In last week’s column about the Island Trotting Park, I mentioned how that race track in Ligonia would later be used as a Civil War camp. Ligonia is the area where you would find the Sprague terminal today (where you see the fuel storage tanks painted with the geometric designs). The camp there wasn’t officially named Camp Abraham Lincoln until the summer of 1862, however there were regiments organizing there in 1861.

The early camp names would vary, based on whichever regiment was utilizing the site.

While researching the Island Trotting Park, we came across a Biddeford newspaper called The Union and Journal which was in publication in the 1860s. In a paper from June of 1861, I found a letter from a soldier at “Camp Virgin, Island Park.” There was no other identifying information and I have been accustomed to hearing the Fifth Maine refer to their camp in Ligonia as “Camp Preble,” so I wasn’t quite sure at first what I was looking at. However, with the names of the officers mentioned in the letter, I was able to confirm that this was, indeed, written from a Fifth Maine Volunteer Infantry soldier while they were organizing at Island Trotting Park.

The soldier was from Company B of the Fifth Maine, which was a company of men from Biddeford.

An 1861 payment voucher made out for $3 to Mrs. Tyne, the wife of a soldier from Saco. South Portland Historical Society image

As this letter allows us a glimpse of daily life for these soldiers, I’m simply going to reprint it here, in its entirety:

“Camp Virgin, Island Park, May 27th, 1861. Friend Cowan: As we are enjoying a spell of weather here in camp, and being per consequence relieved from most of our usual daily camp duties, I improve the opportunity by addressing a few items of information, through the columns of your excellent journal, to our many friends in old Biddeford. – We have just begun to realize some of the peculiar pleasures and hardships of actual life in camp, and thus far our boys bear with unusual forbearance both. As a sample of the duties of a soldier, I subjoin our regular routine of duties:

“Reveille at 5 o’clock A.M., when men arise and put their tents in order. Roll call then follows, and breakfast is served at 6 1-2 o’clock. Guard mounting at 8 1-2. Company drills from 10 1-2 till 12. Dinner at 12 1-2. Company drills again from 3 to 4. Regimental drill until 5, and dress parade at 6. Supper at 6 1-2. At 9 the tattoo is beat, and at 10 the retreat, when lights are extinguished in all except the officers’ quarters, and the camp is expected to be in quiet.

“It will thus be seen by your friends that we are not, by any means, permitted to lead a very idle or shiftless life. Our friends may, with truth, suppose that such a daily routine of duties was a little monotonous and burdensome, but thus far our boys have performed all duties without a murmur. As some of our friends may not be aware exactly of the hardships of some of the duties we have to perform, I subjoin the duties of the guard: – So many men (generally eight) are detailed every morning from each company at 8 1-2 o’clock, and the whole are divided into three squads or reliefs. No. 1 taking the place of the old relief and remaining on guard, marching from one end of their beat to the other for two long hours, when they are then relieved by No. 2, who go through the same until relieved by No. 3, and so on for 24 hours, when the whole guard are re-placed by a new one. On such a day as to-day the duties of the guards are anything but pleasant, you may be assured.

“Everything thus far in our company has been unusually pleasant and agreeable. Our boys agree most pleasantly together, not one disturbance has as yet occurred among them. Our company is divided into four squads, each one of whom occupies a separate tent, which crowds us together in a most uncomfortable manner. Only imagine 18 men in a round tent about 16 by 49 feet, sleeping on straw covered only by one woolen blanket, said tent being exceedingly prone to shed water on the wrong side in rainy weather, and you have a good idea of the very comfortable quarters provided by the State of Maine for her bold soldier boys. In regard to our food, we have not any particular occasion to find much fault, but if it would be just as convenient we would like to have a change semi-occasionally, if no oftener. – At present we are reminded rather forcibly of the boarder’s change of diet, who said he lived first rate; he had a change at every meal – he had fish and potatoes for breakfast, potatoes and fish for dinner, and the remainder of the fish and potatoes warmed up for supper. But, however, if we don’t get a great many luxuries, yet we have all we can dispose of, which I assure you is no very small quantity. None of our company at present are ill, excepting a few who have slight colds. All of the clothing we have obtained thus far is a blanket, great coat, socks, shirts and drawers to each man. We expect, however, the remainder of our uniforms before long.

“As some of our friends may be disposed to show their friendship to us in some practical manner, I would suggest that a rubber blanket would be the most acceptable present that could be made. Owing to the promotion of Capt. Hamilton, our company has chosen Lewis B. Goodwin as Captain, and R.M. Stevens and S. Pilsbury as Lieutenants. They will make most excellent officers.

“As I have already trespassed too much upon your patience, I will conclude by merely informing the ladies – long may they live – that their presents have proved exceedingly useful, especially the Bibles and sun-caps; the first is read every morning and evening aloud in each tent of our company; the latter we use as night-caps.”

Note to South Portland Historical Society members and friends: If you have not already, it is time to renew your memberships (or please join us if you are not already a member, we need your support). Memberships start at $15 for individuals and $25 for a family, however feel free to donate at whatever level is comfortable for you.

A complete list of membership levels can be found on our website at www.sphistory.org. With the museum presently closed due to the pandemic, our funding is limited. We hope our members will renew at this time so that the society can avoid the cost of mailing renewal reminders. To renew or join, simply make your check payable to South Portland Historical Society and mail to us or drop off at the museum at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106. You can also donate by credit card by calling us at 207-767-7299, using PayPal (our email is [email protected]), or use the donation button at our Online Museum at https://sphistory.pastperfectonline.com. Thank you.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society.

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