During the Civil War, Camp Chase had been a prisoner-of-war camp for Confederates. It stretched from W. Broad south to Sullivant and from Hague Avenue east to Demorest. At its peak, it had been home to nearly 10,000 Confederate prisoners-of-war. A smallpox epidemic in 1863 and overcrowding and a hard winter in 1864-65 took its toll on the inmates. When the war ended and the POWs returned home they left behind more than 2,000 dead.
After the war’s end, the camp cemetery was forgotten. Bitterness among Union veterans and politicians made care of Confederate graves an unpopular cause. Weeds and briars grew high on the grounds. Wooden grave markers rotted away. Gophers and rabbits made their homes among the decaying monuments. Developers cast greedy eyes on the acreage and wondered how it might be converted to more profitable use.
Knauss was appalled and began the project that would become his life’s work. He argued that the fallen husbands, sons, and brothers of Camp Chase deserved better. The war was over and North and South were reunited. All were Americans now and brothers:
They were American citizens, they were men, they had mothers and sisters, some had wives and children, all praying to one God and Father; and O how many a prayer went up that these unfortunate dead might be returned to their homes! Alas! the fate of war decreed otherwise and where their bodies lie is in many instances unknown to their loved ones... If I were in the South and saw an ex-Confederate do honor to an unknown Union soldier's grave, I would say with all my soul" "God bless you and yours forever!"
He wrote to politicians, complained in letters to the editor, contacted Southern veterans associations, toured and lectured, raised funds, spent freely from his own pockets, and even put his own back to work in the cause of restoring the cemetery to a decent condition.
In 1895, Knauss conducted the first Memorial Day ceremonies on the grounds with little more than his own family in attendance.
His campaign was not a popular one in the North. Though the war was thirty years past, feelings still ran high. Union widows and orphans attacked him as a traitor. Survivors of the inhumane Southern prisoner-of-war camps asked how he could forget their suffering. Northern veterans' groups were openly hostile. Knauss lost business and received threats of violence and even death.
His patriotism was questioned. An ad hoc committee formed among legislators at the Statehouse and demanded he present himself and give an account of his actions. He refused. They threatened him with dire consequences he did not cease his activities.
Several times, guards had to be posted at the cemetery against threats of vandalism. Once, attackers threatened to destroy the place with dynamite.
Despite this, Knauss persevered and his campaign bore fruit. The weeds and brush were cut and arrangements made to have the grounds cared for. Flowers and ornamental trees contributed by Southern states were planted. A solid stone wall was erected around the burying ground. Rotted or decaying wooden markers were replaced with stone ones.
Each year, Knauss arranged a memorial service at the grounds on Memorial Day. Each year, the size of the audience in attendance grew. Each year, more local and state notables were willing to appear. In 1897, the mayor was in attendance. In 1900, the governor came and said a few words.
In 1897, an inscribed boulder was placed there as a collective memorial. The text read "2,260 Confederate Veterans of the War 1861-1865 Buried in This Enclosure." In 1902, a memorial arch inscribed simply “Americans” was added as tribute to the fallen.