Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pickenpaugh: "Camp Chase and the Evolution of Union Prison Policy"

[Camp Chase and the Evolution of Union Prison Policy by Roger Pickenpaugh (University of Alabama Press, 2007). Hardcover, photographs, notes, bibliographical essay, index. Pages total/main: 192/148. ISBN: 0-8173-1582-9. $35]

A number of northern POW camps have been the focus of detailed studies over the past decade; however, Roger Pickenpaugh's Camp Chase and the Evolution of Union Prison Policy is the first modern history of Columbus, Ohio's Camp Chase. The place certainly is a fine candidate for a case study examining the often haphazard, multi-purpose uses concocted for these camps. Beginning life as a training depot, Camp Chase evolved and expanded into both a parole camp for Union soldiers and a detention facility for Confederate POWs, frequently at the same time. Political prisoners were also frequently housed at the site.

Undoubtedly, the subject of the degree of deliberate abuse perpetrated inside POW camps run by both sides remains a hot button topic in the literature. Pickenpaugh largely avoids this 'race to the bottom' debate, discussing these issues rather briefly, albeit in a confident and deliberate, evenhanded fashion that appears to reinforce much of the findings of current scholarship [at least that's my impression from my own limited reading dealing with prisons, mainly gleaned from scholarly articles and book reviews]. However, I would liked to have seen some quantitative analysis of POW deaths included in this volume. A sickness and/or death rate comparison with that of the parolees might also make for a useful future study, especially with both groups having cited similarly negative impressions of the food, clothing, and medical care received. A more direct complaint I have is with the book's lack of illustrations. Only four photographs grace its pages, and no visual rendering of the camp layout was included.

Based on both official documents and unpublished diaries & letters scattered in manuscript repositories around the country, Camp Chase is a well researched and concisely well constructed history of the prison. At less than 150 pages of main text, Pickenpaugh's short manuscript is also a useful reminder that studies can be brief, yet still carry scholarly weight. While not a detailed examination of policymaking on a national level, this book is a very good survey history of the multiple wartime roles of the Camp Chase facility, and a worthy contribution to the literature of Civil War prisons.

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