Updated: Nov 24, 2020
During the Civil War dozens of camps were created, particularly during the early heady days of the conflict, where recruits by the hundreds and thousands gathered together to form regiments and learn the school of the soldier. One such camp, which only existed for a few months, was Camp Clay near Cincinnati. This camp was setup to recruit and muster into service the First and Second Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiments (along with the First Kentucky Light Artillery Battery, also known as Simmonds' Battery, formed from Company E of the First Kentucky Infantry), with the First being made up from men mostly from southwestern Ohio who could not join the now filled Ohio regiments recruited in Cincinnati. Therefore, while Kentucky was still neutral, these men, supported by noted Unionist Kentuckians, became Ohio soldiers in Kentucky units. The camp was located along the Ohio River, upriver (east) of the city (the modern location would be near Saint Rose Catholic Church on Riverside Drive).
Newspapers would often carry stories of Camp Clay, adding perspectives to the Civil War that we today often overlook. At times humorous, many times bombastic to today's modern reader, these articles provide an insight to daily life. I have now come across four dozen or so articles from newspapers.
The first mention of Camp Clay was in the May 1st, 1861 edition of the Cincinnati Daily Press:
KENTUCKIANS IN CAMP. - Three companies of Kentuckians, attached to Col. Guthrie's regiment, marched to Camp Clay, near Pendleton, yesterday morning. Fourteen companies have already tendered their services, despite the treacherous course of Gov. Magoffin.
Next in the Cincinnati Daily Press on May 7th, 1861 we have two mentions of Camp Clay, this being the first:
CAMP CLAY. - Colonel Guthrie, of the Kentucky regiment, will take up his quarters at Camp Clay this morning. All companies that he has accepted for the First or Second Regiments are requested to report to him immediately. Ample provision is made in the camp for all the men as soon as they are marched in.
and the second:
Two regiments, one commanded by Colonel Guthrie, and the other by Colonel Terrell, have been accepted, from Kentucky by the Secretary of War. They are located at Camp Clay, and are entertained in a handsome manner by the people of that vicinity, who furnish them all the luxuries of their own tables. Prominent among these is Mr. Robert Galbraith, one of the oldest residents of the place. On Sunday last Rev. Robert Askins, of Columbia, preached to the soldiers.
They have only the organization, of two companies, A and B, which are appended:
Harrison Light artillery, Company A - Captain Jos. T. Wheeler; Lieutenant Theo. Hurd; Second Lieutenant John Jackson.
Ashland Rifles, Company B - Captain Alva R. Hadlock; Lleutenant Thos. K. Fraser; Second Lieutenant Geo. W. Hynson.
These men will give a good account of themselves, in any emergency in which they be placed.
The May 9th edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, taken from an article that appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette, even reported on some of the happenings at the camp:
The Kentucky Regiments.
Col. Guthrie has succeeded beyond his highest expectations in getting the sons of Kentucky to rally under the stars and stripes. So great is the press upon him by men from Boone, Greenup and Jefferson counties that he has applied to the Secretary of War to receive a third regiment. Major Burbank visited the Kentucky volunteers at Camp Clay yesterday, and expressed himself highly pleased with the quarters and general arrangements there. He will muster the first regiment Into the United States service to morrow.
Col. Guthrie has appointed Lieut. Connel of Lexington, Ky., Adjutant of the First Regiment. This gentleman is a West Point graduate. He was drill master of the celebrated Lexington Rifles.
The “ Washington Skirmishers," a company of Germans, attached to the First Kentucky Regiment, passed through the city yesterday morning, on their,way to Camp Clay. They are nearly all experienced soldiers, and having been under constant drill the last ten days, march with the precision of veteran troops. They are in command of Capt. Winewski, a soldier who has seen service in his native country. - Cincinnati Gazette.
Another Cincinnati Daily Press article on May 10th covered the recruiting of Kentucky men, which, contrary to the common story that both the First and Second Regiments were mostly Ohio men, apparently did fill the ranks of the Second Kentucky:
KENTUCKY REGIMENT - CAMP CLAY.
The Ohio volunteers who have been offered to the Kentucky Regiments at Camp Clay, we are informed, have nearly all been refused, as the Second Regiment is being filled up with companies from Kentucky. The First Regiment is complete.
There is still some room for the good of Old Kentucky, as it is the desire of officers to have picked men. A telegram was received yesterday from Greenup, Ky., offering a full company, which was immediately accepted.
The following day, two more articles from the Cincinnati Daily Press:
Six companies of the First Kentucky Regiment were mustered into service by the United States officers yesterday, and only twelve men were rejected.
The Second Regiment was organised yesterday, by the appointment of the following officers: Colonel, W. G. Terrlll; Lieutenant Colonel, G. W. Neff; Major, Wm. Woodruff.
Major Woodruff has been in command of the Louisville Legion, and is one of the best drill-masters in the United States.
Two more companies, one from Big Sandy, and a second from Ashland County, have tendered their services to Colonel Terrlll, to be mustered into the Second Regiment, and will be accepted. They will reach here on Tuesday. Large numbers are volunteering from Louisville.
ATTEMPT TO POISON SOLDIERS AT CAMP CLAY. - A man, whose name we were unable to learn, yesterday attempted to bribe one of the cooks at Camp Clay, to get him away from his post. Suspicions were immediately aroused, and he was taken Into custody, and a bottle of strychnine was found on his person. He will be dealt with according to his deserts.
The May 14th Cincinnati Daily Press featured a letter written by "Observer" from the camp:
The process of Inspecting and mustering In troops In the Kentucky regiments goes forward with great rapidity. Thus far, but few have been rejected on account of physical debility, although the standard has been placed very high by the army surgeons and United States officers. The corps are in good health and spirits, and nothing would give them more pleasure than to meet Blanton Duncan's traitors, who have disgraced their own State by joining the Confederates and committing treason against the Government to which they owe allegiance.
The following letter from a soldier in the corps gives some interesting details of affairs there:
There are now about fourteen hundred men in camp, and more arriving every day. There are a great many opinions offered as to what captain has the best company in camp, but it seems to be very generally conceded that the Kenton Rangers are the 'star company' (we, the members, think so, any how), commanded by Captain Mitchell, who has seen service in the Mexican War.
On Sunday morning we had divine service; the sermon, which was an excellent one, well suited to the times and the occasion, and attentively listened to by all in camp, was preached by the Rev. Samuel Browne.
There seems to be an Impression in town that we are not well fed out here. Now I
will give you our bill of fare for the Iast three days, and then the folks can judge for themselves: First day - Breakfast, salt pork, coffee and bread; dinner, salt pork, bean-soup without salt; supper, salt pork, bread and coffee. Second day - Breakfast, salt pork, coffee and bread; dinner, salt pork, bean-soup very much salt, bread; supper, bread, coffee, and salt pork. Third day - Bill of fare reversed.
There is one good item which I wish to give you. There are within one hundred yards of our camp over one hundred chickens, and not one has yet been stolen. At another time I will give you a description of our quarters, and some other things relative to them.
Not very article that appeared in a newspaper at the time was favorable to the Union cause. Appearing in the Daily Nashville Patriot on the same day as the last entry is the following:
Affairs at Cincinnati - The two Kentucky Regiments.
We are permitted to publish the following from a private letter received by a gentleman of this city, from his friend in Cincinnati. The writer is a gentleman of ability and veracity, and his statements can be relied on:
"...I suppose you have seen some account of the two Kentucky Regiments being reported as ready to be mustered into service for the U. S., under Cols. Guthrie and Terrill. Now, that you and our good friends in Tennessee, may understand this matter and not be deceived, I will try and give you a true account of the whole. And first, as to Col. Guthrie, be not deceived. He is none of "our Guthries." He is a citizen of Ohio; he settled in Newport sometime last fall or winter; became a rabid secessionist, 'bloviated" about there sometime, got himself appointed Colonel of the Kentucky Militia; got scared; run back to Ohio; went to Washington; got some sort of commission from Abe Lincoln; enlists a set of wharf rats, scoundrels, jail birds and loafers in Cincinnati, with a few German Turners and vagabonds in Newport, and lo! this turns up Kentucky Regiment No. 1. This is no fancy sketch. I will venture to assert that, in the whole two regiments, there are not fifty true Kentuckians. I mean Kentuckians born of Kentucky parents, and who, from infancy, have been taught to speak the English language. As to Col. Terrill, he was for a number of years the editor of a vile abolition sheet at LaFayette, Indiana. Some ill wind blew him to Cincinnati, thence, I believe, to Newport as a resident for a few months. Sometime last winter he returned to Cincinnati, where he became the "roper" for a faro-bank, and is a sort of dead-head pensioner to a coffee house in Cincinnati. His business is to lounge about the Spencer House and catch "gulls" and seduce them to the aforesaid coffee-house, where the faro-bank is kept, and stranger gentlemen are relieved of their cash.
His regiment is of the same character of that of Guthrie's. If the honor of proud, chivalrous old Kentucky is to be entrusted to the keeping of such men, then I fear that I and others will have to do that which we never expected to do blush for our good old Commonwealth and proclaim in anguish of heart : "How are the mighty fallen!" The facts here set forth are true, and the statements here made are not the result of prejudice. I have them from those who know, and who intend, through the medium of the 'press," that the public shall know..."
Part II can be found HERE.