Cleveland for dissection. Dr. Flowers of this city is said
to the leader in this business, and he was arrested in company with
one or two less respectable assistants, last week, by the Post
Commander at Camp Chase. The parties were discharged upon their
parole, to appear at such time as the military authorities designate.
There is a State law by which the robbing of graves is pronounced a
high crime punishable by imprisonment in the Penitentiary. It is
understood that twelve bodies were exhumed last week. Dr.,Flowers'
excuses has action on the ground that "subjects were needed at
the Cleveland Medical College and that the bodies were those of
rebels, who were fit for nothing but dissection!"

And then the "Columbus Gazette" yet again confirmed the story with a little different version.

Body Snatching"
"Considerable talk has been occasioned in this city this week, by the
arrest, by the Military authorities at Camp Chase, of sundry persons
from this city and Cleveland, Ohio, who had been engaged in digging up
bodies of deceased rebels from the grave yard in that vicinity. This
was done for the purpose of procuring subjects for the Cleveland
Medical College. It is alleged that about a dozen bodies have been
thus procured. The parties were released on their parole to appear at
such time as the Military authorities shall designate. At the time of
the arrest, it is stated, Dr. Flowers, of this city, was along with
the parties arrested; but it is claimed that he had no connection with
the matter further than to show the location of the burying ground. So
great is the repugnance of the community to body snatching, that few
will be found ready to justify the invasion of even a rebel's grave.
Our Military authorities should see to it that the practice is

And another Columbus newspaper, the Ohio Statesman," verified the story:

"It seems that a systematic exhuming of the dead bodies of rebel
prisoners buried at Camp Chase, has been going on for some time past,
in order to supply a Medical College at Cleveland with subjects for
dissection. An agent of the College from Cleveland it is said has been
in the city for some time, engaged in forwarding this business,
through the aid of such persons as he could enlist in the service.
Among others, Dr. Flowers of this city, is charged with being a
principal actor in the affair. The Doctor, we understand, was arrested
on Friday night by the military authorities, and taken to Camp Chase,
and released on giving bail for his appearance on a future day."

Through microfilm from NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] I was able to find out who exactly was dug up and who was reinterred. The five soldiers whose bodies were sold to the medical college dissection room in Cleveland were:

--Hiram BLAND of Georgia

--Jonathan LINDLEY of Georgia (David MCDONALD's ancestor)

--John W. LESTER of Tennessee

--A. J. HENSLEY of Virginia

--Thomas STEPHENS of Louisiana

Curtis HOOKS was also dug up, but his body was returned to the cemetery and buried in a different row and grave.

These five above soldiers did NOT have tombstones or bodies at the Camp Chase Cemetery. Next year a special event in Columbus, Ohio will be held for those missing Confederate soldiers.

The Camp Chase body snatcher was one Dr. Joab R. FLOWERS. He was never convicted of the crime and after the war he was even elected to the Columbus City Council.

Prior to the Camp Chase Cemetery the Southern men were buried at the local City Cemetery in Columbus on Livingston Avenue After the war many of those Confederates were moved to Camp Chase Cemetery. As a city councilmen in Ward 3, Dr. FLOWERS wanted the Livingston Avenue cemetery moved. And so it was. Was Dr. FLOWERS covering up his tracks? Early indications say yes.

There are at least 20 other people who were buried at Livingston Cemetery who died as prisoners while at Camp Chase. Many of them were political prisoners and not soldiers. However these people would present one heck of a brick wall for someone doing genealogy.

I have found their dates of death and areas of the country where they were from. To genealogists they just seem to vanish into midair. Many of them were arrested by federal [Union] authorities for aiding the Confederacy and sent to Camp Chase prison where they died. Other Civil War prisons also had political prisoners and hopefully one of these days hundreds of brick walls may be able to tumble.

And, it all started with one man -- David McDONALD -- wanting to know what had happened to his ancestor.

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