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The old Camp Lee. [from the Richmond, Va. Dispatch, May 22, 1898.]

Its first commandant writes an interesting Sketch. Story of the Camp's formation.

It was first used as a Camp of instruction for infantry as well as Cavalry—An Artillery and conscript Camp, finally.

Colonel John C. Shields, the commandant at old Camp Lee, furnishes the Dispatch with a most valuable article, giving the history of the camp from its establishment in the earliest days of the Confederacy, until the close of the war.

Colonel Shields was the editor of the Richmond Whig for a number of years, and among older newspaper men in Virginia, his name is very familiar. He was the founder of the Lynchburg Virginian, which was for many years one of the widely influential papers of the State. He stood in the front rank of Virginia journalists in his day, and some of his contributions to the historical data of early Virginia, especially the Valley, are very valuable.

Colonel Shields has for several years been retired from journalism, living with his family at his beautiful home in Rockbridge county, where he leads an ideal existence among his books, fruit trees, and flowers.


Colonel shield S Sketch.

The Hermitage Fair-Grounds were chosen first for an infantry camp of instruction as well as for cavalry. This was in April, 1861. The Hanover Troop and the Henrico Troop were, perhaps, the first regular commands to enter the grounds. The late General W. C. Wickham was captain of the Hanover Cavalry, and Colonel J. Lucius Davis', of Henrico, was the captain of the cavalry from that county.

About the same date the Chesterfield Cavalry, Captain William B. Ball; the Powhatan, Captain Phil. St. George Cocke, and the Richmond, Captain J. Grattan Cabell, and others were early at the rendezvous. Among the first infantry commands were the First (Richmond) Regiment, Colonel P. T. Moore, and then followed company after company, and many regiments were soon organized.

The Corps of cadets.

The corps of cadets of the Virginia Military Institute were soon in place under command of Colonel William Gilham, commandant of the corps and professor of tactics. The corps was detailed as instructors. Colonel Gilham, who had been for a while commander of the post, was made colonel of the Twenty-first Regiment, and went to the field.

(I cannot call to mind any person who can probably furnish information at this late day more accurately, perhaps, than Major T. G. Peyton, who was assigned to the Fifteenth Regiment of infantry. Being in the Howitzers, I was first with my command at Richmond College, then at Chimborazo, and moved with my battery as captain of the First Howitzers to Manassas early in May. Perhaps Major Peyton can fill the space from where I leave off to December, 1861, when I took charge.)

During the fall months of 1861 a very large authority was issued for the formation of artillery companies in Virginia, as well as in other States of the Confederacy. At the conclusion of the first year, for which many companies and regiments of Virginia had entered the service, some which had served as infantry had authority to change to artillery.

In November, 1861, there were about twenty-five companies recruited for artillery then in different camps around Richmond. Each company reported to the department headquarters, known as Henrico, which embraced Richmond and several miles around the city. General J. H. Winder, an old army officer, was in command, with [243] headquarters in the Valentine building, corner Broad and Ninth streets. Hon. Legh R. Page was his assistant adjutant-general. The late General Charles Dimmock, ordnance officer for Virginia, and commandant of the State Guard and the armory, gave General Winder valuable aid in the commencement of the preparation of the various companies adverted to, but a regular station or camp and bringing all the companies into one station and under trained officers in charge was essential.

Genesis of Camp Lee proper.

Hon. Judah P. Benjamin was then acting Secretary of War. The late General George W. Randolph, who had been major of the Howitzer Battalion, was then in command of a brigade at Suffolk. He, with General Dimmock, were trained and finely equipped artillery officers. Mr. Benjamin, at the suggestion of General Winder, consulted with Generals Dimmock and Randolph as to the best course to pursue with the artillery companies then here, and about the thirty to forty more to come in from several other States. The result was that an order was issued for the formation of an artillery headquarters, and that Captain John C. Shields, then serving at Leesburg with his battery, the First Howitzers, should be promoted and assigned to the command of the camp of artillery instruction.

At that time there were still some infantry reporting at Camp Lee for regimental organization, notably the 56th Regiment, which was the last to complete its formation at that place.

In the mean time Colonel Shields established his artillery camp at a fine spring on the farm of the late John N. Shields, of Richmond, where he commenced his work. Troops had been at that location previously and it was known as ‘Camp Jackson.’ Knowing that the artillery camp would soon be changed to Camp Lee, where were stores and staff officers, a temporary organization sufficed at Camp Jackson.

On taking command at Camp Lee, December, 1861, Colonel Shields found Dr. Memminger, surgeon; Major John C. Maynard, quartermaster; Captain D. C. Meade, commissary; Lieutenant West, of Georgia, adjutant, and Rev. Dr. M. D. Hoge, chaplain.

Companies reported very rapidly for instruction and equipment till about July, 1862, the conscription law having taken the place of replenishing the army by the assignment of those liable to service under that law.


Some of the batteries:

In all, there were seventy-five batteries trained and equipped and sent to the field from Camp Lee during the time which elapsed between November, 1861, and June, 1862. Among them may be mentioned some which can be called to mind, commanded by Captain Marmaduke Johnson, John L. Eubank, N. A Sturdivant, Captain J. Taylor Martin, and two other batteries, which constituted the battalion of Rev. F. J. Boggs, W. G. Crenshaw, G. G. Otey, the old Fayette Artillery, Captain Henry Coalter Cabell, all of Richmond. Then there were those of W. D. Leake, of Goochland; Charles Bruce, of Charlotte; Joseph W. Anderson, of Botetourt; Pichegru Woolfolk, of Caroline; Henry Rives, of Nelson; Colonel J. W. Moore's Battalion, of North Carolina; the battery of Captain Dawson, of Georgia; Latham, of Lynchburg; Lewis, of Halifax, and many others from Virginia, Mississippi, one from Maryland, and others which cannot be recalled now.

General George W. Randolph in the meantime had become Secretary of War, and during his term in that office the conscription law went into effect. In addition to his other duties as the commandant at the post of Camp Lee, Colonel Shields was made commandant of conscripts for Virginia, with headquarters at Camp Lee for that purpose, as well as the general duties incident to a military post.

Major Thomas G. Peyton, of Richmond, was assigned to the immediate command of men reporting under the regulations of the conscript law for assignment. This was a large duty, and well executed. An additional camp was also established for some months under command of Major James B. Dorman, at Dublin, Pulaski county, reporting directly to Colonel Shields as commandant for the State. The law was well executed in Virginia through the enrolling officers of counties and congressional districts. Not a solitary jar occurred between the authorities of the State, Governor Letcher, and the Confederate authorities of General John S. Preston, Chief of the Confederate Bureau of Conscription, and the commandant for the State. Shortly before the war ended, the Confederate Bureau was dispensed with, and General James L. Kemper became the intermediate officer between those of the conscript armies and the War Department. This arrangement continued until the end, in April, 1865.

A fine spectacle.

It should have been previously mentioned that in December, 1861, [245] Colonel Shields at one time had eight batteries ready for the field, and so reported. General Winder authorized him to move them on a wide field under the tactics practiced by the French army, designated ‘Associated Batteries,’ translated from the French by Major Robert Anderson, of Fort Sumter memory.

This he did under the inspection and review by President Davis, General Braxton Bragg, General Randolph, Secretary of War, and other officers of high rank, firing by single batteries, then by four batteries, and lastly by the entire line of eight batteries of four guns in each battery.

The late Dr. W. P. Palmer, of Richmond, who had served as lieutenant, as well as captain, of the First Howitzers, was appointed surgeon in the early part of 1862, and assigned to Camp Lee by request of Colonel Shields, and remained there till the close of the struggle in 1865, in charge of the entire medical department, where there were sometimes not more than 500 men, and then, again, there would be from 10,000 to 15,000. Camp Lee was the post at which the parolled and exchanged Confederate soldiers were sent from northern prisons, and there drew pay and clothing and subsistence till they could be exchanged and returned to their command in the field. From that point also emanated all the exemptions under law, and all the details for every service of men liable to military services not only to army rolls. Lieutenant James H. Binford, who had served with Colonel Shields in the field, was adjutant of the conscript department, and Major W. H. Fry was adjutant of the post.

The late Captain W. L. Riddick, of Nansemond county, who had served on the staff of a Louisiana brigadier before Norfolk was evacuated, was in charge of the large department of exemption and details in the conscript service. The order and letter books of that branch of the service were under the direction and care of Mr. John W. Bransford, who at this time is Treasurer of the city of Lynchburg, or holds an important place in the government of that city.

Early preparation of the Howitzers.

Colonel Shields, in a recent letter to a friend, gives an interesting explanation of the thorough preparation of the Richmond Howitzers for field service before the war came on.

The Howitzer Company was organized in 1859, and instructed in 1860 in artillery tactics prepared by a board of artillery officers— [246] Generals Barry, Hunt, and French—but not issued to the Federal army till 1861.

Colonel Shields, as a publisher, had facilities for obtaining a copy of the tactics from the publishing-house in the summer of 1860, and so it was that the Howitzers were equal to the Federal artillery in that respect before the war commenced. Every battery equipped at Camp Lee under his command was instructed in the new tactics.

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