Group of 48th veterans circa 1910.
The 48th was one of the first units ever to be incarcerated in hastily prepared Union prison camps. The Federals sent the field grade officers to Fort Warren, Massachusetts, the line officers to Camp Chase Ohio, and the enlisted men to Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois. (The officers were later transferred to Johnson's Island on Lake Erie.) The defeated Tennesseans began their trip north shortly after the surrender on the evening of 16 February. Grant's troops herded their prisoners aboard the steamer Empress. The steamer departed on the seventeenth and arrived at Cairo, Illinois, that night. The trip up the Mississippi was both uncomfortable and unhealthy. Many of the soldiers crowded aboard the Empress were already sick from exposure, poor diet, and frostbite. Sanitary conditions on the vessel were poor. The weather was cold, and the rations consisted of crackers and raw meat. Along the route, Union soldiers gathered to taunt the prisoners. In response, Andrew Campbell reported, "Our men never failed to cheer for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy." At two points along the river, unknown assailants fired shots at the vessel and several prisoners were wounded.
The Empress arrived at St. Louis on 20 February. The Confederates were surprised to find that the citizens of the city demonstrated pro-Southern sympathy by providing gifts of apples, cakes, tobacco, and money. The enlisted men boarded trains for Camp Douglas that evening, while the officers remained aboard other vessels for the next five days. Sympathizers risked insult and arrest to help the prisoners. One woman, who threw apples to the captives, was accosted by
a Union officer who shook his fist in her face. To support her, one of the Confederate officers cut a button off his uniform and tossed it to the woman. When she attempted to retrieve the gift, a Federal guard stepped forward and "thrust his bayonet in front [of her] to push her back." Unimpressed, she simply pushed the bayonet out of the way and retrieved the button.
Historians acknowledge that the prison systems on both sides during the war between the states were poor. The Federal prisons at Camp Chase and Douglas were among the worst. When A. J. Campbell surveyed the filthy, overcrowded conditions at Camp Chase, he thought that he could "with good grace go out and volunteer to be shot."
At Douglas, death stalked the 48th. On 3 March, K. Company lost William Welch and on the ninth a "kind, and most beloved" James Hodges died. The death of Third Sergeant John E. Amis on the twelfth left two small sons fatherless. On the fourteenth a "fair and honest" James Akin passed away. At least forty-five, or seventeen percent of the 270 soldiers known captured at Fort Donelson died while in Federal hands.
As the months of imprisonment worn on, death and sickness became a constant companion. Weekly, soldiers died of pneumonia and consumption. Union guards forced prisoners to stand by while money and personal items were stolen from them. Guards required little provocation to attack unarmed prisoners. At Camp Douglas, sixteen-year old Wilson Trousdale of Company E was bayoneted in the back by a guard. Johnson's Island guards routinely shot or shot at prisoners. Captain Campbell writes, "Everytime I see a villainous Yankee it makes my blood boil to think we are to be shot down like dogs without any provocation whatever and no means of redress. One does not know what minute he will be shot down as we frequently have guns leveled and cocked at us."
In early May, the officers at Camp Chase were transferred to the infamous Johnson's Island aboard the Island Queen. In June the president of the United States Sanitary Commission urged that Camp Douglas be abandoned and burned due to poor sanitary conditions there. Escape attempts were not infrequent. On 23 July, a tall and bearded Allen Adcock from E Company took part in one of Camp Douglas's best known escape attempts. Adcock and several compatriots planned the escape for weeks. Adcock slept with a homemade ladder hidden in his bunk. The group kept delaying their attempt, hoping Adcock's sick brother Robert would improve enough to go with them. Robert, who was afraid to go to the prison hospital, failed to improve. Finally, on the dark and rainy night of the twenty-third, the group made a break for the prison fence. Four of Adcock's friends made it over before the guards discovered them and began to fire. Adcock was not one of the lucky ones and quickly had to make his way back into the barracks. Camp Douglas was "in a commotion." Mackey, who was not with Adcock, wrote "Our Federal excellencies were much alarmed; the cannon fired and general excitement prevailed." The Federals rushed to the barracks looking for prisoners with muddy shoes to indicate they had participated in the escape. Adcock, however, proved too smart for his jailers. He escaped detection because he had the foresight to wear socks over his shoes during his adventure. Adcock's shoes looked as if he had been in his bunk the whole time.
The Rebels did their best to entertain themselves. In the winter there were snowball contests, the "bloody" 48th and the 7th Texas heavily engaged against the 20th Mississippi. The Tennesseans attended church, wrote letters, read Northern newspapers, annoyed the guards, circulated unending rumor, and listened to antisecessionist speeches sponsored by their captors. In the summer, a group of twenty-one prisoners from the 48th pooled their money and had a photo taken. The soldiers in the photo stare seriously, hats cocked to one side or the other. They were young and mostly bearded but some looked too young to shave. They wore various uniforms, kepis, and slouch hats.
By July 1862, rumors that the 48th would be exchanged were prevalent and believed by most. The prisoners believed war news from the South was good and morale in the 48th improved. A small but tough looking Private Joe Rainey let his high morale get him in trouble. When the Illinois Governor paid a visit to Camp Douglas, an impudent Rainey shouted a hurrah for Jeff Davis and The Yankees promptly hauled him off to the guard house.
Just before their exchange in August, the Federals offered the Confederate prisoners a choice: they could accept exchange or they could take the oath of allegiance. At Camp Douglas, 918 opted to take the oath, among them were seventeen from the 48th.
In September 1862 the Federal government exchanged the 48th. One Federal Officer thought the exchange was a mistake. Campbell reports the officer said "all the weakly prisoners had died, the cowardly had taken the oath, and the others would make invincible soldiers."
The officers left their prison on 1 September 1862 and were released at Vicksburg on the 16th. On 3 September, jubilant enlisted soldiers left Camp Douglas and were released on the 23rd. They were in the words of Campbell "relieved of the presence of the hated Yankee once more." Shortly after the exchange sixty-year old Captain George W. Gordon, the well-loved commander of K Company died. The entire regiment mourned his loss. After the enlisted were freed on the twenty-fourth, they were able to spend a few days in Vicksburg. The newly freed soldiers poked around Vicksburg and found it, "A nice place with little to eat."
On the twenty-sixth, the troops boarded "the cars" for a forty-five mile train ride to Jackson, Mississippi. There on 29 September, after seven months of captivity, the 48th was reorganized. The troops elected William Voorhies Colonel, Arron S. Goodwin Lieutenant Colonel, and Andrew Jackson Campbell Major. The reorganization of the 48th created a problem: the Confederate army now had two separate 48th Tennessee Infantry Regiments. One regiment was under Colonel Voorhies serving in Maxey's Brigade, District of Louisiana, Department of Mississippi; the other regiment served under Colonel Nixon in Polk's Brigade, Cleburne's Division, Polk's Corps, Army of Tennessee.