Rufus Peck was a Union soldier serving at Camp Morton in Indianapolis. On March 1, 1862, he wrote, “We have 4000 prisoners to guard and they are a hard looking set.”
Designed to serve as a military training center, Camp Morton was located on the original site of the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and was named after Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton. With the Union victory at Fort Donelson in February 1862, Camp Morton was pressed into service as a prisoner of war camp housing thousands of captured Confederate soldiers.
The camp was commanded by Colonel Richard Owen of New Harmony, a fair man who became known for his sympathetic treatment of the prisoners. Later commanders were not as humane as Owen, and by 1863 conditions at the camp had deteriorated. Even though the camp had become infested with vermin and infectious diseases were rampant, the conditions remained much better than at other camps. In fact, Camp Morton had the lowest mortality rate among all of the Union’s prisoner of war camps.