Sunday, January 14, 2024

A Letter from Camp Pope in New Haven, Ky.

A long letter appeared in the December 22, 1861 Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, printed with permission by the unnamed person to whom it was addressed, a rare piece of wartime correspondence from a solider who had been in Campbell County.

This soldier, William Halpin, had been raising a company for the 50th Ohio Infantry, but withdrew it from that unit and moved the men to Camp Webster in Jamestown, Campbell County, where he was “desirous of procuring a few more recruits” per the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer of October 20, 1861, which stated that additional enlistees would be “sure of a month’s pay in advance, and clothing as soon as their names” were officially on the  company rolls. These men, and others recruited there, eventually became part of the 15th Kentucky Infantry Regiment, which officially formed in New Haven, Kentucky, from where Halpin wrote this missive about the trip from Campbell County to this camp and a few other observations he made. He became captain of Company K of that regiment, eventually being promoted to major and then lieutenant colonel.

After the war, Halpin continued to fight, working for Irish Independence. This link - and others easily found with a basic internet search - provides more details of his adventures and troubles after his fighting in the American Civil War.

A few words were illegible in the scanned image of the newspaper, and in one section, it appeared the paper folded over on itself, making a couple of lines impossible to read. I have noted those areas, but the vast majority of the document was readable.

Camp Ham. Pope

Nelson County, KY. December 17, 1861

It is nearly time that I should write you a line, saying where I am and how located. I presume you want a history of “our” marching, pipe claying, and illegible and such other incidents of military life as occucrred to us since we left the sunny side of Cincinnati. Here follows the story as briefly as I can state it. We left “Camp Webster” on a wet and very inauspicious day, got on board of a boat, whose name I fortunately forget, for between you and me and the gate post, I have no particular desire to recollect it; although she bore us bravely along the turbid waters of the Ohio, until somewhere “among the wee illegible-smallhours” when the pugnacious thing thought it proper to run into the starboard side of the mail-boat Telegraph. There was consternation for a moment or so among the passengers, and hearts that would not quite before the best manned battery of Southern Jeff. throbbed fast and loud at the prospect of a watery grave. Fortunately, there was no damage done, and we went on our way rejoicing that our time had not yet come. 

We reached the wharf at Louisville and found our old stern-wheel moored alongside the boat that contained the Sixth Ohio Regiment. I won’t tell you the trouble I had during the night to prevent the bombardment, not of a Southern citadel, but of a small corner of the ship’s cabin, where Paddy’s eye-water was dealt out to thirsty travelers at a dime a jigger. The boys had a dime of their first month’s pay left, an as they were going to be “kilt” the next day, considered the best way to rid themselves of such unnecessary incumbrances was to exchange it for as much strychnine as would drown “dull care.” Entreaty and remonstrance wee alike unavailing; they were “on the ocean wave,” with death below, above and before them, and they would have their way. Guards were placed around the sanctuary to prevent the impetuous men of Mars from indulging in the baneful cap; but morning came, and the illegible of the venerable deity who presided over the flowing nectar told more plainly than words could say that he reaped a silver harvest during the silent hours, which honest men devote to the wooing of Somnus. 

From the wharf we marched through the city to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad depot, where a substantial breakfast was prepared for us by the citizens, which we enjoyed with a keen relish. It was on this occasion that my camp knife, which friend Merns presented before I left the Queen City, was first brought into requisition. A few hour’s ride brought us to Camp Hamp. People, about 45 miles south of Louisville, in the midst of a drenching rain. Our quarters were any thing but inviting, and this, coupled with the fact that Colonel Artsman was to have no place in the regiment, disconcerted the men, and they instantly formed illegible to march back to Jamestown. They (page folded, so a couple lines and several words not legible) quarters with the illegible … next day; but as soon as they illegible (got to meet?) with Colonel Pope and his field officers, they changed their notions, and are since contented and happy. It would be impossible to be otherwise, for a finer set of officers than the field and company commanders it would be very difficult to meet.  

Colonel Pope is a wealthy citizen of Louisville, a graduate of West Point, and a fine military commander. He could live in ease and affluence, but when his country called for aid from her sons, he generously abandoned the endearments of private life, left wealth and hoe and family, and, like a true patriot, buckled on his sword to defend the glorious star-spangled banner. He is a true type of a generous, whole souled Kentucky gentleman, in whose presence the humblest man or boy I the regiment feels at home. The company officers are of the same stamp, and the men who compose the Fifteenth Kentucky are as fine and orderly a set of fellows as I ever saw in any camp. There is a fine company of Irishmen, commanded by Captain Spalding, of Louisville, who, the day of our arrival, learning that most of our company venerated the shamrock, invited us to supper, and, like generous Gauls as they are, actually cooked for us their own rations. If ever John Bull shows his teeth to Brother Jonathan, these brave and generous fellows, will not be the last to enter the army that will cross the Atlantic to wipe out the last traces of British rule in the old camp island of their fathers. 

It would surprise any of the old acquaintances to see the improvement in the Camp Webster men. The healthy location of the camp and the exercises they have daily, contribute materially to this result; but chiefly, the absence of the ardent, which can not be had hereabouts, for “love or money.” I would not change the life of a soldier for any I have yet experienced. The fun around the camp fire, the merry joke, the blithesome laugh and patriotic song of the light-hearted soldier, win one in sensibly to love the camp, with all its toils and privations. 

I regret to relate that our usual joy has been lately turned into grief by the demise of a brother in arms. On Saturday, the 4th inst., the grim old King of Terrors whetted his scythe, entered our camp and claimed Patrick Goffing (he meant Patrick Gaffney, who actually died on December 14 after becoming sick while on guard duty at Camp Webster a couple weeks earlier) as his own. Poor Goffing wrecked his constitution in the cellars and garrots of Cincinnati; he caught a cold at Camp Webster, that fastened on his lungs, and finally cut the ligature that bound his shattered frame to earth. He had been in hospital since we came here and knowing that his end was near, prepared himself for his long journey. He received all the rites of the Catholic Church and died in the bosom of her who had closed the eyes of his fathers for fourteen centuries. His remains were borne to the Catholic cemetery at New Haven, on Sunday afternoon, by his comrades, and buried with the honors of war. 

Never was I more impressed with the beauties of the Catholic ritual, and the solemnity of the ceremonies used in thee burial of the dead. In the fashionable thoroughfares of large cities, and even in the pillared aisles of the grand Cathedrals, where artificial music greets the ear, and the painted belle in gorgeous plumage attracts the eye, one is apt to forge tat the ceremonies of religion were meant for heaven, or think they were more than a fleeting earthly show; but here, in the midst of the primitive forest, to use the white robed minister of God follow to the tomb the poorest of the children of the Church, with the same care and solicitude as if he were a sceptered monarch, is a sight to impress the heart with the liveliest feelings of gratitude to God for providing a religion that ministers alike to all His children, and cares for the humblest as well as the most exalted, from the cradle to the grave.To see the aged and venerable successor of the apostle, bent with age, yet filled with fervor, march from the church to the graveyard, with uncovered head, reciting the beautiful psalmody proper for the occasion, was a sight so full of grandeur as to strike the beholder with astonishment, and draw from the lips of unbelievers an acknowledgement that the creed that taught such earnest simplicity was indeed of divine origin. Words can not express the satisfaction it was to poor Goffing to know that while his grave should be made by stranger hands, far away from his home and kindred, that a requiem would be sung by the appointed mister of the Most High.

We expect to move soon to Elizabethtown, where we are to join three Ohio regiments, including the Tenth. I learned tonight that Colonel Lytle will be our Brigadier General, and the boys are wild with joy over the news. On Saturday last General Nelson’s brigade passed here and encamped about seven miles further south. There is no doubt of an early forward movement, but in what direction I am unable to say. The Thirty fourth and Thirty Sixth Indiana were encamped alongside of us until Saturday last, when they moved off to see old Buckner. The Sixth Ohio and Colonel Stanley Matthew’s regiments are with General Nelson. We are provided with all the equipments except wagons, and as soon as they are furnished, off we go. Until then, farewell. I am at a great loss for the Enquirer – can’t you send me an occasional copy?

Yours truly, 



The 15th Kentucky did end up in brigade under Colonel Lytle, including during the hard fighting around the Bottom House at Perryville.


  1. It always amazes me how long their letters were then. When I write an email, it's about two tiny paragraphs.

  2. Yes, it was definitely a different time.


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