Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Camp at Cairo, Illinois

Harper's Weekly
June 1, 1861
Vol. V No. 231. p. 350.

The Camp at Cairo, Illinois.

Map of Cairo, Illinois

THE accompanying plan of the CAMP OF THE UNITED STATES VOLUNTEERS AT CAIRO, ILLINOIS, at the Junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers, will enable our readers to realize the change which has lately taken place in that well-known spot. Two camps have been established near the junction of the rivers – Camp Defiance, near the river bank; and Camp Smith, a short distance further north.

A correspondent writes us concerning Camp Defiance:

The Camp is now in an unfinished condition. Improvements are, however, rapidly going on; and in the course of a week or so it will present a good and comfortable appearance. A line of sentries are posted along the Levee, on the Mississippi side, some twenty miles up the Levee. All boats are stopped, and a strict search made, and all articles destined for the Confederacy are overhauled and “halted.” There are four regiments stationed here now, with about thirty or forty pieces of artillery. Six forty-pounders arrived this A.M. Colonel B. M. Prentiss was yesterday elected Brigadier-General, and is already in command of the camp.

We think that, with the present force, this point can be held against all that can be brought against it. A secessionist has been arrested, and is now in the guard-house. He was acting the party of spy, and will probably be hung.

In haste, yours truly,

The Chicago Tribune says:

At the present time fully five thousand men are concentrated in and about Cairo. They are constantly drilled and instructed in the duties of a soldier's life, and have already attained an efficiency which is truly astonishing. On Friday last, General Prentiss had the different regiments drawn up in line for review, and required them to be put through a long series of military evolutions. The manner in which the whole force acquitted itself would have reflected no discredit upon veterans.

In addition to the large body of infantry stationed at this point, there is also a strong and efficient corps posted along the banks of the Ohio and Mississippi, and having, in addition, the mouth of the Ohio under the fire of their guns. Several pieces of very heavy ordnance were lately sent from Pittsburgh, and by this time have been placed in position. The artillery, in point of efficiency, are quite up to the infantry. They are hourly practiced with their guns, and many of them have already become expert marksmen.

General Prentiss, who is in command of the forces, is an officer of much experience, and well qualified for the position he fills. He is a cool, prudent, unostentatious gentleman: not likely to undertake any thing rash, nor to fail in any thing that he does undertake. He commands the full confidence of the troops, and we doubt very much if a better choice could have been made.

CAIRO [IL] CITY WEEKLY NEWS, December 5, 1861, p. 1, c. 1

(For the Cairo City Gazette.)

The troops are all in good health, and in the best of spirits. The most thorough discipline is cheerfully submitted to. Comfortable quarters are being provided, and each day brings large supplies to minister to their wants and happiness. Out of so large a force, but twenty-three men are reported upon the sick list. Suitable buildings for hospital accommodations have been erected under the superintendence of Dr. Sim, Brigade Surgeon, who, with his assistant, Dr. Haven, also of Chicago, is unremitting in his attention upon the invalids

The military editor of the Chicago Post tells us:

Cairo can only be attacked in three ways. First, by steam-vessels approaching on the river, which could be sent to the bottom in thirty seconds apiece by the guns now here. This mode of attack, therefore, is the least probable. Second, by batteries from the Kentucky and Missouri shores. The Kentucky shore for some distance from the river is very low and swampy, rendering battery operations difficult. The Missouri shore is different. Batteries could be advanced to the water's edge at Bird's Point, and the camp could be shelled, and rifled cannon would soon cut away the present levee sufficiently to flood the camp and the town. This latter danger is to be provided against by rendering the outer face of the levee proof against shot of all kinds. And it is altogether probable that the rebels would find the erection of batteries under the fire of shot and shells from this point no very agreeable occupation

"City" Class ironclad gunboats

Off Cairo, Illinois, in 1863, with barges moored in the foreground.
These ships are (from left to right):
USS Baron de Kalb (1862-1863);
USS Cincinnati (1862-1865) and
USS Mound City (1862-1865).
Boats are tied astern of Baron de Kalb and Cincinnati.

The third and only other mode of attack would be to land troops, from the rivers above this point, cut off the railway communication in the rear and besiege the place by land. But all such troops would have to come down the Mississippi or the Ohio, as they could never pass here in their way up, and it is exceedingly improbably that any force, unless aided by traitorous citizens, could succeed in such a movement. Prudential motives, nevertheless, suggest that the means of communication in the rear of Cairo should be guarded with great vigilance, and strict watch should be kept upon all who are know or suspected to be traitors. This is at present and doubtless will continue to be done. The Illinois Central Railway, the only means of transit through the almost impenetrable swamp that environs this place, will be protected from traitors wherever they may reside. With this open, fifty thousand men, if needed, may be thrown into Cairo within twenty-four hours after the place is menaced.

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