Where Men and Boys Became Soldiers

The History of Camp Reed
By Eric Marshall

By the time Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office as President of the United States on Monday, March 4, 1861, the national upheaval of secession was a grim reality.  Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated as the President of the Confederacy two weeks earlier and nerves were raw.  Despite the fact that, in his address, Lincoln called for calm and ”the better angels of our nature,” the following month Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor was forced to surrender following bombardment by Confederate forces and the country was at war.

In Erie the news of war was greeted with great patriotic fervor.  Local government bodies responded with resolutions in support of the Union.  Letters and editorials appeared in the newspapers urging citizens to fly their flags.   When the word was received that troops were needed, one local citizen, John W. McLane, on April 21, issued a call for volunteers for immediate service in the National Army and within four days twelve hundred men, from Erie, Crawford and Warren counties had assembled at the City of Erie.

The grounds selected for the local encampment were east of the city on the north side of Buffalo Road and were the original Erie County Fair Grounds.  They were purchased by the Fair Association in 1860 and fairs were held there in 1860 and 1861.  Today this would be the land that is on the northwest corner of Buffalo Road and Franklin Ave. immediately across from the Jack Frost Donut Shop on Buffalo Road.  The land ran from Buffalo Road to the railroad tracks and was known as “Camp Wayne” after General Anthony Wayne who died in Erie in 1796.  There were some display buildings on the fair grounds that were loosely constructed.  They faced the north and east and were used by the soldiers as temporary shelter.

McLane was no stranger to military affairs.  In 1859 he had organized a local group known as the “Wayne Guard,” a volunteer company whose duties were mostly ceremonial.  This company became the nucleus of the new regiment which was known as the “Erie Regiment.” The men had no uniforms and so the ladies of the city organized and quickly raised funds and made the men uniforms which consisted of a jacket and pants of blue and a shirt of yellow flannel.  Quite an accomplishment which took just under a week!

On April 27 McLane was elected the Colonel of the regiment, Matthias Schlaudecker was elected Major and Strong Vincent, a private in the Wayne Guards, was appointed Adjutant.  The next day the regiment headed by rail to Pittsburgh having been organized in just one week.

The “Erie Regiment” never saw any action on the battlefield.  They were disbanded following a three month encampment in Pittsburgh and the expiration of their term of service.   They returned to Erie via railroad and were greeted with a picnic provided by local citizens.

The “Erie Regiment” had scarcely been disbanded when the news of the disaster at Bull Run on July 21 aroused the nation to a new sense of danger.  Several days later Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, issued a call for regiments to be formed for three year’s service.  Colonel McLane volunteered to raise a regiment in Erie and in less than five weeks nearly a thousand men had responded, embracing nearly three hundred from the old “Erie Regiment.” They rendezvoused at “Camp Wayne,” now renamed “Camp McLane,” where they set up camp life.   The fair buildings were converted into bunk houses and a drill field constructed where at the head stood a large flag pole.   Again, elections were held and McLane was elected Colonel and Strong Vincent, Lt. Colonel.

The new regiment attracted men from not only Erie, Crawford and Warren Counties but Venango and Mercer Counties as well.  On September 8th, the regiment was mustered into service for the United States and the name was changed from the “Erie Regiment” to the 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteers.  This regiment would go on to fight in a whole list of battles including Antietam, Gettysburg, the Wilderness Campaign, Spottsylvania, the Siege of Petersburg and was present for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.  The 83rd was disbanded at Harrisburg on July 4, 1865 having suffered total losses of 435 officers and men.

On August 30, 1861, Matthias Schlaudecker, who had been a Major in the “Wayne Guards” and also a Major General of Militia in Pennsylvania, wired Governor Andrew Curtin for authority to recruit a new regiment from northwestern Pennsylvania.  Upon receiving approval, Schlaudecker set out raising a second regiment from the Erie area.  Schlaudecker sought support of Thomas M. Walker, a civil engineer from Erie and George A. Cobham, Jr. of Warren in raising the new regiment.  He also renamed “Camp McLane” after a prominent Erie citizen, General Charles M. Reed, who at the time of his death in 1871, left an estate of nearly fifteen million dollars.  The mansion that C. M. Reed built is located on the northwest corner of Perry Square and is known today as “The Erie Club.”

Schlaudecker realized that morale among his men would greatly improve if they had proper food and housing.  The old fair buildings were upgraded and great stoves were requisitioned to keep them warm.  Headquarters were established in newer buildings near by Camp Reed.  Schlaudecker, himself born in Bavaria, filled the regiment with a cross section of men with many men of German and Irish lineage found in its ranks but the bulk were native born.  Schlaudecker ran the camp under military law and obtained new percussion cap weapons for the guards.  A hard taskmaster, every minute of every day was filled with prescribed duties.  Food was a ration of hard bread, beef or pork, beans, coffee and sugar.  Those who were closer to home enjoyed food and clothing deliveries from family members.  Those from outlying areas were not so lucky.

A typical day at Camp Reed under Schlaudecker’s command would start with falling into ranks at six-thirty for muster and inspection.  Breakfast was at eight and sick call at nine.  The regiment was divided into companies of one hundred men each and they would compete for awards in drilling.   Drill would last until lunch and then continue until dress parade where the regimental band would be stationed behind Schlaudecker and would play while he would review the troops.  A school for officers was established and it met daily.  The result of this discipline was a splendid “esprit de corps.”  During the evening hours the officers would meet and would frequently draw up “Resolutions” concerning the war effort which would appear in the local papers.

On January 24, 1862 the regiment was filled and elections were held with Schlaudecker being elected Colonel, George A. Cobham, Jr., Lt. Colonel and Thomas M. Walker, Major.  On February 24 marching orders were received and the regiment was to move to Baltimore via Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg on the railroad.  On February 27 they received their rifles and the regiment then marched across the capital grounds to receive their colors from Governor Curtin.  The regiment was commissioned as the 111th Pennsylvania Volunteers and fought at Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg as part of the Army of the Potomac and then, as part of the Army of the Cumberland, at Wauhatchie, Lookout Mountain,  Peach Tree Creek,  Atlanta, Savannah,  Raleigh and the surrender of Johnson’s Army.  They also participated in the “Grand Review” in Washington, D. C. on May 24, 1865.  The Regiment was mustered out of service on July 19, 1865.  Their total losses were 304 officers and men.

One true moment of glory for the 111th occurred when they were ordered to “press” into the City of Atlanta to determine the strength of Confederate forces.  Finding little opposition, the column reached City Hall where it formed a line of battle, unfurled its battle-stained flags and received the surrender of the city.  Lt. Colonel Walker, then Commanding Officer of the 111th, took the city in the name of General Sherman who telegraphed President Lincoln that “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won!”  The whole north burst into enthusiasm over the great victory.  The population of northwestern Pennsylvania was exceptionally proud of the accomplishments of its regiment.

Camp Reed remained vacant until the last and final regiment for the war effort was raised, commencing in the fall of 1862.  This regiment, consisting of seven companies from Erie County, also had one company each from Crawford, Warren and Mercer Counties.  They rendezvoused at Camp Reed in the late summer of 1862.  Hiram L. Brown of Erie was elected Colonel.  David B. McCreary, also of Erie, was elected Lt. Colonel and John W. V. Patton of Crawford County was elected Major; Colonel Brown had served in the “Wayne Guards” prior to the war and also as a Captain in the three months’ Erie Regiment and as a Captain in the 83rd where he had received a severe wound at the Battle of Gaines Mill.  Lt. Colonel McCreary had also served in the “Wayne Guards” and had been a lieutenant in the Erie Regiment.

At the time of the organization of the regiment there was an urgent and immediate need of troops in the Army of the Potomac.  The regiment departed Erie on September 11, 1862 for Harrisburg and then Chambersburg having received almost no drill instruction by Colonel Brown who was still suffering from his wound.  The Army of Northern Virginia was crossing into Maryland in preparation for a battle that would be fought along Antietam Creek.  The regiment, now commissioned as the 145th Pennsylvania Volunteers, without arms and scarcely any knowledge of military duty, were sent to the front.   Here they were issued antiquated muskets but no training in how to use them.

The morning of September 17 found the regiment at the far right of the Union line at the Battle of Antietam facing a force commanded by General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson.  The fighting was intense but the 145th held its ground and the regiment awoke the next morning to find that the enemy had retired from the fight.

The 145th saw action as part of the Army of the Potomac at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness Campaign, Cold Harbor and the Siege of Petersburg, and was present for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.  The 145th also participated in the “Grand Review” in Washington on May 23, 1865.  The regiment was mustered out of service on May 31, 1865.  Their total losses were 422 officers and men.

Following the war Camp Reed fell into disrepair.  The buildings were eventually torn down and the land sold to Mr. H. C. Shannon who held it until his death.  By 1896 the land was part of his estate.   To this day, no marker is in place to commemorate this historic plot where so many military careers commenced, where many soldiers wished their loved ones well and then never returned to see them again, and where the “art of war” was taught in Erie County.

The purpose of the Harborcreek Historical Society is to promote awareness of the history and heritage of the Harborcreek area. The Society is located in Knowledge Park near the Behrend College campus, and maintains a library and archives that is free and open to the public. Visit our website at www.harborcreekhistory.org for hours and special events information. The Harborcreek Historical Society is a member of Erie Yesterday, a consortium of Erie County historical societies and museums.


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One Response to Where Men and Boys Became Soldiers

  1. I own My Great Great Grandfather Col John White McLane’s Presentation Sword as Well as several elements of his Dress uniform and his ‘undress’ sword and long sash etc. As I research via Ancestry.com It is so nice to see that his contribution to the history of Erie is remembered by others. Thank you all on behalf of his descendants . This is the link to what I have found out about him so far.

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