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“The post was not a comfortable one:” The 12th PA Infantry visits York’s Camp Scott

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Pennsylvania and Ohio troops at Camp Scott in York, Pa. – May 25, 1861 (Harper’s Weekly)
Background post: “A Perfect Storm of Flowers

Shortly after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln called for a massive volunteer army to quell the rebellion. Tens of thousands of men across the Northern United States responded to the call, including more than 1,000 men from western Pennsylvania who enrolled in what became the 12th Pennsylvania Infantry. Six companies hailed from Pittsburgh, two from the New Castle region, and two from Washington County.

The new regiment mustered into service on April 22, 1861, at Pittsburgh with David Campbell as its first colonel. The other two senior officers were Lt. Col. Norton McGiffin and Maj. Alexander Hays (who would later play a critical role in defending Cemetery Ridge against Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg). The regiment’s term of service was to be three months.

Two days after being mustered, the 12th traveled by train from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg’s Camp Curtin. On the 25th, Gov. Andrew G. Curtin reviewed the new soldiers, who then marched to the railroad station in downtown Harrisburg and embarked on a southbound train for York. They were now a part of Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson’s Department of Pennsylvania.

Major Hays’ son later wrote about his father’s early military experiences, including a brief account of the regiment’s month-long stay at Camp Scott in York, Pa.

“The regiment left Pittsburgh on the 24th of April, and arrived in Harrisburg on the 25th, where it was quartered in churches, and in the Capitol. On the afternoon of the same day, the 12th, together with the 13th, was reviewed in the public grounds by Governor Curtin, and was mustered into the service of the United States. Immediately afterwards, the 12th departed by the Northern Central Railroad for Camp Scott, near the town of York. Here it remained for several weeks, engaged in drill. The camp was not a comfortable one, being at this season of the year, a field of mud. The men soon became impatient for active service. On the 19th of May the regiment was clothed, equipped, and furnished with camp equipage.

The bridges on the Northern Central Railroad, which were destroyed immediately after its abandonment, had been rebuilt and trains commenced running regularly between Harrisburg and Baltimore on the 9th of May. On the 25th, the regiment was ordered to move and take position on this road, from the state line to the city of Baltimore, relieving the 1st Pennsylvania, Colonel Yohe. The order was hailed with delight, opening to the men a prospect of activity. It was posted along the road, with headquarters at Cockeysville, where two companies, I and K, were stationed. The guard duty was very heavy, and soon became irksome, but no attempt by force or stealth, was ever made to interfere with the line. The companies were so much scattered that no opportunity was afforded for regimental drill after leaving Camp Scott. The two companies at Cockeysville were, however, regularly and thoroughly instructed, and soon acquired the proficiency of veterans. In the manual they were daily exercised by Sergeant-Major Bonnafon, an experienced soldier, and in the school of the company by their officers. The men were impatient to be with the advancing column, but were obliged to remain to the end of their term of enlistment in this position.

The service rendered by this regiment was devoid of stirring incident, but was, nevertheless, exceedingly laborious, was faithfully performed, and was of great moment to the government. The highest expectations were entertained of its heroic conduct in the face of the enemy; but no enemy was seen, and no occasion presented for the firing of a gun. It was a noiseless and inglorious campaign, but a highly useful one, for not only was an important and vital line of communication with the National Capitol preserved and protected, but a fine body of men was thoroughly drilled and perfected in the school of arms, and many, who here received their first instruction, afterwards led with great skill in the most deadly encounters. The field officers had all received a military training. The regiment was mustered out of service at Harrisburg August 5, 1861.”

Hays, Gilbert Adams and George Thornton Fleming, ed., Life and Letters of Alexander Hays (Pittsburgh: Gilbert Adams Hays, 1919), 123-24.

Among the companies from Pittsburgh was the Duquesne Grays. They took quarters in a local Baptist church in York. Upon leaving for Maryland to guard the Northern Central Railway, they presented the congregation with a large Bible for the pulpit.

Regimental information adapted from Volume 1 of The Union Army by the Federal Publishing Company, 1908.

See also Bates, Samuel P., History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65 (Harrisburg: 1868-1871).