Fond du Lac's Civil War Camp
Those who know a thing or two about Fond du Lac’s civil war history can tell you that our city did have a military camp in that conflict. The camp was opened to service the members of the 3rd Wisconsin Infantry that was organized in Fond du Lac. The installation was named Camp Hamilton after the first commandant; Colonel Charles S. Hamilton of Fond du Lac. The camp was located on the west side of the city between Johnson and Division Streets; and from Lincoln Ave. (then Waupun Street) to Hickory Street. The entrance to this camp was located on Waupun Street (Lincoln Ave.) about where it intesected with Forest Avenue.
Hamilton and his staff setup camp and waited for the first men to arrive. The volunteer unit known as the "Green County" volunteers arrived on June 14th, 1861. Colonel Hamilton tells of their eventful entrance in the city. The route the men came in to camp caused them to cross a wooden bridge and they were ". . . crossing in perfect step and time to show that they were not raw in drill. The steady step broke down the side walk of the bridge, and several men were thrown into the water. One of them, William Carter, struck upon a saw log and was considerably injured. Thus was learned the military rule to march over bridges at route step." Another version of the story states, ". . . there came a crash, a few yells, some swearing ... and the proud military organization was floundering in the depths below, amid planks, joists, logs and their individual selves, while a few had clutched the boxed trusses upon either side of the roadway, looking down, horror stricken upon their scrambling comrades below." The men finally made it in to camp, wet, bruised, and perhaps not quite so confident of their skills as soldiers. To add injury to the insult, the only weapon in camp, Captain Martin Flood's Masonic Sword was lost in river.
The other companies would arrive as well as uniforms and weapons. The individual companies were regimented on June 29th, 1861 and soon after were marched off to war. They would not be disbanded until the end of July in 1865. Hamilton would not stay the Colonel of this brigade for long. Promotion would soon find him a Major General and he was detached from the unit.
What many do not know is that the camp did not stay empty long or retain its name. By November of 1861 a new group of Wisconsin Volunteers arrived. The companies of this new regiment were put under the command of Colonel David Wood. Thus the name was changed before the end of November to Camp Wood in his honor. Private James K. Newton of De Pere wrote his parents of his first military housing at the camp -- Sibley tents.
“Every tent is round and is about 18 feet in diameter at the bottom and tapers up to a point at height of about 15 feet. There is a sheet iron stove for each tent with two lengths of stove pipe for each stove which is hardly enough as it does not reach high enough to carry all of the smoke out but after we get charcoal I think it will go a great deal better. We have good beef and potatoes, bread and butter to eat and coffee to drink and all that we want of it too.
There are 18 men in the tent that I stay in. We are under Corporal Robert Beattie. We have 2 tin pails, 1 camp kettle, 2 washbowls in each tent besides a knife and fork, tin cup and tin plate for each man. Besides this we have 2 axes, 2 shovels, 2 spades and 2 hatchets for the use of each company………”
However well off the men of the future 14th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment thought themselves, they would, in only a short time, find their number whittled from about 1000 men down to less than 300 effectives. After surviving the bloody battle of Shiloh, disease would weaken Colonel Wood to the point that he was forced to return to Fond du Lac where he was a Circuit Court Judge before the war. On June 17th, 1862, a little over a month after the battle, he passed away.
A marker, now located on Bell Street and Thomas Streets, on the North-East corner of Playmore Park was erected in 1927 by the G.A.R to commemorate the camp. This stone marker displays the name “Camp Hamilton” and mentions it as the encampments of the 3rd and 14th regiments. Colonel Wood and the camp’s latter name was not mentioned. This marker was moved by the city and is (interestingly enough) no longer on the camp's grounds.