Information Compiled by
Member of General Roswell Ripley Camp - SCV
Confederate Descendants: You've got mail.
by Joe Blundo, Columbus Dispatch, May 29,2005
"Talk about snail mail: On April 20th 1862, a Confederate prisoner of
war at Camp Chase in Columbus wrote a letter to Lt. Merrill E. Pratt in
It still hasn't been delivered. But Pratt's great-great-grandson and
namesake knows where the letter is, and he wants it.
""It belongs to the family of whoever it was addressed to,"" said
Merrill E. Pratt, a computer programmer who lives in Birmingham.
The letter (and about 100 others from Camp Chase) has been the property
of the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond since 1948. The letters
arrived after passing through the hands of an Ohio spy, a state
librarian and a newspaper editor.
""Wow, what a story,"" said Dennis Ranney, a Georgia free-lance
researcher, formerly of New Albany, who has traced the letters'
The story begins at Camp Chase, a prison for captured Confederate
soldiers. The prison is long gone, but its cemetery, holding the graves
of more than two thousand Confederates, remains on Sullivant Avenue.
(Ranney, who also uses the name Dennis Brooke, provided information for
a Nov. 11 column on grave-robbing at the cemetery.)
Among the Camp Chase prisoners in 1862 was Captain J.F. Whitfield of
Alabama. He was captured when Union forces took Island 10 , a rebel
stronghold in the Mississippi River.
""Our boys stood up to the enemy like men and brave soldiers...I was
very proud of them indeed."" Whitfield wrote to Lt. Pratt, who had been
sent home to Alabama on a recruiting trip, then fell ill.
Whitfield's letter, and those of dozens of other POW's, was supposed to
be taken to the South by Charlotte Moon Clark, an Ohioan and a cunning
spy for the Confederacy.
But before the letters could be delivered, Clark, who lived in Oxford
and had brothers in the Confederate army, was arrested in Cincinnati on
suspicion of espionage. She was later deported to the South.
The letters never left Ohio. For whatever reason, they ended up at the
Statehouse, where they lay until 1904, when the state librarian
mentioned them to William H. Knauss of Columbus, a Civil War veteran who
was writing ""The Story of Camp Chase""
Knauss used text from many of the letters in his book. (It lists Merrill
E. Pratt as ""Merrill C."" and Whitfield as ""Whitefield."")
The letters finally went south in 1948. The Virginia Historical Society
says they were donated to its museum by Phillip Porter, then editor of
the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. How the letters passed from the custody
of the state library to Porter is unknown, Ranney said.
(In 1985, Porter, 84 and long retired, was murdered, along with his
wife, Dorothy, during a burglary at their home in Shaker Heights. The
crime was unrelated to the letters.)
Pratt's descendants learned of the letters only recently from Ranney.
The historical society says anyone is welcome to see the letters but
that it received them in good faith and plans to keep them.
Pratt thinks the society should make copies and return the originals.
His great-great-grandfather (who survived the war, as did Whitfield)
wrote and received many letters that his family has preserved.
""But you can always find room for one more.""