I left this city on the evening of the 13th and proceeded at once to Camp Douglas, it being the chief object of the service upon which I was ordered, to inquire into the cause and extent of the fire which had occurred at that camp, by which the barracks for six companies and considerable extent of fencing had been destroyed. I arrived at Chicago on Sunday morning and immediately after breakfast repaired to Camp Douglas, which is on the outer limits of the city.
On inspection of the ground I was gratified to find that the destruction of the fence was much less had been reported, being only about 400 feet instead of 1,000 as at first estimated. The destruction of the barracks was more serious, involving, as had been reported, the quarters for six companies, with mess and cook rooms, a commissary store, and other outbuildings. In addition to the buildings destroyed there was also consoled a considerable quantity of public property, arms and accouterments and quartermaster stores and private property, costing of clothing and other articles belonging to officers and soldiers.
The fire occurred about mid-day and originated in a room occupied by officers during the absence of the inmates at dinner. It appears that there was a large fire in the stove and either through the over-heating of the pipe or some defects in it near the roof the ceiling too fire, and when it was discovered it had made such progress it was impossible to check it. A high wind was blowing at the time, and when the door of the room in which it began was opened the flames were given such power that it was not possible to check it.
Prompt means were immediately taken by the commanding officer, Colonel C. V. De Land, Michigan sharpshooters, to check the fire and at the same time to restrain the prisoners of war from any attempt to take advantage of the opportunity it gave them to make their escape. To confine the fire to as small a limit as possible a portion of the line of barracks was torn down, and as the wind was across the line this plan accomplished the object and checked the fire in that direction, but the wind carried the flames directly over the cook-housed and other buildings and fencing in the rear and they were all consumed in a few moments. The engines of the city were promptly on the ground, but the fire had done its work before they could get there.
The fire was accidental, but there was probably some carelessness with it. A large fire was probably left in the stove without any precaution to guard against its being communicated to the buildings, and by the over-heating of the pipe, or in some other way, the ceiling and tarred roofing were set on fire and in a few minutes it was beyond control.
There was some excitement among the prisoners at the time, and some cheering, but as a part of the command was placed under arms as soon as the alarm was given the demonstrations of the prisoners were soon put a stop to.
As soon as the fire was extinguished the acting quartermaster at the camp, Captain Goodwin, with commendable energy, took immediate steps to have the fence which had been destroyed rebuilt, and before night of the same day it was accomplished.
I inclose herewith a report, made to me by Colonel De Land, of the public and private property destroyed. * There have been similar occasions when officers and men have lost clothing and other personal property that it has been made good to them by the Government, and I respectfully suggest that at the least the clothing lost by the enlisted men be replaced by an extra issue.