Part 2;  Azof's Letters from Camp Convalescent

Head Quarters Building, New Convalescent Camp

Pictured is the Head Quarters of the New Camp Convalescent, completed in February 1863.

Table of Contents

  1.  Introduction
  2. Letters from “AZOF”; Part I; Fairfax Seminary Hospital
  3. PART II - The First Camp Convalescent
  4. History of Camp Convalescent
  5. Letters of Azof, PART III
  6. History of Camp Convalescent Part 2
  7. Who Is AZOF?
  8. Private Cheney Returns Home


I collected the following letter transcriptions from a now defunct web site called “Letters of the Civil War.”  Between the years 1994 and 2006, a gentleman named Tom Hayes maintained the site, which featured letters and war news culled from several Boston area newspapers.  These included the Transcript, the Courier, the Herald, the Traveller and more. Tom, with some volunteer help, would transcribe articles from microfilm obtained at the Boston Public Library, then post them on the internet, indexed by year, month, date and subject. Soldiers in the field often acted as correspondents for these newspapers.

“Azof” was one such correspondent.  Under this pen-name, he wrote letters for the Roxbury City Gazette which chronicled the affairs of Company E, 13th Massachusetts Volunteers.   Company E was organized in Roxbury.   “Azof’s” correspondence ends in May, 1863, then resumes a year later with the veteran regiment, 59th Massachusetts, Colonel J.P. Gould, commanding.  A bit of research revealed the identity of  correspondent “Azof” to be Priv. George Seaver Cheney, of the 13th Massachusetts Infantry.  Cheney was 36 years old and very well spoken at the time these letters were written. The essay “Who Is “Azof?” presented later, goes into more detail about Cheney, his life, and the discovery of his identity.

The 9 letters on this page tell an important story which is divided into 3 parts.  The first 2 letters narrate “Azof's”  journey from Hall’s Hill, to Fairfax Seminary Hospital.  They describe hospital conditions there, where he received good care for two months.

Map of Washington and some of its Environs

Many of the places indicated on this area map are mentioned in the letters on this page.

Map of fortifications around Washington

The next 4 letters make up the 2nd part of this narrative.  They tell the mostly unknown story of  “Camp Convalescent.”    After a brief recovery at Fairfax Seminary hospital, Cheney is removed to “Post Camp,” Alexandria, a miserable holding pen, for men too well to be in a hospital, yet too sick to be returned to their regiments.  It took some time before government authorities realized something needed to be done to improve the living conditions of this camp.

In Part 3, Cheney is moved a 3rd time, when the Secretary of War  realized the need to create a more permanent place to care for these men.  Cheney's letters describe living conditions while the new barracks were built, and after they were completed.

The private soldiers always suffered at the Government’s unpreparedness.  These letters document a lesser known tragedy of the war.

An official full history of Camp Convalescent, published in the first two editions of “The Soldiers Journal,” the camp's own newspaper, is presented on this page in its entirety.

A brief biography of Private Cheney ends the page.

PICTURE CREDITS:   All images are from the Library of Congress digital images collection.  ALL  IMAGES HAVE BEEN EDITED IN PHOTOSHOP.


The following sites proved invaluable in researching this page.

City of Alexandria, Virginia blog;  “Camp Convalescent” April 24, 2017.  [https://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/civilwar/default.aspx?id=73457]

Old Town Crier Blog; “Fort Ellsworth” by Doug Coleman, posted June 1, 2017.  [https://oldtowncrier.com/2017/06/01/fort-ellsworth]

Return to Table of Contents

Letters from “AZOF”; PART I; Fairfax Seminary Hospital

This initial part of Cheney's odyssey is rather pleasant.  The first letter describes his journey from Halls Hill, Virginia, to Fairfax Seminary Hospital.

Aqueduct Bridge & Alexandria

Pictured is the Aqueduct Bridge with Georgetown in the background.   Correspondent “Azof” passed over this bridge on his way into the city of Washington before continuing on to Fairfax Seminary Hospital in Alexandria, VA.

Fairfax Seminary Hospital; September 8, 1862

The remnants of the 13th Mass. Vols. retreated to Hall's Hill & the defenses of Washington September 2nd 1862, after the battle of Chantilly. It was the end of the demoralizing Summer Campaign of Major-General John Pope.   The soldiers rested here a few days, then marched north on the night of the 4th day, to counter the Confederate Army's advance into Maryland.  Correspondent “Azof” [Private George S. Cheney, Company E] stayed behind, too weakened to go with the men.

Fairfax Seminary Hospital,
Near Alexandria, Va., Sept. 8, 1862.

Editor of Roxbury City Gazette:

            Our brigade left Hall’s Hill on the evening of the 6th inst., several of us being left behind until the next day.  I hear the brigade is at Leesboro, 10 miles from Washington.  If so, they are at least eighteen miles from this place.  An ambulance was sent after us yesterday, by which means we have reached this place.  The day was pleasant, but owing to so long a continuance of dry weather, the roads were full of dust.  Trees, grass, corn — everything presenting a dirty appearance.

            Georgetown is a larger city than I had imagined.  The buildings are principally of brick.  It is situated upon the shore of the Potomac, whose banks at this point are quite steep.  We crossed the Aqueduct Bridge, which is anything but a pretty piece of mechanical work.  Everything was quiet in the streets, as we passed through the city into Washington.  Reaching Brown’s Hotel, where at present Col. Leonard is stopping, he being quite seriously sick, from thence we went to the Surgeon General’s office, in order to get into some hospital.  We drove through a portion of the city of Washington.  Casting our eyes about for some of the principal points of interest, saw the Treasury Building, Post-Office, Patent Office, Capitol Buildings, statues of Washington and Jackson, principal hotels, &c.  The White House is certainly a modest building, exceedingly tasty in all its arrangements; nestling, as it does, among the trees and shrubbery by which it is surrounded, the pure white of its exterior showing to excellent advantage.  Unfinished Washington Monument, 1863One can hardly imagine this to be the residence of the chief ruler of the Republic of the West.  The Washington Monument looks to me like a huge chimney whitewashed.  When will that monument be finished?

We passed out of the city by the way of Long Bridge.  While on the bridge we were detained over an hour, on account of a large supply train which completely blocked up the road.  We reached the Virginia shore about sundown.  Continuing our way toward the hospital, we passed many very fine fortifications – all showing great engineering skill.  To all appearance these forts are impregnable.  On one of the hills, over which we passed, a fine view of Washington was obtained.  The Capitol, the Monument, and the principal buildings standing out in bold relief.  A valley ranging along the river bank is dotted with tents, while the softly flowing river reminds one of molten silver, so purely bright its surface  — all is beautiful.  God grant that the demon War, may not visit these scenes; the thing is possible, for even while writing, the heavy booming of artillery is wafted to our ears — a battle is going on somewhere in the vicinity of Chain Bridge, so says report.

            Excuse errors, for my mind is little disposed towards writing.  As I passed through Washington, getting a glimpse once more of civilized life, a sickening, saddening sensation passed over me.  It may be because I am not well, but how earnest was the desire, that the war might soon end, which took possession of me.  I must close or my writing will become too much tinctured with the feeling that consumes me, and the whole will be rendered unpalatable to the friends at home.  I will soon give you an account of hospital life — its bill of fare, description of Seminary buildings, &c.

                        Respectfully Yours,                   Azof.

(Roxbury City Gazette; September 18, 1862; pg. 2, col. 3.)
        [Digital Transcription by James Burton.]

View of Long Bridge

Long Bridge, Washington

Pictured is Long Bridge, looking towards the city of Washington.  The Capitol building is on the right, the unfinished Washington Monument can be seen at the left edge of the image.  Cheney's party left the city and traveled over this bridge to Fairfax Seminary.

Fairfax Seminary

Fairfax Seminary, Used as a hospital.

Fairfax Seminary Hospital; September 8, 1862

Private Cheney was wounded early in the war when he was struck in the leg with a ball during a skirmish at Sir John's Run, near Hancock, Maryland, on November 30, 1861.  The hard rapid marches of Pope's campaign must have aggravated his early wound.

Fairfax Seminary Hospital,
Near Alexandria, Va., Sept. 8, 1862.

             In my last letter I promised to give you a description of our bill of fare, but a description for one day will suffice for all the rest.  Breakfast — cup of poor coffee and two slices bread.  Dinner — two slices bread, occasionally a piece of boiled beef.  Supper — same as breakfast.  We don’t expect to gain much strength on the above substantial food.  To rest we seek; ’tis rest we need.

            I suppose you would like to know what kind of place the Seminary is.  Originally it must have been a place of great beauty.  Its position is still attractive, but war, with its attendant destructiveness, mars the general beauty.  The Seminary buildings are situated about two miles from Alexandria on a gentle slope, commanding a fine unbroken view of the latter city, as well as that of Washington and the Potomac.  The main building is built of highly polished brick.  The exterior is chaste and beautiful in style.  On the centre of the front is a cupola, surmounted by a cross.  On either hand are two wings, they being joined to the centre or main building by two narrow bands of fancy brick work.  A little to the right is a cunning little church built in the Gothic style.  On the left is another quaint looking building with spires.  Several other good sized, substantial buildings are near.  Opposite the principal building is a most beautiful grove of forest trees.  From appearance I should judge the seminary to have been conducted under the auspices of the Roman Church.  The whole reflects great credit upon the taste of its originators.  We do not know what course of studies was pursued by its former pupils.  We have adopted one study which we consider very necessary to our well being, viz:  “Natural History.”  Others of vital importance may be attended to should we remain here long.  A portion of the buildings are used for the medical department.  The sick also find a lodgment here.  Everything about the premises is kept in the nicest order.  The buildings are new, some parts, and unfinished.

            At or near the place where I am stopping are several buildings of more ancient date.  One large three story building built of brick, formerly used as the teaching department, has been converted into a dining saloon and cook house — the upper stories devoted to the sick.  A dwelling house adjoins the school.  While waiting for my supper in the hall, I looked up and “lo,” my mind ran back with the quickness of thought to my school boy days — there before me were the hooks on which of old I hung my cap, as dancing gladly along I entered the school room in search of knowledge.  For a few moments I was a boy again.  Life, with its shadows, its troublous clouds of darkness and sorrow, “its future of sin,” almost despair, were forgotten.  A moment, and back the swift winged messenger hurries us to present troubles.

            There are at the present time fully a thousand broken down soldiers at the hospital.  Many are prostrate, but the majority are worn out by exposure, long marches, want of rest and nourishing food.  All the arrangements are as perfect as possible.  A greater part of those here occupy fly tents; having good matrasses to lie upon.  This I look upon as much better for the men than cooping them up in ill ventilated rooms.  Our meals are served regularly, a bell calling us to the table.  The meals are served in two large halls, capable of seating at least 400 at once.  Breakfast at six A. M., dinner at twelve M, and supper at five P. M.  The men fall into line, and at the word are marched into the hall, by the right face, file left.  There is but little noise or confusion about the arrangement.

            At nine o’clock A. M. is the doctor’s call.  He occupies a tent in front of the dwelling house, and very patiently attends to the calls made upon him, which are very numerous.  He is what the ladies would call a handsome man.  He fully understands his business.  I should call him a kind of considerate man.

            We have a miniature post-office in the seminary buildings; also a library under the charge of the chaplain.  We avail ourselves of this book privilege.  I am getting rested, but my lame leg pains me considerably.  I hope my marching days are nearly over.  I wish I could get where I could be freed from this tramp, tramp, tramp — could only be freed from traveling too and fro.

            Quite a number of wounded were brought here from the late battle field at Bull Run.  Many of them were in a terrible situation, their wounds actually swarming with maggots.  ’Tis horrid to think of.  They were without food or water for six days, with the exception of what they received from a stray rebel.  To-day, Sept. 11th, it is raining heavily.  Should the Potomac rise what will become of the rebel army at present in Maryland?  God grant this was may soon end.

                        Respectfully Yours,                   Azof.

(Roxbury City Gazette.)

Three Buildings of Fairfax Seminary

Another view of the Fairfax Seminary Grounds, showing the three buildings described in Cheney's letter.  Click to view much larger.

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PART II - The First Camp Convalescent

Two months after writing the last letter, George S. Cheney is at Post Hospital, a holding camp attached to Fort Ellsworth where Albert Liscom and others went in early September.  The camp was established in August, 1862, without clear orders as to what it should be.

Fort Ellsworth, Alexandria

The first convalescent camp was attached to Fort Ellsworth,  pictured above.  The fort sat on a prominent hill west of the town of Alexandria.  Construction of the fort began in late May 1861, immediately after Union troops occupied the town.  The works were nearly completed a month later.  The large fort overlooked the Orange & Alexandria railway and commanded the roads approaching Alexandria from the south.

Letter, November 8, 1862

After a long rest following the Battle of Antietam, The Army of the Potomac is on a hard march south in bitter weather toward Fredericksburg.  General McClellan is removed from command on November 7, probably unknown to correspondent “Azof” who comments on the constant movement of troop trains from Alexandria.

Post Hospital, Alexandria, Va.,
Nov. 8, 1862.

Editor of the Gazette:

There is but little worthy of note going on in our vicinity.  Troops are constantly on the move to the front; the shrill whistle of the Locomotive as it passes with its living freight to the scene of present operations, echoes among the hills night and day, through cold and heat does this creation of man’s creative power pass thundering along its iron track.  Rapid as is its course, it scarcely keeps pace with the wants of those whose daily existence depends upon it for supplies.  Our army is fast advancing into the valley of Virginia, and should all things work together for good to our cause, we may soon hear of a decisive battle.  God grant that no more defeats may attend our arms.

Yesterday we were favored with a good old fashioned snow storm.  It commenced snowing in the morning, continuing into the night; about four inches of snow is the result of this operation of nature.  The air is chilly and disagreeable.

9th inst.  The snow is fast disappearing, “Mud” taking its place.  Before night the white mantle will have passed away.  There is considerable grumbling among the convalescents, many who have never Wintered in this State, pronouncing the “Sunny South” a humbug.

Quite a squad took a trip up to Washington a few days since in search of Pay Masters.  No use; came back as wise as they went, minus their money.  All endeavor to be patient, but with some ’tis hard work.  The trip is a short but pleasant one.  The river bank presents a scene of beauty peculiar to the season; the woods changing their summer dress, have donned the frost tint, whose ever changing hues bespeak a swift decay.  We reach Washington early in the forenoon; many express themselves disappointed with the present appearance of the city.  I can see much to interest the stranger.  The public buildings, the Capitol; even the hospitals cannot but bespeak attention.  Many have a horror of Hospitals; the associations connected with them are not pleasant; but could they but look at some of our hospitals here this feeling would be removed.  Everything conducive to the well being of the patient is supplied, neatness and a general attention to order is manifest.  The Trinity Hospital, through which I passed in search of a friend, looked really tempting; so neat and orderly were all its arrangements.  The stained glass of the windows contrasting beautifully with the pure white of the bed spreads.  All appeared happy and contented.

The Mass. Soldiers Relief Association is proving a great blessing to our troops.  Its agent, Gardiner Tufts, Esq., is just the man for the position a better man could not have been selected; his kindness of heart will win him hosts of friends among the soldiers who call upon him.  All connected with the Agency seem to belong to that considerate class of men who delight in doing good.

A large number of men are discharged from the service at this hospital.  About twenty men belonging to the 35th Mass. have been sent home, — rather a short term of service.


[Digital Transcription by James Burton]

Old Camp Convalescent

Robert Knox Sneden map showing Fort Ellsworth

The next three letters give a good account of the miserable conditions in “Old Camp Convalescent,” typical of other soldiers’ letters, written at this time.  They called the place “Camp Misery.”

Soldiers wrote about its insufficient food and poor living conditions. When Clara Barton visited in October 1862, she referred to it as “a sort of pen into which all who could limp, all deserters and stragglers, were driven promiscuously.   The troops had insufficient fuel wood and food; in fact, they were often required to forage on their own.

 “Tents had no ground covering or bedding;  Julia Wheelock, a Michigan relief agent, described the men pacing back and forth to keep warm at night, then trying to sleep when it was a little warmer the next day.” 1

The  commander of  Fort Ellsworth “complained that he could not maintain the fort’s abatis  (interwoven tree branches which served as a perimeter barrier like modern barb-wire) because troops were stealing it for firewood.” 2

Numerous complaints to the War Department, and politicians caused a re-organization and the old camp which held, recruits, stragglers, and convalescents was broken up and moved.  The complete history of the old and the new camp is presented in the next section, “History of Camp Convalescent.”

Pictured above, is Robert Knox Sneden's sketch of Union Fortifications around Alexandria.  Fort Ellsworth atop Shuter's Hill, is pictured at the top center-left of the drawing.  The first Camp Convalescent, “Post Camp” was located next to the fort.

Footnote 1. City of Alexandria, Virginia; April 24, 2017; "HISTORY OF CAMP CONVALESCENT NEAR SHUTER'S HILL" [https://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/civilwar/default.aspx?id=73457]

Footnote 2. Old Town Crier, "FORT ELLSWORTH" by Doug Coleman; June 1, 2017; [https://oldtowncrier.com/2017/06/01/fort-ellsworth/]

Convalescents Camp, Alexandria, November 19, 1862

    Convalescents Camp, Alexandria, Va.,
Nov. 19, 1862.

Editor of the Gazette:

            I wish you could only step into this camp one moment and see for yourself the beauties which dwell within.  Mud slippery as glass, tents filthy in the entrance.  Many of the men without blankets sleeping on the cold wet ground.  Others — many of whom arrive in the afternoon from other hospitals, are obliged to sleep in the open air.  This the accommodation for convalescents, men just recovering from wounds or sickness of a variety of kinds, whose systems reduced by disease are fully alive to the deadly malaria which is known to exist in the vicinity of rivers and swamps.  The wonder to those who have visited this place is, that men manage to live at all.  Perhaps everything is done that circumstances will permit of being done.  I do not doubt but that this is so, still cannot some other arrangement be made by which in the future those here and the thousands who will yet arrive can be better accommodated.  To say nothing of the wounded, the present campaign will be deadly to the health of thousands at present in the field. 

The number of hospitals is very numerous, still they will be found insufficient to accommodate the increasing number of sick.  After a battle the convalescents in the hospitals are turned over to this camp to give place to the wounded.  Of what use is it to care for a man for two or three weeks, give him hope of recovery and then place him where the same disease, or even one of a worse character may seize upon him, completing the work of suffering and death.  I myself have seen a man so crippled with rheumatism as to be scarcely able to move, obliged to sleep out of a tent, and that too when a well man would receive no especial benefit from said exposure.  Could those of our friends who in the quiet and comfort of the home circle, sit and read of the suffering and distress of the sick of the army, only realize the whole thing as it really is, their hands would readily move towards the accomplishment of the prompting of awakened sympathy, and great good would be the result.  No State has done more towards the relief of her sick soldiers than has Massachusetts.  Her Relief Association is a great help.  Still there is room for Philanthropy to develop itself.  Keep the position of the soldier in the field — in the hospital — ever before the mind.  Let the sympathies be kept alive and prompt and continued exertion in their behalf would be the result.  Roxbury has fully met the demands made upon her for men and money, the remains of her citizens slain in battle repose beneath their native soil, see to it that those hearts made desolate are not left to break under the consciousness of neglect in their time by sorrow and of need.

            We have many visitors from different parts of New England, Massachusetts in particular.  Boston, Cambridge, and other towns have sent their citizens to look after the unfortunate victims of war’s destructiveness, the beaming eye of the sick soldier, tells of the joy such visitings inspire, of hearts gladened, of spirits elevated.

            Rev. Mr. Rockwood passed through our camp a few days since distributing books and papers.  The want of reading matter is severely felt by the men.  Such visits have a healthy and cheering effect upon all.

            Regiments of infantry, batteries and supply trains are moving rapidly to the front over the Alexandria Road.

                        Yours respectfully,

[Digital Transcription by James Burton.]

Fort Ellsworth, Interior

Pictured is the interior of Fort Ellsworth.  The first Camp Convalescent was attached to this fort.

Convalescents Camp, Alexandria, November 23, 1862

    Nov. 23d. 1862.
              Rainy, windy, disagreeable weather; had one good rain storm; fastened down the tents to keep from floating down hill.  Tent overflowed, tin pans, dishes, bread, &c., swimming about in glorious confusion.  In one of my last scribbles I mentioned that Roxbury had not sent men to look after the sick and in trouble who enlisted in the good old city.  I take that back, ignorance of facts causing me to err.  It seems that Mr. Rufus Wyman has been engaged in the good work of caring for the sick and wounded for some time.  I had the pleasure of conversing with him this morning; he came into camp bearing a large bundle of shirts, socks, -------- , distributed among the Roxbury boys, — were truly thankful for the gift.  The articles given out were loaned to Mr. Wyman by Miss Din, she hearing him remark that he should have to send to Sharpsburg for the supply, generously supplied him.  Mr. Wyman is well adapted to the work in which he is engaged, just the kind of a gentleman to give entire satisfaction to all with whom he is brought in contact.  One thing I wish to impress upon the mind of all our Roxbury friends viz.:  If you wish Mr. Wyman to call upon your husband, brother, or son, send him (Mr Wyman,) the address of said son, otherwise he will find it impossible to ascertain his whereabouts.  Remember that hospitals are very numerous and at great distances from each other, that changes are continually taking place.  By giving him the address you will greatly lighten his labor which is severe, and at the same time afford your own friends the satisfaction of seeing him.

The weather here to-day is clear, windy and cold.

Excuse these hasty lines mistakes and all, as I am in a great hurry.

(Roxbury City Gazette; December 6, 1862; pg. 2, col. 4.)
        [Digital Transcription by James Burton]

Convalescents Camp, Alexandria, December 5, 1862

Numerous complaints about conditions in the camp caused politicians to investigate.  In this letter the hopeful writer says Senator Henry Wilson, of Natick, Mass. had visited the camp.

Dec. 5, 1862.

      Editor of the Gazette:

                  Dec. 5 – Sky overcast. The soft falling rain turns to snow, which on the following morning remains on the ground to the depth of several inches. Cold, wintry, freezing weather. Trees loaded with snow present a beautiful appearance, the frost gem sparkling with undimmed luster.  Fortunately we have plenty of straw and hay.  Still we are half frozen.  Kindled a fire in our ? pan. Came near getting smothered in our attempt to get warm.  Came to the conclusion “Sunny South” all in your eyes. Teeth getting loose from continual chattering. Glorious to suffer for one’s country.

                  Mr. Wyman has again visited the boys, giving them shirts, socks, &c. How thankful the boys are for these favors.

                  Dec. 6 – Clear sky. B itter cold. Water, meat — everything freezing in the tent. Report says several died from exposure in this camp last night. Am afraid such was the case.

                  Senator Henry Wilson visited the camp yesterday. What will be the result? My opinion is that the camp will be broken up, some of the occupants sent to different hospitals, others to their regiments — a few may be discharged.

                  Monday — As I anticipated, here are the M. D’s, think as you please.  The examinations must be rather slack.  How, under the circumstances, anything like a correct opinion can be formed, is a mystery to me. A row of men, standing in front of their tents; doctor asks “what ails you?” of course forming his own opinion.  A through examination is almost out of the question. Many men will be sent to their regiment who will after a few days suffering, end their career on earth.  It will be little better than murder.  Many men have been discharged who were as well able to do duty at the time of their discharge as they were when they enrolled their names in the army record, while at the same time, many who really deserve a discharge, still remain in the service, unable for some reason or other to get away. One thing is certain; let them place the convalescents in whatever position they may, they can’t find a meaner or more wicked place than this. The day pleasant, somewhat milder than the two preceding days. Hope we shall have no more storms until things become a little more settled. I will endeavor to keep you posted as to matters and things in this camp for the reason that those who have friends here will probably like to know when they leave and what becomes of them.  Heart-sick and almost weary of life, longing

“Once more to tired
The pathway of the past.”

                             Respect. Yours,

[Roxbury City Gazette; December 18, 1862; pg. 2, col. 5]

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History of Camp Convalescent

In February 1864, residents of the new Camp Convalescent (soldiers/patients and staff) began to publish the weekly paper, The Soldiers’ Journal; one of the first publications for troops that President Lincoln is said to have read.  Proceeds (more than $2,000 by war’s end) went to the orphans of those who died at the camp.  The papers included poetry and descriptions of life in the camp, as well as in the old “Camp Misery.”*

This detailed article from the first issue, February 17, 1864, gives the history of the original camp near Fort Ellsworth, and the history of the new camp after it was moved to build  a more permanent establishment with barracks.

*City of Alexandria, Virginia; April 24, 2017; "HISTORY OF CAMP CONVALESCENT NEAR SHUTER'S HILL"      [https://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/civilwar/default.aspx?id=73457]

The Soldier’s Journal.

Dedicated to the Soldiers’ Children


History of Convalescent Camp, Va.


Dedicated to SAMUEL McKELVY,  Lieut. Col. Commanding, as a token of the high appreciation and regard entertained for him as a commanding officer.


My first introduction to Convalescent Camp, Va., was on the 20th day of September, 1862, having been ordered to report to the commanding officer with a squad of men of the regiment, to which I had the honor of being a member, viz: — 14th New York State Militia, of Brooklyn.

Convalescent Camp was situated on Shuster’s [sp.  Shuter's] Hill, adjoining Fort Ellsworth, just outside of Alexandria, Va.

On the 28th day of September, ’62, I was asked by the commanding officer of the camp to accept a detail, and assist in endeavoring to create an organization.  After entering upon my duties, at first I found little or no discipline in the camp.

Brigadier General John Potts Slough

The camp was organized under orders of Major General Banks, commanding the Defenses of Washington, dated August, 1862.  The general supervision of the camp was under charge of Brig. Gen. Slough, Military Governor of Alexandria, Va.

Pictured is Brigadier-General John Potts Slough, Military Governor of Alexandria, Virginia.

The commandant selected for the camp was J. S. Belknap, Colonel of the 85th N.Y. Vols.  After some few days at Headquarters, in reading over the general orders establishing the camp, I found there was no provision made who should be placed on detail for the proper management thereof, and I have to this day entertained the idea that it was a serious mistake, “for reason:”  Officers ordered to report to that camp, not knowing whether they would remain there one, or twenty days, did not interest themselves, or use that exertion requisite to create discipline, and effect an organization amongst so large a body of men, representing every branch of the service, and a large amount of regiments in the field.

The command was divided into three sections, viz: — 1st, convalescents; 2nd, stragglers; 3rd, recruits.  Each section was under command of an officer with assistants.

It seemed to me (with but a few exceptions,) that when a Lieutenant was ordered on duty, he seemed embarrassed to attempt to control or take charge of more than one hundred men, or that of a company.  Amongst those who assumed a large amount of responsibility, and conducted the general routine of the business in an officer-like manner, and had a large command, was Capt. Thomas H. Marston, of the 82nd Reg. Pa. Vol’s.  Ever ready to lend a helping hand, his council was sought by many a poor and suffering soldier.  Independent of his command, every second day he acted in the capacity officer of the day.

There being no provision made for a guard, Col. Belknap, with the consent of the Military Governor of Alexandria, detailed three men of each regiment represented in the camp, and formed them into companies for a guard, each company being under charge of a lieutenant.

Convalescent Camp, or Section No. 1, was composed of wedge and sibley tents.  In October, ’62, there was some ten thousand men in the camp, unfit for duty in the field. The tents were unfloored, and with no fires.

Over the major portion of the above number of men were sent from the hospitals to the camp, and were fit and proper subjects for return to hospitals.   In many cases their wounds were still fresh, and disease contracted in the field “yet clearly visible.”  There seemed to be either a misunderstanding as regarded the nature of the camp, and the accommodations for men yet unfit for active service in the field, or a gross negligence on the part of surgeons of hospitals in forwarding such a class of men to camp, who were fit and proper subjects for the tender mercies of a surgeon in a comfortable hospital.

The medical department of the camp was under charge of Dr. Pooley, Asst. Surg. U.S.A., assisted by some eight or nine Acting Assistant Surgeons.  Three of the Acting Assistant Surgeons constituted a Board of Examiners, for the purpose of discharging disabled soldiers.

Dr. Pooley had not the experience sufficient to meet the demands and attend to the wants of a camp of that magnitude, and his removal was recommended by Thomas F. Perley, Medical Inspector General, in his report to Surgeon General Hammond, October, 1862.

Ferris Jacobs, Surgeon U.S. Vols., relieved Assistant Surgeon Pooley, October 27, ’62.  About that time a Board of three Surgeons were ordered to camp, for the purpose of examining disabled and debilitated soldiers with a view “for discharge the service.”

Surgeon General William Hammond

In December, ’62, the severity of the weather upon wounded and disabled soldiers, caused many complaints to be made to officials and congressmen in Washington on account of the scarcity of wood — no floors in the tents and no fires.  Immediately afterwards Major General Heintzleman ordered that all the wood in sloops at Alexandria, and in and around the country, be seized and delivered at Convalescent Camp. —  Lieut. R.P. Crawford, A.D.C., conveyed the order to Brigadier General Slough at midnight, (the thermometer being that night a zero.)  The day following the Committee on the Conduct of the War visited the camp, and through their influence, together with Major General Heintzleman, over fifteen hundred men were removed from camp and placed in comfortable hospitals, in and about Washington, for medical treatment.  Surgeon General Hammond also visited the camp, in order to investigate and remedy existing evils belonging to his department.

Surgeon General William A. Hammond, pictured.

2nd Section, or Stragglers’ Camp, was composed of men fit for duty, stragglers and deserters.  This camp was under the command of Lieut. Balk, 6th U.S. Cav.  The Camp was situated in the rear of Convalescent Camp.

The mode of sending men to join their regiments in the field, was as follows: — A weekly report was made out at Headquarters, stating the number of men in camp “fit for duty and unfit,” belonging to each brigade in the field. —  This report was forwarded to the commanding officers of brigades by General Slough, notifying them of the fact, with a request to send an officer or officers for the men.  By that means much time was lost in transmitting the information by mail, the detailing of officers by brigade commanders, and the arrival of said officers in the camp, for the purpose of receiving said men. — About November, ’62, the Provost Marshal General sent one of his Assistants to locate himself in Alexandria, for the purpose of receiving and forwarding men to their regiments by army corps.

3rd Section — Recruit Camp — was under charge of Lieut. Col. Prescott.  It was for the reception of recruits, who were forwarded to their regiments in the manner indicated above.

General Marsena Patrick, mounted

Towards the latter part of November, ’62, Major General McClellan (then commanding the Army of the Potomac,) sent General Patrick, Provost Marshal General of the army, [pictured] to inspect the camp, with a view to have men forwarded to their regiments more promptly.  Some few days after said inspection, General McClellan issued a general order regulating the details of camp, and empowering the Major General commanding the Defenses of Washington, to present suitable details of officers and men, unfit for duty, for the proper conduct and discipline of the men at Convalescent Camp.  Said order limited the number of officers to not more than one from a brigade; also instructing the Major General commanding the Defenses of Washington, not to press unequally on details with regiments in the field.  The order also contained instructions that a list of such details be forwarded by the Major General commanding the Defenses of Washington, to the Headquarters of the army, in order that such details be published in general orders, for the guidance of regimental commanders. — Said list was made out and forwarded to the Major General, but was never published in general orders.

Captain C. C. Moses was temporarily detailed as Quartermaster of camp.  Not having any experience in that department, (the department was poorly managed, ) he had only nine wagons to some fifteen to eighteen thousand men.  Some time in December, ’62, from the large amount of complaints forwarded to Washington, the Secretary of War ordered Convalescent Camp to be broken up.  Those who were unfit for duty were to be sent to hospitals; those fit for duty to their respective regiments.  Some few days afterward the order was countermanded, and the removal of camp ordered to its present location, near the Louden & Hampshire railroad, near Fort Bernard, Va.

On December 12, ’62, details were made for the policing of the new camp, and the erection of barracks.  Said details reported to Captain Joshua Norton, A.Q.M., of Major General Heintzleman’s staff, who was entrusted with the laying out and erection of barracks of New Convalescent Camp.

Before finishing with my remarks on Old Convalescent Camp, I would state, on the 26th of December, ’62, all men of Old Convalescent Camp were quartered in tents near the barracks of this camp, until such time as they were ready for occupation.  The Stragglers’ and Recruits’ Camp were detached from Convalescent Camp, and removed some five hundred yards from its old site.

Colonel J. S. Belknap, commandant of the camp, used his best endeavors for the best interests of the service while in command of said camp;  always in his  company, I am positive his intentions were good, although he was not possessed of that executive ability sufficient to meet the demands of the service.


On the 3d day of January, 1863, in compliance with orders from Major General Heintzleman, Samuel McKelvy, Lieutenant Colonel and Chief Commissary Department of Washington, assumed command of Convalescent Camp, Virginia.  At that time the barracks of the camp were in course of erection, and the men quartered in tents near by.

Surgeon Charles Page

On the morning of January 3d, ’63, the morning report showed eighty-three hundred and fifty-eight men (Convalescent Camp alone,) over the majority needed speedy examinations by Surgeons, to decide relative to their final disposition.  One Medical Examining Board was in session at that time examining men sent before them by the acting Assistant Surgeons in camp.  Surgeon Josiah Curtis, was at this time in charge of the Medical Department of the camp, but was soon after relieved and assigned to the charge of the Germantown Hospital.  He was succeeded by Surgeon Charles Page, January, ’63.  Surgeon Page [pictured] finding one Board of Examiners not sufficient for the number of men requiring examinations, made requisition, when two more Boards in addition to the one in season were ordered to this camp.  Through the exertions of Col. McKelvy, the Medical Director of Washington and Col. Conrad returned promptly to camp such certificates of disability, forwarded to them, as in their opinion the candidates were fit and proper subjects for discharge from the service.  Through the experience and ability of Surgeon Charles Page, in charge, the medical Department of the camp was placed in good working order.  Sanford B. Hunt, Surgeon U.S. Vol., relieved Surgeon Charles Page, U.S.A., in charge of the Medical Department of camp.

Dr. Hunt, as President of one of the Medical Examining Boards of camp, in January ’63, displayed the qualifications of a thorough medical officer.  His services as such, relieved may who were in a suffering condition, by discharge the service, transferred to General Hospital and furlough, to experience a change of climate.  Surgeon Hunt still continues as Surgeon in charge of the camp.

Surgeon Hunt having reported to headquarters of camp, that from one-third to one-fourth of the men discharged at that time, (January and February,) although totally unfit for active service in the field, would prove of great value to the Government, by having them placed in battalions, known as garrison battalions, to perform light duties in and around the different departments, where they could secure good shelter, &c., Col. McKelvy at once made out a report based upon said suggestions, and forwarded it to Headquarters Department of Washington, for consideration and action.  I have no doubt, had the suggestions contained in said report received favorable consideration and action, the garrison or invalid corps would have relieved all the garrison troops in and around the different departments, including provost guards, fortifications &c.

Major General Heintleman, Camp Convalescent

In February, 1862, fifty barracks, capable of accommodating five thousand men, with dining rooms and cook houses, together with hospitals for five hundred men, were turned over to Col. McKelvy by Capt. Joshua Norton, A.Q.M., of Major General Heintzleman’s staff, who had the erecting of said buildings.   In the erection of the buildings Capt. Norton earned for himself, in the discharge of his duties, the reputation of an experienced quartermaster and a thorough architect.  The labor on the buildings was performed by soldiers temporarily detailed.

March 15th, 1863, Camp of Distribution, formerly known as Stragglers Camp and Recruit Camp, were removed within the lines of Convalescent Camp.  Both of the above mentioned camps of this command were under the charge of Captain J. J. Upham, 6th U.S. Inf.  While in charge, Capt. Upham discharged the duties of his position in a manner highly creditable to himself and the service, and left with the regrets of the officers.

Pictured:  Major-General Heintzleman at Camp Convalescent, click to view larger.


Convalescent Camp is situated between Fairfax Seminary and Long Bridge.  It contains fifty barracks, capable of accommodating five thousand men. The Medical Department has buildings for five hundred patients.  The following are the officers of camp headquarters:

SAMUEL McKELVY,  Lieut. Col. and C.S., commanding.
R.P. Crawford,  Capt. and A.A. Gen’l.
Sanford B. Hunt,  Surgeon in Charge.
F.T. Stewart,  Lieut. commanding Camp Distribution.

The camps are divided off as follows:

1st Division  —Commanded by Capt. H.B. Paxton, 5th P.R.V.C., comprising men of regiments from Penn’a. State and U.S. regulars.

2d Division — Commanded by Capt. H.B. Paxton, 5th P.R.V.C. comprising men of regiments from New York State.

3rd Division — Commanded by Capt. J.N.P. Bird, 7th Wisconsin Vol., comprising men of regiments from the Eastern States.

4th Division—Commanded by ————, comprising men of regiments from Western and Southern States and N.J.

The workings of Divisions are as follows:  The men are divided off into barracks of one hundred men each; a non-commissioned officer is in charge of a barrack.  These non-commissioned officers are designated as ward masters.  They are held responsible for the proper conduct and dicipline of the men — to have roll-call, note the arrivals and departures of the men, and report the fact to division commanders daily or oftener.

Attached to each division is an acting Assistant Surgeon, whose duties are to examine the men of their division daily.  Those whom they think fit subjects for the Invalid Corps, for discharge the service, or fit for duty, are sent to Camp Distribution, to be forwarded to their regiments in the manner indicated hereafter.  Those for the Invalid Corps or discharge the service, are sent before the Examining Board, and from these to the Surgeon in Charge, who's decision is final in their cases.

Commanders of divisions have on every occasion proved themselves to be fully competent to take charge of from five hundred to fifteen hundred men.  The cleanliness of the barracks, neatness of the men, and the good order and discipline of the camp is due to the exertions of those officers in rigidly enforcing the order of camp.

The Medical Department of the camp, under charge of Surgeon Sanford B. Hunt, can compare safely with any institution of its nature attached to the service.  The amount of responsibility on Dr. Hunt, is large, always strict and attentive to his duties.  His natural executive qualifications has won him many warm friends.  Characteristic to the Doctor, he has a word of comfort always for the sick and disabled soldiers. 

The Quartermasters Department, under charge of Captain John A. Elison, A.Q.M., has suitable buildings for the protection of public property and stores;  its stabling is large and commodious.  The means of transportation are amply sufficient for the calls of the service.  The demands of division commanders are promptly responded to by Capt. Elison. Captain Elison is a prompt and efficient Quartermaster.

The Commissary Department under charge of Captain Chas. F. Hoyt, C.S. Vol’s., has always on hand an abundant supply of commissary stores, giving as the rations all the regulations allows.  Cattle are slaughtered in camp and fresh beef at all times delivered as part of the ration.  Attached to the department is a large bakery, where fresh bread is issued daily.  The bakery is capable of turning out sixteen thousand rations of bread daily, when called upon.  Capt. Charles F. Hoyt cannot only keep a hotel but is fully aware of its wants.  In no case has his department failed to honor its requisitions.


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Letters of Azof, PART III

The next three letters describe the building of the new camp which was located near the Louden & Hampshire railroad, near Fort Bernard, Virginia.

December 22, 1862; The camp has moved

George Cheney turned a year older on Dec. 12, and was now 37.

Post Hospital, 4 miles from Washington
December 22, 1862.

Editor of the Gazette:

I have yet to learn the exact position of the new camp.  One thing I know, that we are environed by hills on whose tops the glistening bayonets are seen, while ponderous guns of heavy calibre look frowning down upon us.  Last Sunday the Massachusetts convalescents were ordered to strike tents, and prepare to move.  The day was pleasant but decidedly cool, a sharp cutting breeze prevailing during the day.  After loitering about for several hours we marched to this place, which is, they say, three miles from the old camp.  On our arrival things looked a little gloomy.  As we had no tents the prospect was good for a night’s rest in the open air, which was verified as most the boys were obliged to bivouac in the woods.  A few managed to find spare tents.

Charles Reed illustration soldier boiling out lice from clothes

The next day, a camp ground having been selected, began to feel a little more at home.  The boys who had been scattered, as the Captain remarked, all over Virginia, fast arriving at the new ground.  The old wedge tents were again called in use, and all are as comfortable as circumstances will allow.  Wood and water are to be found in abundance, and this morning you may see the men busily engaged washing and boiling their garments endeavoring to destroy the “traveling humor,” which has of late troubled them by walking with its cold feet over their bodies.  Pass by the tents at any hour of the day and you will see the men doing picket duty with a zeal worthy of a better cause.  We are still on a line of Railroad, the cars of which run to Leesburg, also to Washington.

On the other side of a dense pine woods which skirts our camp, barracks are being built for the better accommodation of the sick,  Report says, fifty buildings of the dimensions say 75 feet long and 20 wide, capable each of accommodating 105 persons, are to be put up.  Another report is that one hundred is the number.  Be this as it may, at present there are but three finished, although the prospect is good for any number less than a hundred.  Tents are unfit at this season of the year for convalescents.  Their removal into better quarters should have commenced at least a month sooner.  Had such been the case no doubt several lives would have been saved.  When all things again assume the “square,” we hope to see regularity the order of the day, the latter being an article much needed at present.

There are about 850 Massachusetts men here at present.  Other States are fully represented.  Before entering the barracks a general sifting may be looked for, there being many exchanged prisoners here.

To-day the weather is mild and pleasant.  To-morrow it may be as cold as at the North.  Queer weather out this way — can’t get the hang of it.

Fredericksburg news seemed to send an extra shiver through the nerves.  What was the feeling at the North?  Reverses we have met, “more may be in store for us,” and yet we firmly believe in the future and final success of our cause.  The Rebs must be in a suffering condition, for “observe,” our dead were stripped – left naked on the field.  What better proof is wanted?

As our post office has not yet arrived in camp I don’t know when you will get this.

(Roxbury City Gazette; January 16, 1863; pg. 2, col. 8.)

Christmas Day, 1862

Convalescent’s Camp, near Fort Banard
December 25, 1862.

Editor of the Gazette:
        Since writing my last another change of camp has taken place.  From the hill-side we have moved to the valley or swamp, and taken possession of some Sibley tents.  The ground is soft and bids fair to be rather damp, should a rain storm which is pending, overtake us.

Great preparations are being made to give the boys a Christmas Dinner.  Three tables, at least one hundred feet long, have been laid between the tents, and numerous are the questions as to what will be served out in the way of delicacies.  Each one is enjoying himself in anticipation of the good things in store for him.

4 P.M.  The whole matter of the dinner is a perfect failure.  Owing to bad management on the part of some one, or all concerned, nothing could be given out until late in the day.  The men many of whom had been on short rations for a day or two, became impatient, upset the tables, making a grand rush for the eatables.  Confusion was the order of the day.  Did Massachusetts contribute of her fullness of plenty.  If so, in future when she wishes to joy the hearts of her tired soldiers, may those be sent to look after the gift who will see that each receives his share.  As to the dinner of yesterday officers and ward masters must have been highly delighted at the good cheer set before them.  To show you how sumptuous the private fared, I will give you the amount received in our tent, which numbers seventeen men:  one five cent loaf of bread, four oysters, one very small pie, one-half chicken, five table spoons full of apple sauce, six apples, about the same number of potatoes.  Divide this among seventeen men.  Take nothing from nothing and how much remains?

Mess Tent at Harewood

To make the men still more angry, if possible, their rations were not given out — some have not received theirs as yet.  Last night things looked squally enough, a large extra guard being needed to quell the turbulent spirits.  An attack was made upon one of the sutlers’ buildings, but he came off unharmed.  I do not pretend to say that whiskey had anything to do with this trouble, but it is, and always has been, a mystery to me why officers should be allowed to use it freely, while for the private to meddle is almost guard-house offence.  Cast oil into the fire and not expect mischief.  Temperance is commendable in all things, not more so to the private than to the officer.  And yet as we look around for example, what meets the eye?

When are the men to be paid off, is the all prevailing thought.  No wonder at the desertions from the army.  Men become tired and heart-sick at the delay.  Is the government really bankrupt? is the question asked by many, some of whom really believe such to be the case.  Whatever may be the resources of this country, a war as stupendous as the present war, must finally drain it if carried on much longer.  The question to be answered is, which side will be exhausted first:  you will say a question easily answered.  Perhaps so — time will soon settle this question, it mattering little which way we decide.

We expect Col. Belknap will resume his old position to-morrow, as Colonel in charge, when this chaotic mass will be reduced to order.  Hoping the next dinner sent to us will meet with better success, I remain yours,

(Roxbury City Gazette; January 16, 1863; pg. 2, col. 8.)
        [Digital Transcription by James Burton]

January 13, 1863

                           January 13, 1863.

      Editor of the Gazette:

  The last two letters sent you by some means never reached their destination.  Perhaps some friends of the convalescent camp, thought them too hard, and, never mind that, you have not received them.

  Did I tell you that the camp had been removed?  It has, and like everything else in those quarters, the advance has been backwards.  Our present camp is beautifully situated in the middle of a swamp, the soil being dry and dusty, at the expiration of a long drought, of perhaps twelve months’ duration.  Not having been here that period of time I have not seen the depth of dust, but from a few weeks’ experience should suppose it might measure one half an inch. We have been divided into wards, and as Massachusetts men of ability are scarce, we have Pennsylvania blackguards appointed to take charge of us.

 There are no commissioned officers hailing from the Old bay State to care for us.  New York and Pennsylvania is fully represented; why they are not at the front is best known to themselves.  Bogus examinations are the order of the day.  To wit, what does a surgeon know of a man’s condition simply looking at him?  I say nothing.  A man may suffer from heart disease, pain in the side, across the kidneys, &c., and the doctor will sneeringly remark, or think, at least, “playing off.”  Why don’t they thoroughly examine their patients?  Stand men in front of their tents, and pass from one to another with the question “What ails you?”  Answer given;  to his regiment is the result of this truly humane examination.  No wonder the soldier curses the government, the army, and the war in general.  Disappointed in not receiving their pay leads them to mistrust the “Powers that be.” Cruelty, for by what other name can it be called, is treating them worse than you who are at home would treat a dog, leads them to curse their foolishness in placing themselves in such a strait. 

The soldier from Massachusetts would be treated as a man; they fight like men they behave like men, why when wore out in the service, should they not be treated like men.  Simply because they have no body to look after them.  The idea of detailing convalescents to do manual labor, to tramp through the soft mud, doing the duty of the common laborer.  I care not what others say to the contrary, the story is a true one, and a lasting disgrace to any army or organization in the world.  The time is coming when the present state of things will be overturned, and justice done those who cheerfully yield comfort, health and strength to a distracted country.  Massachusetts seems to interest themselves in their soldiers.  No doubt many feel to-day that they can do no more for them; but when they visit this camp everything is smoothed over to them by the officer in charge, and in my opinion they are blinded as to the true position of things.

 This morning there was a row about rations. They will not let us cook, or cook themselves. ? is a great object and that can be made by selling buttons. Never mind the poor dog of a soldier.

[Roxbury City Gazette; January 22, 1863; pg. 2, col. 5]

Picture: New Camp Convalescent Head Quarters

Picture of the "new" Camp Convalescent

Pictured is the new barracks and camp, completed, as described in Azof's next letter.

February 6, 1862;  Terrible train accident

By early February the new camp was nearly completed and things seemed to have settled down to some sort of order.

                    Feb. 6, 1863.

      Editor Roxbury City Gazette: -

                  The only thing stirring in this vicinity is mud and water a large supply of which article may be found in and about the camp. Snow and rain have been administered in doses to suit the most fastidious. The camp is fast becoming a habitable place and the convalescent is made as comfortable as possible.  Most of the barracks are finished and ready for their occupants.  All our Massachusetts troops are in good quarters.  Looking out in front of my quarters you would almost think you were in a thriving little town. Carpenters are busy at work, large piles of lumber are lying around, and buildings are being selected for the officers, many of whom have their wives and children with them. When all is finished and the rubbish cleaned up this will be one of the prettiest camps in the vicinity of Washington.

There is at present time four examining boards in full play, most of whom discharge at least fifty men per day; the number of men in camp is gradually diminishing in spite of the number of arrivals from the Hospitals, coming and going is the order of the day.  Most of the troops appear to be well satisfied with present arrangements.  If evil exist they simply say they are caused by war and look for no improvement while the struggle for mastery is going on.  Should this war continue for years, and we must allow, the prospect is good, would it not be well for us to adopt the idea of Miss. Muloch which may be true in our case, that

    Perhaps war is but heaven’s great ploughshare, Driven

    Over the barren, fallow earthly fields

    Preparing them for harvest, rooting up

    Grass, weeds and flowers which necessary fall,

    That is these furrows the wise husbandman

    May drop celestial seed.

          There is a sunny side generally found if sought for, to all the seeming ills, which beset us. The dark tempest heavy cloud which scatters and destroys all lying in its track, has still a sunny side, and having spent its fury, may still present to view a hidden beauty.  The storm cloud of war which for years has been gathering is at present sweeping over our land.  Gloom and darkest are around us, yet who are they that doubt the ultimate success and triumph of our arms, that those principles for which our fathers fought will be triumphant, and will stand forth clearer and purer than ever, and no dark spot shall be left to mar their beauty.

          Have I mentioned an accident that happened on the Rail Road near our camp last week.  Four men who had been to Alexandria on duty were ran over by the cars, one man had his skull broke, and as I looked at him it reminded me of a broken pitcher with the pieces lying by its side; of course he was killed instantly.  Another was all cut to pieces, while a third had both legs cut off; the fourth was not seriously injured. Even old soldiers shuttered as they looked at the mangled remains, and I heard one remark, “worst than the battle field.”

          The weather to day has been beautiful, very spring like, but the “mud!”  Oh dear its awful.

          To-morrow being Sunday we may expect quite a number of visitors from Washington, perhaps I can gather a few items of interest from them.

[Roxbury City Gazette; February 19, 1863; pg. 2, col. 7]

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History of Camp Convalescent Part 2

Although the second part of H.J. Winters history of Camp Convalescent is a bit superfluous to this page, I include it for completeness.  The officer Major W. H. Wood, Assistant Provost Marshal General, is referred to in the letters of William H. H. Rideout on the next page of this section.

The Soldier’s Journal.

Dedicated to the Soldiers’ Children


History of Convalescent Camp, Va.


Dedicated to Samuel McKelvy Lieut. Col. Commanding, as a token of the high appreciation and regard entertained for him as a commanding officer.


Attached to the camp are two are kitchens and dining rooms.  The kitchens are capable of cooking rations, thoroughly, for ten to fifteen thousand men.  The dining rooms are fitted up with cups, plates, knives and forks, which are retained in the rooms.  The men eat their rations in the dining rooms — marched thereto in two ranks under the care of their yardmaster.  No cooking is allowed outside of the kitchens— cooks being detailed for that purpose.  By that means good and substantial rations are given the soldier and much labor saved the men.

The mode of receiving men in camp — as follows:   Men arrive in camp daily from the Soldiers’ Rest, Washington, by railroad — a branch of the track having been laid inside the lines of camp.  The men are drawn up in line in front of the receiving office, under charge of the Sergeant major; they are surrounded by a guard, when a Surgeon examines each man.  Those whom he thinks yet unfit for service are retained in Convalescent Camp, their names recorded in the Sergeant Major’s book, and then distributed to the various divisions according the regiments which they represent, or hospitals, as the case may be.  Those fit for duty — their names are recorded in the duty book and then forwarded to the Camp of Distribution, to await transportation to their respective regiments in the manner indicated hereafter.

The post-office of camp, under the charge of Captain Thomas H. Marsten, 82d Penn’a. Vol’s. receives and delivers on an average, each week, fifteen thousand letters for the soldiers — many of the letters containing money received and forwarded to families and friends of the soldiers.  The amount of uncalled for letters sent to the Dead Letter Office, is, on an average, three hundred and fifty per week.  The mail is sent out of camp daily at 8 o’clock each morning, and received at 11 o’clock the same day.  The arrangements of said office are so complete that a mail of from two to five thousand letters can be delivered to their rightful owners inside of two hours.  I think the postal arrangements can compare safely with many post-offices in large cities.

Adams’ Express Company has established an agency in camp of the delivery of all packages addressed to soldiers in camp, and for the forwarding of monies to the families of soldiers.  A vast amount of money is sent per express monthly from this camp.

A.B. Frost Illustration Man with a Camera

A neat building has been erected by the Barber of camp, whose place is thronged daily by the soldiers.

The Photograph Gallery of camp under charge of Mr. Jones, an old and experienced hand at the business, is visited daily by the soldiers, having their bronzed faces taken to send to families and friends.  The pictures taken in that establishment can compete with any in our principal cities, and the charges as moderate.  Mr. Jones always obliging to the soldier, allows no room for complaint on the part of his work.  He is a regular “E pluribus Erin ga brath.”

The 3d and 4th regiments Penna. Res. Vol. Corps — the detachment under command of Col. Woolworth — perform the guard duty of camp.  Col. Wolworth [sp] has always been found prompt and efficient in the discharge of the duties of his command. Ten barracks of the guard are nearly finished (just outside the camp,) capable of accommodating one thousand men.

The Sanitary Commission has established a branch in this camp, their agent being Miss Amy M. Bradley.  Miss A. M. Bradley is one of the noble ladies of the country whose voluntary services has done much good to the soldiers having connection with Convalescent Camp.  Articles of clothing not allowed by the government can always be obtained from Miss. A.M. Bradley.  In many cases where soldiers were unable to draw their long due pay, on account of wrongfully being accounted for as absent without leave, through the exertions of this kind-hearted lady, the sufferings of soldiers; families were greatly relieved by the remittances of their back pay.  To the discharged soldier, in saving him from the hands of scheming agents in Washington, this lady’s name will ever be remembered.  Miss A.M. Bradley can be truly styled the “soldiers friend.”

Sanitary Commission Building, Camp Convalescent

Pictured is the Sanitary Commission Building at Camp Convalescent. Perhaps Miss Amy M. Bradley is the woman standing center?


A Soldiers’ Library has been established in camp, the building being large and well adapted for its use.  From twelve to fifteen hundred volumes of reading matter are issued to the soldiers daily.  The Library is under charge of Mr. Mellon, of Mass.

The Camp Chapel is a neat building with steeple and bell, and capable of accommodating one thousand soldiers with seats.  Services are held three times per day, under the supervisor of the Christian Commission.

The Soldiers’ Cemetery, in rear of the hospital, is neatly laid out — sufficient for one thousand graves.  It is enclosed with a neat and substantial fence.  Each grave having a head-board with the name, company and regiment of the deceased soldier.

The great curiosities of the camp are two reservoirs.  In rear of the camp two reservoirs have been built with good sound bottoms and enclosed.  The water is collected from springs, by runs depositing into the reservoirs.  One is used for the kitchens and dining rooms, the other for the hospitals. The water is passed through earthen pipes laid under the ground to the kitchens and hospitals.  The reservoir supplying the kitchens and dining rooms has a force of over forty feet, and can supply forty thousand gallons of water per day.  It also supplies the barracks with water in case of fire or accident in camp.


Camp of Distribution (a section of Convalescent Camp,) is situated a short distance from Convalescent Barracks, and inside the lines of the command. The camp is composed of Sibley tents — each tent having a Sibley stove.  The camp is for the reception of men found fit for duty in Convalescent Camp, duty men arriving form Washington depots.  Provost Marshals, deserters arrested by Provost Marshals, &c.  The arrangements of camp are as follows:   The streets of divisions of camp are divided off into Army Corps, viz:  “The regiments that are serving in the various corps of the army.”  Each corps street is under charge of anon-commissioned officer.  As fast as men arrive in camp and their names recorded by the Sergeant Major they are distributed to the corps in which their regiments are serving.  The deserters are in a separate camp from the duty men, under charge of a commissioned officer.

Major W. H. Wood, 17th U.S. Inf., Assistant Provost Marshal General, Army of the Potomac, send to camp almost daily for the men of the various corps — who has the forwarding of said men to the Provost Marshal General, Army of the Potomac, for distribution to their respective regiments, and to army corps in said army.  A roll accompanies the men, stating the name, company and regiment of each man, made out separately by brigades.  By this means the Provost Marshal General has little or no trouble, after receiving said men, in their distribution to brigades of the army.

I think over ten thousand deserters were received at this camp and forwarded to regimental commanders for disposition.  The machinery of this camp is in such working order that if called upon, from two to four thousand men can be forwarded to their regiments in one day, with the proper rolls.

Lieut. F. T. Stewart, 29th Ohio Vols., the commandant of the camp, has displayed the qualifications of an officer fully competent to meet the demands of the service, always vigilant and active in the discharge of his many duties.  He is eminently entitled to the consideration of the government for promotion.

Annexed will be found a report of this camp.  In conclusion, Colonel, I would state from experience, having had the honor of being associated with Capt. R. P. Crawford, your Assistant Adjutant General, with his natural business qualifications, and his executive military talent, he has aided and assisted you greatly in the formation and organization of  Convalescent Camp.  He has many warm and steadfast friends.

To you, Colonel, the service owes the formation of one of the best disciplined and organized camps in the country.  As the Department is fully aware of your services as an officer, I trust a speedy promotion may follow.

As over the major portion of this history is taken from memory, it is with pleasure I offer it to yours the doings of a boy.

With high regards, &c., I am, Sir,              
Your most obedient servant,            
H .J. WINTERS,     
Citizen Clerk, Commissary Dep’t. 

From September, 1862, to December 31, 1863.

Number of convalescents admitted, - - - - - - - -
Number of convalescents sent to join
their regiments, - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Number of convalescents transferred
to general hospitals, - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Number of convalescents discharged
the service on Surgeon’s certificate
of disability, - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Number of convalescents furloughed, - - - - - - -
Number of convalescents died, - - - - - - - - - - -
Rejected conscripts and substitutes received
in this camp, having been
pronounced unfit for active
service, about - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Number of men assigned to the Invalid
Corps at this camp, from August
1, 1863, to November 30, 1863, - - - - - - - - - - -
Number of paroled prisoners in camp
from May, 1863, to August, 1863, - - - - - - - - -
Number of officers ordered to report to
Convalescent Camp by the Military
Governors of Washington
and Alexandria, who were
forwarded to their regiments,
August 20, ’62, to September 30, ’63, - - - - - - -

Plan of Camp Convalescent

Pictured is a plan of Camp Convalescent. A connection to the 13th Mass was discovered in learning that the camp was surveyed and the map drawn up by Lauriman H. Russell of Company I, a civil engineer from Marlboro, Mass.  Russell's two brothers died while serving with the 13th Mass regiment. Click Here to view a very large version.

From May, 1863,  to December 21, 1863.

Number of men received, - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Number of men sent to join their
regiments, - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The balance are awaiting transportation to their regiments.
Amount of savings in rations to the
Government, in Convalescent
Camp (alone,) from June to
December 1, ’63, - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The above amount was not drawn in money but is due the camp.

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Who Is AZOF?

Several dispatches from Correspondent ‘AZOF’ were printed in the Roxbury City Gazette, between 1861 and 1864.  The weekly newspaper was owned by publisher William H. Hutchinson.

It seems it would be fairly simple to deduce the identity of War Correspondent “AZOF” if two assumptions are made.  First, that he was a member of Company E, 13th Mass, organized in  Roxbury, because AZOF reported exclusively from this company to the hometown newspaper, and second, that he later enlisted in Colonel J.P. Gould’s veteran regiment, the 59th Mass., because his dispatches from the field continued with that unit in 1864.  I analyzed the rosters from both regiments in “Massachusetts Soldiers & Sailors in the Civil War” and narrowed down his probable identity to 4 soldiers who met this criteria.  They are:

Captain Joseph E. Colburn, Company E, 13th MA,  later Lt.-Col. Colburn, 59th MA.
Private John W. Green, Company E, 13th MA., later 2nd Lt. in the 59th MA.
1st Sergeant Henry Dove, age 26, Company E, 13th MA., later private in the 59th MA.
Private George S. Cheney, age 35,  Company E, 13th MA, later 1st Sergeant, 59th MA.

Based on his own correspondence, AZOF’s record can be outlined as follows.  He participated in General John Pope’s 1862 summer campaign; then chronicled time spent at Camp Convalescent in Alexandria, between September ’62 & January ‘63.  In May, 1863 he was home at Roxbury.  In May 1864, the Roxbury City Gazette is again printing correspondence from “AZOF” who is then reporting from the 59th Mass. in the field.  He is in Company A of that regiment, and he is slightly wounded in the foot at the Battle of North Ana, where the 59th was heavily engaged on May 24, 1864.

Process of Elimination

The record of the 4 likely candidates follows.

Captain Joseph Colburn’s record might meet this criteria, but it seems unlikely and out of character that he would write about himself in such glowing terms as “AZOF” frequently did.  Also, Colburn’s writing style, doesn’t match that of “AZOF”  as evidenced in a couple of letter samples in my collection.  More importantly there is no record of him being wounded in the foot at North Anna.

Private John W. Green was discharged from the service in March 1863 according to the 13th MA roster, but the Soldiers and Sailors report says he was discharged March 1862, before Pope’s summer campaign begins. So far I haven’t resolved this discrepancy.  But, Green was born in England, and though this information doesn’t rule him out, “AZOF’ writes as if he grew up in Roxbury.  Sergeant Henry Dove participated in the Gettysburg Campaign, with the 13th MA, and was captured July 1, 1863.  “AZOF”  was home in May, 1863, which rules out Sgt. Dove.  The record of George S. Cheney however, is a perfect match.

 Cheney was wounded in the leg early in the war, November 30, 1861, when Company E was picketing the Potomac River at Sir John’s Run, just  beyond Hancock, Maryland.  A letter he wrote to the Gazette, describing the affair, published under his own name, matches “AZOF’s” writing style and subject matter.  From September 1862 through January 1863, “Azof” sent home the dispatches posted on this page from Camp Convalescent in Alexandria.  Cheney’s record states he was mustered out of the 13th Mass. on May 25, 1863.  That same month the Roxbury Gazette printed a letter from “AZOF” titled “Passing Away,” describing changes the returning soldier encountered in his hometown. The next week, the Gazette published the following:

Private Cheney Returns Home


George S. Cheney of the 13th is among the “honorably discharged” from the U. S. service. When the rebellion broke out private Cheney was among the first to respond to the call for volunteers, enlisting purely from patriotic motives. He did his duty faithfully, and was seriously wounded at Sir John’s Run, in November, 1861. He has continued in the army assisting to keep us a nation to the present time, and for some months past making himself useful in the convalescent camp at Alexandria, as a clerk in the medical department. He is now at home looking for some kind of light employment. If any of our readers are in want of an accountant, collector, or salesman, we trust a more allusion to excite an interest in his behalf.

[Roxbury City Gazette; May 28, 1863; pg. 2, col. 3]

Further evidence comes from Cheney’s record with the 59th Mass. in 1864.

Captain Joseph Colburn, enlisted George S. Cheney into Company A of the 59th Mass. on November 20, 1863 in Roxbury.  Cheney was promoted sergeant on May 1, 1864.  He was wounded in the right foot at North Anna River on May 24, 1864, where the regiment was heavily engaged.  Correspondent “AZOF” wrote a long letter detailing Company A’s exploits in diary form, which was published in the Roxbury Gazette, [date unknown].  I have the following [poor] transcription excerpts for May 24 & 28, 1864:

Tuesday, 24th. - …As was expected, during the afternoon we became hotly engaged with the enemy. It was hot, hotter, hottest. Grape and canister were plentifully used by the rebels, to say nothing about shell and shot; the battle lasted several hours; 6 or 7 of Co. A were wounded. Your humble servant received a ba? [ball?] on the top of his foot, which will disable him for a short time. I can hobble about and ? 90 day with the regiment. Shall be well in a week or two. It is merely a severe ?….

…May, 28th. — Seeing I marched 20 miles yesterday, you will infer that my wound is not a very bad one. I suffered a great deal, but mastered the pain. Have a pass to ride in the ambulance to-day, if I choose to so do.

As unfortunate as it is that crucial words are missing from this transcription (I have no access to the original) it is clear correspondent “Azof” was wounded the foot at the same place & date as Sergeant George S. Cheney.

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Private Cheney Returns Home

A week before the announcement of Private Cheney's return home, the following article was printed in the Roxbury City Gazette.  It is written with a nostalgic  look at the many changes in the village since the days of Cheney's youth.  That would be the mid 1830's to the early 1840's.

I could not find any picture references for the specific places described but they are detailed in the book “The town of Roxbury: its memorable persons and places, its history and antiquities, with numerous illustrations of its old landmarks and noted personages,” by Francis S. Drake, published in 1878.

Letter, May 19, 1863

From the now defunct website “Letters of the Civil War”

MAY 19, 1863.


How swiftly roll the wheels of time! In our infancy we prattle all unconscious of aught save the enjoyment of the hour.  Our youth is devoted to pleasure untrammeled by fear of future evil.  Steadily on moves time.  Those pleasures, which once afforded us the richest enjoyment, fail to satisfy the mind, and we launch upon the broad sea of experience, almost, in fact, totally unconscious of what awaits us in the future.  Changes in the material, as well as in the mental and physical world meet our gaze at every turn.  Where are those who once trod our streets, or roamed the meadows and woodlands of our city?  Where is the tenant of what we once called “White Farm?”  The old horse remains — but the orchard by which it was surrounded, together with the gate, which marked its entrance, have long since disappeared. Streets, beautiful dwellings, gardens whose beauties might almost vie with Eden, fill the air with fragrance.  As we mark the change which time has wrought, we whisper to each other, “Passing Away.”

Who would have supposed that the Welds Farm would have so changed as to be scarcely recognized?  That the ground shaded by that ancient apple tree — the richness of whose fruit tempted the school boy to stray, would have been dedicated to the Most High by the erection of a church to his worship? That those “White Hearts” and “Black Hearts,” those bushes blushing under their load of luscious fruit would have given place to curb stones and gravel walks?  That the old Farm House would have been supplanted — a dwelling with modern improvements taking its place, leaving nothing to mark the spot where once it stood?  Those willows too have disappeared.  That little streamlet, flowing near the road is buried from our sight.  How changed the scene in that large field where “Turnips did abound.”

At this point cross the street, and look with reverence upon one landmark of the past. That noble elm still lives. The old “Swift” house, over which in times gone by it cast its shadow, has given place to buildings of more modern style. Are there those still living whose memory will go back to that old gent, who, double bent could chuck a pebble with unerring skill — whose greatest pleasure seemed to be to drive us from our foot-ball game, and thus preserve those fields of “living Green.”

Dr. Warren's House, Roxbury

The time has been, when in imagination we could see the patriot Warren leave his home for scenes of strife, to battle for his country. But even here the scene has changed. We glance across the way and Tommy’s Rocks may still be seen, but wearing little of the look of old. Once rough, uneven and unsightly to all save those who love a landscape view — now graced by dwellings, which do honors to their builders. The Lemist lands have also changed, at least, in outward form, but few remaining at present day, who knew the old location.  The “High School,” Roxbury’s best at one time, is now shut in by brick and mortar, — the old decaying building opposite is numbered with the things that were.

A land mark of the past, to those whose youth dates back a quarter of a century, presents it self to view. The City Hotel still remains untouched. Changes have taken place; its stables have been burned, destruction has been busy all around her, but she stills lives. How few there are remaining who now can recollect the little “Fisher” who once gave life and jollity to the worn out traveler, whose hand was ever open, and whose “Bar” teaming with smiles, stood open to the weary.  As then, so now — inducements are held out to tempt the lover of good sport.  Its ten pin alleys are unsurpassed, and Mr. Thom as well knows how to please his callers. To all who love good exercise, who love a healthy game, a better place cannot be found in Roxbury.

We ramble onwards to Sumner’s Hill. How strangely changed are all things here. Those little ponds whose surface in mid-winter resembles glass to smoothness, have passed away. Those swamps, where knee deep in the mud we sought the budding flag root, have become to us as dreams, mere visions of the past. No more will light limb’d boys or merry hearted girls roam o’er those slopes of green, and in the freely flowing merriment of hearts all free from care, cast forth from summer’s breeze their notes of joy.

The Norfolk Bank has still its guardian angels. They look as prim to-day as of the morn which first they climbed that giddy height.  The storms of years have howled around them – yet calm, serene, they look abroad over nature, and mark its changes with as ? an eye, and full as much discernment, as many favored mortals.

The Old Town School is changed in some respects. No more the school boy with his merry laugh will greet us as we pass. No more those walls will echo of the crash of the ferrule,* laid on with hearty will by Mr. Frost, surnamed by many “Jack Frost.” Tall Parker with his sandy whiskers long since passed away. Good bye, Town School, fraught full as much with memories of a painful nature as with the joys of childhood. Henceforth thy doom will be to listen to the notes of discord.


Roxbury, May 19, 1863. [Roxbury City Gazette; May 21, 1863; pg. 2, col. 6]

*ferrule: 1.  a metal ring or cap put arond the end of a stick, tool, cane, etc. to prevent splitting or to give added strength.  2.  in mechanics, a short tube or bushing for tightning a joint.

Boston, Charleston, & Bunker Hill as seen from the fort at Roxbury, 1828.

View of Boston from Roxbury

Artist John Rubens Smith (11175-1849) sketched this view of Boston and vicinity in 1828, showing a distant view of Beacon Hill and the Massachusetts State House from a hillside in Roxbury.  The following brief biography was compiled by one of Cheney's descendants.

George Seaver Cheney
by David W. Kaczka

George Seaver Cheney was born on 12 Dec 1825, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, to William Cheney and Rebecca (Richards) Cheney.  He was a tinsmith by trade.  He married Lucy Anna Sprague at the Baldwin Place Baptist Church in Roxbury on 23 Apr 1848.

George enlisted in Company E of the Massachusetts 13th Infantry on 16 Jul 1861, at the relatively mature age of 35.  He was wounded on 30 Nov 1861 at a skirmish near Sir John's Run, West Virginia.  Per surgeon's report, location of the wound was the popliteal fossa (behind the knee).  Surprisingly, he did not lose his leg.

He participated in the campaigns of the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers through the battle of Chantilly, 01 Sept. 1862.

He subsequently served as a clerk in the medical department at Camp Convalescent in Alexandria, Virginia.  He was honorably discharged from the 13th on 25 May 1863, at the rank of Private.

George returned to Roxbury for a few months, before re-enlisting in Company A of the 59th Massachusetts Infantry on 05 Dec 1863.  He was promoted to Sergeant on 01 May 1864, and soon after was wounded in his right foot at the Battle of North Anna in Virginia, on 24 May 1864.  He was promoted to 1st Sergeant on 01 Sept 1864.  He mustered out of the 59th on 13 Jun 1865.

George returned to Roxbury after the war, and continued his trade as a tinsmith.  He relocated to Taunton, Massachusetts by 1876.  He died on 21 Jun 1886, in Taunton, at the age of 60.  His cause of death was ‘hemorrhagic hemoptysis’ -- probably pulmonary tuberculosis, given that his wife Lucy Anna died soon after on 14 Nov 1886, of ‘consumption’. 

Known children of George and Lucy Anna were:

Emily Jane Cheney (1849-1879)
Sarah B. Cheney (1852-1924)
George E. Cheney (1853-1854)
Lucy Anna Cheney (1856-1880)
Georgianna F. Cheney (1859-1879)
William Cheney (1866-1870)

The burial locations of George and Lucy Anna are unknown at this time.

Next Up:  Good Times With Company B

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Page Updated May 23, 2018.

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