Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rochester Civil War Camps

In the summer of 2004, the Rochester History, a quarterly publication done by the Rochester City Historian had an article titled, "Campgrounds of the Civil War" by George Levy and Paul Tynan.  This piece describes three camps found in Rochester during the Civil War for assembly and training in preparation for shipping to the war sites.  These camps were Camp Hillhouse, Camp Fitz-John Porter and  Camp Genesee.

Camp Hillhouse was located at the Monroe County Fair Grounds that today is the site of of the Nursing School at Strong Memorial Hospital on Crittenden Blvd.  Camp Fitz-John Porter was located on Cottage Street on the corner of Cottage and Magnolia Street.  Camp Genesee was located at Maplewood Park on Lake Avenue.

Camp Hillhouse was looked at in 1862 as a possible site for a Prisoner of War camp.  At that time the exchange of prisoners between the North and South had ceased and additional facilities were needed.  As a result, Col. William Hoffman, in charge of prisons, detailed a Capt. H. M. Lazelle to visit camps at Albany, Utica, Rochester and Elmira and to report on the feasibility of using any of these camps as Prisoner of War camps.  We know that Elmira was chosen and in 1864 Rochester's 54th Regiment of the NY National Guard spent 100 days there as a guard unit.

The following from The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 2 - Volume 4, pages 74 thru 77, is the report that Capt. Lazelle sent to Col. Hoffman concerning Camp Hillhouse in Rochester.

DETROIT, MICH., June 25, 1862.
Commissary- General of Prisoners, Detroit, Mich.

COLONEL: In compliance with your order dated Washington June 12, 1862, requiring me to visit the permanent camps at Albany, Utica, Rochester and Elmira and the U. S. barracks at Buffalo to ascertain their capacity for quartering troops and to make to you a written report thereon accompanied by a general plan of each camp, I have the honor to submit the result of my examination of the camp so specified at Rochester, N. Y., as its condition when visited by me on or near the 22d instant.

This camp is known as the Camp of the State Fair Grounds. The grounds were rented by the Government at $100 per month for the first three months occupied; after that period at $50 per month. It erected on them quarters for 1,000 men, mess hall, kitchen, guard-house, stables, officers quarters, sinks, & c., and for a considerable period occupied them with volunteer troops. Within a few months, however, the buildings so erected and the furnishings contained in them have been sold, and they together with the grounds are now in possession of the authorities of the State Fair who contemplate holding there a fair in September next.

The barracks, mess halls and kitchens are now being removed of their furniture for that purpose. It occupies a fine situation, being located on an excellent road about two miles southeast from town on a plot of ground gently sloping, of a rectangular shape, being 400 by 800 yards. The soil is firm and hard at all times--is composed of gravel covered with sward. The camp at present contains no troops. The ground is quite as high as the surrounding country and there is not in its vicinity either marsh, standing water or forest or any locus of malaria or disease. The camp is abundantly supplied with pure limestone water from never-failing wells on the ground. The Genesee Canal [Genesee Valley Canal] passes within a few hundred yards of the west side of the camp and the New York Central Railroad lies very near it. It is surrounded by a high, close, board fence of about 8 feet.

The buildings Were all, with the exception of that formerly used as a hospital, erected by the Government. They are all new, of one story, of wooden frames, with rough board coverings both on the sides and roofs. These boards are matched and the seams again covered with outer boards. The roofs are pitched and are, at the ridge poles of the buildings used as the mens quarters, mess halls and kitchens, about 2O feet high and at the eaves 10 feet. The buildings used as officers quarters, hospital and guard-house are about 15 and 8 respectively. They all have firm floors of planks and are well ventilated. In two long buildings built closely together and parallel with each other, each 280 by 40 feet, are the quarters for the men and mess halls. At the south end of these two buildings and abutting against them is the kitchen, whose extreme length is, together with a small shed at one end, just equal to the united width of the two larger buildings plus the interval between them, viz, 90 feet. The kitchen is 30 feet wide and contains but little of ordinary cooking apparatus, most of it having been removed. In one of the large buildings above mentioned is a mess hall 130 by 40 feet and in the other another hall 70 by 40. They will comfortably seat 1,000 men, but most of the tables and benches have been removed to the outside since the sale
of the buildings.

There are two sets of quarters, one in each of the large buildings, each 40 feet wide and 150 and 210 feet long respectively. In each the bunks are placed end to end and are arranged in 5 rows of double bunks, the outer rows of 3 tiers and the 3 inner ones of 4 tiers each. By this arrangement the larger set of quarters will readily accommodate 600 men and the smaller 400, 1,000 men being the original adaptation of the buildings. There are sufficient bunks for the reception of this number but no ticks for straw. The hospital is 60 by 30 feet with an L of 20 by 10 feet. The guard-house is 20 by 15 feet with an addition for cells and prison rooms of 30 by 10 and is not sufficient but for temporary occupancy of the camp. There are 4 small buildings of 15 by 10 feet each, of 1 room each, used for officers quarters. There is no bake-house but the rations are furnished, cooked and placed on the tables, and furniture supplied for the tables, at 22 cents each, the contractor furnishing his own cooking apparatus. The sinks are filthy and out of repair. There is a good bath-house at the northwest end of the ground 70 by 15 feet. On the south side are stabling sheds for 100 horses, and on the north side of the grounds stabhing sheds for 50 horses.

Hard wood is delivered at the camp for $4 per cord and soft at $3; coal at $5 and $6 per ton. Lumber can be purchased at $9 and $10 per 1,000 feet. I was informed by General John Williams, of Rochester, under whose care these grounds formerly were, that at Le Roy, a point thirty miles west from Rochester, is a large stone building formerly used as a car depot, completely fitted with furniture and ready for the reception of 1,000 men; that the Government formerly hired and placed in this building its furnishings but that it has now sold them, but that they can be had complete at present if
desired as they are not in use, and have not since being occupied for military purposes been disturbed.

 I am, colonel, with the highest respect, your obedient servant,
Captain, Eighth Infantry.

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