Sarcastic Gettysburg soldier sent letters home from York’s Camp Scott: Part 1
Shortly after the start of the American Civil War in 1861, the U.S. government established a series of training bases throughout the North. The largest one in Pennsylvania eventually became known as Camp Curtin, in honor of the commonwealth’s Republican governor Andrew Gregg Curtin. A smaller facility, Camp Scott, was established on the York Agricultural Society’s Fair Grounds near the intersection of King and Queen streets. The training camp was named for the overall commander of the Union Army, former Mexican War hero Winfield Scott.
Regiments filled with eager, starry-eyed new recruits came to Camp Scott for training, equipment, and an introduction to martial drills and expectations. Among the newly organized commands was Company E of the 2nd Pennsylvania, a 90-day regiment. Its men hailed from Adams County and called themselves the “Independent Blues.” One of them, known only to history by his pen name “Bageney,” wrote a handful of letters back to Henry J. Stahle, the editor of the Gettysburg Compiler.
Here are the first ones, which were reproduced in the Gettysburg Times on June 29, 1863, during the Civil War Centennial.
Shearer & Lake map of York, PA, as it appeared in 1860 just prior to the Civil War. The fairgrounds are shown in the First Ward in the southeastern part of town (lower right in the map). South Newberry Street is directly to the west, across Codorus Creek.
Dated May 3, 1861, “Bageney” addressed his epistle to Friend Stahle, who had apparently paid a visit to the new troops in late April.
“Nothing has occurred worthy of note since your leaving, except an unexpected storm of snow and rain, which made our quarters uninhabitable.
Saturday morning — Still snowing. Our quarters are completely overflowed with water. We were compelled to wade in four or five inches of water, in order to get out. A number of our men have taken severe colds in consequence. Towards noon orders were given to shift quarters, which was done in double quick time. We moved to South Newberry Street, beyond the Bridge. I have not been able to ascertain what kind of a ‘berry’ that is, but I tell you we met with great kindness from the people in that quarter. I hope and pray they may be blessed in basket and store.
Although this weather has cast a gloom over our Camp, and many in consequence have imbibed too much tanglefoot [whiskey], our men have conducted themselves as though they came here to do duty and service to their country, and not disgrace the communities that sent them. Out of 6 or 7,000 men here assembled, I have witnessed but one quarrel — which is almost unparalleled.
Tuesday — The change in weather has dispelled the gloom that was cast over the face of grumblers. We are just uniforming ourselves — and pretty things they are! — made out of tow and filled in with split oven wood, and not very fine at that. While writing Chambers[burg] Battery is passing our quarters — commanded by Capt. Campbell. They have four guns and make quite a formidable appearance. [Editor’s note: This battery actually had five antiquated 6-pounder smoothbore howitzers, two of which were left over from Capt. Charles T. Campbell‘s service in the Mexican War.]
By the way, some persons are making quite a ‘spec’ out of our beautiful dress. I am told it cost the Government some twenty-two dollars. About eight or ten dollars would be a very fair price. I am just trying on my pants. Oh, what a fit! — I must have sixteen inches, more or less, taken off below, and five or six inches around the ‘bread-basket.’ A word in regard to our shoes, if we are allowed to call them such. My usual No. is 6, but I got No. 10. Of course that leaves enough leather to set up a small tannery.”
The witty “Bageney” sends another series of letters back to editor Stahle in our next installment.