The Indiana State Capitol building in Indianapolis is an impressive place to visit; its rotunda and artwork are beautiful. Among its many commemorative statues is a bust of Col. Richard Owen, commandant of Camp Morton, a facility in Indianapolis that housed Confederate prisoners during the Civil War. The bust is more than just a statuette, it is a unique memorial.
Prisoner of war camps during the Civil War were horrendous places in both the North and South. Perhaps the most infamous was Camp Sumter military prison in Georgia, better known as Andersonville Prison. Nearly 13,000 Union soldiers died of malnutrition, disease, and neglect within that stockade.
But not all POW stories are so bleak. One hundred years ago, in 1913, the bronze sculpture of Richard Owen was dedicated at the Indiana Statehouse as “a bond between North and South.” Long before any federal regulations existed for the treatment of POWs, Owen established his own 11 rules for humane and sensible treatment of prisoners under his command. Here, then, is what makes this statehouse memorial so special: it was commissioned and paid for with gifts from former Confederate prisoners who spent time at Camp Morton under Owen’s charge. Take note of these words engraved below the bust:
Colonel Richard Owen, Commandant
Camp Morton Prison 1862
Tribute by Confederate Prisoners of War and Their Friends
For His Courtesy and Kindness
In the midst of such tragedies as were experienced during this War Between the States, the kindness of one man was still being celebrated 48 years after the war ended. And with this gift from his former prisoners, his deed will be remembered for generations to come. One man can indeed make an incredible difference.
We all know what it means to live as prisoners. From our first sin, we’ve been held captive in deplorable conditions, and escape is humanly impossible. Thankfully, the end of our story is not so bleak. One man did indeed make an incredible difference. With the sacrifice of his own life, Jesus set us free from our captivity. We dare not forget his grace and kindness. And the emblems we have to commemorate his lifesaving deed are far better than any work of art. The bread and the cup will forever remind us of the bond between God and us, a bond that was restored by the gift of his Son’s life.
Tom Ellsworth serves as senior minister with Sherwood Oaks Christian Church, Bloomington, Indiana.