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Sarcastic Gettysburg soldier sent letters home from York’s Camp Scott: Part 4

Camp Scott NYIllNews 2 052561Shortly after the start of the Civil War, a Gettysburg-area soldier in the 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry stationed at Camp Scott (above) in York PA mailed a series of letters back to Henry J. Stahle, the editor of the Gettysburg Compiler. One hundred years later, the Gettysburg Times re-published the transcripts. Using the pen name “Bagheney,” the soldier at times was witty and sarcastic; at other times he was clearly frustrated at the delays in leaving the training camp and getting a crack at the Rebels. Read Part 1 here.

After expressing his continued frustration at the delays on the morning of Monday, May 27, 1861, Bagheney took up his pen later in the day after the situation changed rather dramatically. The army decided the Pennsylvania troops were ready to leave Camp Scott, but to Bagheney’s surprise, they were not destined for Virginia and possible glory in sweeping aside Confederate troops on the battlefield. No, their initial destination would be far from the theater of action.

“Monday afternoon — 4 o’clock. We have just received orders to march — where, we did not inquire. So anxious were we to move, that in less than fifteen minutes every man was ready, with knapsack strapped to his back. Presently orders were given to form line in regiment.  After some time we were marched to the depot, passing through a line of citizens and soldiers.”

“By the time we were packed into the cars it was 9 o’clock. I expected we would go to Washington, until I saw which was the engine was headed; but still did not suspect our destination, until we got on the Cumberland Valley road. After a very cautious, very tiresome trip, we arrived in Chambersburg about 8 in the morning, (Tuesday), in company with six companies of the 3d Regiment, there not being cars to convey all.  After forming line, we marched to Camp McAllen.”

Bagheney and the 2nd Pennsylvania’s mundane duty in Camp Scott in York was now over. However, instead of fighting Rebels, they would again fight boredom at what Bagheney called “Camp Misery.” As bad as they thought the York campsite had been, now it was no no better at the new site a mile west of Chambersburg.  The men were annoyed, tired, and hungry, having not eaten anything since a hasty lunch on Monday back in York. Their time at “Camo Misery” proved to be very short, as the company soon moved into a spacious carriage house in downtown Chambersburg. The only problem was the lack of straw, so the soldiers had to sleep “on the soft sides of plank.”

chambersburgWoodcut of wartime Chambersburg PA from Harper’s Weekly.

More troops poured into Chambersburg, including a new regiment from Delaware and one from Philadelphia, which had run the gauntlet of taunts from Rebel sympathizers while changing trains in Baltimore earlier in the week. Eventually, the company moved to a sprawling tent city set up in a high and rolling field outside of town, making it “the best Camp in the  neighborhood,” Bagheney believed. It was named Camp McClure, in honor of a prominent local newsman, Alexander K. McClure.

The only problem was the nasty food, including a very salty meat which he deemed “jerky horse.” The only way to dispose of it was “to bury it,” instead of consuming it. “The crackers were as large as any pewter plate you ever saw,” he informed the Compiler readers, “made out of the last grinding of the [corn] cob, and in the absence of a flax brake, dear help the poor soldier who is missing a few teeth. I supposed that after a boiling of two to three hours they would make good provender for crying babies if properly prepared.”

All was not lost, however. With the tough meat safely deposited in the ground and the hardtack crackers ignored, help was on the horizon for the famished men of the 2nd Pennsylvania. Residents of neighboring towns came to the rescue.

“But there seems to be a bright side to everything,” Bagheney mused. “be it ever so dark, for in the midst of murmurings, a wagon load of provisions arrived from the good citizens of Shippensburg and its vicinity, also one from Greencastle, consisting of butter, bread, and vegetables, with milk by the barrel — for which I know every soldier felt thankful.”

June 7 brought a little excitement news arrived that Rebel scouts were within six miles of town. A guard detail was sent out, and they returned with the news that they had shot one of the Rebels. His comrades had dragged him off through a grain field. The Union guards tracked him by the blood, but lost the trail. The presumption was the Rebels had intended to either burn a nearby grist mill or perhaps capture one of the Federal advance pickets in order to gain intelligence.

The 2nd Pennsylvania eventually moved south into Maryland and eventually to Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) where they were a part of Gen. Robert Patterson’s force which was trying to hold Joe Johnston’s Rebels in the Shenandoah Valley. They failed and Johnston was able to slip away and join P.G.T. Beauregard’s army near Manassas.

A pitched battle there on July 21 along the banks of Bull Run would change the perception of the war forever. Bagheney and the rest of the three-month men returned home to be mustered out of the army. Many of the men re-enlisted in three-year regiments, but Bagheney apparently had seen enough of the soldiers’ life.

There would be no more letters to the Gettysburg Compiler from him.