|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
Confederate troops first fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12, 1861. On April 14, 1861, Indiana Governor Oliver Morton offered to raise ten regiments, or ten thousand men, in response to President Abraham Lincoln's call for troops to put down the southern rebellion. Raising this many recruits created the need for a recruiting and training camp. After surveying the land around Indianapolis, the only suitable place found was the land used as the State Fairgrounds, established in 1852. Thus, the thirty-six acre State Fairgrounds became a Union Army training camp and recruitment facility. Named Camp Morton, in honor of the Governor, the camp came under his direct administration.
Conversion to Prisoner of War Camp
Union victories at Fort Donelson in February 1862 created another need. The Union Army had captured thousands of Confederate soldiers. There was a need to house these prisoners. Union General Henry W. Halleck dispatched a request by telegraph for prisoner of war facilities and Governor Morton agreed to take up to 3000 prisoners on February 17, 1863. Morton assigned assistant quartermaster Captain James A. Ekin the task of converting the camp from a training camp to a prisoner of war facility. Ekin oversaw the conversion of livestock stalls into barracks, the installation of a wooden stockade wall around the camp. Workers installed entry gates, guard towers and sentry walkways. Workers also installed latrines. Five wells provided water.
Arrival of the Prisoners
Work had not completed on the camp when the first trains arrived on February 22, 1862 with the first prisoners. The prisoner population increased to over 4000 prisoners by April. The Army took over administration of the camp with the arrival of the first prisoners. The camp remained crowded until August 1862 when the Union and Confederate armies completed a general prisoner exchange. Camp Morton again became a training camp. By early 1863, there was again a need for a prisoner of war camp and the Army converted the facility again. The last prisoners were paroled June 12, 1865. During its operation, the camp housed an average of 3214, with the maximum of 4900 in July 1864. The deaths at the camp totaled 1700, or about fifty a month. The dead soldiers were interred at Crown Hill Cemetery.
After the war, the grounds reverted to the Indiana State Fairgrounds, which used the site until 1891. The Camp Morton site has since been platted and used as a residential neighborhood known as Morton Place.
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning