The complete story of the Camp Chase missing letters
During the third week of April of 1862 Mrs. Charlotte "Lottie" Moon Clark took a mail bag of letters from the prisoners at Camp Chase and promised to deliver them to Richmond, Virginia. From Richmond Confederate postage would have been applied and then mailed to the families to those intended. In some of the letters mailed her name was mentioned as the letter carrier. Mrs. Clark was the wife of Judge Clark of the Dayton area of Ohio and both were hardcore Confederate sympathizers. Mrs. Clark's trip to Camp Chase was a dual role as she also knew of the various Union regiments and the ones being mustered into service at Camp Chase. After leaving Camp Chase with the letters a warrant was issued for her arrest as a spy. As word reached her about her new dilemma she left the letters behind and reached the Confederate lines. Her name can be found in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Both herself and her sister played a vital role in spying for the Confederacy. A photograph of Mrs. Clark can be seen in the book "The Story of Camp Chase" by William H. Knauss.
The letters next showed up at the Ohio State House in 1904. Not all of the letters were those taken by Mrs. Clark however the bulk of them were. The letters were then given to the Ohio State Library. In 1906 some of the letters appeared in the Knauss' book. The following is what happened next.
The following is from the Ohio Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
"THE LETTERS THAT NEVER CAME" dated 1929 (From the Confederate Veteran Magazine Volume 37 page 206) "About twenty years ago , from the dim recesses of a dark closet in the State House at Columbus, Ohio, there was brought to light a dusty bag which contained a number of letters written by Confederate prisoners held at Camp Chase during the War between the States. No one will ever know why these pathetic missives never reached their destinations. There was no word that could offend the sternest censor, for all tried to make the best of their lot, to cheer the spirits of those at home, hoping that ""this dreadful war"" would soon be over, and they could come home again. Let us hope that many did reach home again, instead of being among those pitiful two thousand home-sick souls so easily falling prey to camp diseases and buried so far from those who loved them. In some of the letters is mentioned a Mrs. Smith" (Really Mrs. Clark) "who had been getting letters through the lines to Richmond. Something happened, we shall never know what, through some mischance. We shall never cease to be moved to tears over the ""love and kisses"" that one yearning father sent his little boy-never to be given.
The letters were turned over to the Ohio State Library and were carefully indexed. The State Librarian, C.B. Galbraith, called the attention of the late Col. W.H. Knauss to the letters. It was Colonel Knauss, a veteran of the Union army, whose influence brought it about that the United States government took over the perpetual care of the Camp Chase Cemetery. In his book on Camp Chase, he copied many of the letters, with some photostats.
So many years had elapsed even since they had been found, and the possibility of getting the letters to those who might rightfully lay claim to them had never occurred to anybody until the President of the Ohio Division, Mrs. Albert Sidney Porter, said, ""Why not?"" and straightway set to work upon the problem. We have been nearly two years at work upon it, valiant, intrepid little Mrs. Porter encouraging and abetting her committee, and, after many delays, of expediency, etc. We now have the letters in our hands!
Words fail to express the gratitude of the Ohio Division toward Captain John M. Maynard, Clerk of the House of Representatives of Ohio. It was he who told us the proper procedure, who obtained the enthusiastic endorsement of the three G.A.R. men serving in the legislature, a gracious and most helpful touch, and it was through him that ""Joint Resolution No. 10"" was presented through the proper channels and voted on at once, instead of being side-tracked in a committee! It was all most impressive, and so very exciting as the long rolls of names were called, first in the House then the Senate, and the ""ayes,"" one after another, kept coming in, and then, finally, we knew the letters were ours! Mrs. Porter has been tabulating a list of the letters to be published in the VETERAN and all Southern newspapers, so that it may reach as many as possible who might be interested. There are about one hundred and ninety letters, and if just one may reach the family of the loved one for whom it was intended, or, if the ""love and kisses"" may be delivered to the son or the grandson of that little boy who never received them, how we shall all fairly glow with happiness and how amply we shall feel rewarded! The letters of those whose families cannot be reached after a reasonable time, will be placed in the Confederate Museum at Richmond, Virginia."
In 1948 the son of Mrs. Albert Sidney Porter (Mr. Phillip Porter) would donate the letters to the Virginia Historical Society where they remain to his day. In 1985 Mr. Phillip Porter and his wife would be found murdered at their home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, his home looted and some Civil War artifacts taken. A man by the last name of Soke was convicted of the murder.
There are several legal issues that could come into play. One might be did the State of Ohio have the legal right to give United States mail to a private organization? It would appear that the Ohio lawmakers had the hope of getting the letters into the descendants hands. The Virginia Historical Society appears to have the position that the letters were given to them in good faith and have no plans for returning the letters to the rightful descendants, some of whom would like the original letters returned to their families.