Ambrose A. Stevens was born on September 20, 1829, in Rutland, Jefferson County, New York, the son of Alexander (b. 1799) and Lydia (Peck).
Ambrose’s parents were married in 1820 in Jefferson County, New York.
Ambrose may have served in the army during the Mexican War. In any case, he eventually settled in Watertown, Jefferson County, New York where he married New York native Marion C. Frazell (1833-1900) on November 10, 1853, in Watertown, and they had at least one son, William (or Wallace F., b. 1873). Ambrose was reportedly “educated for a mercantile profession in New York City,” and moved from New York to Michigan in 1856.
He was, wrote the Detroit Daily Advertiser, “full ‘six feet high and well proportioned’,” and settled in Saranac, Ionia County, in 1856 where he engaged in the mercantile trade. Soon after his arrival in Saranac he took an active part in the statewide movement to organize local militias, and on January 31, 1857, Stevens was elected Captain of the “Boston Light Guard,” a company formed in western Ionia County. According to the Advertiser, “He organized and equipped,” wrote the newspaper, “mainly at his own expense, the Boston Light Guard, now company D” of the Third Michigan. The paper added that for “many years the science of war has been his study, and he is spoken of as a gentleman of decided merit and ability.”
By the time of the state military convention held in Detroit in October of 1859, the Boston Light Guard had evolved into a unit consisting of 56 men carrying musketoons and reportedly one cannon (size unknown). The company was rated second class but was first in order of merit, attesting to Stevens’ close supervision.
In January of 1860 Ambrose was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the newly formed Second (or Grand River) battalion, Fifty-first Regiment, and was replaced as captain of the Boston Guard by Moses D. Houghton (who would eventually command Company D).
The Fifty-first Regiment consisted of four western Michigan companies, under the command of Colonel Daniel McConnell of Grand Rapids. (McConnell would be the first Colonel of the Third Michigan.) These four companies, the Valley city Guard, the Grand Rapids Artillery, the Grand Rapids “German” Rifles and the Boston Light Guard would constitute the first four (A, B, C, and D respectively) companies of the Third Michigan infantry. In late October of 1860 Stevens was appointed acting Colonel of the Fifty-first Regiment following Colonel McConnell’s conviction at the general court martial for disobeying orders and his temporary suspension from command. That same year he was working as a “general dealer” (merchant) and living with his wife in Boston, Ionia County. “For many years,” wrote one observer in June of 1861, “the science of war has been his study, and he is spoken of as a gentleman of decided merit and ability.”
Ambrose was 31 years old when he enlisted as Lieutenant Colonel of the Regiment. He was with the Regiment at Blackburn’s Ford, Virginia on July 18 and when the Regiment covered the federal retreat from Bull Run on July 21, 1861. In his official report on the action at Bull Run on July 21, dated July 25, Brigade commander Colonel Israel B. Richardson wrote that “The officer in command of the Regiment at that time, Lieutenant Colonel [Ambrose A.] Stevens (McConnell being unwell, but on the ground), immediately executed [Richardson’s] order, and put his Regiment on close column. I went to some other part of the field, and on returning found this Regiment deployed in line of battle, and in another position. I immediately inquired of Colonel Stevens the reason for their position being altered. He told me Colonel Miles had directed this movement. I asked him why. Colonel Stevens replied, ‘I do not know, but we have no confidence in Colonel Miles.’ I inquired the reason and Colonel Stevens replied ‘because Colonel Miles is drunk’. That closed the conversation. I sent Colonel Stevens back with his Regiment to form close column by division, as at first.”
According to postwar statements made by the participants, Stevens was not in fact in command of the Regiment, but, according to Colonel McConnell was merely relaying instructions between McConnell and Richardson. It was while en route from Colonel McConnell to report to Colonel Richardson, that “he had to pass through a barn; as he entered the barn a cannon ball struck its side causing his horse to give a sudden plunge and jump through the rear door to the ground below a distance of some feet. As his horse truck the ground he fell . . . and caused the back of claimant’s saddle to trike claimant . . . in the back. Said injury has caused disease of kidneys. . . .”
Shortly after the battle of First Bull Run, Virginia, on July 21, 1861, Frank Siverd of Company G wrote to the Republican that “The praise of Lieutenant Colonel Stevens is on the lips of every member of the Regiment. His commands are ever obeyed with alacrity and zeal. He is a thorough gentleman, and treats his mean as if they were at least slightly related to the family of bipeds called human. I saw him several times on our late fatiguing march and retreat, dismount and insist that some sick or worn out soldiers should take his place; at other times he might be seen caring [sic] the gun or baggage of one of the discouraged or weak member of the Regiment.”
Others were not so kind, however. Ezra Ransom of Company B wrote many years after the war that in his estimation Stevens was a “slacker.” In the aftermath of the Bull Run debacle in July of 1861, Ransom and a comrade, Aaron Harrington, got separated from the Regiment and, like so many others were making their own way back to Washington, DC, the best they could. They arrived in Alexandria, Virginia “hoping to get some bed and rest. In the suburbs we found the Lieutenant Colonel of our Regt. sitting on the porch of a house holding his horse by the bridle rein. He asked us if we knew where the 3d Michigan was!!!!! Slacker? Yes.”
By early September the Regiment was engaged in the construction of several forts around Washington, DC, and Frank Siverd continued to sing the praises of Lieutenant Colonel Stevens, suggesting that he would be the perfect successor to Colonel McConnell, whom it was rumored was planning to resign. “Lieutenant Colonel Stevens,” wrote Siverd, “with companies C, D, G, H and I has charge of Fort Richardson. I have before spoken of the popularity of this officer and since he has had exclusive charge of this post, he has, if possible, more endeared himself to the men. -- There is scarcely a man in the detachment that would not, if necessary, risk his life to serve his Commander.”
But it was not to be and when Colonel McConnell resigned in late October of 1861, Stevens was not promoted in his place. Instead, the former prosecuting attorney for Kent County, Major Stephen Champlin was promoted over Stevens to the Colonecy of the Third Michigan. , Siverd wrote the Republican that although there had been an attempt to “Grand Rapidize” the entire Regimental officer corps, “Lieutenant Colonel Stevens, to the great joy of the ranks and file, spoiled it for them by persisting in retaining his position after having been ‘jumped’ by Major Champlin,” who was promoted over Stevens to the Colonecy of the Regiment. “Of course,” Siverd added, “his conduct was very disgusting to would-be Colonels and Majors, but pleasing to the boys who have ever found in him a firm friend.”
During the winter of 1861-62, Stevens was treated frequently for rheumatic fever. However, his illnesses were apparently never serious and he was fit for duty by the time the Regiment joined the remainder of the Army of the Potomac for the spring campaign of 1861. During the battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia, on May 31, 1862, Colonel Champlin was seriously wounded in one of his hips, and , according to “Josephus,” the correspondent for the Detroit Free Press, “The command then devolved upon Lieutenant Colonel Stevens, who again rallied his brave and resolute, but fatigued men, and pressing forward, attacked the enemy in his new position.” And Dan Crotty of Company F wrote some years after the war that he believed Stevens had shown himself to be a superb leader during the battle of Fair Oaks. “After the firing ceases,” Crotty wrote, “what is left of our Regiment get back to camp under our gallant Lieutenant Colonel Stevens.”
In his official capacity as acting commander of the Third Michigan, Stevens submitted the official reports for the actions undertaken by the Regiment in June of 1862. In his report on the battle of Fair Oaks, Stevens wrote on May 31 that
At about 2 o'clock p.m. your order was received to take our position in rear of the redoubt on our right, which was at once complied with. We remained in this position but a short time, when we took up the line of march across the fields and parallel with the Williamsburg road, hastening as fast as possible towards the front, where our troops had for sometime been actively engaged. The distance, being about one mile and a half from the redoubt to the scene of action was soon passed over, where Colonel Champlin received your instructions to lead his Regiment at once into action deploying at the same time in line of battle upon the left of the road, our right resting upon an abatis, while the left was thrown forward at a double quick into a thicket of pines.
The engagement now became general, and it was with greatest difficulty that our corps of sharpshooters under command of Capt. [Samuel] Judd, and the five right companies of our Regiment, could penetrate the mass of fallen timber and dislodge the enemy from their strong position; but the steady and cool behavior of our men, and with the telling effect of their rifles, soon compelled them to fall back, while our Regiment pressed forward, charging through the fallen timber, and driving the enemy beyond the fence in the rear of the camp of General Palmer's Brigade, some 80 rods distant, where they again formed and made another stand. It was at this time that Col. Champlin received a severe wound in the hip, which prevented him from taking further part in the action, and with his orders I now proceeded to rally the different companies of the Regiment together in line for the purpose of again pressing forward and dislodging the enemy from his new position.
While thus engaged the 5th Michigan came up, and at the same time the order that they were to relieve us. Accordingly our Regiment was ordered to remain at a halt, while the 5th Michigan pushed forward and engaged the enemy. With your instruction we now advanced in support of this Regiment, and during the remainder of the action the two Regiments fought side by side. It was now about 4 o'clock p.m. and while the contest was as determined as ever it was discovered our ammunition was nearly expended, when Major Pierce of our Regiment volunteered to undertake the task of procuring ammunition and further orders, which had become hazardous, as there seemed to be a disposition of the enemy to turn both our right and left flanks. It was now about 5:30 o'clock p.m. The enemy crowding the forces back who were engaged upon our right, we found ourselves together with the remnants of the 5th Michigan and 63rd Pennsylvania Volunteers isolated from our forces upon either flank. It was deemed proper by the senior officers present of the different Regiments to withdraw to the rear, and I, being the senior officer present upon the ground, gave the order to fall back slowly from the field which now became hopeless for us to attempt to hold for the night, owing to the lack of ammunition, which was done in good order returning to camp about 9 p.m.
In closing this hasty report I have not time to particularize, as it would be impossible; as all, both officers and men did their duty nobly. I cannot close this report, however, without mentioning the coolness and good conduct of Majors Pierce and Fairbanks -- the former for gallant services rendered while in command of the left wing of our Regiment. . . . I also beg leave to call your attention to the gallant Captain Judd [A Co.], who fell while leading our sharpshooters in the early part of the action. He was one of the bravest of the brave. His loss will be deeply regretted by the Regiment and all who knew him.
On June 3 Stevens wrote that as a result of instructions received from General Kearny
on the 2d instant I took 200 men, with the proper officers, and left our camp near the rifle pits at 2 o'clock p.m. for the purpose of uniting with a detachment of the 2nd Michigan Volunteers, under command of Major Dillman, then on outpost duty near the saw-mill, and making a thorough reconnaissance to the front, to ascertain if possible the true position of the enemy. At about 3 o'clock p.m. we united with Major Dillman's command, and proceeded to skirmish forward between the Williamsburg and Charles City roads, reaching the first line of the enemy's pickets, which was found deserted, but with strong indications of having but recently been occupied. At about 4.30 o'clock p.m., the 2nd Michigan Volunteers being short of rations, Major Dillman was directed to return to your headquarters to report and for further instructions.
We were now about 1 mile in advance of the battle-field of Saturday last. The main body of my command, which now numbered about 350 men, was directed to halt, while a detachment was thrown forward to scout up on two roads, one of which diverged to the right in the direction of the Williamsburg road and the other to the left and toward the White Oak Swamp. As our scouts advanced along the different roads the indications that the enemy were not far distant became more apparent. We now proceeded cautiously for the distance of about three-quarters of a mile, when we again halted and formed in line of battle.
It was now about 5.30 p.m., and we proceeded to make a more thorough reconnaissance to the front, and for this purpose I detached 65 trusty scouts, under command of the proper officers of the different companies, with orders to proceed, if possible, 100 rods to the front. This was performed successfully, and resulted in discovering the second line of pickets of the enemy, who fled without firing upon our approach.
After entering several of their bough houses and securing a few articles left behind by the rebels they returned to our reserve. It was nearly sunset, and Major Dillman returning at this moment with your order for our return to camp, we at once took up the line of march, returning to the rifle pits about 8 o'clock in the evening. Major Dillman's command here halted for the night, while ours of the Michigan Third Volunteers came forward and reached this camp after a long and weary march at 10 o'clock in the evening.
Stevens wrote the Brigade commander on June 27, describing the actions taken by the Third Michigan on June 25.
At 7:30 a.m. orders were received from your headquarters to move the Regiment from its camp to a position outside the rifle pits and on the right of the 5th Michigan. This order had scarcely been complied with when we were again ordered to move forward about 100 rods, when we halted in line of battle between the forks of two roads, being then in a convenient position to throw forward a force on either road as a support to the troops already sent forward, for the purpose of advancing the picket lines of our front.
We remained but a short time at this place, when we were ordered forward by yourself about half a mile distant to the picket line of the 3rd Maine Volunteers, who were now by your orders about toe advance their pickets to the front, the 3rd Michigan Regiment following closely as a support to the reserves of the pickets of the 3rd Maine for the distance of nearly 1 mile, when we were halted by your order and formed as a reserve line, connecting on our right with the 5th Michigan and the 37th N.Y. Volunteers on our left. We remained in this position during the engagement upon our right and until evening, when the Regiment was placed as pickets for the night.
Stevens was apparently exhausted by the movements of June 1862 and reported absent sick in the hospital without proper authority in July of 1862, although he later claimed that he was sent from Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, on July 4 to Douglas hospital in Washington, DC where he remained until late July when he went home to Saranac to recover his strength.
However, while at home in Michigan Ambrose was transferred to the newly-formed Twenty-first Michigan infantry as Colonel at the organization of that Regiment on July 25, 1862, in Ionia County, and was mustered in on August 16 at Grand Rapids. (It is possible that he never recovered from the humiliation of having a junior officer promoted over his head.) The Twenty-first was organized at Ionia and Grand Rapids and mustered into service on September 9, and left Michigan for Louisville, Kentucky, on September 12.
According to the Detroit newspapers,
The Twenty-first regiment arrived in town about half-past three o’clock on Friday afternoon, en route to Cincinnati. On alighting from the cars they formed in line, and, headed by the Germania Band, marched through some of the principal streets. Their passage through the city attracted large crowds, and their fine, soldierly appearance, and the order with which they marched was the subject of universal commendation. The crowds upon the sidewalks cheered them lustily as they passed, and ladies waved their handkerchiefs from windows and balconies. They bore with them the magnificent flag which was presented by the ladies of Ionia, and also the regimental colors.
After marching through the city, they returned to the Milwaukee dock, where, through the liberality of our citizens, an ample collation had been spread for them. Sandwiches, cakes, coffee and fruit, in generous abundance, constituted the bill of fare. After fully supplying the wants of the inner man, and resting an hour, they marched on board the steamer Morning Star which was to convey them to Cleveland.
The regiment certainly made a fine appearance, and is deserving of all that may be said in its favor. It is well-equipped and its rank and file is composed of the sturdy yeomanry of central and Western Michigan, who will give a good account of themselves wherever they may be. The reputation of the old Michigan Third regiment is sufficient proof of what kind of men Ionia, Kent, Barry and the northern counties produce. We have no fears that this reputation will suffer at the hands of the Twenty-first.
It is believed that the appointment of the officers has been made on the score of merit alone. Col. Stevens was Lieutenant Colonel of the old Third, and a more brave and efficient officer does not exist. His appointment to the command of this regiment was well deserved, as is shown by his already valuable services in the field. In the recent battles in Virginia he distinguished himself as a brave soldier and skillful officer, having command of the regiment for a time, the colonel [Stephen Champlin] being severely wounded and carried from the field. He was highly esteemed by both officers and men, who bear testimony to his sterling qualities as a gentleman and soldier. Under his leadership there can be no doubt that the Twenty-first will do credit to themselves and the State, when an opportunity shall occur for a display of their fighting qualities.
Shortly after arriving in Kentucky the Twenty-first was engaged in the pursuit of General Bragg to Crab Orchard, Kentucky from October 1-16, and participated in battle for Perryville on October 8. Stevens was wounded slightly on October 5, 1862, (reportedly at Perryville). Indeed, According to Theodore Allsbury, chaplain of the Twenty-first, while the regiment was engaged in action on October 8, 1862, along the Dansville road in Lincoln County, Kentucky, Colonel Stevens “was wounded slightly in the leg by a spent ball while leading his regiment into action. He was, however, quite lame for some time.
He was sick on December 27 at Nashville, Tennessee through January of 1863, and according to John Dye, formerly Quartermaster of the Twenty-first Michigan, Stevens was sick with rheumatism “so bad that when the Regiment reached Nolansville, Tennessee in December 1862 . . . the col. was obliged to give up and return to Nashville, Tennessee.” Dye added that in his capacity as Quartermaster he frequently had to speak with Stevens every day and that while he “was in charge of a supply train running from Nashville to Murfreesboro” he frequently “called upon the col. at his rooms in Nashville and found him suffering from rheumatism.” Stevens resigned from his command on February 3, 1863 on account of disability.
There were some men in the Twenty-first infantry who shared Ezra Ransom’s belief that Stevens’ was less of soldier than was widely claimed. After the war rumors circulated in Michigan regarding General Stevens’ war record, and on August 8, 1866, the Lansing State Republican reprinted a story from the Eagle which said that although Stevens
figured largely for the command of a Brigade at Louisville, [he] was flanked by Colonel Dick Greusel, of the 56th Illinois Infantry, a man who new [sic] how to handle a Brigade in a fight as well as upon a parade ground. The said Colonel then shared with the Regiment the fatigues of long marches over Kentucky pike roads, riding leisurely along, either on horseback or in an ambulance, partaking of his regular rations of ‘commissary’ and soft bread and butter. He arrived safely at Nashville, Tennessee, and after laying there sometime [sic], was ordered to lead his Regiment (one of the best and bravest of the Western Army) into the fight of Stone['s] River. He struck out bodily, but on the first or second day's skirmish, he was suddenly taken sick with the diarrhea, etc., and thus forced, to relinquish his command in favor of Lieutenant Colonel Wm. B. McCreery (a brave and able soldier) and returned to Nashville.
He resigned soon after the Stone['s] River battle, visited the Regiment at Murfreesboro, delivered a parting address to the soldiers, which was received in silence, and promised to take their colors, tattered by shot and shell, and which he had never led except into camp back to Michigan, and deposit them among the archives of the State. He took leave of the Regiment without hearing one expression of regret from them at losing him. The Regiment next heard of him as a member of the Invalid Corps, having been appointed a brevet brigadier General for “gallant and meritorious conduct on the field.” As a reward for all of the above items of service, which are familiar to every member of the Twenty-first Michigan Infantry, and for his endorsement of “my policy,” he is named as Registrar of the Land Office at Ionia. As a general rule, General, it is such soldiers as you were that are now endorsing A. J. [Andrew Johnson] and receive for their reward full rations of “bread and butter.”
Following his resignation from the Twenty-first infantry, Stevens was transferred as Major to the Veterans’ Reserve Corps on July 20, 1863, and promoted to Colonel on September 25, 1863. On October 22, Colonel Stevens officially relieved Captain Guthridge as commandant of the Confederate prisoner-of-war camp at Camp Morton in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Eight days later, Stevens was informed by Colonel W. Hoffman, commissary-General of Prisoners, exactly what his responsibilities as prison commandant would be, warning him to pay particular attention to the prison fund, since “for the disbursement of this fund you will be held accountable, as no purchases can be made except by your order.” He was also instructed how and when to send his reports to Hoffman’s office.
In 1891 New York physician John Wyeth, a biographer of Nathan Bedford Forrest and a former member of Company I, Fourth Alabama who had been taken prisoner and confined at Camp Morton, wrote an article in the April issue of Century magazine, entitled “Cold Cheer at Camp Morton.” In the article he charged the camp authorities with a variety of offenses against humanity, such as perpetuating hunger among the inmates and he claimed that “from personal observation . . . many of my comrades died of starvation. Day after day it was easy to observe the progress of emaciation, until they became so weak that when attacked with an illness which a well-nourished man would easily have resisted and rapidly recovered from they succumbed.” He also claimed that men were summarily shot and that arbitrary cruelty was frequent.
In the September issue of Century magazine, the Grand Army of the Republic Department of Indiana published a reply to Wyeth’s charges, and among the men signing the article was former Union general Lew Wallace. This response was an attempt to put the confederate prison experience in perspective, and sought to justify some of the actions taken by prison authorities while refuting others. In the same issue, Wyeth rejoined with testimony of other former inmates.
Indignant at what he believed to be a scurrilous attack on his honor and humanity, General Ambrose A. Stevens gave a lengthy interview to a reporter from the Grand Rapids Democrat, which was printed on April 19, 1891, along with a discussion of the charges made against Stevens. The Democrat quoted Wyeth as saying “that the southern side of prison life has not yet fully been written and that he has waited 25 years before publishing his unhappy tale. Almost all the atrocities that were practiced upon Union prisoners in Libby and Andersonville were enacted with more cruelty in Camp Morton than were ever experienced in Confederate prisons. Starvation was his great cry, and according to his statement thousands of his fellow men died from lack of food. he says that not enough rations were given out during the day to constitute one meal and from that cause alone most of the deaths occurred. Cruelties of all kinds and inhuman treatment embraces the rest of his charges, and all of them General Stevens denies. The northern spirit has been aroused by this fierce attack and from all sides come denials and refutations that any cruelty was practiced in Camp Morton.”
The newspaper then went on to make the case for General Stevens. “No man has received greater praise for the humane treatment of prisoners than has General Stevens. The Indianapolis papers in 1863 to 1865, when he was in command, kept a close watch on Camp Morton, but in all their chroniclings they never had occasion to find a word of fault. In fact, if there were any fault found it was because he treated the prisoners too well. Malicious persons who would not be satisfied anywhere, now and then would turn up with sensational charges against the prison and claim all manner of atrocities, but no attention was paid them by intelligent persons, who knew they were false.” In the lengthy interview given the Democrat Stevens not only defended his actions but pointed out again and again that contrary to Wyeth’s assertions, “there was no starvation in the prison and the stories of cruelty were exaggerated.”
“I don’t want to enter into any controversy,” said Stevens, “as it is not worth the while. Any Confederate pensioner who was there knows the charges are not true, and those which have some foundation are exaggerated and fixed up to suit the purpose. It is very evident that Dr. Wyeth was put up to writing the article by some one else, for a particular reason. he makes a little apology about waiting 25 years so that the war feeling can blow over, and it was very considerate of him. He ought to have waited another 25 years before telling such a story as that. I don't like to get mixed up in this matter as it will undoubtedly make a lot of talk. You get some of those southern fellows warmed up and there is no knowing where it will end. I dislike to say that any of them will tell falsehoods but they used to at Camp Morton. They would come up to me and tell the most outrageous lies you ever heard of, and after they got out they cut their feelings loose and occasionally a tale of woe would reach our ears.
“If I make any denial I want to do so in a gentlemanly way, not to be too rabid or too positive. If any statements are made now which would be correct according to the best of my recollection, and some man would come up who would try and catch me up, a great deal of talk would follow and I don't want to get into it.
“In general I can say that there never was an attempt made by any of our officers to do anything inhuman or to treat them in any way except as [prisoner-of-wars] should be treated, and just as our orders from Washington said they should be treated. They always had enough to eat served them, they had blankets enough except in one unusually cold spell when I didn’t have enough myself to keep warm; their barracks were as clean as they made them themselves, and if they suffered it was their own fault.
“This criticism by Wyeth is a surprise to me, as I never had any difficulty with the poor fellows. I cannot recollect any particular trouble with them except the usual grounds from the toughs who were always trying to make a disturbance. Of course, in 2 or 3 years things would come up, the men would refuse to obey orders and discipline had to be used. We didn't treat them as guest by a good deal and there is no doubt in my mind that a good many deserved worse than they got. Our prisoners were treated so badly in southern prisons that the government gave orders to have the supplies at Camp Morton cut down -- a matter of retaliation, I presume. That left things rather short, but what there was on hand was fairly distributed. No 15 course dinner was served to them and they didn't get gout from pie or cake. Some of the prisoners were nice fellows, rich planters who had to give up their homes and plantations and families and live in the old barracks at Camp Morton. It wasn't a very pleasant life, and of course they `kicked'. The daily rations were enough to keep them alive and a great deal more. Every morning each man got a loaf of bread, and they shouldn't object to that. Pork or bacon, and sometimes almost a pound of fresh beef were given out every day, and they could do what they wanted to with it, as Mr. Wyeth says. To every 100 men there were 12 and a half pounds of beans or peas, 8 pounds of hominy, 15 pounds of potatoes, besides vinegar, salt and soap. The sick had sugar and coffee every other day and all the medicine they wanted. If any of them didn't have enough to satisfy their hunger they could easily have obtained it, if the officers said they really were in want. There was a time when potatoes were out, as the governor thought we were feeding them too high; I think it was some time in ‘64. I presume Wyeth's account of the rations were correct but then I don't see how he could say that men were starved to death. We never had any complaint of the people being starved to death unless they did it of their own free will. There was no reason for it as nobody wanted them to starve. We had the rations there and they were given out as fairly as was possible, but as I said before, they were not all elaborate.
“Wyeth tells about a man who used to eat out of the swill barrel. I remember something about him but he was a low lived fellow, a tramp I presume, who would have done it anyway. The boys laughed at him and cured him of it by dousing him in it one day. All sorts of refuge [sic] was thrown in those barrels and if anybody ate out of them it wasn't because he had to, as there was plenty to eat. There is no denying the fact that there was more or less misery in the camp. It couldn't be otherwise, considering how crowded we were and the class of men we had to deal with. Some weren't used to it and couldn't stand the society of those dirty, filthy wretches who were the scum of the earth.
“He speaks of one cold spell where 18 men were frozen to death. That is not so and I know it. I think five men were frozen once on a frightfully cold night but it was unusual. Indianapolis is warmer than it is up here, but for 48 hours the thermometer was way down and everybody suffered. I remember how worried I was about them as I had not enough means to keep them warm. Fires were kept going but the barracks were alight affairs and five stoves couldn't do the work. One night without any authority I made a requisition on the quartermaster for 4,500 blankets. I was liable to be hauled over the coals for doing it, but something had to be done. 18 men were not frozen to death that is sure. Indianapolis never had such weather before or since and we were not prepared for it. I was so worried about the condition of the prisoners that I couldn't sleep and almost froze myself. They suffered no more than the rest of us after the new order of blankets was given out. We did everything we could for them, but many undoubtedly suffered. The stoves were kept red hot and the guards were changed every half hour to keep them from freezing.
“About the rat-eating. I never heard but one instance of it, and we had that stopped. Of course, Wyeth knew more what they did inside the barracks than I did, as he was there, but to say they had to eat rats is all nonsense. This fellow who ate rats was the ridicule of the boys, and they laughed about it, and said he did it for effect. They told me it was an old habit, and he probably did it because he was used to it. Eating dog stew is another Wyeth told about, and is like the rest of his stories. It might have been done, but there was no reason for it, unless the men were depraved.
“I knew Wyeth by name, and remember him only indistinctly. He seems to be hurt by our system of handling the mails. We had lots of letters come in and go out every day, but it was a rule that every one had to be read. If we didn't do so, plans for escape might have been made, and then we would be blamed. I never heard of anything wrong being done in the post office. My Adjutant read the letters himself as one man had to do it, to have the responsibility fixed. It is easy for people to say anything they want to about it, but their stories are not worth while denying. prisoners were not allowed to send anything out and they knew it well. If articles in letters were confiscated it was an army regulation and had to be done. Wyeth speaks about a ring of his being taken. He could easily have got it back by speaking to me about it, but I never heard of it. Most of the prisoners could have had the post office clerk they wanted to wait on them and most of them were very obliging. The letter affair was unimportant as it was done on a plan that was absolutely necessary.
“I went to Camp Morton about Nov. 1, 1863, from St. Louis, where I was stationed, and took command immediately. Things were not in first class order, I must admit. It had been warm and there had been little suffering so far. The accommodations for the prisoners consisted of large tents, and a few small buildings, but not many, so we went to work and built three or four structures for hospitals. They were large enough, on an average, to accommodate 250 sick men. The hospitals were run on the best possible plan and they had the reputation of being the cleanest and best in the country. I went through them every day myself, and gave the sick my personal attention. We had some terrific cases, too; small pox broke out, being brought in by some of the prisoners. The patients were all taken off to the pest-house, and a great many cases were cured. We didn't lose very many lives from that disease, and the pest did not spread. There was an ambulance for that class of patients, in which they were taken to the pest-house and had the best of case. The hospital was nice and was as good as I ever saw in the army, except at Washington. It was kept perfectly clean, well aired and heated and under the care of the finest surgeon in the regular army -- Dr. Chas. J. Kipp. Other regular surgeons would come occasionally and inspect it, so that the government could know just how things were going. The sanitary conditions was as good as possible, nice cots, warm blankets, clean sheets, pillows and mattresses and a fine dispensary. The prisoners fixed it up themselves in marble until it was very comfortable. We had the finest hospital supplies possible, as Dr. Kipp could get anything he asked for. There was no hesitation in giving them medicine, as far as the rules of the government would permit.
“Yes, there were some holes in the barracks, but they had been made by the prisoners themselves. The battens were torn off in places, but when we could fix it and do anything for the prisoners we were always ready to do it. Each barracks had four stoves, which were enough to heat the buildings. They were such buildings as are on any fair grounds, like our Pomological Hall, one story affairs. Wood in plenty was supplied for the stoves and everything was done to keep it warm. Except in those extremely cold spells it was comfortable, too.
“We had the greatest difficulty in making the prisoners keep themselves clean. They appointed squads and had the privilege of taking care of the health of those inside. The squads did more work than the Union soldiers inside the barracks as they were in a position to do it better. I didn't dare send a Union soldier in among the prisoners unless he had a musket in his hand, as the men were apt to kill him. But they had to be driven every day to keep themselves clean. They seemed to have lost their ambition and all sense of decency and cleanliness, but now and then the squads would be taken down to the ‘Potomac’, that was the name of the little creek that went through the place -- and made to wash themselves. Soap was given to them in large quantities -- but even then some of them wouldn't wash, and they got to wasting the soap. The men would take off their clothing and scrub themselves as best they could. In the winter time they could warm the water over a bonfire and use that. In spite of all these sanitary precautions the men were dirty and some even filthy. Vermin was everywhere and it was not confined to the prisoner's barracks, either. It was impossible to keep it out and the camp swarmed with it.
“The bunks were not particularly comfortable. Each one had a heavy army blanket but the rest of it was composed mostly of boards. I don't remember whether they had any straw or not. It was a rule that the bunks should be swept and cleaned out every morning and the best of the prisoners did so. Others were careless and had to be made to do it.
“There was no disposition on the part of the officers to misuse the prisoners. What they did was in the way of discipline, and it had to be enforced as it was anywhere in the army. If any of them suffered, it was either their own fault or the fault of their fellow prisoners. There were a great many cases where the stronger ones would rush at the weaker ones and grab away the food, unless the Union guards interfered. A bad faction was in camp, made up of some of the most hardened toughs I ever saw. I guess they numbered 4,000, while there was on average 7,000 to 8,000 in camp. As many as 35,000 prisoners passed through our hands while I was there. The officers as a rule were sent to Sandusky, Ohio, to the officers' prison so that left us a pretty bad lot. Take any crowd of men picked up from all over the south, or, in fact, from anywhere, and you are likely to get a great many that don't belong to the best society. All sorts of men were there, and the society was bad. It made a small town by itself, and they acted as any body of men would under those conditions. The lower classes made it uncomfortable for those who had known better times, and they had to be disciplined.
“Some men died in prison -- there's no question about that but it wasn't from starvation. They were emaciated from a long stay in prison that was necessarily in a filthy condition; but some were just as well as the people on our streets. So much so that if they ever got over the fence it was hard work to catch them. They seemed strong and healthy and could run like -- well they were good sprinters. It doesn't look much like starvation to have a man run, jump over a fence and get away, does it? I never heard of them wetting their blankets as Mr. Wyeth tells about, but it might have been done. That was their own business. As I have said before, they didn't have any pie and cake given to them, and if the confederates had treated our men a little differently they might have fared better, but they did just what the government ordered. I never saw any better discipline than at Burnside Barracks. Orders were carefully promulgated to the prisoners and they what to expect and if they disobeyed it was their own fault. I don't know of a single instance where there was any unnecessary meanness on the part of our own command.
“It is only right that I should deny Mr. Wyeth's statements, as in the main they are wrong. As an example of how the people who were in prison now feel towards me, I can say, with all die modesty, that every place I go down there, men who were in prison and fathers who had sons in captivity have thanked me for their treatment while at Camp Morton. I never was thanked for anything more in my life. If I had known of a man starving I would have given him my personal attention and I would have tried to have stopped the stealing of ration[s] from their companions by men who had lost all sense of honor.
“Camp Morton was supposed to have been one of the best conducted prisons in the United States, and it was under the supervision of Governor Morton, one of the best men that ever lived, and he would not have allowed such things [to] take place as Dr. Wyeth claims. You may be sure they got enough to eat, and if they didn't I was not aware of it.
“There was a time when some of the prisoners escaped, it happened in this way. Word came from Camp Douglass up in Chicago that there was an insurrection, so I had to send up some of my troops and the guard was weakened. Some traitors told the prisoners about it and they got ready to make a break. New men were put on who didn't know how to act. They were all armed with muskets and revolvers. The prisoners united one dark night, supplied themselves with stones, bottles and clubs and made a rush together for the fence. Some got away, and a number were killed. The ‘poor, starved and emaciated’ wretches ran like deers [sic] and got over to Canada. You have no idea of the tunneling that went on. We found over 300 tunnels while I was there and caught the men. They were very clever about digging as they were closely watched. John Morgan's brother started one and got it nicely going. I knew about it, and after I thought they had time to make a good-sized one I sent an Adjutant around to look into matters. He took a long sword, punched it in the ground and had no difficulty in finding the hole. Then he went to the Morgan tent and pointing to the bed, asked them what they had there. ‘That's where we slept, said one. ‘Let me see’, said the Adjutant, and he pulled away the blankets and boards and found a tunnel 30 feet long.
“If the prisoners had such an antipathy for me, as it is claimed, why didn't they kill me? I am sure they had plenty of chances. I always went in among them, but they never made an attempt to injure me, nor did I have any trouble with them. In my rounds once in a great while I found some prisoners being punished by being tied up, but I promptly cut them down and reprimanded the officer who did it. They probably had been doing something against orders, or they would talk back to the officers in a way they never did to me. Some men were so stubborn that they would keep on doing things they shouldn't and they had to be disciplined. One German officer in particular they used to hate. He was very strict and used to make them stand around and obey and if they didn't he would punish them. I always counseled moderation as I didn't want anything low or underhanded practiced. The prisoners were treated just as well as possible under the circumstance and a great many things were done for them that weren't done for our soldiers in southern prisons. Dr. Wyeth claims that we had more means to do it with and perhaps he is right. Some of my officers had been wounded in battle by the rebels and so they didn't feel as genial towards the prisoners as might be. Take a man with 3 or 4 bullets in him and he is not always in good spirits.
“I recollect the man Baker he speaks about; he was a sort of sergeant, but I never heard of his shooting a man. I would have heard of it, too, so I am not inclined to believe that he did. Baker had to be pretty severe with them at times. There are isolated cases of what might be looked upon as cruelty, but I don't see how they could have happened, as Dr. Wyeth claims, without an investigation.
“We used to try and separate the prisoners as far as possible into nationalities. For instance, we had a lot of French planters who were really nice fellows. They wouldn't do anything wrong and acted nicely so that when they got out of prison they could go back to their plantations in good health. Then there were some aristocrats who trained together, then the toughs had their quarters, as we didn't want to throw the nice fellows with the tramps. I don't think that anybody ever had to sleep out of doors without covering. Some times big batches would arrive late at night when we were crowded and they might have to spend one night out of doors, well wrapped up, but it was not often.”
To underscore his humanity as camp commandant, Stevens produced a clipping dated sometime in 1864, from the Indianapolis Gazette which reported a story concerning the camp.
It speaks of a trip of inspection, made by Lieutenant Colonel James A. Ekin, chief quartermaster of the Cavalry Bureau at Washington, D.C., on which he was accompanied by one of the Gazette's staff. The Gazette says:
“We were conducted by Captain Shurtleff, the quartermaster of the camp, to the prison in which are confined the turbulent and vicious of our men, who, forgetting they are soldiers, have disgraced themselves by crime or misdemeanor, and thus incurred the penalty of court martial. Entering the camp of the prisoners we found many improvements of a sanitary nature had been introduced since our last visit by the efficient and laborious Colonel Stevens.
“The hospitals are models of the kind -- large, roomy, airy, comfortable and well supplied with all the necessaries and delicacies the sick can desire, and the very best medical care and attention -- warm and comfortable clothing on the beds, while hospital pants and dressing gowns are in store, supplied by a munificent government to those who have raised the red hand of rebellion to strike down the best and kindest government on God's green earth. And this, too, when thousands of our best and bravest ones are dying by the scores from starvation and abuse in Libby and on Belle Isle. In our hatred of rebellion and punishment of rebels we have not forgotten our humanity, and that these, our enemies, are men. We know that scarce one in a hundred of the miserable wretches who are fed and ministered to by our country ever had half the care and comforts in their own homes in the sunny south that are given them by those whom they have tried to murder and rob. More -- the whole southern Con-Cottonocracy had not a single hospital for its own sick and wounded ones that is at all the equal of this at Camp Morton. If Colonel Stevens had done nothing more to evince his capacity for the post he so perfectly fills, than the care and attention he bestows on the sick, it would be enough to entitle him to the meed of praise he so eminently deserves.
“In all the different hospitals and hospital tents not a single speck of dirt was to be seen seen, or the least thing that would have shocked the most delicate sense that ever grew beneath the magnolias of the South. Outside the hospitals the same scrupulous care and neatness everywhere abounded. There was a place for everything and everything was in its place.
“The entire camp, inside and out, has been whitewashed, thus guarding against disease while adding to its appearance. Returning to Camp Burnside we found it had grown to a village of 2,000 souls. Comfort and taste saluted one on every hand, while improvements, yet unfinished, showed that the commandant had not yet rested from his labors. Upon our entering each barrack the men inside came promptly to ‘attention’ and so remained until we had all passed out, and this, too, not with a sullen doggedness at having been disturbed, but with a cheerfulness and pride that show the true soldier.”
Another newspaper clipping in speaking about the promotion of Colonel Stevens to Brevet Brigadier General says: “No man has better deserved this promotion, we believe, than Colonel A. A. Stevens of the 5th Regiment V.R.C., who has been appointed and confirmed Brevet Brigadier General. His records on the field was such as nay one might be proud of, and since his appointment to the charge of rebel prisons here, he has had one of the most arduous positions in the service. It certainly required as much, if not more, labor of him than that of a commander of a division in the field. He has been quite successful in keeping his prisoners from breaking out, without neglecting their sanitary condition. We know that he has labored incessantly and so far as we can see, most judiciously. Camp Burnside, where his Regiment is encamped, is a model camp, and is always neat and in order, and Camp Morton is under strict regulations by which the prisoners are kept in separate communities and not allowed to mix together promiscuously.
“One act of the general's deserves special mention. In accordance with an agreement between the government and Jeff Davis, by which commissioners of each were allowed to take supplies to their prisoners, a deputation of southerners came here to distribute clothing among the needy in Camp Morton. Finding that many of the boys were not anxious for an exchange, they proposed to supply only those who were going to be exchanged. The Colonel promptly interfered and stated that the confederacy owed them all new clothes, that all who needed them should have them or else none should -- and they all got their trousers, those who remained behind to be mustered out as well as those who have been sent off for exchange.”
Another paper says: “Colonel A. A. Stevens, of the 5th Veteran Reserve Corps, has been promoted to brevet brigadier general, United States Volunteers, and the promotion has been confirmed by the senate. General Stevens is an accomplished officer, a brave and gallant soldier, a genial gentleman, and is in every way worthy of the distinction which has been conferred upon him. He has been in command of Camp Morton for the past 18 months, and all who are acquainted with his administration of that responsible and embarrassing position will bear testimony to the strict discipline and the urbanity which has characterized the discharge of his duties. There are no better disciplined soldiers than the Regiments of the [Veterans' Reserve Corps] which have been stationed at this post, and most faithfully and courteously have they discharged the often unpleasant duties confided to them. The promotion of General Stevens is appreciated by his command as a high compliment, and when the facts were ascertained on Saturday, the officers and privates of his Regiment manifested their regard for their commanding officer by a most enthusiastic and hearty demonstration.”
On October 22, 1863, the day Colonel Stevens relieved Captain Guthridge as post commandant, Dr. A. M. Clark, acting medical inspector of prisoners of war, reported to Colonel W. Hoffman, commissary-General of Prisoners, that Camp Morton was
a disgrace to the name of military prison. It is filthy in every respect. The vicinity of the sinks is obvious for many yards around, they being perfectly open; no attempt made to disinfect them. They are, moreover, insufficient in number. The seven rebel officers confined here are crowded into a small room about ten by twelve and eight feet high.. In this they sleep, live, and cook. There are good natural facilities for drainage, but the drains are choked with rubbish, and the large central ditch is a grand receptacle for the refuse of the whole camp. The main hospital ward is in so dilapidated a condition that the patients are obliged to fasten their blankets along the wall for partial protection from wind and weather, and are thus deprived of the necessary covering. In fact, every patient whom I examined had more or less of pulmonary trouble accompanying his disease, whatever it might be. The hospital cookhouse was in filthy condition, and the food which had just been prepared for dinner at the time of my visit was most miserably cooked.
On November 9, Stevens sent in his first report to Colonel Hoffman. In it he echoed much of what was reported by Dr. Clark. “I found,” Ambrose wrote, “the barracks in a bad condition” and that “The buildings used for hospitals, not having been built for that purpose, were insufficient in extent and appointments for the purposes for which they were used.” Thus, he added, “New and commodious hospitals are at present being erected for the accommodation of the sick.” Furthermore, extensive repairs were also underway on the barracks and he added more men to guard duty and patrolling the camp. Indeed, by the time Dr. Clark made his inspection of the camp on January 26, 1864, he reported that “The present commandant of Camp Morton is rapidly improving the condition of the camp” although he also noted that “The barracks are much overcrowded and very much in need of repair.” Still, he concluded that “Both men and camps are a credit to the commanding officer and his subordinates.”
On January 16, 1864, one of the guards at Camp Morton shot and killed a confederate prisoner by the name of Goacin Arcemant (?). On January 27, Colonel Stevens informed colonel Hoffman
The report of the officer of the guard, Lieut. T. H. Tyndale, received through Captain Pingree, officer of the day, show that the occurrence took place at 1.30 a.m. on the 16th instant at post no. 20 on the guard line. The sentinel on duty at said post, being examined, states that he had been annoyed repeatedly during his tour of duty by prisoners leaving their barracks and approaching the fence, contrary to orders; that the deceased had quitted his quarters and was approaching the fence in the same manner, when, in compliance with instructions, he ordered him to halt and return to his quarters; that the prisoner, on received the order, stopped and made answer, but did not return to his quarters. The order being repeated, and the prisoner still refusing obedience, the guard states that he fired on him, and immediately called the number of his post, following strictly the instructions he had received. Post No. 21, contiguous, states that the order was given distinctly each time, and that the prisoner must have heard and understood it. As several attempts have been made by prisoners to escape at that point during the present month, it is probable that the deceased approached the fence with a similar intention. The deceased himself, at a short time before his death, stated that he left his quarters to go to the sinks. As there are no sinks in the quarter to which he was going he must have had other intentions.
Although Hoffman supported Steven’s initial report in his endorsement sent on February 3 to the Secretary of War, he nevertheless noted that “great care should be observed by the commanding officer that excesses are not committed under the plea of enforcing orders, and Colonel Stevens will be cautioned to this effect.” Indeed, the very same day he wrote to Colonel Stevens a lengthy telegram informing him that while the action of the guard seemed justified “the life of a prisoner must not be wantonly taken, and when there is a necessity for it, it must be clearly shown.” He then instructed that Sevens be more thorough in his investigation and reporting. “We must strive,” he concluded, “to avoid giving the rebels an opportunity to charge us with following their barbarous example in shooting down unoffending prisoners on trifling pretexts.” Stevens sent in his final report on the shooting incident on February 9.
On February 12, just three days after he sent in his final report on the shooting of Arcemant, Stevens was informed by Captain Robert Littler, officer of the day, that on the night of February 11, between 10:00 and midnight, “a rebel prisoner named James Barnhart was fired upon and killed by the guard while attempt to escape through a tunnel excavated by the prisoners, running from the east end of Barracks No. 5 (G) to the outer side of the fence. Two shots were fired by the guard, both of which took effect, causing almost instant death.” On February 15, Colonel Stevens in turn informed colonel Hoffman that, following his personal investigation,
Having become aware from information received that a conspiracy existed among the prisoners, having for its object their escape on the night of the 11th instant (which in all probability was originated by the confederate officers lately transferred to Camp Chase, Ohio), I gave special instructions to the lieutenant of the guard to make such disposition of the supernumeries on duty a would, with the regular guard, most effectively secure those points on the line where it was apprehended an attempt would be made. The guard on post 10, opposite the east end of Barracks G (see plat of Camp Morton), was strengthened, as several prisoners had escaped at that point on the preceding night, two of whom were recaptured. The deceased, when first discovered by the guard . . . had reached the outside of the fence and was issuing from the tunnel referred to , closely followed by other prisoners, when they were fired on by two of the guard, the shots taking effect as stated. At the same time an attempt was made at another point by prisoners to break over the fence, but they were promptly repulsed by the guard, several shots being fired at them, which in consequence of the extreme darkness of the night, did not take effect. The facts which I have gathered in the investigation prove that a general attempt to escape was to have been made by the prisoners on the night in question. On a rigid inspection of the barracks, made since the above occurrence, another tunnel, partially completed, was discovered leading from the north end of Barracks A, which, had the outbreak not been anticipated and proved against, would undoubtedly also have been used as a means of escape. I have the honor to state, additionally, that I am having a trench dug between the respective ends of Barracks G and F and the fence, and also that I have caused twenty feet to be taken off from each end of said barracks approaching the fence, which, I true, will present any further attempt at tunneling in that quarter.
On March 10, General E. R. S. Canby, assistant adjutant-general, wrote for the Secretary of War, to Colonel Hoffman that “The shooting [of February 11] was justifiable; but in all cases an investigation should be made by a board of officers.”
By the summer of 1864 Colonel Stevens was still struggling in his effort to rehabilitate and revitalize the prison.
By late summer, Hoffman was still finding fault with Stevens’ handling of Camp Morton. On August 12, Colonel Hoffman wrote to Stevens informing him that he had just received a report from Dr. C. J. Kipp, surgeon in charge of the hospital at Camp Morton.
It appears [Hoffman wrote] that a variety of diseases are prevailing there of a more or less malignant character, owing to the crowded condition of the camp, which caused an unusually large fatality during the week ending July 24. Much of this is attributed to the want of antiscorbutics, none of which have been issued since last fall. As the regulations provide for obtaining these articles by purchase with the hospital and prison fund, there seems to be no sufficient reason why a supply has not been procured to prevent diseases which are induced by their absence. All proper means should be used to guard against unusual sickness by attention to diet or good state of police, and by not overcrowding the camp. If there is unoccupied ground in the camp, pitch additional tents to relieve the barracks and tents now occupied. It is possible to enlarge the camp by removing the fence on either side; and what would it cost, including the rent of ground? Call on the surgeon for a report as to the most practicable mode of remedying the evils which he reports, and forward it to this office.
Four days later Hoffman telegraphed Stevens informing him that his office had just received the report of a Dr. Alexander who was inspecting prisons and “his inspection of Camp Morton shows the camp to be in a much less satisfactory condition than I have been led to suspect. You will immediately take measures to make the improvements suggested by Surgeon Alexander.” Hoffman closed by saying “I wish you to give this matter your immediate and personal attention and report not only on the result, but the steps taken to arrive at it.”
On August 21 Colonel Stevens forwarded to Hoffman’s office the report of Dr. Kipp, written on August 16, outlining his recommendations for upgrading the prison hospital. Stevens wrote again on August 28, attaching the report of Lieutenant J. W. Davidson, inspector of the camp, and noted that “The work of enlarging the camp is progressing rapidly and will, I trust, prove of great benefit as a sanitary measure.” Davidson noted throughout his report that quarters, medical treatment and food were “in as good as can be” under the circumstances. On September 4, Lieutenant Davidson again reported on reconstruction progress in the camp and noted that “the sanitary condition of the camp is being improved,” that “the kitchens and barracks were kept clean” and that “the rations issued . . . have been in compliance with the circular issued by the Commissary General.” He also noted that antiscorbutics, “such as potatoes and onions, have been issued three times during the week.” The camp continued to improve through September and October, at least according to Davidson who was inspecting the camp regularly for Stevens.
Still, Hoffman remained unhappy with Stevens’ weekly reports which, is his estimation, “do not cover the case.” Hoffman wrote on October 3 that “Many improvements are spoken of as necessary, but nothing is said of any steps taken to meet these necessities. If you can make improvements without reference to this office, why is it not done? Or, if it is requisite to submit plans and estimates, let it be done without delay.” Among other things Hoffman noted that although he instructed Stevens on September 14 to extend the hospital, “your report makes no allusion to the work.”
Stevens replied four days later. He noted that, among other things, two new wards were recently completed for extending the hospital, although by December Dr. Kipp would be demanding two additional wards be constructed to house the contagious and infectious patients. Stevens also added in his report of October 7 several recommendations for enlarging and repairing the camp facilities. He closed by defending his previous reports. “I trust,” he wrote, “that, although my reports have not been sufficient in their detail, nothing has been neglected in the camp, either in its police or discipline, and that your inspector may have the satisfaction of noting a very great improvement since his last visit.” Davidson’s reports continued to reflect growing improvement, enhanced living conditions in the camp and very few attempts to escape through the remainder of the year. According to Davidson’s reports, the prison conditions continued to improve in early 1865.
When Stevens took command of Camp Morton there were 2, 362 prisoners in camp; by December 7 that number had increased to 2,881 and to 3,207 by January 26, 1864. As of July 16, 1864 Camp Morton held 4,965 prisoners and Colonel Stevens reported he could take another 500 more.
On July 13, 1865 Lieutenant Colonel O. E. Babcock submitted his report on the remaining prison camps held by the Federal troops. At Camp Morton he found eight prisoners still in custody. “The prison grounds, barracks, and particularly the hospital show great care on the part of the commanding officer, Brevet brigadier-General Stevens, Veteran Reserve Corps. The prison fund amounts to $100,000.” (The fund had less than a thousand dollars when Stevens took command in the fall of 1863.)
Whatever the truth of Wyeth’s charges and of Stevens’ defense, one can conclude that the attitude among many northern officials was perhaps best summed up by General Hoffman, responsible for all the Union prisons, who had little inclination toward coddling the prisoners. In his study of Civil War prisons, William Hesseltine quoted the following exchange between a citizen of Indianapolis and Hoffman: “’I am a loyal man and love my country and her free institutions and cannot consent to see such favors [as visitors allowed to talk with prisoners] extended to rebels as are constantly done at Camp Morton and remain silent. . . .’”
History’s final word perhaps lies in the words inscribed on the bronze bust of Colonel Richard Owen, “commander of Camp Morton during the Civil War,” according to one guide to Indiana history, and which “occupies a niche in the rotunda” of the State Capitol. “Former Confederate prisoners commemorated Owen for his courtesy and kindness by commissioning the bust sculpted by Miss Belle Kinney.” No mention is made of Colonel Ambrose A. Stevens of Michigan.
Ambrose was promoted to brevet Brigadier General of United States Volunteers on March 7, 1865. Ambrose was discharged on September 30, 1865.
Stevens returned to his home in Saranac, and by 1870 he was working as a produce dealer (he owned $15500 worth of real estate but only $500 in personal property) and living with his wife in Saranac. Sometime around 1872 he moved to Grand Rapids where he resided until he died in 1915.
In April of 1872 Stevens visited Texas, reported the Houston Daily Herald, “for the benefit of his health, and on a tour of investigation. He informs us that he has long had a desire to visit our state, having formed a high opinion of its climate and resources. We commend the General to the kind attention of our friends wherever he may go in the State.”
By late in the year he had returned to Grand Rapids where, according to the Democrat of October 1, he became associated with the publishing of the Democrat. He had recently “purchased an interest in the establishment, who will hereafter assume joint control in the management and conduct of the paper and business of the concern. With this accession of capital, we hope to render this paper still better and more acceptable to our 2,500 readers, and as a Newspaper second to none in Michigan. This arrangement necessitates a settlement of all accounts on the books of M H. Clark & Co. The name of the firm will be hereafter known as Clark, Stevens & Co.”
By 1880 Ambrose was still publishing the Grand Rapids Democrat newspaper and living with his wife and son on Clinton Street in Grand Rapids’ Fourth Ward.
In 1881 he sold his interest in that paper to his partner, Colonel I. E. Messmore for $6,000. “Gen. Stevens will carry with him,” wrote the Democrat on May 30, “where ever he goes, the best wishes of a host of warm friends who admire him for his fine qualities of head and heart, and his always genial and gentlemanly bearing.”
Stevens then turned his financial attention to the engraving and printing business, Stevens, Cornell & Dean. The Eagle reported on June 15, 1881, that Stevens had just “purchased an interest in the extensive engraving and printing establishment of Cornell & Dean, the style of the new firm being Stevens, Cornell & Dean. The reputation of this house for fine work is second to none in the State. as the large business already built up amply testifies. the facilities for turning out work, however, will soon be largely increased, and a complete poster office added, show printing of all kinds being one of their specialties. With Gen. Stevens at the head, success will be sure to follow.” And on August 18 the Eagle observed that
The firm of Stevens, Cornell & Dean, Engravers and general job printers, 51 and 53 Lyon Street, are coming to the front with rapid strides. Their steadily increasing business calls for almost constant enlargement of their facilities. They have recently added to their establishment a complete and first class poster and show printing department, and can execute on short notice, any size or style of plain, engraved, or colored poster called for.
They have the largest and most complete Engraving establishment in the State, and are turning out work equal to that done in Chicago or New York, and at lower prices. They make a specialty of illustrating Furniture and other catalogues, and furnish estimates promptly. An inspection of their samples of work will convince the most skeptical that there is no further need of sending outside Grand Rapids or the State for first-class Engraving.
They also make a specialty of cigar label, and every variety of colored work, either plain or engraved. Estimates and samples promptly furnished.
Special attention is given to Bank and Commercial Printing. They are constantly adding to the latest styles of type to their office, and aim to keep fully up to the times in all that pertains to fine printing.
Stevens was actively involved with the Society of the Army of the Cumberland, and maintained an interest in the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association. At the conclusion of the banquet held during the association’s annual reunion on Friday evening, December 13, 1878, Stevens, serving as president of the association for the year, stood and told his old comrades
“After a year's separation we are again assembled together, to participate and enjoy the sociabilities of the regular annual reunion of the Old Third. At our last meeting you were pleased to elect me to the office of President of our Association -- an office which I am proud to fill, and an honor, for which I shall always feel grateful. The duties of the position, it is true, are not of the most arduous kind. The principal duty, and I assure you it is a very pleasant one, consists in presiding over this reunion, and at this banquet. In behalf of the citizens of Grand Rapids I bid you a cordial welcome. Your heroic deeds while serving in the cause of liberty and patriotism, are not forgotten, although many years have passed since they were first recorded. A generation has grown nearly to manhood and womanhood, since we, already of mature years, marched beneath the folds of that glorious old flag, that precious heirloom of the gallant survivors of the noble Regiment who bore it to the front -- and if I then may be permitted to add their descendants -- the battered remnant of which you see here this night before you. It is not my purpose to make any extended remarks on this occasion, as there are others present who can perform that duty more ably than myself -- although to one who daily witnessed the efforts of these gallant veterans, the uncomplaining patience and untiring energy and heroism, these recollections are impressed with an ineffaceable stamp. In the weary watches of the night they did their work on the picket line faithfully and well. On the tiresome march, on roads soft with mud, they patiently marched for days and weeks, and at their evening bivouac they were content with the scanty meal which their haversacks afforded, and among all the perplexing trials of a soldier's life were not forgetful of their duty to their country. History, however, cannot fail to do justice to the self-sacrificing devotion and noble deeds of valor of the citizen soldiery of the Union, and we may be sure that the heroic deeds of those who fell on the battle field, as well as the more fortunate ones who at the close of the war returned to civil life, will receive due justice in the future. I thank you for your kind attention, and again bid you hearty welcome.”
Ambrose served as United States Land Commissioner in Grand Rapids, and Inspector of the Board of Health in the city of Grand Rapids in 1891 where he was living in 1888. By 1890 he was residing in East Grand Rapids, in 1891 he was living at 77 Clinton Street in 1891 (in East Grand Rapids), and in East Grand Rapids in 1894, at 13 Clinton Street in 1895 and at 229 Woodmore (or Woodmere) court, Grand Rapids in 1907 and 1909.
He was a member of Grand Army of the Republic Custer post no. 5 in Grand Rapids, a Freemason, a staunch Democrat, and a member of the Mexican War Veterans’ association of the State of Michigan. In 1893 (?) he applied for and received pension no. 898,524, drawing $50.00 per month in 1914.
Ambrose died a widower of “senility,” on May 23, 1915, at his son’s home, 353 Woodmere in Grand Rapids and was buried in Saranac cemetery: no. 108.