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History of Camp Curtin

 

When news of the bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter reached Washington on April 14, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers. Governor Andrew Curtin also made a plea to the citizens of Pennsylvania to volunteer to help preserve the Union. Almost immediately, men from throughout the state converged on Harrisburg to offer their services and it became apparent that a military camp would have to be established in the area. Governor Curtin instructed Brigadier General Edward Williams of the state militia to take control of the grounds of the Dauphin County Agricultural Society, located in what was then the northern outskirts of Harrisburg. The camp was between Reel's Lane on the north, the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks on the east, Maclay Street on the south and Fifth Street on the west.

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It was originally to be called Camp Union but when Major (later Brigadier General) Joseph Knipe officially opened the camp on April 18th, he proclaimed it to be Camp Curtin.  Over 300,000 men passed through Camp Curtin during its four years of operation, making it the largest Federal camp during the Civil War.

 

Harrisburg's location on major railroad lines running east and west, and north and south made it the ideal location for moving men and supplies to the armies in the field. In addition to Pennsylvania regiments, troops from Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and the Regular Army used Camp Curtin. The camp and surrounding area also saw service as a supply depot, hospital and prisoner of war camp. Harrisburg's strategic importance as a state capital, military camp and railroad center was made evident by the Confederacy's attempts to take the city during the Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns.

 

At the end of the war, Camp Curtin was used as a mustering-out point for thousands of troops on their way home. Camp Curtin was officially closed on November 11, 1865, the same date that became Veterans Day after World War I.

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Curtin Statue and Park

For years, citizens of the area and Civil War veterans wanted a gateway built at Sixth and Maclay Streets to mark the entrance to Camp Curtin. This plan never materialized. Local citizens and church members, led by Pastor Alvin Williams, continued to petition the state for a proper memorial.

In 1917 the Camp Curtin Commission was created. A total of $25,000 was appropriated by the legislature to the Commission to purchase the site occupied by Camp Curtin and to erect a suitable memorial.

On October 19, 1922, the Governor Andrew G. Curtin statue (left) was unveiled by his son, William W. Curtin, and Laura and Helen Gastrock, great-granddaughters of General Joseph F. Knipe.

After years of neglect, the statue was restored and rededicated by the Camp Curtin Historical Society on November 11, 1990, the 125th anniversary of the closing of Camp Curtin. In 1992, a state roadside historical marker was dedicated during ceremonies celebrating the 131st anniversary of the opening of Camp Curtin. In 1993, lighting was installed near the statue.

The Camp Curtin Park and Curtin Statue are located in Harrisburg, just west of the State Farm Show Complex and one block north of the intersection of Maclay and North Sixth Streets, Harrisburg.










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Governor Curtin

Andrew Gregg Curtin was 43 years old when he became Pennsylvania's chief executive on January 15, 1861. He was a lawyer from Bellefonte and of Scotch-Irish descent. A former Whig, he joined the new Republican Party in 1860 and was one of Lincoln's staunchest supporters. Curtin was responsible for establishing the first and largest Civil War camp and was the first governor to send troops to defend the nation's capital. In September 1862, he arranged a conference in Altoona for northern governors to raise support for President Lincoln and his war effort. During his term, he established a Pennsylvania State Agency in Washington and another office in Nashville, Tennessee, "to provide for the comfort and efficiency of our volunteers" and at home he organized state funded schools for soldiers' orphans.

 

 In 1864, he was reelected to his second three year term. In 1867, when his term expired, he was a potential vice president candidate but instead was named ambassador to Russia. Curtin returned to Pennsylvania and for years opposed the political machine of Simon Cameron. He ended his political career by serving six years as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He died in 1894. Four identical statues honor his memory: one in his hometown of Bellefonte, Centre County, another on the Pennsylvania State Monument at the Gettysburg Battlefield, another in the rotunda of the State Capitol Building, and the last at the site of Camp Curtin.