Civil War Training Camps in Massachusetts, Part Two

The parade ground of Fort Warren in Boston Harbor from

The parade ground of Fort Warren in Boston Harbor from “Harper’s Weekly,” December 1861

As I could find no resource that definitively listed and precisely located the various Civil War training camps in Massachusetts, I hunted down the top ten, plotted them on a map, and provided historical descriptions of five of the camps in part one of Civil War Training Camps in Massachusetts.

The vast majority of Massachusetts Civil War units were trained at the five camps outlined in part one (most notable among them being Camp Meigs in Readville which was by far the most active). However, there were other, albeit less active, camps worthy of some further description. So, I here present information on the next five training sites, in descending order of activity, beginning with number six. All of the top ten are plotted on the map below. Zoom in for a better look at the exact location of each site.

6. Fort Warren, Boston Harbor

Before the war: The largest of the fortifications in Boston Harbor, Fort Warren (named for the Revolutionary War hero Dr. Joseph Warren who was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill) is located on George’s Island, about seven miles out from downtown Boston. Construction of the fort commenced in 1833 and was completed in 1861, shortly after the war began. The condition of Fort Warren at the beginning of the war was less than ideal. Massachusetts Adjutant General William Schouler wrote that, prior to the war, there was but one gun in Fort Warren. Referring to the Commonwealth’s coastal fortifications in general, he wrote, “The casemates were unfit for human occupation. The grounds inside the forts were covered with workshops and wooden shanties; and, instead of being a defence to the city and harbor, the fortifications of Boston were a standing menace to them, and invited seizure by the enemy. The entire coast of Massachusetts was open to attack from sea; not a fort or an earthwork or a gun was in proper condition.”[1]

The coastal fortifications were under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army. The ever pro-active Governor John Andrew spent much time, and met with much frustration, in petitioning, indeed imploring, the army and the Federal government to set the forts in proper condition, secure the necessary armaments and supplies, and send adequate Regular Army officers to superintend the forts. By 1862, the forts were more or less in working order and properly armed, however the coastal fortifications remained a constant source of concern for the Governor and his Adjutant General.

Period of activity: Fort Warren was manned by numerous units over the course of the war, most of them unattached companies and battalions. The presence of a strong garrison at Fort Warren was necessary not only for coastal defense, but perhaps more importantly to support the fort’s use as prison for captured Confederates. For our purposes here, we will focus on those regiments which were trained at the fort and sent to the front. As a training ground for three-year regiments, Fort Warren was most active in the earliest months of the war. The 11th Massachusetts Infantry was to first unit to rendezvous there for training on May 9, 1861. Two more regiments soon joined them. By August 1861, all three regiments had shipped off. The final three-year regiment to be organized at Fort Warren (or at least the nucleus of a regiment) were the 6 companies which became the core of the 32nd Massachusetts. These six companies were known as the “Fort Warren Battalion,” having been gathered specifically for the purpose of providing the first long-term garrison duty for the fort. They remained until May 26, 1862 when called to the defense of Washington.

Units trained: Four regiments of infantry for service in the field (and many other smaller units for coastal garrison service). These were the 11th, 12th, 14th and 32nd regiments of infantry.

The site today: Fort Warren remained an active military coastal facility through World War II when it served as the command center for Boston Harbor’s south mine field. After World War II it was decommissioned and was opened to the public in 1961 as a historic site and recreational area.

7. Camp Stanton, Boxford

Before the war: The open land on a small hill known as Round Top in rural Boxford had served as a muster field and training ground for local companies of militia in the early days of the Revolutionary War. After that, it was periodically used for brief training encampments of Massachusetts militia units. In keeping with this tradition, the location was again used as a training ground for a small number of units during the Civil War and dubbed Camp Stanton after the U.S. Secretary of War (not to be confused with the far more active Camp Stanton in Lynnfield).[2] Even considering its history, it seems somewhat unusual that regiments would be sent to such a rural and remote location for training. It’s use might be attributed to the fact that, after the August 1862 call for nine-months regiments, camps of instruction across the Commonwealth were swamped like never before. Additional sites such as Boxford may have been organized due to this massive wave of enlistment.

Period of activity: There are indications that Camp Stanton was used during the early years of the war for the training of small, local companies preparing to join up with regiments at other camps. It’s primary period of activity was quite compact. The camp was inundated during the first two weeks of September 1862 (following the call for nine-months regiments) by three regiments of infantry and one battery of light artillery. This must have been something of a shock to the local inhabitants of rural Boxford to have thousands of recruits descend upon their town.

Units trained: Four regiments of infantry (the 39th, 41st, 47th, and 50th Massachusetts regiments) and one battery of light artillery (the 10th Battery).

The Boxford camp during World War I, at that time known as Camp Curtis Guild

The Boxford camp during World War I, at that time known as Camp Curtis Guild

The site today: Unlike most Massachusetts Civil War camps, which typically disappeared or were turned over to other uses such as fairgrounds, Camp Stanton would repeatedly see considerable use as a training site for Massachusetts units during peacetime, during the Spanish-American war, and during World War I. By the 20th century it was known as Camp Curtis Guild (not to be confused with the present-day Massachusetts National Guard’s camp of the same name in Wakefield and North Reading, the second largest training site in Massachusetts, which superseded the old Boxford camp). After World War I, the Round Top land went into private hands and is now quite wooded. In 1955 a small 4.3 acre portion of the camp was gifted to the Town of Boxford to be preserved as a historical site. A local group known as the Friends of Round Top have recently been working to have the location listed on the National Register of Historic Places and to have a preservation restriction placed on the property.[3] In 2012, the site received a plaque and an informational kiosk through the efforts of a local Eagle Scout candidate.

8. Camp Lander, Wenham

Before the war: I have not been able to determine the prior use of the site of Camp Lander or any prior history as a muster site. It was likely open farmland at the time of the war. Camp Lander served as a central location for three North Shore regiments to muster under the August 1862 call for nine-months regiments. It was named after Massachusetts General Frederick W. Lander of Salem who had been injured during the Battle of Ball’s Bluff and died of disease in camp on the upper Potomac in what is now Paw Paw, West Virginia.

Period of activity: Like Camp Stanton above, Camp Lander saw its busiest training activity in the fall of 1862 following the call for nine-months regiments. Three regiments of infantry gathered there in September 1862 and departed between October and December 1862.

Units trained: The 5th, 8th and 48th infantry regiments.

The site today: Camp Lander consisted of ten barracks, five storage buildings, and a hospital building. All of these were sold off after the war and moved off the site. At least one of these barracks buildings survives today as a residence.[4] In 1916, Harriet E. Pingree donated much of the land that had been Camp Lander to the Town of Wenham for playing fields and a park. A plaque dedicated to Camp Lander is located at the main gate to Pingree Park.

9. Camp Joe Hooker, Lakeville

Before the war: The small town of Lakeville (population 1,160 in 1861) was an out of the way location for a training camp. It was, however, along the railroad from Fall River to Boston. And it is geographically central to Bristol and Plymouth Counties making it an ideal location for companies from those counties to rally. The Commonwealth leased three farms along the shore of the large Assawompsett Pond.

Period of activity: As with the two above rendezvous locations, Camp Joe Hooker’s term as a training camp was a concentrated period after the August 1862 call for nine-months regiments. Two southeastern Massachusetts units, the old 3rd and 4th Massachusetts Volunteer Militias (which had served as 90 days units) elected to reorganize and answer the call. Both regiments went into Camp Joe Hooker in mid September. The 3rd Massachusetts departed in October and the 4th Massachusetts in December.

Units trained: Two: the 3rd and 4th Massachusetts Volunteer Militias

The site today: Like Camp Stanton, Camp Joe Hooker continued to be used as a training site and was active during World War I. In the 1920s, a racetrack was built on the site eventually known as Golden Spur Speedway–a popular attraction which operated until 1975. The location is now overgrown and abandoned but apparently vestiges of the track still survive. A small wooden sign along Staples Shore Road placed by the Town of Lakeville notes that Camp Joe Hooker once occupied the site.

10. Camp Wightman, Long Island, Boston Harbor

Before the war: A battery and fortifications were placed on the East Head of Long Island during the Revolution, shortly after the British evacuation of Boston. The men stationed there took part in a bombardment of the British fleet which blockaded the outer harbor and drove them away. For most of the 19th century, the island was tranquil farmland. Until it was purchased in 1849 with an eye towards development. A hotel was built on the island and there were plans to divide the land into many small cottage lots. These plans were thwarted by the impending Civil War and the City of Boston’s plans to take over the island for a training camp and new military installations.

Period of activity: Long Island was frequently used as a brief stopping point for regiments being shipped off. The first large body of troops to go into training here for an extended period were recruits of Irish descent. Camp Wightman, named after then Mayor of Boston, Joseph Wightman, was built for their housing and training in May 1861. The units were initially designated the 13th and 14th Massachusetts Infantries. Unfortunately, both units could not be accepted given the quota restrictions at that time and in the rush to meet the quota, companies from the two regiments were consolidated (which caused much vexation among the officers and men) into what would become the Irish 9th Massachusetts which departed in June 1861. In March 1863, the Federal government instituted the first draft law. Massachusetts draftees were sent to Long Island for training, some 3,000 of them in all.[5] Nearly all of these conscripts were sent to fill out the ranks of regiments already in the field. Beyond these training activities, Long Island was commonly used as a location for housing and mustering out returning regiments. It was therefore a busy installation throughout the Civil War.

Units trained: The 9th Massachusetts Infantry and some 3,000 draftees.

The site today: A military installation, known as Fort Strong, was maintained on the East Head of the island through the 1950s. It is now abandoned. In 1882, the city of Boston took possession of the rest of Long Island for the purpose of constructing various institutions including a home for the indigent, a home for unwed mothers, and a chronic disease hospital. This use has continued ever since and the island is now the site of several facilities operated by the Boston Public Health Commission.

“Honorable Mention”: In addition to these ten long-term camps of instruction, the were approximately 15 very temporary camps set up across the Commonwealth, each for the purpose of training just a single regiment. Among these, Camp Andrew in West Roxbury perhaps deserves honorable mention due to the historic significance of the site and the fact that the land is well preserved, although no structures survive. The camp was organized on the property known as Brook Farm, an experimental utopian community (1841-1847) established by several leaders of the Transcendentalist movement. Participants in Brook Farm included George and Sophia Ripley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller.

Robert Gould Shaw (1837-1863) was a lieutenant in the 2nd Mass and later the famed colonel of the 54th Mass

Robert Gould Shaw (1837-1863) was a lieutenant in the 2nd Mass and later the famed colonel of the 54th Mass

A wealthy Boston merchant and reform-minded abolitionist, Francis Gould Shaw, resided on an estate adjacent to Brook Farm, took an active interest in it, and was one of its strongest financial supporters. He frequently brought his young son, Robert Gould Shaw, on visits to Brook Farm and for a time young Robert was enrolled in the successful school there. It must have been strange for an older Robert Gould Shaw to return to the site and the abandoned buildings as a green lieutenant in the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry which set up Camp Andrew on the property in May 1861. The 2nd Massachusetts trained there for two months, departing on July 8, 1861. A large boulder and plaque today marks the location of Camp Andrew. Their former drill field is still open land. The site is maintained today by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

[1] William Schouler, A History of Massachusetts in the Civil War, (1868), p. 34
[2] Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, “Boxford Reconnaissance Report,” (2005), p. 5
[3] Brendan Lewis, “A Round Top Turnaround?” September 23, 2008
[4] Jack E Hauck, Treasures of Wenham History, p. 547
[5] Schouler, p. 481

About Patrick Browne

I am a PhD candidate in History, former historical society and museum director of roughly 20 years, an author, sometimes Civil War reenactor. I specialize in early American History, particularly the Civil War era. View all posts by Patrick Browne

5 responses to “Civil War Training Camps in Massachusetts, Part Two

  • James Thaddeus

    At the Camp Andrew site there is a brick vault built into the side of a hill. Oral history from local residents say this was a depository for ammo used by the 2d Mass. Infantry. There is no longer a historical marker on the brick vault. What if anything did your research determine this vault to be?

    Also, at the cemetery on the same road as Camp Andrew, there is a strange commemorative item dedicated to the 2d Mass. Infantry — it’s one of the original cannons used on the USS Constitution! So we have a 19th century Navy cannon near this Camp Andrew site to commemorate the 19th century Army Regiment that trained there — strange but true!

    My great grandfather served in the 2d Mass. Infantry, Co. F, at Camp Andrew and elsewhere. Oral history within my family says that Lt. Robert Gould Shaw was class-conscious and openly expressed his distaste not only for Irish Catholics but also for people of color. Hopefully, Shaw matured and became more egalitarian as the war progressed. Anyway, years later, after the Shaw Memorial was erected on the Boston Common, Irish Catholic veterans of the Civil War, according to my family’s oral history, lobbied for a statue to a Civil War Officer who was not a bigot — the equestrian statue of General “Fightin’ Joe” Hooker, across the street from the Shaw Memorial, was the result!

    • Patrick Browne

      Hi James. I have seen the vault you are referring to. It struck me as something more recent than the Civil War era, and I have no idea as to its origins. But it seems possible it may have been part of Camp Andrew.
      I’ve seen the cannon also. Was surprised to see it, in fact. It does seem an unusual memorial but it is an interesting historical artifact nonetheless.
      You raise some complicated issues about race, class and ethnicity in 19th century Boston which I probably can’t adequately address in this comment. Shaw was indeed scathing in his commentary on Irish-Americans and, to a lesser degree, on blacks. There’s no excuse for it, but it should be considered in the context of the culture in which he was raised. His opinions on black soldiers changed considerably during his service with the 54th Mass, a fact which is born out in his letters. I don’t think the same can be said about his opinions on the Irish.
      The post-war clash between Boston Brahmins and Boston Irish (the latter rising considerably in office holding and influence in the late 19th century) over which Civil War figures should be honored with memorials is a complex and interesting story (maybe a potential blog article!). It’s covered in “Hope & Glory: Essays on the Legacy of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment” by Blatt, Brown, and Yacavone. Shaw’s memorial was not necessarily singled out because he was anti-Irish (although that’s part of it) but because it was part of a larger battle over honoring Boston’s elite vs. others like Grant, Sheridan, Farragut and Hooker. The Boston elite tended to be antislavery activists, or like Shaw, supporters of the changing status of blacks in American (and Boston) society. I’m not sure what Hooker’s views on blacks or Irish were. But I doubt he was advanced by the Boston Irish because he was less biased or bigoted, but because he was not a symbol of the Boston elite.
      And bear in mind, I write this as someone fully of Boston Irish ancestry.

      • James Thaddeus

        Patrick, thank you for the mini-blog in response to my comment. In addition to what you’ve said, I would add this – Hooker was perceived by his men as being concerned for their welfare and as being respectful to the Irish.

        Hooker was given command of the Army of the Potomac on Jan. 26th, 1863. According to http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Hooker_Joseph_1814-1879, “Hooker immediately reorganized the army, consolidated the cavalry into an effective fighting branch, instituted the use of corps insignias, cut down on desertions, issued regular furloughs, established more effective and accurate intelligence gathering, and improved supplies and rations. These measures increased morale among the men and faith in him as senior officer.”

        Further, Hooker after the Peninsular Campaign praised members of two predominantly Irish regiments: the 9th Massachusetts and the 69th Pennsylvanian. See Susannah J. Ural’s Civil War Citizens, p. 106, accessible through books.google.com.

  • John Aronsson

    I don’t know if you’ve come across Camp Briggs in Pittsfield but beginning on page 59 of the “History of the 37th Regiment Mass. Volunteers” by James L. Bowen (1884) is a very precise description of where the camp was located.

    https://archive.org/stream/hist37thregi00bowerich#page/n8/mode/1up

    If you haven’t come across this particular regimental history, the first couple of chapters are very interesting.

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