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Paying Respects at Camp Butler

July 2018. Camp Butler National Cemetery is located in Sangamon County near Riverton, Ill., and occupies a portion of what was the second-largest military training camp in Illinois during the Civil War.

Soon after the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for troops to defend the Union. Each state struggled to fulfill the president’s request but found the available men woefully unprepared for the rigors of war. The obvious solution, to federal officials, was to establish facilities for the receipt and training of war recruits. In 1861, the War Department dispatched General William Tecumseh Sherman to Springfield, Ill., to select a site for a military training camp. Illinois Governor Richard Yates tasked the state treasurer, William Butler, with assisting the general. The men found an ideal location six miles outside of Springfield with a high ground for camping purposes and a lower, more-level area for drills and training, as well as space for a cemetery. General Sherman was pleased with the site and named it Camp Butler to honor his companion.

The first troops arrived at Camp Butler in August 1861 and by the end of the month, 5,000 men occupied the camp. As the war progressed, additional uses were found for the grounds, including a prisoner of war camp. In February 1862, approximately 2,000 Confederate soldiers captured when Fort Donelson was surrendered, arrived at Camp Butler. As the POWs arrived–from all 11 southern states except Florida—they were put to work constructing a stockade and hospital. The hastily constructed barracks were inadequate and poorly constructed. Sanitation facilities were primitive and the daily ration of food often consisted of little more than hard biscuits and a cup of thin coffee. Almost immediately, the POWs began to die at a rapid rate. The heat of the summer combined with the severe winter cold, as well as diseases such as smallpox, typhus and pneumonia, decimated the prisoner population. Roughly 700 POWs died in the smallpox epidemic of summer 1862.

Along with soldiers who fought for both the Union and Confederate sides during the Civil War, veterans who lost their lives in the Spanish-American War, the two World Wars, the Korea War and the Vietnam War are also buried at Camp Butler National Cemetery. Camp Butler was the final resting place of many remains returned from overseas following World War II. Camp Butler National Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Monuments and Memorials The first memorial at Camp Butler is a carillon the American Veterans (AMVETS) donated around 1970 as part of their international living memorial program, which began shortly after World War II.

A monument was erected in December 2005 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans in honor of Confederate soldiers who died at Camp Butler prison camp during the Civil War. The monument is located within the Confederate Section.

A monument honoring the Illinois LST sailors was erected in May 2006.

Blue Star Memorial installed May 19, 2006.

Korean War Veterans Memorial installed May 23, 2006.


Adapted from the VA Camp Butler National Cemetery overview.



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