November 30, 2011

'Not a book or a woman is to be met in a month': A Letter from the 79th PA's New Camp

Location: Camp Negley, Nolin Station, KY
Union Army Camp Guard (detail of photography by Matthew Brady via
Note that this scene is from a series of 1863 photographs of the camp of the 1st Pennsylvania Reserves, which included three Lancaster companies, but that's another story for another time.

Today's letter is the second that Lieut. W. Wilberforce Nevin wrote to the Daily Evening Express.  It's also our first correspondence after the 79th Pennsylvania ended its one-month stay at Camp Nevin.  On November 26, 1861, the regiment struck tents and marched down the road a mile or two to its new home, Camp Negley.  The letter has to rank as one of the most eloquent and introspective that we'll read over the course of the war.  Recall that Nevin was valedictorian of F&M's Class of 1853 (where his father would become president after the war) and had begun practicing law a year or two before the war began and he became an officer in Company G, 79th Pennsylvania.  (Read his bio post here)

The letter describes to an audience in Lancaster the transformation that the Lancasterians in the 79th Pennsylvania underwent in their first four weeks in camp.  It describes guard duty for the men at Camp Nevin, which basically meant one or two companies at a time forming a perimeter around the camp to ensure nobody went in or out without permission, as well as keeping watch over the guard house.  In his November 27, 1861, diary entry, Sgt. William T. Clark of Company B described his experience:
Rained very hard last night & the ground being wheat stubble was very soft & muddy. At noon weather cleared up & afternoon is fine. Today I am No. 1 of the 3rd relief of Camp Guard & am at the Guard House. Three prisoners being confined therein one for cursing his Capt., another while out on picket accidentally shot a man in the thigh. The other a Drum Major in Col. Stambaugh’s Regiment was put in for being drunk & not beating the reveille. He escaped out of the rear of the tent while I was on duty. Received letter from Coz. Maggie. We had mush & molasses for supper.
Nevin also describes his reaction to picket duty, which meant going out into the countryside as an advance guard against surprises by the enemy.  I'll defer to his description of this experience that apparently left quite an impression on the line officer.

With the regiment stationary in Kentucky, rather efficient lines of communication opened with Lancaster.  Almost all accounts from the regiment mention regularly receiving the newspapers from Lancaster mentioned on this blog (and often the Philadelphia Press).  I think Capt. William G. Kendrick mentioned that they usually arrived three days after they were printed, which seems pretty fast.  While they were sometimes shipped with the compliments of newspaper editors in Lancaster, Lancaster's Post Office sold special "newspaper stamped envelopes" for making it easier to send single newspapers.  [DEE 11/14/1861]

Nevin also includes the report of a special visitor to the regiment, a journalist from the Louisville Journal who wanted to see a regiment that generals had bragged of as a shining example of a healthy camp.  All the Lancaster newspapers reprinted this good news for people in Lancaster, although the weather and living conditions would become miserable as the calendar turned to December.

From the December 5, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

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