HISTORY: Tremont’s Camp Cleveland Housed Plenty of Characters

By Christopher Whipple

Cleveland has a rich and full history, replete with famous and infamous players.  One reason we learn history is to provide pride in the area or topic, and if there is one thing Clevelanders need more of, it’s pride. My family has lived in the Cleveland area for many generations and I am proud of this region’s past, current events and future opportunities.  The below story comes mostly from my great great grandfather who was stationed in Camp Cleveland.  He told his granddaughter stories about fun-loving and infamous Clevelanders at the Camp.  She in turn told them to my father and myself.  With some additional resources, I put together the following piece.  I hope it’s enjoyed.

In July of 1862, Cleveland’s largest Civil War camp opened to instruct citizens on becoming soldiers.  It was a beautifully landscaped 35 1/2-acre site located in what is today known as Tremont. The land was owned by the Wade family and was known as University Heights, as there was a closed university in the area — Cleveland University — which was located at the current site of Gospel Press. Unfortunately there are no remains of the old university.

The Civil War camp’s location was between Hershel (now West 5th) and University (now West 7th) Streets and Railway and Marquardt Avenues.  Many called it the most beautiful camp in Ohio as it was well landscaped by the citizens of the Forest City. There were almost 200 buildings and a high of 4,151 volunteer soldiers occupied the barracks in December of 1862.  A total of 15,230 men would eventually be stationed there and this was approximately 5% of total 310,646 enlistments in Ohio.  There was a hospital on the grounds and, later during the war, the barracks would be used to house Confederate prisoners of war.

Lt William Dustin, a lieutenant in the 19th Ohio Volunteer Artillery, wrote following the war, “The camp was a table land above the city and admirably suited to the use of a camp of instruction.  It was as level as a floor and carpeted with grass. The capacious pine barracks held about 25 of the battery’s men. A row of six pine barracks fitted up with bunks, accommodated the men, and a single one at the rear was used for head quarters.”

The barracks were roughly 20X24 feet and high enough for two rows of berths.  There were over 150 barracks in total. There was a fine fresh water spring in a deep and shady ravine at the lower end of the camp and it furnished the men with an abundance of excellent water.

This may have been a military camp yet the atmosphere, especially during the beginning, was more that of social hotspot and gathering place.

Below are stories from letters and diaries of friends and relatives of individuals who were stationed there.  Many came from members of the 19th Ohio Volunteer Artillery unit and they moved into camp in August of 1862.  To put it mildly, these young men were having fun and blew off plenty of steam while they were stationed there.  This is a little known chapter of Cleveland’s history and one Clevelanders should better understand.

Theodore Tracie was also in the 19th OVA and in 1874 he wrote a book about the unit and below is the way he described the camp:

Barracks-life at Camp Cleveland was like a long-continued gala day and picnic. No day passed that did not bring lady relatives and friends of the members.  The camp was the favorite resort of the people of Cleveland, and bore a dreadfully unmilitary appearance.

Social pleasures were varied and pleasing; vocal and instrumental music could be heard day and night.  Billy Childs’ banjo solos kept the quarters thronged by day with lady visitors, and by night with admiring comrades. On more than one occasion bands from town came to play and there was lively singing, dancing, and conversation.

In addition, there were street vendors selling souvenirs and even a photographer who set up shop to take photographs of the soldiers in their new uniforms.  Baseball games were played on the parade grounds.   At one time or another it seems everyone in Cleveland came out to the camp.

A signing bonus of $50.00 was paid to each of the men who enlisted and as this was the first paycheck given to many, and many felt well to do.  Unfortunately it was reported many of the men wasted their funds on drink and tobacco.  An additional $50.00 bonus was to be paid at the end of the war.  Unsure what happened to those men who didn’t return home.

The boys grew restless under the inactivity, of camp life, and longed for marching orders.  “Camp life was all good enough in its way,” they murmured. “But we came out to fight the Rebels, and not waste our time feasting and flirting.”

Breaking Out of Camp

As the camp was located near the entertainment area of downtown, it was a favorite nighttime activity to try to leave the camp.  Since only 25 of the 144 men were permitted in town each night, many of the remaining 119 men found creative ways to get out.  On one night, 75 of the 144 men were in town to see a play.

Initially, there were no passes given; however, because too many men were seen in town each night, shortly thereafter a password was given to the guards and no one was permitted back into camp without it.  This didn’t work well as the guards were friends of everyone else and soon further restrictions were needed.

A written pass was given only by permission and only with good reason.  There was the “important business to be settled” before they left home excuse as well as “illness at home.” There was also “to take a bath” excuse and men walked to the stream outside of camp with towel and bucket. However, many didn’t return until the next morning.

Men also made mad dashes across the grounds hoping to return to their barrack before being caught. This made for great amusement by the other men as they watched their counter parts running across the yard. Even if they were caught, a bribe of liquor or money usually allowed one to pass to their cabin.

Eventually extra guard duty was issued for those who were caught.  If men were too intoxicated or caught too often they were often put in the Guard House.  Due to the number of absences, the guard house was seldom unoccupied.  Many might think being put in the guard house would be a punishment but these men took it with good cheer.  Feeling they didn’t have to perform guard duty or drills and being given beer and other luxuries through a window, some felt it was a nice break from the routine.

One evening the guard house had a little more activity than most.  Two men were brought back from town and, being extremely intoxicated, were immediately put in the guard house.  Shortly thereafter there were “strong noises emanating from the guard house.”  Then there was the sound of crashing lumber and “triumphant yells”; the two prisons had literally kicked down one of the walls to the guard house.  When everyone ran to see the commotion, they saw the two guilty parties congratulating themselves. The two were secured with ropes to keep them in place and the guard house was hastily repaired.  The next morning their real punishment was given.

The officers chained 30 pound iron balls to their ankles and ordered them to sweep the camp.  While most of us would think this as punishment, these two did not.  They had a good ole time and had a great deal of fun and could be heard laughing as they swept.  Needless to say, there were some real characters at the camp.

There was usually more than one unit in the camp and, as expected, rivalries developed between units. They raided each other barracks and “took pistols and emptied flasks.”  Fortunately none of these ended in battles or brutalities and most units became lifelong friends after meeting at the camp.  My father was still visiting the farm of one of the unit members well into the 1960s.

It should be noted that one of the men’s favorite food in town was caviar.  Cleveland caviar was known as some of the finest available because, at the time, Lake Erie was full of sturgeon. Unfortunately, later in the 1880s and 1890s these 8 to 10 feet-long aquatic creatures were said to have interfered with the steel and other shipments and were fished out of the lake.  Currently there are only a small number of sturgeon left on the west end of the lake.

Camp Comes to Order

Slowly the camp came to order as the soldiers soon learned they were no longer their own masters.  Roll-call was called twice a day and required the attendance of all men. A guard duty had been instituted and, at first, guard duty was a novelty. With chest protruded, guards carried heavy Austrian rifles. But later on it was not uncommon for the night relief to find more than a few guards asleep on their post.

Drilling was also one of the daily duties.  Cannon and rifle squads were organized, and rather quickly the men became proficient in the drills and the use of their equipment.   The marching or foot drill was practiced each day, as well as zouave skirmish drills.  Zouave drills had more space between the men and other less visible tactics.  Overall the men were afforded a variety of military exercises.

This was a typical military camp as there were no mattresses on the bunks and not everyone had government issued blankets.  Fortunately the aid society supplied many of the men with blankets.  The food was rather bland; coffee, meat, dark bread, potatoes or some other dish.  There was no milk, butter, sugar or other simple pleasures available. 
While some men complained, most later realized this was better than what they would be receiving later in the war.

Departure From Camp

As the time of departure approached, the number of visitors increased greatly, until even the quietest men could boast of his warm personal friends.

This time was also used to make final visits, finishing up business matters too long delayed, and general preparations for departure.  Few thought they would serve longer than a year, and each one felt he held special immunities from death and disease, and had no doubt of their return home.

The crowds of visitors became larger every hour, and every man was a hero, with plenty of admirers. Then the last roll call in camp was called, absentees were accounted for, knapsacks were strapped on the shoulders, and the march was put in motion.  The military organizations in the city turned out as escort to honor their departure.

They marched down Superior Street and saw the streets and sidewalks filled with citizens.   Outstretched hands greeted them at every step, and every man was energized.

They felt the whole people of the Forest City were in the streets doing honor to her sons, and showering them with prayers and wishes for their safe return.  There was true spirit in the patriotic outpouring of those days!  However not everyone was happy and it was said about citizens and soldiers alike, “tears were shed like rain.”

Not all the stories were sad and below is one from Theodore Tracie.  It is reproduced in full as the story can’t be better written today:

Few seemed free from this emotional epidemic, was compelled to laugh as I saw an enthusiastic maiden lady of forty summers, glorious in spectacles and side-curls, clasp the hands of one of our modest boys, and after bidding him “good-bye!’ and “I pray that you will return home!’ suddenly kiss the youth with the most enthusiastic earnestness.  I leaned forward and innocently remarked to the favored youth, “sweetheart, of your, my boy?  Never mind; you can trust her while you’re away!” and was shocked when he replied: “No ! blame you; I never saw the girl; before in my life!”

The men were put on trains to Cincinnati and one unit member wrote the trip lasted only 12 hours.  12 hours was probably a short time relative to the number of days it took to travel there by horse and buggy. Trains during the Civil War had to stop every 30 minutes for water.  Their first stop was in Berea and their second was in Grafton.  At the first few stops friends wished the soldiers well.

Scenes such as this occurred many times over the next few years as there were at least 20 units organized or reorganized at Camp Cleveland and no one ever knew who would return and who would not.

US General Hospital – Cleveland

A 320 bed pavilion-style hospital, designated as the United States General Hospital at Cleveland, occupied 3.76 acres on the southeast corner of W 5th Street and Jefferson Avenue.  The hospital opened in December 1862; a total of 3,028 soldiers received care for gunshot wounds, illnesses, and diseases before it closed in July 1865.  Some of the 91 deceased patients lie buried in the federally owned plots at Woodland Cemetery.

Camp Closes

More than 11,000 soldiers were discharged at Camp Cleveland at war’s end.  The camp officially closed in August of 1865 and, in September, the hospital and camp buildings were dismantled and the lumber and government equipment were sold at a public auction.

In the last few years there were some buildings built in the Tremont area and it was reported Civil War buttons were found in ground.  Other than these small remnants, only photographs and written antidotes remain of this large, beautiful and important Civil War camp.

Hopefully the readers will find interest in these fun-loving, rambunctious individuals.  It should be remembered that these same individuals became part of Cleveland’s Greatest Generation.  Some of these individuals would later become part of Millionaires Row and were at least part of the city with the highest number of millionaires in the country.  Hopefully we can regain some of their energy and positive reinforcing comradery and return this region to respect and greatness.

Units at Camp Cleveland
Date Open:        July 1862
Location:         West 5th, Railroad St, West 7th, Marquardt St.

Units Organized:
August     103rd OVI, 105th OVI, 19th Battery
September      107th  OVI
October     10th Cavalry, 20th Battery
December      6th Co. SS

January     124th OVI, 7th Co. SS
February     5th Co. SS
July        86th OVI – Unit Reorganized
August     129th OVI
October    125th OVI
November    12th Cavalry

April        60th OVI – Unit Reorganized
May        150th OVI, 164th OVI, 169th OVI
February     5th Co. SS
October    177th OVI, 2nd Light Battery



Christopher Whipple has a long interest in the Cleveland area as his family has lived in the area since 1830s. The stories he has heard from various family members helps him appreciate how great an area we live in and he is constantly pained when people speak poorly of this wonderful region. For this reason he began writing on the positive aspects of Cleveland.

Christopher has a masters degree in Economics, and works as a marketing manager full time. Chris has many pursuits and is active in politics, exercise (he runs marathons), Cleveland history, the Civil War and his son’s education.


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