Captain Camden, reporting for duty, 100 years ago this week
Here we see a relatively fit Captain Edwin Camden, formerly of the Army of the Confederate States, then aged 75, of Volusia County, Florida, in April 1917. According to the state archives on 6 April 1917 “He put on his Civil War veteran’s uniform and tried to register for the draft on the first day of World War I.”
It should be noted that his grandson reportedly had volunteered for service as well and was accepted.
Note the uniform is complete with the hat device of the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) a veterans organization formed in 1888.
Camden, born in Virginia in 1840, raised a company that later became Coy E, 25th Virginia (Heck’s) Infantry Regiment and, captured after being wounded during the Wilderness, became a member of a group known as the “Immortal Six Hundred” because they refused to take an oath of allegiance to the U.S. under duress.
From the Confederate Veteran, the monthly magazine which became the official UCV organ, volume XXXI, January 1923, now in the Duke Library Archives:
CAPT. EDWIN DUNCAN CAMDEN. BY ROY B. COOK, CHARLESTON, W. VA.
When the war came on in 1861, the Camden family, of Braxton County, Va. (now West Virginia), was largely divided on the subjects involved in that fratricidal strife. John S. Camden, Sr., was long a prominent figure in the central western Virginia region, a member of the Virginia Assembly, and colonel of the 133rd Regiment Virginia Militia. Of his five sons, three were enrolled for the South. — Edwin D. Camden, William I., and L. D., the latter two being lieutenants of the 17th Virginia. Of the other two, Dr. Thomas B. Camden was imprisoned in Camp Chase, but was released upon a petition signed by all sides, and subsequently served as post surgeon of the Federal army at Weston ; Johnson N. Camden remained loyal to the Union, and in latter years became a vice president of the Standard Oil Company, United States Senator, and railroad builder. Richard P. Camden, an uncle of Edwin Camden, espoused the cause of the Union and was a member of the West Virginia legislature in 1866 as a loyal man. Another uncle, Lennox Camden, was arrested as a Southern sympathizer and confined in Fort Delaware in 1863. Having married into a powerful Western Virginia family, his release was secured, but not before his physical powers had wasted away, and he died in New York City. Judge Gideon D. Camden, another uncle, was a member of the Confederate Congress, and his son was a major in the Confederate army.
In July, 1861, Edwin Duncan Camden recruited a company of one hundred and twenty men and marched to Beverly, where he was to effect a junction with a command of the Confederate army under Colonel Pegram. In the meantime General Rosecrans had advanced by Clarksburg and Philippi, defeating Pegram in the battle of Rich Mountain on July 11. The men under Camden arrived during the closing hours of this affray, participated in the action, during which General Garnett was killed, and r treated with the Confederates into the Valley of Virginia The men in his charge were mustered in as Company E, 25th Virginia Infantry, and he was commisioned first lieutenant.
After participating in activities in the Valley campaigns in the latter part of 1861, the 25th Regiment became a part of the 4th Brigade, 31st Division, under Col. J. A. Walker, and as such a part of the corps under command of the distinguished chieftain, Thomas J. Jackson. As the celebrated “Stonewall Brigade,” it was ever afterwards the most noted organization in the Confederate service, engaged in deeds and exploits that attracted the attention of the entire world. Among the commanders were Gen. J. M. Jones and Bradley T. Johnson, and several others no less well known.
Company E, as part of the 4th Brigade, engaged in the battle at Fort Republic on June 9, 1862, lost four officers and twenty-five men, and Lieutenant Camden was wounded. Recovering, he rejoined the company and was commissioned captain, a rank held during his period of service.
In April, 1863, the 25th and 31st Virginia were transferred temporarily by General Lee to the command of Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden, to participate in the invasion of Western Virginia. During this month and May following, the celebrated “Imboden Raid” took place, in which Jones and Imboden advanced as far into the present State of West Virginia as Glenville, in Gilmer County, and Burning Strings, in Wirt County. At the latter place vast stores of oil were destroyed, which, as fate would have it, belonged largely to Johnson N. Camden, a brother of Captain Camden. The expedition was not successful in the desired purpose of securing recruits for the Southern cause, but did secure large numbers of cattle and supplies for the Southern army. At Buckhannon, Camden’s company and others lost some men by desertion, because Captain Camden lodged a complaint against a certain element stealing horses from the citizens without authority, need, or pay. This act, however, created a most favorable impression with the better element on both sides.
Returning to Virginia and the old organization, the march was taken up to the memorable field of Gettysburg. Here the company, on July 1, 1S63, engaged in the storming of Culp’s Hill, and late that evening moved into the ” Valley of Death. ”
During Pickett’s charge the division held a position under the murderous fire from Little Round Top. John C. Higginbotham, colonel commanding, on the 21st, in his report to Acting Adjutant Moore, of General Jones’s Brigade, speaking of the actions on the 3rd, says: “It is with pleasure that I can testify to the gallantry and skill of Captain (E. D.) Camden and Company E. I never saw men act better. Seventy men were lost in action.
In May, 1864, began the series of battles of the Wilderness, which led up to the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. The 25th Virginia moved into the ” Bloody Angle” on May 10, and in the next three days followed such scenes of carnage as never before existed in the war. Whole companies were wiped out. Lee and Grant pitted their armies together in the great struggle for what was believed to be the key to Richmond. At the close of the affray, Captain Camden, with a shattered leg and jaw, was left on the battle field, for it was not believed that surgical skill then available could save his life. The Confederate forces were forced to leave large numbers of their wounded in the hands of the Federals, and, after many hours, Captain Camden was removed to a Federal hospital, later sent to Fort Delaware as a prisoner, and, in the face of what was deemed mortal injuries, eventually recovered.
In July, 1864, it was reported in the North, but later found to have been a mistake, that Maj- Gen. Sam Jones had confined Federal prisoners in Charleston, S. C, under fire from the Federal batteries on Morris Island. On August 25, 1864, the Federal commander, General Schoeph, at Fort Delaware, sent six hundred commissioned Confederate officers to Morris Island, with the view in mind, it appears, of an exchange, but this was not done. For a time they were under fire of their own guns, and, though none were killed, they underwent terrible suffering; a number died, and their other experiences are recounted in book and poem as the “Immortal Six Hundred” of the War between the States. Among those from the interior of present West Virginia were: Lieut. T. Tussie, 25th Virginia, Weston, W. Va.; Capt. E. D. Camden, 25th Virginia, Sutton, W. Va.; Capt. T. J. Berry, Bulltown, W. Va., and some fifteen others from other sections of the State.
From Fort Delaware they were transported in August, huddled together on a small steamship called the Crescent, guarded by one hundred Ohio militiamen. Arriving at Morris Island, and failing in exchange, at times shells from batteries on the Island, Wagner’s, and Forts Moultrie and Sumter were passing over them. Forty-five days later they were sent to Fort Pulaski; later to Hilton Head, and then back to Fort Delaware.
From this point those who would take the oath of allegiance to the United States were sent to New York and released. Others who refused were sent to Richmond in exchange for a like number of Federal prisoners. The term of imprisonment was marked by many happenings, one of which had both a tragic and amusing aspect. At Hilton Head an effort was made to escape. By raising a bunk in a section occupied by Captain Camden, a hole was made in the floor and, after a long period of hard work, a hole was made down and under the wall. All arrangements were made for a trip to liberty, but the men inside the walls did not reckon with a moat filled with water surrounding the building. On the way through the basement a barrel of brown sugar was found, and while to us this does not mean much, to a soldier at that time it was the highest of dainties. Tightening belts, shirts and pockets were filled; arriving outside in the darkness, they fell into the water. Wading, scrambling, or swimming across as the need arose, sugar and water enshrouded them in a sticky syrup. The alarm was given and, with such an unusual impediment, all were caught and returned to prison.
Upon his release from service, Captain Camden returned to the little town of Weston, W. Va., along with others of the brave men in gray. Among the local Federals were men with little respect for those who espoused the Southern cause, and it was demanded that the Confederates divest themselves of the faded and worn uniforms. This they refused to do, and a near riot took place, in which Maj. H. H. Withers, of the 10th Virginia Infantry, mounted a horse block and announced that he would shoot the first man that touched a Confederate soldier, an act that endeared him to both sides.
Captain Camden died on May 13, 1922. He was the son of John S. and Nancy Newlon Camden, and was born in Sutton, Braxton County, Va. (now West Virginia), March 30, 1840. When the town of Sutton was burned by the Confederates under John S. Sprigg, on December 29, 1861, the Camden Hotel and store were burned, and his father and mother were forced to retire to Weston with the Federals, both dying within a few months from exposure on the trip. One of Captain Camden’s great-grandfathers was Maj. Frederick Sprigg, of the Upper Battalion, Montgomery County, Maryland Continentals; while another was a member of the “Flying Squadron” in the Revolution. Kinsmen fought in the war with Spain, and a grandson was in the late World War. As a member of the “Immortal Six Hundred,” Captain Camden was one of the honored guests at Confederate reunions, and was probably the last survivor of this famous group. In late years he was appointed as colonel on the staff of J. Thompson Brown, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia Department U. C. V.
He is buried in Summit Cemetery, Braxton County, West Virginia, alongside his wife. On his tombstone, he is recorded as being a Lt. Colonel, possibly a brevet award.