in Geezer, Meddling, Raleigh

Camp Holmes – Raleigh’s Civil War “Camp of Instruction”

Camp Holmes (including “officers quaters”)

A friend shared a historical map this morning that caught my eye. It is a map of the old breastworks built by the city of Raleigh to impede approaching Union troops near the end of the Civil War. I’d seen the historical marker (H-30) a mile away from my home, mentioning that breastworks were nearby but I’d never seen them and didn’t think much about them until now. So, one of my upcoming projects is to trace the path of the old earthen walls so that I can visit these sites to see if there’s anything left (update: found them!). After 153 years, it’s unlikely I’ll find any remnants of the five-foot-tall earthen walls and gravel but you never know.

Another detail of the map caught my eye, however: Camp Holmes. Curious about what this is, I did a few Google searches and was surprised to learn that nobody really knows where it was. It’s plainly on this old map, however, so a bit of Google Earth magic should show me roughly where I can physically search for it (update: found it!)

My Camp Holmes searches brought up a few lonely hits, one of which is a letter detailing an inspection made of Camp Holmes by Confederate assistant adjutant-general LtC Archer Anderson in June 1864. It provides an interesting look at the camp. There are others online, too, in the form of handwritten letters which will take some deciphering before being posted online.

As the letter appeared in a US Congressional publication in 1900 it is now in the public domain. Here it is in its entirety. I’ll post more stories as I learn more about the camp.

June 16, 1864.

Report of inspection of Camp Holmes, a camp of instruction near Raleigh, commanded by Major Hahr, with the following: staff: One first lieutenant, adjutant; one first lieutenant, receiving officer; one assistant quartermaster; one assistant commissary of subsistence; one surgeon and one assistant surgeon; one chaplain; one first lieutenant, commanding guard; four second lieutenants, drill-masters.

As the conscripts come in their names are recorded with a statement of their age, county, the officer by whom enrolled, and other facts entering into a descriptive list. When they leave the camp the assignment made of them is recorded in the same book, which thus presents a complete history of the connection of each conscript, passing through this camp with the conscription authorities. Nine thousand and fifty-seven are shown to have been enrolled at Camp Holmes during the year ending June 13, but this figure does not indicate the whole number enrolled in the State in that period, as many are detailed for various duties without passing through the camp of instruction. The names thus recorded are classified in three other books as follows: 1. The principals of substitutes — 430 so far. 2. Persons exempt prior to act of February 17 otherwise than by substitution. 3. Those not previously exempt. All conscripts fit for the field are examined by the Medical Board and classified according to their special fitness for artillery, cavalry, or infantry service. Besides the above the following books are kept:

1. A record of the absentees, deserters, etc., arrested and sent to their commands. Three hundred odd of these arrests were made in May; over 6,000 have been returned through this camp.
2. Morning report book showing all present in camp.
3. Order book. These books preserve a record of all the facts which would seem to be essential.

There are 136 enlisted men in camp. Of these, sixty-four disabled conscripts and soldiers constitute the camp guard. The remainder are conscripts whose permanent assignment is delayed for obvious causes. Colonel Mallett, commandant of conscripts, thinks the guard which has been limited by the Bureau to the above number too small to prevent the escape of conscripts, and entirely insufficient to furnish traveling guards for the conscripts, deserters, and others sent to the various armies. Sixty men are needed for this duty alone, he says. The average time this year which conscripts have remained at Camp Holmes is less than a week. They are not drilled during that time, it is stated, because better employment has been found for the drill-masters. This I should think a mistake. Even a week’s drilling would do something to set the conscript up as a soldier, and would at least keep him in good health and spirits. With the present organization I see no reason why the few conscripts in camp should not be industriously drilled three times a day.

Staff departments. — The assistant quartermaster, besides discharging the appropriate duties of the camp, pays all the enrolling officers of the State and provides them with stationery. Every conscript is clothed by him before he leaves the camp. Employees: One clerk, one forage-master, one overseer of wood-choppers — all disabled soldiers or conscripts.

The medical officers are the physicians of the camp, and constitute a board for the duties before mentioned. The senior officer has the supervision of all the district medical boards, and is charged with the duty of keeping them filled with proper officers. Every conscript is vaccinated here. A neat hospital with eighteen beds is attached. Employees: One hospital steward, regularly appointed; one clerk, a disabled conscript.

The assistant commissary of subsistence draws his supplies from the district commissary at Raleigh. Ration: One and one-eighth pounds flour, one-third pound bacon or one pound salt fish, the latter two days out of three, one-tenth pound rice, and salt as usual. During the past month two quarts of molasses to the hundred rations have been issued. Employees: Two clerks and one teamster, each a disabled soldier or conscript. A fine garden of twenty acres filled with vegetables will materially improve the fare and contribute to the health of the conscripts this summer. It is cultivated by six conscripts unfit for field service. The men are quartered in log huts. There is abundance of room, but the police of the quarters might be improved. The guard-house is dirty and too confined. It appears that of some 250 conscripts who had been doing duty for two years in Mallett’s battalion as a camp guard and supporting force, 100 men without any experience on the water selected the naval service when their temporary organization was disbanded a few weeks since. Thus 100 trained soldiers are lost to the Army when every man is needed. I mention the incident, as it may be thought proper to take measures for their transfer to the Army, or for the alteration of the law at the next session of Congress. With the instructions on this subject under which commandants are now acting (issued by General Rains) it is matter of surprise that a single conscript goes to the Army.

Respectfully submitted.
ARCHER ANDERSON, Lieutenant-Colonel and Assistant Adjutant-General.