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Union Camps during the Civil War - History

Union Camps during the Civil War - History


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The Union was able to provide larger rations to it soldiers than the Confederacy. Nevertheless, even they were issued flour, pork or beef, beans, potatoes, coffee and hardtack (crackers), and told to cook for themselves. Those who had their families with them had an easier time of dealing with food, although rations were limited and foods like hardtack were often old, infested with insects and hardly edible. Agents of the US Sanitary Commission visited the Union camps and reporting to the US government about the needs of the soldiers. The government also provided postal service to the army, facilitating their communication with their families. Uniforms, which were Blue for the Union, initially varied widely across regiments, but were eventually standardized to the government-issued uniforms for Regulars.


Civil War Camp Life

Camp life&mdashwhether Union or Confederate&mdashwas, mostly, an exercise in boredom.

Social Studies, U.S. History, Storytelling

having to do with the Confederate States of America (south) during the Civil War.

possibly fatal disease with severe, bloody diarrhea.

to search for food or other needs.

insects that prey on animal blood. Singular: louse.

having to do with states supporting the United States (north) during the U.S. Civil War.

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adapted from National Geographic Xpeditions lesson “No Magic Borders”

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NPS Civil War Prisons

During the Civil War, over 400,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were held prisoner at more than 150 different prison sites. Approximately 56,000 of these died in captivity. Although Andersonville is the most famous Civil War prison, it is only one of many Civil War military prisons that are preserved by the National Park Service. Today Andersonville National Historic Site tells the story of all American prisoners of war.

Many Civil War prisons, such as those in Elmira, NY and Salisbury, NC were constructed out of existing warehouses and military training depots. After the war, these sites reverted back to their pre-war uses and were not preserved. However, many prisoners were also held in permanent structures such as coastal fortifications and today it is possible to visit these sites of captivity.

The prison cells at Fort Pulaski held hundreds of Confederate officers.

NPS/Fort Pulaski National Monument

Captured by Union Forces in the spring of 1862, Fort Pulaski guarded the mouth of the Savannah River, and was a key Union outpost in the naval blockade. In the fall of 1864 around 600 Confederate officers were held in the fort's casemates. Thirteen Confederate prisoners of war died in captivity at Fort Pulaski. Today, visitors can walk through these casemates that served as cells, and the park has public programming to tell these prisoners' stories.

Located along the Gulf Coast of Florida, Fort Pickens was occupied by Union forces at the outset of the war, and was put to use as a prison for captured Confederates. Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island in Mississippi held around 4,000 Confederate prisoners of war. All total, more than 100 prisoners died in captivity in the forts that are today preserved as part of Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Fortress Monroe
Fort Monroe National MonumentA small number of Confederate soldiers and political prisoners were held at Fortress Monroe in Virginia. Additionally, after 1863 it was an inspection point for mail sent home by prisoners. Fortress Monroe's fame as a military prison came after the Civil War ended, when Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held in its casemates for two years.

Confederate prisoners at Fort Warren

NPS/Andersonville National Historic Site

Fort Warren
Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area
Fort Warren, located on Georges Island in Boston Harbor, held Confederate officers in 1861 and again from 1863 until the end of the war. Additionally, numerous political prisoners were held at Fort Warren both during and after the war. Today Fort Warren is a major feature of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

Alcatraz is best known as "The Rock" for its role as a Federal penitentiary. During the Civil War, a small number of Confederate sailors were imprisoned there along with Confederate sympathizers and political prisoners.

Living history program at Fort McHenry on the experience of Confederate prisoners held there.

NPS/Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine

Fort McHenry
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
Fort McHenry is best known as the site of the Star Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. During the Civil War, nearly 7,000 Confederate soldiers and political prisoners were held in the casemates and cells at this American icon, including Key's grandson. Most of those held at Fort McHenry were captured at the Battle of Gettysburg and many were either exchanged or transferred to other prisons. Thirty-three Confederate prisoners died at Fort McHenry, which became known as the "Baltimore Bastille."

Fort Jefferson is located on a small island approximately seventy miles west of Key West, Florida. Its remote location made it an ideal location for a military prison, and it held both Confederate prisoners of war and Union soldiers convicted of various crimes. The most famous prisoner held on this desolate island was Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was convicted after the war for assisting John Wilkes Booth.

A living historian at Governor's Island National Monument shares with visitors the experiences of Confederates held captive in Castle Williams

NPS/Governor's Island National Monument

New York Harbor was home to numerous prisons throughout the war. Among these were Fort Columbus and Castle Williams, both located on Governor's Island. Fort Columbus, now known as Fort Jay, held Confederate officers and also served as a hospital for Confederate prisoners of war. The highest ranking Confederate to die in captivity, Major General William Whiting, died in Fort Columbus in February 1865. Castle Williams held enlisted Confederate soldiers, and is a popular visitor destination on Governor's Island today.

From 1861 until early 1864, most Union soldiers captured by Confederate forces were housed in Richmond in one of dozens of tobacco warehouses or on Belle Isle in the James River. Although today the park does not preserve the physical sites of these prisons, their stories are told as part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park.

Fort Wood, which held Confederate prisoners of war, is now the base of the Statue of Liberty

NPS/Statue of Liberty National Monument

Fort Wood was constructed on Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor before the War of 1812. It saw limited use until the Civil War, when it was used as a recruiting depot and prison site. Its captives were primarily wounded Confederates who were recuperating before being exchanged or transferred, although some of these prisoners died in captivity. After the war, the star-shaped Fort Wood was filled in and became the base for the Statue of Liberty, and Bedloe's Island was renamed to Liberty Island. Each year millions visit this site to contemplate freedom, and most are unaware that they stand where Confederate soldiers were held and died in captivity.

A park ranger talks with visitors about the experiences of soldiers held prisoner at Andersonville.

Camp Sumter Military Prison, more commonly known as Andersonville, was in operation from February of 1864 until the end of the war. During that time approximately 45,000 Union soldiers were held in captivity at Andersonville. Of these, nearly 13,000 died, making Andersonville the deadliest landscape of the Civil War. Andersonville is the largest and most famous of the Civil War prisons.

Today at Andersonville National Historic Site the National Park Service has reconstructed several sections of the prison stockade, and the landscape is dotted with monuments, many of them erected by survivors. The park is home to the National Prisoner of War Museum, which is dedicated to telling the story of all of America's prisoners of war.

In addition to those in the National Parks, there are numerous Civil War prison sites that are preserved by various state and local parks. Among these are Fort Delaware, Camp Lawton, Point Lookout, and Camp Ford. Several others are in various stages of preservation by local heritage groups. Although it was not used as a Civil War prison, Castillo de San Marcos was used as a prisoner of war facility throughout the Indian Wars, and hundreds of Native Americans were held captive there.


Camp Chase

In 1861, Camp Chase was established in Columbus, Ohio, to replace Camp Jackson. Governor William Dennison had ordered Camp Jackson's creation as a meeting place for Ohio volunteers during the American Civil War. In April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand volunteers to end the South's rebellion. Governor Dennison encouraged Ohio communities to form and to send militia companies to the state capital at Columbus for the governor's use. Camp Jackson served as the training ground for these forces. Military authorities also reorganized these individual companies into larger military units at the camp.

While the state militia system had deteriorated throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, numerous communities had maintained units. These units existed primarily to march in parades and to provide young men with something to do in their spare time. Among these units was the Lancaster Guards. This company quickly answered the governor's call and was the first militia unit to arrive in Columbus at Camp Jackson in 1861. It served as part of the first two Ohio infantry regiments organized for the war. Governor Dennison dispatched these regiments to Washington, DC, to protect the nation's capital, on April 19, 1861. This was just four days after President Lincoln's call for volunteers. Ohio's governor sent other units to Camp Dennison, near Cincinnati, to help defend Ohio's southern border from a Confederate invasion. The soldiers at Camp Jackson usually remained at the camp for only a short time. After receiving a little training, military officials sent the men off to the war.

In 1861, the federal government authorized the creation of Camp Chase. Organized in Columbus, it eventually replaced Camp Jackson as a recruitment and training center for the Union Army. Camp Chase also served as a prison camp. Civilians loyal to the Confederacy and Southern soldiers were held inside the prison stockade. During 1861 and early 1862, most of the prisoners were from Kentucky and western Virginia and were arrested for their disloyal political sentiments. Following the Battles of Fort Henry and Donelson in February 1862, Union authorities detained numerous Confederate officers and enlisted men as prisoners of war at Camp Chase. During 1863, the number of prisoners housed at Camp Chase at one time was more than eight thousand men. Following the completion of a new prisoner of war camp at Johnson's Island in Lake Erie, Union officials sent most of the Confederate officers at Camp Chase to this new location.

Living conditions at Camp Chase prison camp were harsh. While Union authorities never intentionally starved the prisoners, the primary goal of Northern officials was to feed and equip the men serving in their own army. This commonly resulted in shortages for the prisoners. The large number of men in close quarters also led to outbreaks of disease. During the winter of 1863-1864, hundreds of prisoners died in a smallpox epidemic. In November 1864, Union and Confederate authorities agreed upon a prisoner exchange hoping to alleviate the suffering of sick prisoners held by both sides. A total of ten thousand prisoners were exchanged.

During the course of the Civil War, over two thousand Confederate prisoners died at Camp Chase. Originally, prison officials buried the prisoners in a Columbus city cemetery. In 1863, the prison established its own cemetery, and the bodies already buried in the Columbus cemetery were re-interred in the prison cemetery. Following the war, thirty-one Confederate bodies from Camp Dennison near Cincinnati were moved to the Camp Chase cemetery. this brought the total number of Confederate burials to approximately 2,260.

The Union military closed Camp Chase at the end of the Civil War. Most of what remains of the site today is two acres of land, consisting primarily of the Confederate cemetery. In 1896, William Knauss, a former officer in the Northern army, organized a memorial service for the dead Confederates. On June 7, 1902, a monument to the Confederate dead was erected at the cemetery. Memorial services have been held at the cemetery every year since 1896.


Union Civil War Prisons

During the Civil War, over 400,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were held prisoner at more than 150 different prison sites. Approximately 56,000 of these died in captivity. Although Andersonville is the most famous Civil War prison, it is only one of many Civil War military prisons that are preserved by the National Park Service. Today Andersonville National Historic Site tells the story of all American prisoners of war.

Battlefields.org tells the horrific details of Civil War Prison Camps. Take Elmira Prison, “also known as “Hellmira,” opened in July of 1864. It quickly became infamous for its staggering death rate and unfathoomable living conditions due to the Commissary General of Prisoners, Col. William Hoffman.

“Col. Hoffman forced Confederate prisoners to sleep outside in the open while furnishing them with little to no shelter. Prisoners relied upon their own ingenuity for constructing drafty and largely inadequate shelters consisting of sticks, blankets, and logs. As a result, the Rebels spent their winters shivering in biting cold and their summers in sweltering, pathogen-laden heat.

“Overcrowding was yet again a major problem. Although Union leadership mandated a ceiling of 4,000 prisoners at Elmira, within a month of its opening that numbered had swelled to 12,123 men. By the time the last prisoners were sent home in September of 1865, close to 3,000 men had perished. With a death rate approaching 25%, Elmira was one of the deadliest Union-operated POW camps of the entire war.

“A similar disregard for human life developed at Camp Douglas, also known as the “Andersonville of the North.” Camp Douglas originally served as a training facility for Illinois regiments, but was later converted to a prison camp. 18,000 Confederates were incarcerated there by the end of the war.

Fort Pickens & Fort Massachusetts

Gulf Islands National SeashoreLocated along the Gulf Coast of Florida, Fort Pickens was occupied by Union forces at the outset of the war, and was put to use as a prison for captured Confederates. Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island in Mississippi held around 4,000 Confederate prisoners of war. All total, more than 100 prisoners died in captivity in the forts that are today preserved as part of Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Fort Monroe National MonumentA small number of Confederate soldiers and political prisoners were held at Fortress Monroe in Virginia. Additionally, after 1863 it was an inspection point for mail sent home by prisoners. Fortress Monroe’s fame as a military prison came after the Civil War ended, when Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held in its casemates for two years. Confederate prisoners at Fort Warren NPS/Andersonville National Historic SiteFort Warren
Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area
Fort Warren, located on Georges Island in Boston Harbor, held Confederate officers in 1861 and again from 1863 until the end of the war. Additionally, numerous political prisoners were held at Fort Warren both during and after the war. Today Fort Warren is a major feature of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

Fort Alcatraz
Golden Gate National Recreation AreaAlcatraz is best known as “The Rock” for its role as a Federal penitentiary. During the Civil War, a small number of Confederate sailors were imprisoned there along with Confederate sympathizers and political prisoners. Living history program at Fort McHenry on the experience of Confederate prisoners held there. NPS/Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine

Fort McHenry
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
Fort McHenry is best known as the site of the Star Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. During the Civil War, nearly 7,000 Confederate soldiers and political prisoners were held in the casemates and cells at this American icon, including Key’s grandson. Most of those held at Fort McHenry were captured at the Battle of Gettysburg and many were either exchanged or transferred to other prisons. Thirty-three Confederate prisoners died at Fort McHenry, which became known as the “Baltimore Bastille.”Fort Jefferson
Dry Tortugas National ParkFort Jefferson is located on a small island approximately seventy miles west of Key West, Florida. Its remote location made it an ideal location for a military prison, and it held both Confederate prisoners of war and Union soldiers convicted of various crimes. The most famous prisoner held on this desolate island was Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was convicted after the war for assisting John Wilkes Booth. A living historian at Governor’s Island National Monument shares with visitors the experiences of Confederates held captive in Castle Williams NPS/Governor’s Island National Monument

Fort Columbus & Castle Williams
Governor’s Island National MonumentNew York Harbor was home to numerous prisons throughout the war. Among these were Fort Columbus and Castle Williams, both located on Governor’s Island. Fort Columbus, now known as Fort Jay, held Confederate officers and also served as a hospital for Confederate prisoners of war. The highest ranking Confederate to die in captivity, Major General William Whiting, died in Fort Columbus in February 1865. Castle Williams held enlisted Confederate soldiers, and is a popular visitor destination on Governor’s Island today.Libby Prison & Belle Isle
Richmond National Battlefield ParkFrom 1861 until early 1864, most Union soldiers captured by Confederate forces were housed in Richmond in one of dozens of tobacco warehouses or on Belle Isle in the James River. Although today the park does not preserve the physical sites of these prisons, their stories are told as part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Fort Wood, which held Confederate prisoners of war, is now the base of the Statue of Liberty NPS/Statue of Liberty National Monument


Union Civil War Prison Camp an All-but-Forgotten Relic of Brutality

Like some rusty bayonet or tattered battle flag hidden away in the attic, the Elmira prison camp is an all-but-forgotten relic of the Civil War.

Considering the human suffering involved, maybe memories of the prison, which opened 125 years ago this month, are best left undisturbed.

Except for a flagpole, a small monument and two stone markers, there’s nothing in the quiet Elmira neighborhood where the prison camp once stood to mark its presence. But buried beneath tidy rows of white headstones and shade trees at the Woodlawn National Cemetery are the remains of 2,973 Confederate soldiers who died at Elmira, many from starvation.

The Confederacy’s Andersonville prison in Georgia is remembered as the most infamous example of the inhumanity and deprivations of the Civil War, even though records show that a soldier imprisoned in Elmira stood little better chance of surviving than did one in Andersonville.

Questions linger over whether those 2,973 Rebels died mainly because of the primitive state of medicine and sanitation during the Civil War, or whether they were victims of the Lincoln Administration’s retaliatory neglect of some prisoners of war.

“Can one say that, by design, this was a death camp?” asked J. Michael Horigan, an Elmira history teacher who spent much of the past year researching records from Civil War prison camps in Washington, D.C., and in the South. “I think one can say it, but you can’t document it. The records on this camp are very incomplete. But circumstantial evidence certainly makes it look that way.”

Union officials ordered in May, 1864, that a complex of barracks at Elmira that had been used for three years to house Union soldiers be converted to a prison camp for captive Southerners. A 12-foot-high fence was immediately thrown around a 30-acre portion of barracks.

There were 35 wooden buildings in the complex, each about 100 feet long and 16 feet wide. Union officers in Elmira wrote the War Department that the barracks could accommodate 3,000 men comfortably and 1,000 more in a pinch.

Orders came back from Washington that 10,000 men were to be housed in the camp. Men not lucky enough to get places in barracks would sleep in tents. Wooden barracks weren’t constructed for all the men until well after winter had set in.

On July 6, 1864, a train pulled into Elmira with the first 399-man contingent of prisoners on board.

It was a ragged group of prisoners. Most had been captured during the grinding battles of the Wilderness in Virginia. Elmirans noted that their ragtag uniforms hardly made the men look like members of the same army. Some prisoners wore only shirts and underwear. Many had no shoes.

Things went wrong at the prison camp almost from the beginning.

On July 15, a train loaded with 844 Confederates and 128 Union guards bound for Elmira smashed head-on with a coal train near Shohola, Pa. Many of the wooden cars were reduced to kindling in the accident, which killed 49 prisoners and 17 guards.

Five prisoners escaped during the chaos, and it took three days for some of the wounded to receive medical treatment.

Meanwhile, inside the camp, a peril just as lethal, although slower in its effect, was taking shape.

A stagnant body of water, called Foster’s Pond, was within the fences of the prison. With so many men being sent to the camp--there would be more than 4,400 by the end of July, and 9,600 by the end of August--the water quickly became fouled. The pond became a breeding ground of disease amid an extended heat wave that summer.

Less than three weeks after Elmira opened, a local newspaper reported that a “deleterious miasma” hung over the camp due to the stagnant water. One Union surgeon called it a “festering mass of corruption.”

Prison administrators asked the Union’s commissioner general of prisoners, Col. William Hoffman, for permission to dig canals connecting the pond with the nearby Chemung River to allow fresher water to pass through it.

Approval for that project didn’t come until October--and prisoners didn’t complete the canals until Jan. 1, 1865.

“I think this falls into the realm of circumstantial evidence,” Horigan says. “This is what I call the politics of delay. The sluice could have been done by August, 1864.”

In the meantime, men were dying in droves.

“The scurvy was among us, and as the cold weather advanced the death rate increased rapidly,” wrote prisoner L.B. Jones. “Scurvy, typhoid, pneumonia and finally smallpox broke out to an alarming extent, carrying off great numbers of the poor fellows.”

Emory Thomas, a history professor at the University of Georgia, says doctors at Elmira weren’t different from those practicing elsewhere during a war in which twice as many men died from disease than from battle-related wounds.

“The doctors really weren’t convinced about the germ theory of disease at this point,” he said. “At this time they were dealing with very, very nuts-and-bolts things, like how to set a fracture properly and whether chloroform would kill and if ether was better than chloroform. These are important things, but we’re not talking about great leaps forward in medical practice.”

The food at Elmira could have been another problem. Elmira prisoners after the war said a day’s rations generally included two, 1-inch-thick slices of bread, 2 ounces of meat and a pint of soup, often only the thin broth in which the meat was cooked. Union officers insisted after the war that rations at Elmira were more generous.

“I was assured by a guard that the same rations were issued to the prisoners as to the U.S. troops stationed there,” Confederate soldier Erastus Palmer recalled after the war. “There seemed to me to be some bad leak in it before it got to us.”

In May, 1864, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had ordered that prison rations to Confederates being held in Northern camps be reduced to the same level as those Southern troops in the field were receiving. This coincided with the Lincoln Administration’s general hardening of its treatment of Southern prisoners starting that year as news began to filter north of the deprivations being endured by Union soldiers at Andersonville, the Libby prison in Richmond, Va., and other Confederate camps.

Horigan calls Stanton a “very vindictive man” who exercised virtual dictatorial control over the Northern prison camp system.

“Abraham Lincoln had very little to do with any decision-making as far as the prison-camp system was concerned,” Horigan said. “One of the characteristics of his presidency was that he (delegated) power to his Cabinet members. He gave them an enormous amount of power and an enormous amount of leeway.”

Many of Elmira’s prisoners blamed Stanton too.

“It is my honest opinion that Secretary Stanton did this in retaliation,” Virginia soldier Enos Lyons later wrote of conditions at Elmira. “Yes, men died in Elmira prison I know from hunger and want this in a land of plenty. I was young and strong and determined I would not be carried out if I could help it, but many poor prisoners lay right down and died of hunger.”

According to figures compiled by an early-century historian of the Elmira prison, Clay Holmes, 27% of the camp’s captives died. Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian James McPherson places Elmira’s mortality rate at 24%.

By way of comparison, 13,000, or 29%, of the 45,000 Union soldiers imprisoned at Andersonville died.

For the Civil War as a whole, 15.5% of the Union soldiers imprisoned in 28 Southern camps died while in captivity and 12% of the Confederates in 24 Northern camps died.

Why, then, have Elmira and other Northern prisons with high death rates--Camp Alton, Ill. Lookout Point, Md. Johnson’s Island, Ohio and Rock Island, Ill.--escaped Andersonville’s notoriety?

“To the extent that Elmira and others lack infamy, I would guess it has to do with who won the war,” Thomas said.

Mismanagement on Both Sides

Andersonville’s commandant, Henry Wirz, was the only soldier executed after the Civil War as a war criminal, an act that caused lingering resentment for decades among some Southerners who claimed that he was made a scapegoat for the mismanagement of prison camps on both sides.

And the only historic site operated by the National Park Service at a former Civil War prison camp is at Andersonville. Events including historic re-creations, memorial services and even an archeological dig will be held throughout this year to mark Andersonville’s 125th birthday.

But Elmira’s anniversary will pass quietly. The chances are good that most of the people living in the well-maintained, turn-of-the-century homes around the former site of the camp won’t give the historic significance of this year a second thought.

“The people in the South know Elmira,” Horigan said. “They know their granddaddy was there or whatever. And quite a few compare it to Andersonville. I don’t think they’re correct in doing so. Nothing else was Andersonville.

“But why we only think of Andersonville when we think of Civil War prison camps I don’t know. These places were bad places, all of them were. It was despicable, the way both the South and the Union treated their prisoners. It was the darkest chapter of the war.”


The Battle of Westminster: “Corbit’s Charge”

On the afternoon of June 29, 1863, a fierce cavalry battle erupted on the streets of nearby Westminster, Maryland. A column of thousands of Confederate Cavalry under the command of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, accompanied by two batteries of horse artillery, had splashed across the Potomac River the day before, in an attempt to circle around the Union Army. As General Robert E. Lee and the rest of the Confederate Army marched across Western Maryland into Pennsylvania, Stuart and his Confederate Cavalry rode into Westminster on the Washington Road.

In Westminster, the Confederates encountered a stubborn resistance from 108 troopers from the 1st Delaware Cavalry, under the command of Capt. Charles Corbit. Corbit and his men fought with “an almost suicidal bravery,” initially pushing back the rebel column. The battle surged back and forth, but Corbit’s Cavalrymen were eventually overwhelmed by the much larger number of Confederates. Corbit was captured and his unit sustained over 50% casualties (killed, wounded, or captured). The Battle of Westminster, also known as Corbit’s Charge, was one factor in Stuart’s delayed arrival at Lee’s Headquarters late on July 2, 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg was joined, perhaps altering the outcome of what was to become the pivotal battle of the Civil War.

In the aftermath of the fighting in Westminster, the weary Confederate Cavalry rode north to Union Mills, located at an important crossroads between Westminster and Gettysburg. In Union Mills, the Confederates rested for the night along the Big Pipe Creek, while their horses grazed in the lush fields nearby. That night, Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee slept under an apple tree in A.K. Shriver’s orchard, as the cavalrymen were fed from the home’s kitchen. The next morning, June 30, 1863, Stuart and his officers were treated to as fine a meal as the southern-sympathizing William Shriver family could muster. Later in the morning, Stuart and his Cavalry departed Union Mills, led to Hanover, Pennsylvania by William Shriver’s son, T. Herbert.

Within a matter of hours, another column of soldiers arrived in Union Mills, this time the Union V Corps, under the command of Maj. Gen. George Sykes. Brig. Gen. James Barnes, a division commander, made the A.K. Shriver Homestead his headquarters, and slept in the old Homestead that night. Among the units that camped in the area was the 20th Maine, under Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. In just a few days, Chamberlain and his unit would achieve fame on the slopes of Little Round Top. Early on July 1, 1863, the Union Army broke camp and marched away from Union Mills to their destiny on the fields of Gettysburg.

Want to visit Civil War battle sites in Maryland?

Maryland’s Civil War Trails follows battles of the Civil War that were fought on Maryland’s soil. A free app is available to download.


From Relative Luxury to Hardscrabble Bivouac Life

The men left their camps in the spring to begin the campaign season, but returned after each defeat (and a few victories) at the hands of their Confederate enemy. It was not until the great 1864 offensive under General Ulysses S. Grant that the men left the comfort of their winter camps for good and commenced a hardscrabble bivouac life from Fredericksburg to Petersburg. After the brutal battles in the Wilderness, the soldiers settled into a more squalid life in the muddy trenches south of the Cockade City. They would remain there, locked in a death grip with the enemy, for the next 10 months, until the death of the Confederacy.

The forests of northern Virginia did not stand a chance against the need of soldiers to build shelters and keep fires burning. Sentries stand guard in front of the rows of tents.

The Union camps of the Army of the Potomac proved that widely divergent soldiers could improvise, adapt, and work together as a team for a common goal. They were primitive yet self-sufficient neighborhoods for fighting men, places their residents would never forget. For every bad memory veterans had of the camps—the filth, the monotonous and wearying drill, and the stomach-wrecking bad food—there were also good memories of brotherhood, shared relaxation, and leisure time away from the battlefront.

Such memories would last a lifetime for the Boys of 1861-1865.

Two noncommissioned officers play cards while a third watches. The boy in the center is probably a drummer, judging by the drum resting beside the table. Drummers, sometimes as young as 14 years old, accompanied troops into battle and could serve as stretcher bearers.


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