Part of the USA Today Network

Altoona soldier wrote home from York’s Camp Scott

Camp Scott 1

The 3rd Pennsylvania Infantry, under the command of Colonel Francis C. Minier of Blair County, was among the three-month regiments being trained at Camp Scott on the York Fairgrounds near the intersection of E. King and S. Queen Streets. One of their new soldiers, who simply identified himself by his initials “J.S.C.”, wrote a letter back to his hometown newspaper, the Altoona Tribune, on May 13, 1861. He had been a soldier less than a month, but like his comrades was eager to head for the front lines before his term of enlistment expired.

He undoubtedly was 26-year-old First Sergeant John S. Calvert, the only man in Company B, 3rd Pennsylvania Infantry, whose initials match the correspondent. He enlisted in Altoona on April 20, 1861, according to military records. Born January 6, 1836, in Cumberland County, he had moved to Blair County sometime before the war.

Messrs. McCrum & Dehn — Yesterday afternoon (Sunday) Gov. Curtin visited this encampment, and reviewed the troops. The 1st, 2d, 3d, 12th, and 16th Regiments, and Capt. Charles T. Campbell’s Company of Flying Artillery, from Chambersburg, were on parade. As the Governor passed up and down the line of battalions, he was enthusiastically cheered by the soldiers. Afterward, he assumed a standing position, near the edge of the parade ground, and closely watched the movement of the troops, as they marched by him. The whole display was grand and very impressive, and was witnessed by thousands from all parts of the surrounding country.

When we shall take our departure from here, it is impossible to tell. Rumor has us marching hence daily, but as oft is Madame put hors du combat. We are nearly equipped, and will, probably, receive to-day all that is required to put us on perfect war footing, and then we are prepared to march at a moment’s warning. Various are the conjectures as to our destination. Some say Baltimore or Western Virginia, and others Harper’s Ferry. But speculations on these matters are at an alarming discount.

On Friday evening last, we had two shooting and stabbing affrays between soldiers — the natural result of too free use of wretched bad whiskey. One of these occurred in the Camp, and the other at a Groggery in town. In the first case, one soldier stabbed another, whereupon he drew a revolver and shot his assailant in the head. Fortunately the wounds were not of the most serious character. Of the other case, I am not “hooked up,” further than the person was shot. It is a little singular that, notwithstanding these repeated acts of violence, none as yet have been fatal in their consequences.

Among the fine-looking officers and soldiers connected with Camp Scott is Brigadier General James S. Negley — We greatly regret that he is not our commander, for nearly all the men composing the 3d Regiment are acquainted with him, and have the utmost confidence in him, both as a brave soldier and a social and affable gentleman.– Having made military affairs almost the study of his life, perhaps, there is no man in the State who is so fully acquainted with all the scientific principles of modern warfare, and what is so much needed to place the volunteers of Pennsylvania in war trim, as Gen. Negley. All who know the General greatly respect him, and the reason is obvious. There is no haughty or despotic military pride about him, as is too often the case with men, who have been suddenly launched, by a paper commission, into some important position, for which they are totally unfit, from a want of proper military education. Birth, not worth, has more to do with such appointments than anything else. — To the humble private, Gen. Negley is as affable and kind as to his brother officers, and this trait in his character has endeared him to the soldiers generally, from the Ohio river to the Eastern slope of the Alleghenies.

A number of your citizens have visited our encampment and have been received most cordially. It affords the members of Company B extreme gratification to clasp the hands of familiar faces from home, as it revives pleasing recollections and associations. Your citizens have been very kind and liberal to their sons at Camp Scott, in the way of a bountiful supply of provisions and other necessary articles, the receipt of which have been duly acknowledged by Capt. [Henry] Wayne, through you, to the “Patriot Daughters” and to the pastors or your several churches — which letters are to be read in the congregations.

Our members, generally, retain good health. John Laird is the only one of our company in the hospital. All have been more or less afflicted with colds — the result of sudden changes in the weather, which, since the beginning of this month, has taken a turn about every other day.

On Sunday evening a number of our members visited the M. E. Church in town, and heard quite a patriotic sermon from the pastor. His text was, “In the name of our God will we set up our banners.” The subject was treated in a spiritual as well as a civil sense. He remarked that he was southern born and reared, and had interests there; but rather than the Star Spangled Banner should be disgracefully trailed in the dust, he would sacrifice them all in its defence. He justified the position of the Government in its present movement, and believed that it was right, and God would sustain that right. His remarks were enthusiastically responded to by his members, by repeated “Amens.”

But I must close this hasty sketch. From some one of our company, who will endeavor to keep you posted, while at Camp Scott, and, if marched away, of our movements where’er our lots may be cast.


Source: Altoona Tribune, May 16, 1861.

On May 27, the regiment would finally depart York, boarding cars of the Northern Central Railway at the station off Duke Street and head off to Chambersburg.  They would remain there at Camp Chambers until June 7 when they traveled by rail down to Hagerstown, Maryland. Later that same day they marched to Funkstown where they could contest Joseph E. Johnston’s Rebels then holding Harper’s Ferry. On July 1, the 3rd Pennsylvania marched to Williamsport and crossed the Potomac River into Virginia, arriving at Martinsburg on the 3rd. The regiment soon was ordered back to Williamsport to guard the supply lines. The men remained there until July 26 when their term of enlistment expired.  They marched to Hagerstown, boarded rail cars, and returned to Harrisburg to be mustered out of service.

None of the eager young men of the 3rd Pennsylvania, so anxious to confront the Rebels and do their part to put down the rebellion, had fired a shot.

Such was their three months as soldiers.

Many would re-enlist in other regiments and truly see the horrors of war. Some would never return home.

One who would was Sgt. John S. Calvert. He survived the war, married, raised a family of eight children, and served as a county commissioner in 1881 and again in 1885. He was a Sunday School class leader for many years in the Chester Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church. Late in life, he suffered from a tumor of his traverse cancer and passed away on March 8, 1888, at his home in Logan Township. He is buried in Altoona’s Fairview Cemetery.

Courtesy of Find-a-Grave.
Courtesy of Find-a-Grave.