Camp Butler (Civil War training camp)

Camp Butler in action (this and the second period photo below are from Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes, 1911. However, captions on both photos say U.S. Grant did part of his Springfield service at Camp Butler. That's incorrect. Grant and his regiment marched out of Camp Yates on July 3, 1861, a month before Camp Butler opened.

Camp Butler in action (this and the second period photo below are from the Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes, 1911. However, captions on both photos say U.S. Grant did part of his Springfield service at Camp Butler. That’s incorrect. Grant and his regiment marched out of Camp Yates on July 3, 1861, a month before Camp Butler opened.) Photos and map provided by Chuck Stone

At the start of the Civil War in 1861, states scrambled to build training facilities for the influx of raw recruits.  Springfield’s first attempt at a location was Camp Yates, an area bordered today by Washington, Governor, Lincoln and Douglas Streets.

However, neighbors complained that soldiers from the camp destroyed their fences, stole chickens and fruit, and wandered the streets drunk. The camp also was too far from the railroad lines needed to move troops in and out of the city.

Contemporary map shows Camp Butler in relation to Jamestown (Riverton) (Sangamon Valley Collection)

Contemporary map shows Camp Butler in relation to Jamestown/Riverton (Sangamon Valley Collection)

Correction: Mark Flotow, who specializes in the history of Illinoisans’ experiences in the Civil War, has corrected folklore that claims renowned Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman gave Camp Butler its name. (As of August 2023, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website for Camp Butler was one of the places that reported the incorrect information.) See note at end of this entry.

SangamonLink, which published the erroneous information as part of its original Camp Butler entry in 2017, is leaving the following paragraphs crossed out but readable for a fuller understanding of the issue.  

According to a history on the website of today’s Camp Butler National Cemetery, General William Tecumseh Sherman came to Springfield to identify a new training site. Gov. Richard Yates (for whom Camp Yates had been named) delegated state Treasurer William Butler (1798-1876) to assist in the search.

Sherman and Butler located an area east of Springfield that suited the bill nicely. It had both high and open ground and clean water and was away from residential areas.  The ground was on the banks of and north of Clear Lake, south of Jamestown (now Riverton).

Sherman reportedly made the decision to name the site Camp Butler, in honor of the treasurer.

The first troops arrived at Camp Butler in early August 1861. By the end of the month, more than 5,000 troops were training there. Infantry, artillery and especially cavalry trained at Camp Butler. The site included barracks, training and parade grounds, stables and officer quarters.

When the troops’ training was completed, they marched into Jamestown, known more commonly as “Jimtown,” where they boarded trains at the Wabash Railroad depot to go to the war. Jimtown and Springfield also provided respites when the troops had any free time.

Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes, 1911

Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes, 1911

As the war progressed, 15 acres of Camp Butler were converted to a prisoner of war compound. The first 2,000 Confederate prisoners arrived there in February 1862, following the Union Army’s conquest of Fort Donelson, Tenn. Another 1,000 arrived after the capture of Island No. 10 (Missouri) in April. Prisoner exchanges emptied the camp by October, but an estimated 1,665 new Confederates were sent to Camp Butler in early 1863.

Many of the prisoners and even some Union soldiers died of disease and exposure. A historic marker at the cemetery today says:

Barracks were often full, forcing prisoners to live in tents. Illness reached epidemic proportions – pneumonia was a constant problem. When the last Confederate prisoners departed on May 19, 1863, more than 800 of their comrades had been buried in the prison cemetery, victims of inadequate facilities, poor sanitation, and disease.

Minie ball found at Camp Butler site by Chuck Stone

Minie ball found at Camp Butler site by Chuck Stone

The end of the Civil War in 1865 also brought an end to the sprawling camp. By 1866, most of the training camp had been demolished, and waithin a few years, nothing was left as a reminder of the important activities that transpired there.

Today’s Camp Butler National Cemetery is just northwest of the training camp grounds. It is the final resting place for many Union and Confederate soldiers, along with about 20,000 veterans and their spouses from other eras.

Contributor: Chuck Stone

William T. Sherman and Camp Butler

Illinois Civil War researcher Mark Flotow, in the Spring 2023 edition of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, spelled out the many problems with the legend that Gen. William T. Sherman gave Camp Butler its name.

William Butler (

The exact reason the camp was named after William Butler is unknown, according to Flotow. However, Flotow wrote, as a Springfield resident and former county official, “Butler was likely well-qualified to suggest potential sites for a large recruitment and training camp.” In addition, Butler had owned part of the Clear Lake site for a short time in the 1840s.

The misinformation about Sherman’s role, according to Flotow, apparently derives from a letter Ozias Hatch, Illinois secretary of state during the Civil War, wrote to the Illinois State Journal shortly after Sherman’s death in 1891. Hatch, 30 years after the event, wrote that Butler escorted Sherman on a visit to the proposed site of the camp, and that a “greatly pleased” Sherman “at once made the location and named it Camp Butler.”

Sherman did visit Springfield Sept. 11-12, 1861, as part of an inspection tour of recruiting and training operations in the western states. By then, however, Camp Butler had been operating – under that name – for more than a month already, so Hatch’s account is clearly wrong. (The chronology is slightly complicated by the fact that Camp Butler was moved in December 1861 and January 1862 from the Clear Lake area closer to Jimtown/Riverton. Hatch’s letter didn’t distinguish between the two.)

Hatch “may have been romanticizing the prominence of Camp Butler … by associating a famous name with the camp’s establishment.,” Flotow writes. “… Hatch was likely not purposefully distorting events for some ulterior motive. However, those that have perpetuated this false narrative have ignored or side-stepped the primary sources that could refute its claims.”

To this, SangamonLink pleads guilty. Our apologies.

More information: See Sangamon County’s Confederate Memorial.

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society. Learn how to support the Society. 

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10 Responses to Camp Butler (Civil War training camp)

  1. bill werner says:

    I have always been interested in this ever since I was a small boy I walked the field and have found mini balls round balls brass shells coins arrowheads horseshoes pottery glass towards the middle there was a knoll this is where the army hospital because there was a debris field of old bottles rose and aqua colored an old friend of mine took me there as a kid he found interesting things a three ringer mini ball with features cut into it as a snake a ring that was made from a silver spoon lots of half dimes I myself found a 1854 one dollar gold piece that had a hole cut in top like it was worn as a necklace the original camp butler was situated a couple miles away on clear lake there is rumer that some are buried there the spring rains kept flooding it out so they moved to the nw corner of cambbutler rd where it had access to the railroads

  2. Sherri Boner says:

    According to family geneology, my great-great grandfather was taken hostage at Ft Donelson and brought to Camp Butler. He remained there until the prisoner exchange, at which time he returned to his home in Nashville, TN. Then, HIS grandson, George W. Boner, left Nashville to move to Springfield, to work on a horse farm, I have been told. George raised his family in Sherman and Springfield and when he died in 1951, he was buried at Camp Butler, in the very land where his grandfather had been a prisoner. Now, most of my family are buried at Camp Butler – parents, siblings, aunts and uncles. I’m always interested in reading about the camp and would like to see any photos of it, during the time it was used as a prison camp.

  3. Larry says:

    My Great-grandfather was born and raised in Matagorda, Texas. In 1859, his father died and his mother packed up the family and went to Chicago, where her dead husband’s extended family lived. GGrandfather Robert Ludington was just 14, but he had military service in his DNA. His father rode for the Republic of Texas against Vásquez in 1842 and his Great-grandfather was Col. Henry Ludington, New York Militia Commander, aide-de-camp to George Washington and father to Sybil, the female Paul Revere.

    Robert joined an Illinois Infantry unit as a drummer boy (uncredited) whose first duty was to guard prisoners at the newly created Camp Butler. In January, 1862, he was astonished to find amongst the newly arriving prisoners, members of the 6th Texas Infantry captured in Arkansas, including several family friends and schoolmates from Matagorda. An account is given here:

    • editor says:

      Larry: Thanks very much for that personal memory of Camp Butler. And thanks for reading SangamonLink.

    • Kara Barnes says:

      I am interested in exploring the area but am having a hard time finding the landmarks. Can someone point me in the direction of the fields you are talking about?

  4. kenny landgrebe says:

    I also grew up near the camp like bill Werner, Back in the early to mid 70s , me and all my friends would go to the field after it was tilled up and after it rained , that made finding the relics easy. Later in the late 80s – 90s my father and i would go there with metal detectors , and find old civil war bullets ,buttons off of uniforms , and buckles. and a few old coins. i drive by the site nearly every day. i still see a lot of people metal detecting in the fields, but it has been hunted so much, it is very hard to find anything these days, back when i was a child,you could find goodies just laying on top of the ground ,every time my father and i would drive by the cemetery, he would reply to me. thats were i will be someday ,cause he served in ww2, he landed on Omaha Beach , and now i find myself telling my daughter ,that’s were i will be someday

  5. Wendy Bransom says:

    My 4th great Uncle, Jacob H. Reel was a Union Soldier. He was a Private in Company G, the 48 Illinois Infantry. He died at Camp Butler November 3, 1861 at the age of 24. This was early for Camp Butler. I am not sure if he died of disease or by other means, still searching.

    • Jon says:


      I am trying to find my Uncle 48th Illinois Co G. Leonard Montgomery.
      I believe now after trying to find him I am finding it difficult to locate very many graves of the young men from the 48th who died in the fall of 1861. It is my belief they are still buried out there and were never moved.

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