Wisconsin POW Camps

From April 20 to the end of May 1862, about 1,400 Confederate prisoners lived in Madison at Camp Randall. They had surrendered to the Union Army after the fall of Island #10, near Madrid, Missouri, on April 8.

Many of the prisoners sent to Wisconsin were from the 1st Alabama Infantry. They arrived in Wisconsin on the April 20 and 24. When the first train pulled in, men of the 19th Wisconsin Infantry escorted them to Camp Randall while crowds of civilians stood by trying to get a look at the new arrivals. Shortly after their arrival, serious problems developed at Camp Randall.

An inspection on May 1, revealed an inexperienced and poorly armed guard unit. Even worse, the camp hospital appeared unable to handle the sick Confederate patients. Due to the results of the inspection, the prisoners were transferred to Camp Douglas, Chicago, on the last day of May.

During the WWII era, one-third of Wisconsinites were of German decent. Many first- and second-generation families still spoke German at home at that time, which may have been part of the reason some of the German POWs wound up in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin housed 5,000 Germans, 3,500 Japanese and during the Korean War, 500 Koreans at Camp McCoy. Fort Sheridan created “branch camps” seasonally across Wisconsin where 13,000 POWs provided labor on farms and in canning factories as so many of the normal labor force was fighting the war overseas.