Rev. John Valentine Reece
Prisoner of War
Camp Douglas, IL
1863-1865
John (and many of his fellow soldiers in the 62nd NC Regiment, Company I) was taken a
prisoner of war having been captured at Cumberland Gap on September 9, 1863. He was 20
years old.

Cumberland is a strategic gap in the Cumberland Mountains, it is 75 miles N of Knoxville, TN
and links Eastern Tennessee to Eastern KY and VA.  

He first went to Louisville, Kentucky, and on September 24, 1863, they sent him to Camp
Douglas, IL. He was discharged from Camp Douglas on June 16, 1865. He was one of the last
to leave one of the worst places on earth.  Stories say it was worse than the infamous
Andersonville. This was just three weeks before they closed the gates for good.

What started out a looking for more information on the little “CA” on the 1910 census page,
ended up being an eye opening look into the world that John Valentine Reece lived for almost
two years.  
Part of the Transfer page (KY):
John Valentine Reece’ Official Capture Card:
Records from Union Prison Camp Douglas concerning John V. Reece:
Click on thumbnails to view larger
image. Documents are presented in
this form to facilitate page loading.
In the summer of 2013 I discovered a book called To Die in Chicago: Confederate Prisoners at Camp
Douglas 1862-1865. It was published in 1994 by Evanston Publishing Company in Evanston, IL and written
by George Levy.
Camp Douglas was intended to be a military base and ended up being one of the largest prison camps
in the North. It may not have held the most prisoners, I believe that distinction goes to Elmira, but it had
the the highest death toll.  The numbers are staggering.  Most of seemed due to smallpox and they the
highest death toll.  The numbers are staggering.  Most of seemed due to smallpox and they eventually
had to start vaccinating everyone. Scurvy, measles, hunger, and exposure to the wicked Chicago
winters also contributed to the grim statistic. Thousands died of disease and malnutrition; however the
main problem was incompetence mixed with corruption among its jailers.

The date JV arrived at camp was mentioned in the book as his group arrived shortly after the infamous
Morgan’s Raiders did. The number of prisoners was nearly always more than the accommodations
could provide for and numbered in the tens of thousands for a place originally designed to hold only
about 4,000.

During this time in Illinois John Wilkes Booth was a famous actor in Chicago and was packing the
house and the new game of baseball had just been played west of Chicago.

There was a horrible blizzard in January of 1864 where the temperatures at night went down to 25
degrees below zero.  There was always a shortage of blankets, clothing, and food.  Prisoners died
from exposure. Men were housed in barracks that had little or no heat, flooring or windows. At different
points they may have had cook stoves, but even then, some guards would not let them light the fire
after 8 p.m. Treatment of prisoners was generally not good.

Punishments included wearing a real ball and chain, or riding the Mule (a long board stood on its edge
up off the ground).

There were, by the time all was said and done, 64 barracks. Eventually they had running water, sewers
and flush toilets, although things did not always work smoothly and much of this took a long time to get
in place. The barracks were 90’ x 24’ and 12’ high.  The kitchen end took up 20’ so upwards of 200
men bunked in the space that remained. Bunks were floored partitions three high along the walls with
two or three men per bunk. There was no bedding to speak of.

It is purely speculation on my part, but I wonder why he was there until the end.  Was it because he
was stubbornly Southern and refused to take the oath of allegiance
(similar to the one below) or was it
because he never signed up to be part of one of the rare prisoner exchanges, or was it because he
was a lower ranking officer?  
Here’s the thing.  The Surrender at Appomattox was on April 9, Lincoln was shot of April 14, but JV
remained at Camp Douglas.  I found a remark that all prisoners were to be released except those above
had transportation vouchers issued, some walked and some waited for money from home.  In June over
4000 left camp at once.  JV was most likely a part of this final exodus.


http://www.itd.ups.gov web site also repeats the same general information.


Note:  His Uncle Jeremiah and his sister, Rebecca’s, husband, Moses Norris both served in the same unit
and were also sent to Camp Douglas. Their names and some information appear on some of the
documentation I found.


I did find it interesting that there was a Prisoners Masonic Association of Camp Douglas, IL. These men
had their own barracks (#49).

I located a small snippet of information that said he was instrumental in recording the family Civil War
Diary, but have been unable to verify this statement. I would love to find this document especially in light
of this story!
I found John mentioned in some civil war correspondence and reserve a spot for it here so I can go
back later to do some more research. Clicking on the image of the original document will give you more
information as well as a transcript.
The last part of this story concerns
JV's battle for pension compensation.  
Click
HERE to read more.