Student Essay, Camp Randall.

This is a student essay on the activities of Camp Randall where the 12th Wisconsin Infantry trained and drilled. It was created by University of Wisconsin student Pamella Arm Bruster in 1965. This essay can be located in U of W River Falls, Wisconsin, student call number 121. INTRODUCTION

I never want to see it [Camp Randall] while I'm a soldier, I got enough of that place long ago. I had rather be down here marching [in Alabama] twenty miles a day and living on parched corn. I would like to get back to Wisconsin well enough, but deliver me from Camp Randall. We all dread that place worse than we do old Jeff Davis' pills that his men send at us. I expect I never will be there again while I am a soldier. {1}

This was what Private John F. Brobst, a volunteer from Buffalo County, had to say about Camp Randall.

What was it that led Brobst and others to take this view of the camp? Was it due to their own dispositions and temperament? Was it due to the monotony of waiting that is nine-tenths of army life? Or was there something else?

The answer to these questions is an affirmative one. It appears that tile griping at Camp Randall, Madison, Wisconsin, had some valid basis.

This paper will attempt to describe the Camp conditions and health of those men training for service; of those who never saw combat; of those men who only saw action when assigned to quell draft riots.

Men in army camps away from the front had their own unique problems to contend with. The Camp conditions at Madison were certainly not ideal.

The focal point of this paper will then, be a study of the health conditions at Camp Randall, Madison, Wisconsin, during the years 1861 to 1865. Special emphasis will be to those.

On April 15, 1861, Governor Alexander W. Randall of Wisconsin received a directive from President Lincoln which called forth " ... the aggregate number of 75,000 in order to suppress said combinations and to cause the laws to be duly executed." {2}

The following day, Governor Randall invited the patriotic citizens of the state to enroll themselves into companies and to begin preparations for entering into service of their state and country. {3}

The Thirtieth Regiment, composed primarily of men from the northwestern counties of the state, was ordered to rendezvous at Camp Randall, Madison, in October, 1862. {4}

In April, after the Governor had received his orders from the War Department, Camp Randall was formed on the State Fair Grounds at Madison and suitable buildings were erected for the accommodation of the soldiers.

In a letter written home soon after his arrival in Madison, Albert Childs, a volunteer from the town of Clifton, had this to say of the Camp.

I find Camp Randall to be situated upon a piece of rolling ground, which is trod as hard as the road. It is surrounded by a fence eight feet high which encloses an area of eighty acres of ground. It is calculated to accommodate three regiments of soldiers. The barracks where we are quartered are sheds with a single roof, the fence making one side, and then it is boards [boarded] up in front. The cracks are not battened any, and this morning it was rather cold in here for comfort. We do our cooking and eating out-door [out-doors]. {5} [Pg. 2]

Hugh Sloan, of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry, was more specific in his description of the Camp.

I will tell you Something About Camp Randol [sic] it is a pies [sic] of ground about 25 achors [sic] with a very high hill and on the left corner is a Building about 100 feet wide and 2 hundrid [sic] long cald [sic] Headquarters ... and the Bulpin [sic] is a plais [sic] that is fensed [sic] in with lumber and a sidwak [sic] all round [sic] the top whair [sic] the guard dos [sic] Stand all the time. {6} At Camp Randall, however, there was much to be desired. Men who had received their training there and had gone on to greener pastures," to "bigger and batter" places were justified for their sighs of relief and condemning words towards Camp Randall.

Again it is Albert Childs who offers insight into this matter. Writing in January, 1863, he writes of the erection of another building on the Fair Grounds.

They are now building a new hospital here in Camp, which will be capable, in size at least, of accommodating all, that ought to be sick, at one time, out of a regiment. {7} What does the corporal mean by "ought to be sick" and by "capable, in size at least'? Luckily, for Albert Childs, Hugh Sloan, and the other soldiers at Camp Randall, they were unaware of the statistics available today of the mortality rates of the men enlisted in the Union Army. "Illness during these [Civil War] years was more common when the troops stayed at one place than it. was during a campaign. On the average, a soldier was ill 2.5 times a year." {8} "For every two men who died of

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wounds, five died of disease...." {9} To this can be added: died oftentimes needlessly. Had the men in Madison known these facts, desertions quite possibly would have increased.

Illness was common at Camp Randall. One of the susceptible "victims" writes:

Mrs. Wright, [a friend in the city of Madison] gave me a bowl full of jelly, to give to the sick boys, here in Camp. Who, by the way are not very scarce, just now. Last week sent 11 soldiers from this Camp, to that "bourne from whence no traveller ever returns". And I do not know what this week will do. Three out of our regiment have already died this week. One more of our comrades, have we followed to the grave. {10} Otis Hoyt, Surgeon at Camp Randall from January, 1864, to the following May, wrote home to his wife. Our hospital is much crowded and sickness increasing. We have about thirty-five hundred soldiers to look after with three assistants in Hospital and one to assist in examining recruits. Hospital this morning reports 249 measles mumps Erysipelas and all, most everything else but childbirth to attend to... {11} The Camp conditions were, in large part, the causative factors accounting for the illness in Madison. Part of the men's griping was due to the natural elements. Apparently, Madison had its fair share of rain. {12} Drilling and keeping guard while getting soaked were "pastimes" dreaded by the men in Camp. But the soldiers were able to make a joke of it, a bit sarcastic one, however. The boys have substituted the timestep call, left! left! for that of, mud! mud! and through the day can be heard the fatigue duty men, as they carry wood or water, calling out, mud! mud! they thinking it more appropriate than any other at the present time. {13} [Pg. 4]

The men could joke when it wag the weather causing their discomfort. However, it was a different matter when they returned to their barracks after fatigue duty.

Regarding their living quarters, the men found little to be humorous about. Surgeon Hoyt was one to recognize the conditions of the barracks and of their relationship to the men on the sick list.

The sudden increase of sickness is, in my opinion to be accounted for from the fact, that the new recruits have been mostly put into new barracks recently built of wet lumber. {14} Conditions became such that as a result of the many complaints from the men at Camp, in January, 1863, a joint committee, composed of state House and Senate members, was formed to investigate the Camp conditions. {15} Later in the month, they reported that an unusual amount of sickness arose from the open and wet winter weather, and a want of proper attention to cleanliness and observance of sanitary regulations. Because of the wet and cold barracks, there is an almost "entire want of cleanliness" in the men's quarters. {16}

Perhaps this situation could have been remedied easily enough had the regiment's officers been alert to see what were the causative factors. Surgeon Hoyt had recognized some of these facts that the barracks were cold and wet. But it was not until the spring of 1864, that Camp Randall's medical officer found it imperative to write Washington regarding the fundamental,

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underlying reason for much of the men's discontent and illness. Finally, in April, 1864, the War Department was made aware of the problems at the Camp, by a letter from Surgeon Hoyt.

I hereby certify on honor that I have carefully examined the situation and condition of Barracks ... and find them situated on a low, wet, unhealthy portion of the Camp Ground, and would respectfully reccommend [sic] that they be all removed to a more elevated and dry portion of the Camp. I would further reccommend [sic] that which being removed, a better system of ventilation be made in them than now exists, {17} Hoyt's report on Camp Randall's barracks was referred to the Secretary of War with the recommendation that "such quarters as the medical officer of the Post may designate as unhealthy from their present position, be removed to higher ground. {18} The report and recommendation were then endorsed by the Secretary of War, only fifteen months after the investigation commenced. {19} That these conditions were allowed to prevail and a remedy not sought appears to stem from the neglect of the Camp's officers.

But the conditions of the barracks were not the only cause for the men's dissatisfaction. The joint committee reported extremely poor conditions at the Camp, in the form of bad bread, and "unpalatable meat," "a villainous compound called coffee," extremely poor hospital conditions, inferior heat facilities, and beans 'in the state of decay." {20}

Thus, food also had its detrimental effects on the men at Camp Randall. The rations were not always the best. Added to this, much of the cooking was done by the recruits themselves.

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Men alternated cooking chores. {21} Considering some of the foodstuffs with which they worked, the quality of the food did not alternate from good to bad. More correctly, it was from bad to worse,

Regarding camp life in general, Private Chauncey Cooke on Christmas Day, 1862, (with some exaggeration and some truth) wrote home:

It seems like foolery to the common soldier that for two hours we must stand in a temperature of 30 or 40 degrees when we are a thousand miles from the enemy. I had to walk and walk to keep from freezing. The mercury was down near 40 below zero and the guard house where we sat down between reliefs or lay down was little better than' outdoors. The health of our Regiment is none too good. One man dies on an average every day. As I write this letter the drum's beating. The food we get is to blame for our bad health. The boys threaten a riot every day for the bad beef and spoilt [sic] bread issued to us and all this in our home state of Wisconsin. {22} After drilling in the cold all day, the men looked forward to a mesa of sour bread and spoiled beef. The food was so bad that news of it reached the Surgeon-in-charge, Dr. Hoyt. At first hand, Hoyt saw the consequences stemming from eating spoiled food. He felt it his duty to make sure Headquarters was also aware of this matter. (Following this correspondence, the joint committee began its investigation of the food conditions at Camp Randall.) Permit me as is my duty as medical officer of this Post to represent to you as contractor for supplying rations to the troops here that the bread issued is of very poor quality... in my opinion is the cause of a very large proportion of the sickness now in camp... I have not seen a loaf of sweet healthy bread since I have been in camp. Much of it tastes and smells sour and any of it will make pretty good Soa Suds. The p [Pg. 7] amount of alkali use [sic] in its manufacture produces inflamations [sic] of digestion and the alkali being taken up into circulating fluids has produced several cases of Esysipilas [sic] in severe forms. I make these statements to you that you may have the pleasure of rectifying the difficulty in preference [sic] to reporting the facts to Head Quarters. I shall her after analize [sic] specimens of it daily and if it is not salt or nop yeast raised bread I shall be obliged to report it accordingly. {23} This is restated in "Camp Correspondence" in the Prescott Journal. Obviously, Erysipelas was on the increase. ...Erysipolas [sic] seems to have taken the place of sore throat and is now the prevailing disease, that cause the appearance of a small companies on dress parade, and the erecting of additional tents for hospitals. {24} Aside from the spoiled rations, there were items lacking in the men's diets. Albert Childs makes mention of this. You said in your letter ... that, I had never answered your question, how I liked Soldiering... I will endeavor to answer it fairly. I like it very well. Notwithstanding the inconveniences of eating sour bread & poor meat, going without butter, & various other things,... {25} The men experienced other discomforts; one such item was the monotony of eating the same foods. Although this did not produce any noticeable increase in the number of sick, it did contribute to the men's discontent. This brought out the cutting humor in some. Perhaps you might like to know a little something about out grub affairs. I will tell you what our bill of fare consists of. In the morning we have bread, & meat, (sometimes pork & sometimes beef.) & coffee. For dinner we get bread, & meat. (sometimes pork, & sometimes beef,) & either stewed beans, boiled peas or hominy, & coffee. For supper bread, meat, (sometimes beef, & sometimes pork), & coffee. So you see, we have a great variety of dishes. {26} [Pg. 8]

For Albert Childs and others, camp life was not quite the same as living at home.

What illnesses resulted from these damp conditions: the cold and wet barracks and the scarce, but spoiled food? The more common ailments appear to have been: severe colds, sore throats, measles, mumps, pneumonia, rheumatism, dysentery, and gonorrhea. {27} Epidemics of typhoid, consumption, and small pox also were prevalent. {28} Of theses the most frequent ailment with which the men were stricken was colds. {29} In January of 1863, of the twenty-three members ill in Company F, ten were sick with colds. {30} Patients writing home whose names appeared on the sick, list illustrate this point.

I am just getting over the hardest cold I ever had. I was on the sick list about a week, and could not speak a word aloud. I never saw so many sick with colds in my life. 24 of our company were reported sick this morning... so many of the boys are sick. {31} Some of the men were sick enough with this affliction that they required hospitalization. Another observer reports: "There are twenty in the Hospital now all got bad colds." {32}

There were also times when colds developed into pneumonia. In some instances, this proved fatal. "Mr. Miller is not expected to recover. His disease has taken the form of congestion of the brain & lungs." {33} Apparently, this is a lay person's diagnosis of pneumonia, nineteenth-century style.

A second common illness was that of the sore throat. {34} This can be attributed to the natural elements as well as to the conditions at the Camp. Rain on the already wet wood of the barracks was not a very healthy situation.

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Sometimes peculiar treatments were given persons suffering from sore throats. The following excerpt suggests that the popular home remedies were also used in the Post hospital. Henry Dinsmore, a Hudson volunteer, returning one night to Camp from a dance in Madison had this to say.

...Coming Home I got my feet wet. The next Day I was Pretty Sick I went into the Company Hospital that Night. I put my clothes on my throat the next morning it was better. {35} Another man on the sick list reported a "slightly" different cure for the ailment. My principle ail has been a gore throat...It pained me all night. I lost myself, in sleep, two or three times, but as soon as I attempted to swallow it hurt me, so bad, that I woke up. In the morning, I reported sick td-the Dr. He swabed [sic] out my throat with a sponge, & some kind of acid & gave me a gargle, of water, vinegar, pepper & salt. I used the gargle occasionally, & rubbed the outside of my throat, with wizzard oil ["wizzard" oil was thought to be a miracle-worker, a universal pain-killer, a cure-all] And today I am much better. But I give the credit to the oil rather than the gargle. {36} Is this what the joint committee termed extremely poor hospital conditions?

At Camp Randall, the facilities were not ideal and illness was prevalent. The barracks were cold and wet. The food was scarce and poor. What more could a soldier ask for? Those eager to get into the fighting soon found they had their own battles to fight within the borders of Camp Randall, only this enemy was not clad in grey. Men realized that battles are lost in other areas than on the front.

Sad it is that the men at Camp Randall had to fight the battle of survival alone - with little or no- help from the officers of

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the regiment. Also, when the men were helped by them, it was only after a period of much waiting and discontent.

From this study of conditions at Camp Randall, it appears that steps could have been taken by the commanders to remedy some of these conditions. Purchasing the soldier's rations from better contractors and selecting a more suitable place for erecting the barracks are two cases in point. Many of the men's complaints perhaps, could have been remedied by wiser judgment on behalf of the officers at Camp Randall.

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1. Well, Mary - Civil War Letters of a Wisconsin Volunteer, ed. Margaret Brobst Roth, (Madison, 1960), pp. 44-45.

2. E. B. Quiner, The Military History of Wisconsin, A Record of the Civil @d Militarz Patriotism of the State, in the War for the Union, Chicago, 1866), p. 4

3. Ibid., p. 47.

4. Ibid., p. 46.

5. Letter of Albert Childs to Ellsworth Childs, Madison, Wisconsin, October 14, 1862, in Albert Childs Papers. Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls. [hereafter cited as "Letter of Albert Childs,' with date.]

6. Letter of Hugh Sloan to Margret Sloan, Madison, Wisconsin, February 11, 1864, in Hugh Sloan Papers, Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.

7. Letter of Albert Childs, January 22, 1863.

8. Robert Wells, Wisconsin in the Civil War, (Milwaukee, 1962), P.47.

9. A Volunteer Nurse in the Civil War - The Letters of Harriet Douglas Whatten," ed. Paul H. Hass, Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. XLVIII, No. 2, Winter, 1964, P. 131.

10. Letter of Albert Childs, January 16, 1863.

11. Letter of Otis Hoyt to Eliza Hoyt, Madison, Wisconsin, January 26, 1864, in Otis Hoyt Papers, Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.

12. Letter of Albert Childs, April 27, 1863.

13. "Camp Correspondence," letter of O.S.G. to "Friend Lute," Madison, Wisconsin, Prescott Journal, Prescott, Wisconsin, January 14, 1863.

14. Surgeon Otis Hoyt, "Report of Sick and Wounded - Station: U. S. Post Hospital, Camp Randall, Wisconsin, for the month of February, 1864," in Otis Hoyt Papers, Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.

15. Journal of the Senate, (Madison, 1863), p. 69.

16. Ibid., pp. 78-79.

17. Letter of Otis Hoyt to [War Department, Washington, D. C.,] April 14, 1864, in Otis Hoyt Papers, Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.

18. Letter of Jas. A. Hardie of U. S. War Department to commanding officer at Camp Randall, April 24, 1864, in Otis Hoyt Papers, Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.

19. Ibid.,

20. Journal of the Senate, (Madison, 1863), p. 69.

21. Letter of Albert Childs, October 14, 1862.

22. James I. Clark, The Civil War of Private Cooke: A Wisconsin Boy in the Union Army, (Madison, 1955) , p. 8.

23. Erysipelas is an acute feverish disease associated with intense local inflammation of the skin and subcutaneous tissue, caused by a bacteria in the blood. Letter of Otis Hoyt to H. E. Darwin, January 2, 1863, in Otis Hoyt Papers, Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.

24. Camp Correspondence, " letter of O.S.G. to 'Friend Lute," Madison, Wisconsin, Prescott Journal, Prescott, Wisconsin, January 14, 1863.

25. Letter of Albert Childs, January 3, 1863.

26. Letter of Albert Childs, December 19, 1862.

27. Surgeon Otis Hoyt, "Hospital and Medical Reports" at Camp Randall, Madison, Wisconsin, from January, 1864, through May, 1864, in Otis Hoyt Papers, Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. "Camp Correspondence," letter of 0. S. G. to "Friend Lute," Madison , Wisconsin, Prescott Journal, Prescott, Wisconsin, January 14, 1863.

31. Letter of Albert Childs, December 11, 1862.

32. Letter of Henry Dinsmore to S. M. Dinsmore, Madison, Wisconsin, December 22, 1862, in Henry Dinsmore Papers, Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.



Albert Child& Papers, in Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.

Henry Dinsmore Papers, in Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.

Otis Hoyt Papers, in Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.

Hugh Sloan Papers, in Area Research Center, Wisconsin State University, River Falls.

Government Publications

Journal of the Senate, 1863. Madison: Attwood and Rublee State Printers, 1864.


The Prescott Journal, Prescott, Wisconsin.

Publications of Learned Societies

Clark, James I. The Civil War of Private Cooke: A Wisconsin Boy in the Union Army. Madison: Wisconsin State Historical Society, 1955.


Well, Mary - Civil War Letters of a Wisconsin Volunteer. Edited by Margaret Brobst Roth. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960.

Quiner, E. B. The Military History of Wisconsin, A Record of the Civil and Military Patriotism of the State, in the War for the Union. Chicago: Clark and Company, 1866.

Wells, Robert. Wisconsin in the Civil War. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Journal, 1962.


"A Volunteer Nurse in the Civil War, The Letters of Harriet Douglas Whetten." Edited by Paul H. Hass. Wisconsin Magazine of History. Vol. XLVIII, No. 2, Winter, 1964.

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