I chose this image because I was fascinated by what it does not tell you. Who were these men? How many answered the call once the 90 day enlistments expired? How many survived the war? How many went back home to leave the war to a younger generation?
A brief history of Camp Cameron can be found here: Camp Cameron.
The following is a brief history of the 1st Mass.
Organized at Boston and mustered in Companies “A,” “B,” “G” and “H” May 23; Companies “D,” “F,” “K” and “I” May 24; Company “E” May 25, and Company “C” May 27, 1861. Left State for Washington, D.C., June 15, arriving June 17. Attached to Richardson’s Brigade, Tyler’s Division, McDowell’s Army of Northeast Virginia, to August, 1861. Hooker’s Brigade, Division of the Potomac, to October, 1861. 1st Brigade, Hooker’s Division, Army of the Potomac, to March, 1862. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 3rd Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, to March, 1864. 1st Brigade, 4th Division, 2nd Army Corps, to May, 1864.
SERVICE.–Duty at Camp Banks, Georgeton, D.C., until July 16, 1861. Advance on Manassas, Va., July 16-21. Occupation of Fairfax Court House July 17. Battle of Bull Run July 21. At Fort Albany until August 15. Moved to Bladensburg August 15 and duty there until September 7. Expedition to Lower Maryland September 7-October 7. Moved to Posey’s Plantation October 25-27. Duty there and at Shipping Point until April 5, 1862. Affair at Mattawoman Creek November 14, 1861. Ordered to Fortress Monroe, Va., April 7, 1862; thence to Yorktown. Siege of Yorktown April 16-May 4. Affair at Yorktown April 26 (Cos. “A,” “H” and “I”). Battle of Williamsburg May 5. Battle of Fair Oaks, Seven Pines, May 31-June 1. Seven days before Richmond June 25-July 1. Battles of Oak Grove June 25; Savage Station June 29; White Oak Swamp and Glendale June 30; Malvern Hill July 1. At Harrison’s Landing until August 15. Movement to Fortress Monroe, thence to Centreville August 15-26. Bristoe Station or Kettle Run August 27. Catlett’s Station August 28. Battles of Groveton August 29 and Bull Run August 30. Duty in the Defences of Washington until December –. At Fort Lyon until Sep tember 13. Near Fairfax Seminary until October 20 and at Munson’s Hill until November 1. Duty at Fairfax Station November 2-25. Operations on Orange & Alexandria Railroad November 10-12. Battle of Fredericksburg, Va., December 12-15. “Mud March” January 20-24, 1863. At Falmouth until April 27. Operations at Rappahannock Bridge and Grove Church February 5-7. Chancellorsville Campaign April 27-May 6. Battle of Chancellorsville May 1-5. Gettysburg (Pa.) Campaign June 11-July 24. Battle of Gettysburg July 1-3. Pursuit of Lee until July 24. Moved to New York July 30-August 1. Duty at Governor’s Island Ricker’s Island and David’s Island, New York Harbor until October 15. Moved to Washington October 15 thence to Union Mills, Va., and rejoin Corps October 17. Advance to line of the Rappahannock November 7-8. Kelly’s Ford November 7. Mine Run Campaign November 26-December 2. Payne’s Farm November 27. Duty near Brandy Station until May, 1864. Demonstration on the Rapidan February 6-7. Rapidan Campaign May 3-20. Battles of the Wilderness May 5 7; Spottsylvania May 8-12; Spottsylvania Court House May 12-21. Assault on the Salient at Spottsylvania Court House May 12. Harris Farm or Fredericksburg Road May 19. Ordered home for muster out May 20 Veterans and Recruits transferred to 11th Massachussetts Infantry May 20. Mustered out May 25, 1864. Expiration of term.
Regiment lost during service 8 Officers and 134 En listed men killed and mortally wounded and 1 Officer and 78 Enlisted men by disease. Total 221. 1st Massachusetts Infantry
By the date of this image and the information from the above article it is safe to assume these men were either of the 1st Massachusetts Regiment of militia, and part of the 90 day call for volunteers, or the 1st Massachusetts Infantry prior to leaving Camp Cameron for Washington DC. (See comments section, there was apparently more than one Camp Cameron and these men may not be from Massachusetts but posed at a location in Georgetown, DC and from a NY militia unit, thank you Rob Gray for pointing this out)The 1st was the first three year regiment organized in Mass. The timing of this image and the muster of the 1st Mass. would indicate to me a probability that they are part of that muster and still decked out in their state issued militia uniforms or, as with many of the states who sent volunteers to Washington DC in the early days of the war, issued militia equipment to put some semblance of uniformity to their new units. At this stage in the war, these men have seen little of active service and the age range for enlisted men is also remarkable. For officers, depending on the rank, age was mitigated by an easier lifestyle. They were allowed more comforts, more baggage, a horse, and did little in the way of fatigue duty. There is an air of cockiness in their poses and expressions, of martial spirit that is not seen much in later images.
These uniforms will have been discarded by the time of the battle of First Bull Run or shortly thereafter (though units on both sides answered the call equipped with a dazzling array of state militia colors including militia grey, a popular overall color for state militias prior to the war) and these men, if they stayed in long enough to have seen action at 1st Bull Run (1st Manasass for all of my southern brethren) they may have already turned in their state issued clothing for federal issue.
The negro boy in the front is an interesting add to the image. Plenty of images taken of federal units in the southern states show contraband slaves performing various duties about the camp, but this is Massachusetts, this is where the one of the North’s largest free black population lives, where the African Methodist Episcopal Church started, where there had been a population of free blacks since before the revolution. So, it is hard to tell what the photographer (Brady by the left corner) was intending. Could very well have been in the camp shining boots for two bits. It is a fitting topic to be in the image; Massachusetts would be one of the first northern state to raise regiments of all black troops (they were not the first to raise black regiments but the first northern state). The boy was a free black (assumption by virtue of location of image and of the time) and is wearing all civilian attire and looks rather put out that he has to hold a brush and a boot!
Again, I look at each face and wonder what they did in the months to come. How many survived the war and how many continued to serve. Who succumbed to disease (the biggest killer by far than battle wounds) or who was discharged for ill health (many do not look like they would have lasted long under the rigors of campaign life). As far as I have been able to turn up, these men are unidentified. They did have a history and for one brief moment they posed for a photograph and we are fortunate enough today to have that image, displayed here on fading paper stock.
These men had no inkling of what was ahead of them, only that there was a call for volunteers to put down the rebellion. These men cut a fine appearance in their militia grey, posed with their bayonets fixed and ready to take on the nearest rebel horde. The first battle has not yet been fought at the time of this image. The war at this point is still an adventure, something exciting. Young and old were caught up in patriotic fervor and the thought of death was far from every mind. Battles where thousands would would fall are fantasy; the enemy will melt away before the marching columns. Few believe the war will last but a few months. These men are ready for that vision of war, a vision that faded fast after 1st Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek, two battles that showed both sides that neither was going to back down from their goals. The real serious battles are a year away yet, where casualties at Shiloh April 6/7 1862: Union casualties were 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing) and Confederate casualties were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured) would become common place leading to the single bloodiest day of combat at Antietam in September of the same year: Union casualties (12,401 wounded, captured, missing with 2,108 dead) and Confederate casualties (10,318 wounded, captured, missing with 1,546 dead).
These men cannot fathom what lies ahead for their cause. They are caught up instead in the martial adventure that all hope lays ahead.