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“Inferior in every particular”: Newsman visited Camp Scott in York

Camp Scott, adapted from Harper’s Weekly, May 1861

Shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion. Training camps soon sprang up across the North, including Camp Scott at the York Fairgrounds (at the intersection of King and Queen streets). In recent Cannonball blog posts, we looked at impressions of York from a few soldiers from the Altoona, Pa., area. Today, we have a story about the camp itself from a Baltimore-based correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer, taken from its May 25, 1861, edition. He spent some time at Camp Scott in the previous week, meeting the commanding generals and their staffs, as well as touring the grounds.

The camp certainly did not impress the reporter, who had toured several others in recent days. He deemed Camp Scott “inferior in every particular” compared with his other visits.


From our own correspondent.                                                                   Baltimore, May 22.


“In passing through York a day or two since your correspondent visited Camp Scott, and as notes by the wayside sometime include items of interest not met with elsewhere, you may glean from a hastily written account of my visit some interesting incidents.


“Camp Scott is certainly inferior in every particular, save in the drilling of the troops, to any and all the encampments I have yet visited, and it is not surprising that the brave soldiers who left homes of comfort and of ease are anxious to change their quarters.


“The Camp is located on the Fairgrounds of the York County Agricultural Society, an enclosure of limited dimensions, situated within the limits of the Borough, and its proximity to the centre of the town has made it a popular resort for the citizens. The sheds used in the fall of each year for the reception of horses and cattle, have been provided with straw for the accommodation of the soldiers. The first floor of the buildings heretofore dedicated to the reception of domestic goods, are now filled with articles belonging to the Quartermaster and Commissary. The upper floor of the main structure is occupied as the headquarters of the Brigadier-Generals in command, and staff officers. The judges’ stand has been converted into a guard-house, and various other changes have been made which have tended to change, in a great degree, the wonted appearance of the grounds.


“The situation of the camp is so low that is is almost impossible in rainy weather to keep the site visible, and until the re-appearance of the sun the troops are either obliged to remain in their leaky shanties, or to tramp through the mud and water. An effort will be made to drain the grounds, but it is not believed that the attempt will be successful without the expenditure of a large amount of money.


“The troops have become accustomed to their uncomfortable position, and while many acquiesced in the request to re-enlist [for a term much longer than their original three-month commitment]; a large majority ridiculed the idea of prolonging their sufferings. All, however, are anxious for a fight, and had the proposal to extend the term been made after a skirmish, I believe every man at Scott and [Camp] Slifer [a similar training camp in Chambersburg] would have consented to unite his fortunes with those of the country, if the dedication of his services during the balance of his earthly existence had been required. And I still look for such a result after the first shot has been fired.


“Although Brigadier-Generals [Edward W.] Wynkoop and [James S.] Nagley are stationed at “Scott,” in charge of their respective Brigades, the encampment is under the control and superintendence of Major-General Wm. H. Keim, and excellent soldier and attentive executive. The General, with his Staff, occupy a small house on one of the principal streets of York, and so besieged is his office from morning to night with gentlemen in military garb, that it is with difficulty that he can find the opportunity to pay a daily visit to the Camp.


“He is ably assisted by his Staff, the members of which are gentlemen and well known throughout Pennsylvania.


“Upon entering the head-quarters, I regretted to ascertain that Colonel Samuel L. Young, a member of the staff, had the day before, while rapidly bearing a message from the General to the Camp, been thrown from his horse, and severely injured in the hand, one of the bones having been broken. He was riding with General Negley, who was a short distance in advance, when the horse of the General suddenly stopped, causing Col. Young’s animal to jump aside, and the saddle turning, the latter gentleman fell upon his right hand, injuring it as stated.


“The men were daily receiving their uniforms and equipment, and such specimens of clothing as were distributed were never, I will venture to day, seen before in this country. The communication published in the Inquirer on Saturday was a truthful account, and the statements contained therein will be verified by every officer and private at Camp Scott. There never has been a more disgraceful fraud perpetrated upon the citizens of Pennsylvania than this speculation at the expense of the brave fellows who volunteered their services in the defence of their country. I know not who is to be censured; but it is the duty of the authorities, and, if they hesitate, of the people, to have the matter investigated. The commanding officers here, with judgment and prudence, returned such of the garments as were proved upon inspection to be worthless; but I prophecy that if the Pennsylvania volunteers go to war clothed in the articles sent for the reception of their bodies, much of the fighting will be done in as cool a costume as is said is worn by the citizens of Georgia.


“The First Regiment, under the command of Colonel [Samuel] Yohe, is stationed upon the line of the Northern Central Railroad, from the Maryland line to within three miles of Baltimore, protecting the bridges and other property of the Company.


“The Second, Third, Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Sixteenth Regiments, and Captain Campbell’s Battery of Artillery, from Chambersburg, occupy the barracks at Camp Scott, and the citizens of York are daily afforded and opportunity to witness an imposing display, as one of more of the Regiments march through the streets, to and from the extensive field in which their perform their evolutions. — Cecil.”