During the American Civil War the city of Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas made a considerable contribution to the war effort in the form several regiments of volunteer infantry and cavalry as well as smaller units of artillery and engineers. A less know contribution made by the city was serving as the training point for all conscripts raised in the state of Michigan. These conscripts assembled and were trained at a location known as Camp Lee; named for a Union Officer from Detroit, not the famed Confederate general.
I had heard of the camp periodically while helping researchers here in the library but became more acquainted with it as I was developing a presentation that examines the role the city played during the war. This camp was located in the present day area that falls within the boundaries of Michigan street on the North, Lyon on the South, Prospect to the West, and Union on the East.
I wanted to include a map of the camp in my presentation and soon found that there is a good amount of information on the camp available in newspaper articles, city histories, and even a few references to histories of the camp, though these have been difficult to locate. What I could not find were any pictures or maps of the camp. Furthermore, authors and historians describing the camp have used language that implies that the exact arrangement of the camp is not known.
I began to search through our collection and quickly found archival collection #106 Camp Lee Reports. This is a small collection I was previously unaware of but an important one as the main part of this collection is a logbook that lists the guard assignments for the camp from 1863 to 1864 as well as a list of soldiers under arrest with a description of their crime.
When I first saw this I became excited. Being a former member of the military myself, I know the military mind loves mapping out plans and I thought there very well could be a map of the camp somewhere in the logbook. When I first examined the book I was immediately struck by the fact that it is an object that looks every bit as old as its 150 years.
I began to carefully search page after page through rosters, notes, scribbles, and sketches but found nothing. Disappointed and discouraged, I figured I must have missed something. I went back and searched through it again, even more carefully. Again, nothing.
I was about to give up when I noticed the last page was lightly pressed to the back of the book. Suddenly, I realized I had missed an entire page thinking it was part of the back cover.
Carefully, I turned it over.
There, under several layers of doodles, dust, and scabs of spilled ink was a rectangle, lightly drawn in pencil. I looked closer and could make out other smaller rectangles inside noting barracks, officer’s quarters, guard house, and several other unnamed buildings. Looking even closer, I could see lines noting the paths the sentinels were assigned to walk along the perimeter wall. These paths matched perfectly with the guard assignments that were located within the logbook itself. When I saw that, I knew there was no doubt of what I had found.
Like all good discoveries, it has lead to more questions. What are the unnamed buildings? There are some writings within the sketch that are presently unreadable; what do they refer to? Where are the histories of the camp? There are old articles to examine, lost histories to be found, and correspondence to be sent that will hopefully lead to answers.