Camp Cameron/Camp Day Diorama: An Exhibition
Exhibition Location: 2nd Floor of the Main Library
In 1861 North Cambridge and West Somerville was a very thinly settled area. Camp Cameron (Later named Camp Day) was a Civil War camp of Rendezvous and Instruction located on the North Cambridge / West Somerville town line. The Massachusetts First Regiment occupied the camp on June 1, 1861 and the last troops left in January 1863. The camp sat between what is now Mass. Ave. and Broadway. Cameron Ave. runs through the center of it.
For twenty months thousands of troops were both recruited and trained at Camp Cameron. The camp consisted of thirty permanent buildings and several smaller temporary buildings and tents.
Here are two firsthand descriptions of the camp:
“This was a Farm extending from the Old Lexington Pike, (now Broadway) which crosses Winter Hill and thence over the ridge in Somerville to Arlington, south to North Avenue (now Massachusetts Ave) in Cambridge, or to the old Pike that leads from Harvard Square in Old Cambridge to Arlington, and there unites with the road from Somerville, the southern half of the farm in Cambridge was a plateau of perhaps ten acres, extending back from the Cambridge road, and falling off quite abruptly to a meadow through which ran a little brook, a branch of the Alewife. (Tannery Brook) On the Northern border of this plateau, extending with intervals between them, clean across the plain, were barracks. About midway in the range of buildings, and between the two middle barracks in the range a road passed from the Cambridge road, north dividing the plain in two, and crossing the little brook and the sloping field beyond, which was in Somerville, the barracks at the east of this bridle-road were occupied by the boys of the First Light Battery, and those on the west were early during our stay in this camp, used by men of the Twenty-Sixth, of which the old Sixth, that went through Baltimore on the 19th of April, was the nucleus. Between the barracks and the Cambridge road was the drill ground, and a fine one it was.”
“Near the south bank of the little brook, and to the east of the bridle-road, was the Commissary and Quarter Masters Department building, and to its left and rear, if you were looking south, were our stables. North of the brook and well up the slope to the west of the bridle-road, were the headquarters of the battery.” [Story of the First Massachusetts Light Battery, Attached to the 6th Army Corp., Andrew J. Bennett, 1886, Press of De Land & Barta, Boston, Ma, pg. 18-19.]
It was described as: “truly it was a heterogeneous compound representing nearly every race of people in Europe, and plentifully sprinkled among them was a leaven of the whole smart, shrewd, intelligent, quick-eyed and quick-witted Americans and such a confusing babble as prevailed I have never heard before. Wrangling and swearing, drinking and eating, talking and laughing, —-all combined to give me no very agreeable foretaste of what I had to expect in my new vocation. I noticed others, new, like myself, to such scenes, who seemed mentally dumb founded, or unconsciously comparing the quiet routine of the life they led at home to the new one they had assumed, and, no doubt, to the great advantage of the former and the dislike of the latter. [Soldiering in North Carolina…, Thomas Kirwan, 1864, Thomas Kirwan, Boston, pg. 6.]
The camp was often at odds with its neighbors because of noise and crime. For the first year of its existence Camp Cameron trained new regiments for the seat of war. In its second year its primary purpose was to recruit replacement men for the “old regiments, already at the front.” After January 1863 its function was moved to Fort Independence on Boston Harbor. Its biggest drawback was it had no fence and like most camps in the union at this time it was subject to bounty jumping. As recruiting became harder, lucrative signing bounties were added to entice recruits to sign up. Some people made a career out of this. They enlisted, collected the bounty, deserted, moved on to another town, and did it again. Ft. Independence was considered more secure.
If you look at today’s map you will see streets named not only Camp & Cameron but also Seven Pines, Yorktown, Glendale and Fair Oaks, all named for Civil War battles.
Diorama and Text by Dan Sullivan
Facebook: Camp Cameron, Cambridge, MA