The Civil War in Richland County 2: Camp Buckingham

(There is ground in the northern end of Mansfield that has been tamped hard by the feet of marching men, and tempered sacred by the yearnings of those who were willing to die if their sacrifice could preserve our nation.

This land—two large plots—stood service as training grounds for soldiers in the Civil War. 

One of the camps—the second one—was located off Springmill Street, where today there are neighborhoods of houses in the streets south of Route 30.)

Camp Buckingham

The second Civil War training camp in Mansfield had a short term of active service.

In September of 1861, during the initial panic of America’s crisis, the US Senator from Mansfield, John Sherman, came home from Washington DC with the intention of using his influence to gather more troops.

His regiment, known forever as the Sherman Brigade, had raised 900 men by October, but Mansfield’s training facility—Camp Bartley—was already fully occupied.  So Sherman established his alternate military base on a farm that is today the site of Johns Park, Taylor Metal Products, and other surrounding neighborhoods east of Springmill Street.

The new camp was named for CP Buckingham, who was Ohio’s wartime military Adjutant General.

In order to raise his quota of soldiers, Sherman gathered about him a number of prominent county businessmen and attorneys who instituted an efficient and effective recruiting operation.  By November 9 there were 1,713 men on the Springmill Road grounds.

In December when they broke camp as the 64th and 65th OVI, the regiments had a full complement of 2,300 soldiers gathered from 10 surrounding counties.

Adopted Sons

During the autumn of 1861, when both military bases in Mansfield were buzzing in full activity, there were at least 3,500 extra young men in residence, nearly doubling the population of the town.

With such a massive increase in martial male energy flooding the atmosphere there wasn’t much chance the rest of the folks here could keep from getting swept up in the momentum of preparation.

Women in town rose to the occasion with wave on wave of charitable drives aimed at getting the boys properly provisioned.  “There are a thousand boys leaving a thousand homes,” they said, and set about with great vigor to make all of them feel at home in Mansfield.

Preparing the soldiers to maintain ties to their families, women of the Congregational Church staged a massive paper drive to get all the men “armed with a bar of red sealing wax, and a fair amount of paper, pen and ink.”

Without question the most actively frequented business on Main Street that fall was the photographic studio of A. Whissemore, where recruits came to have their images captured before they went off to war.  For many of these boys this Mansfield picture would be the only portrait they ever had made in their short lives.

A collection of these carte-de-vistes made on Main Street was carefully preserved by a young woman who lived in Mansfield in 1861.  Mary Elizabeth Wilson flirted with young men from the 64th and 65th OVI, and kept their portraits in an envelope that her daughter later labeled “Mom’s Civil War beaux.”

Mary Elizabeth carefully noted on the back of each photo the names of the young men and where they came from.  Two of the cardboard images have a simple addendum, written later in different ink, that says ‘killed in service.’

Historic Recruit

Among the recruits at Camp Buckingham was a father from a Company assembled in Zanesville, who brought with him his 9-year old son. 

The boy was eager to serve with his dad, and so the Quartermaster of the 64th fitted him up with a radically shortened uniform, and strapped on a drum that bumped in the dirt as he marched.

When little Albert White shipped out with the Sherman Brigade as the drummer boy of Company D, he was the youngest American to serve in the US Army during the Civil War.

(Just so you won’t worry about the little guy, it can be added that they let him ride on the caissons with the cannon when his legs got tired of marching.  His soldiering career ended in nine months when he fell sick and was discharged from service.  He subsequently lived a long life in Massachusetts as a Unitarian minister.)

At the beginning of the war it was Private Albert White who signaled the end of every day to his retiring comrades with his drum.  In 1861 the bugle call we associate with the end of the day—Taps—had not yet been adopted as military protocol.

In the era before the familiar bugle call, men went to their rest signaled by the sound of ‘drum taps’, and it was from that reference that the song got its name.

Carry Us In Your Heart

In December the two uniformed brigades had enough recruits and enough marching to break in the men’s new shoes, so they left town on two trains of 20 cars each, heading south to the fields of war.  Before they departed Mansfield however, a very moving military ritual was enacted at the drilling ground of Camp Buckingham.

Hundreds of townsfolk came out to witness the ceremony, including young Mary Elizabeth.

The entire brigade marched in review before the proud and teary-eyed crowd, and they formed up into a huge hollow square.

A representative of the city walked into the ceremonial square and presented to the Commanding Officer a pair of silk battle flags sewn by the ladies of Mansfield.

The officer receiving the regimental colors responded to the crowd, “If you hear that this flag has been trailed in the dust, you may know that you have given the parting hand for the last time to every member of this regiment.”

The Mansfield flags of the 64th and 65th were indeed shot down in battle more than once, but they made it to the end of the war and were photographed afterward tattered but still flying.

The Old Camp Grounds

Within a decade after Camp Buckingham was emptied of soldiers the site was repurposed for use by the Richland County Agricultural Society.   It became the county fairgrounds from 1869 until 1957.

Throughout the 1800s and as late as the 1910s those fairgrounds hosted a number of huge reunion encampments of Civil War veterans, whose numbers dwindled as the decades passed.  In 1930 there were 8 of them left.

When the eight white haired and stooped old veterans met on Springmill Street for the last time they made it clear to the reporter who interviewed them that they were honored to be allowed to visit the fairgrounds because they cherished the ground as a hallowed site.

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