Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Veiled Lady of Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery

Americans: Unveiled in 1902 I made a mistake; it wasn't Memorial Day weekend I was supposed to go to Columbus.  It was THIS weekend!  Aaron went to the Columbus Ohio Retro Gaming Society's convention on Saturday, and I tagged along so that afterwards, I could check out some of Columbus' most awesome used book stores, historic sites, and haunted places!

One of those locations I had hoped to check out was the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery. Unfortunately, we couldn't make the time to cram this stop into our already full itinerary, but I still wanted to share a little bit about what I learned about its history and haunts with you guys.

Camp Chase began its Civil War history in May of 1861 when it opened as a training ground and mustering-in location for Union recruits under the name of Camp Jackson.  However, as the War Between the States got underway, the need for a facility to house Confederate prisoners of war was eminent, and by July of 1861, in addition to its other duties, Camp Jackson (now being called Camp Chase after Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln's Secretary of War) was accepting captured Confederate officers.

Within two years, however, overcrowding became a HUGE issue at the camp, which in addition to housing around 8000 prisoners of war, was still being used as a recruitment camp and processing center for Union soldiers being mustered in and out.  1863 was overall a tough year for Camp Chase.  Despite taking up six acres and containing no less than 160 buildings, many of the prisoners, now of ALL ranks, were housed in tents.  Shortages of food and supplies exacerbated a smallpox outbreak and the camp lost 499 prisoners to disease in February alone.

That same year, a new facility was built on Johnson's Island to house the imprisoned Confederate officers, which helped alleviate some of the overcrowding, but it became apparent that enough soldiers were dying at a rate that justified establishing a cemetery on the property.  Prior to this, deceased soldiers were buried in the local cemetery.  Their bodies were moved back to the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery when it was established.

As the war came to a close, the majority of buildings on the Camp Chase property were torn down.  A few remained for several years, being used as housing for squatters, but by 1895 all that was left as a reminder along Sullivant Avenue was the remnants of the decrepit cemetery.  That year, a retired Union Colonel, William Knauss, took it upon himself to restore the cemetery and honor those who served their country, no matter what side they fought on.

Today, you can visit the estimated 2260 graves of Camp Chase, but if you do, keep an eye out for the Veiled Lady of Camp Chase.

It is said that an apparition of a woman wearing all gray (or sometimes black) with a veil covering her face has been seen walking among the gravestones.  Re-enactors at certain historical events have even heard the ethereal cries of a woman in deep mourning, and experienced unexplained cold breezes blowing through the cemetery.  Most tangible of the manifestations has been the fresh flowers found on graves, apparently with no earthly hands to put them there.

The grave that seems to attract the most attention and receives the most flowers is that of Private Benjamin F. Allen of the 50th Tennessee Infantry, Company D.  His grave is numbered 233 among the over 2000 marked burials.  Because of this attention paid to Pvt. Allen, many have speculated that the Veiled Woman of Camp Chase must have been his young bride or bride-to-be.

History points to a more likely candidate, however...

Louisiana Ransburgh Briggs

Louisiana Ransburgh Briggs was born in Missouri in 1849.  Her father was originally from the Columbus area of Ohio, but had moved down south and married a southern girl from Louisiana.  When the war broke out, and the family plantation raided, John Ransburgh sent his young daughter north to stay with relatives.  Louisiana stayed true to her southern heritage and remained a Confederate sympathizer, despite her surroundings.  But, love overruled even the strongest distaste for the North, when Louisiana met and fell in love with Joseph Briggs, a young, yet rich, Union veteran.  The two set up home on the Briggs property near Columbus.

Being the wife of a prominent Union veteran after the war had ended, Louisiana had to find a covert way of honoring her southern brothers' memory.  Therefore, she took to dressing in all black with a heavy veil concealing her identity, and walking the rows at the then neglected Camp Chase Cemetery late in the evenings.  Tossing fresh flowers upon the badly neglected and weed-ridden graves earned her the nickname, The Veiled Lady of Camp Chase.

Louisiana died in 1950, at the age of 100 and is buried in Green Lawn Cemetery.  She lived long enough to see Knauss' public campaign to restore the cemetery, and a general public acceptance of honoring the memory of ALL American soldiers.  Yet, does her spirit still roam Camp Chase, destined to bring attention to the cemetery in death as it was in life?

For more information:

Louisiana Briggs article by Leslie Blankenship, Columbus Historical Society
Find-a-Grave entry for Louisiana Briggs
Camp Chase Official Website
Forgotten Ohio's Camp Chase Page


  1. Hi. I love reading your blog. But my question is this. If Louisiana was born in 1849 and died in 1950, wouldn't that make her 100-101, not 98?

    1. You're right. She was born in December of 1849 and died in February 1950, so that would have made her a little over 100 years old. Thanks for finding that error; I'll correct it right away!