“The field upon which we now stand will be known as classic ground for here has been the great central point of the organization of our military forces.” — Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin, address to veterans of the American Civil War, Camp Curtin, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1865
Established on 18 April 1861—just three days after the fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate States Army troops—and initially named “Camp Union,” Camp Curtin quickly became a key staging and training point for the U.S. military at the dawn of the American Civil War. Well over a quarter of a million regular and volunteer Union Army soldiers would be enrolled, mustered in, trained, mustered out, and/or honorably discharged here between the spring of 1861 and early January 1866, making it the largest military facility in Pennsylvania and the nation during the war.
It was here, in mid-August of 1861, that new recruits began arriving to join men who had just recently completed their Three Months’ duty in enrolling for three-year terms of military service with a brand-new military unit—the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which would ultimately go on to make history as the only regiment from the Great Keystone State to serve in the Union’s 1864 Red River Campaign across Louisiana.
Located just north of the State Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Camp Curtin was erected on eighty acres of land that had previously been used for Dauphin County’s Agricultural Fairgrounds. Volunteers at the Camp Curtin Historical Society note that “The camp was between Reels Lane on the north, the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks on the east, Maclay Street on the south and Fifth Street on the west”:
Harrisburg’s location on major railroad lines running east and west, and north and south made it the ideal location for moving men and supplies to the armies in the field. In addition to Pennsylvania regiments, troops from Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and the Regular Army used Camp Curtin.
According to Tom Huntington, author of Pennsylvania Civil War Trails, on 18 April 1861, Major Joseph Knipe, “a native of Mount Joy, a veteran of the Mexican War … raised the American flag over the new camp and proposed that it be named after the governor”:
The camp was initially a camp of rendezvous, a place where men were organized into companies and regiments. Only later did it become a camp of training, where green soldiers would learn the discipline necessary for military life.
After war’s end, operations were gradually curtailed as soldiers were shifted to Camp Cadwalader and other sites to receive their honorable discharges. Camp Curtin was subsequently closed on 11 November 1865.
Sometime around this same time in 1865, as Andrew Gregg Curtin, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, delivered an address to veterans here, he observed that, “The field upon which we now stand will be known as classic ground for here has been the great central point of the organization of our military forces,” adding that “When my administration of public affairs will have been forgotten and the good and evil will be only known to the investigation of the antiquarian, Camp Curtin, with its memories and associations, will be immortal.”
Remembrances of the Camp
Although the buildings of Camp Curtain no longer stand, visitors to the area can still spot historical markers and statues that memorialize the important role that these eighty acres played in both the history of Pennsylvania and the United States of America.
During the early 1920s, a statue of Governor Curtin was erected next to the Camp Curtin Memorial-Mitchell United Methodist Church at the corner of Sixth and Woodbine Streets in Harrisburg, and was dedicated in 1922. The church building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, had been built on the site of the camp’s former grounds in 1890 and dedicated in 1891. Leveled by fire in 1894, it was rebuilt and rededicated in 1895. Twenty years later, church leaders issued a commission to artist and Civil War orphan, C. Rudy Day, to create both a painting and stained glass rose window for the church’s sanctuary.
During the late 1980s, the statue of Governor Curtin, which had fallen into disrepair and been defaced by graffiti, became the subject of a civic improvement campaign, which culminated in its restoration re-dedication on 11 November 1990.
In 1992, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission added an historic marker to the site at 6th and Woodbine. That marker was officially dedicated on 18 April 1992—the 131st anniversary of Camp Curtin’s founding.
- Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1865-5, vol. 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
- “Camp Curtin Historical Marker,” in ExplorePAhistory.com. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, retrieved online 25 July 2022.
- “Camp Curtin M.E. Cornerstone Laid.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Telegraph, 4 October 1915.
- “Camp Curtin Memorial M.E. Church Is to Be Dedicated: Noted Methodist Leaders to Speak at Camp Curtin Memorial Dedication: Edifice Monument to Tented City of Fifty Years Ago Where So Many Got Their Suits of Blue.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Telegraph, 2 December 1916, p. 14.
- Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
- “Camp Curtin Memorial-Mitchell United Methodist Church” (church history). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Camp Curtin Memorial-Mitchell United Methodist Church, retrieved online 25 July 2022.
- “History of Camp Curtin.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Camp Curtin Historical Society, retrieved online 25 July 2022.
- Huntington, Tom. Pennsylvania Civil War Trails: The Guide to Battle Sites, Monuments, Museums and Towns, pp. 65-66. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 2007; Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2007.
- Keener-Farley, Lawrence and James Schmick. Civil War Harrisburg: A Guide to Capital Area Sites, Incidents and Personalities, second edition. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Camp Curtin Historical Society, 2008.
- Miller, William J. The Training of an Army: Camp Curtin and the North’s Civil War. Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: White Mane Publishing, 1990.
- “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Camp Curtin Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church.” Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior and National Park Service, 1 July 2010.
- “Plan of Church to Be Built as Memorial to Old Camp Curtin” and “New Church Will Be Built on Camp Site: Two Hundred West Enders Read to Start Campaign to Raise $38,000.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Telegraph, 14 April 1915, front page.
- Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.
- “To Present Flag to Camp Curtin: Civil War Veterans and Soldiers of Other Wars to Attend Service.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Telegraph, 6 December 1916, p. 7.
- Trussell, John B. “That Was the Week That Was: The First Battle of Harrisburg,” in Pennsylvania Heritage, Fall 1991, pp. 32-37. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
- “Want Memorial to Mark Camp Curtin Site.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Telegraph, 19 June 1916, p. 7.
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