On this date in 1862, as many as 5,000 Confederate recruits were shivering in the cold, rain, sleet and snow at what a local historian called “the Confederate Valley Forge.”
The late Lon Carter Barton of Mayfield meant Camp Beauregard. The Civil War basic training post crowned a high hill near Water Valley in south Graves County.
Disease ravaged the camp occupied by Rebels from a half-dozen states, including Kentucky. As many as 1,400 of them died in the winter of 1861-1862.
A metal state historical society marker on U.S. 45 in Water Valley points the way to Camp Beauregard. From the highway the site is visible on the eastern horizon.
The high ground where young men learned the rudiments of soldiering 150 years ago is now a local cemetery. Rowed up around a large stone monument are 16 military tombstones that mark the graves of Mississippi and Missouri Rebels.
But most of the Confederate dead were buried in mass graves. They are unidentified.
The camp was named for General Pierre G.T. Beauregard of Louisiana. A Southern hero, he had directed the bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, which began the Civil War. Beauregard was never at the camp, which the Confederates opened after they seized Hickman and Columbus in September, 1861.
While Camp Beauregard’s fortifications were skimpy, it was well-sited for defense, wrote Paducah journalist and historian Hall Allen in his 1961 book, Center of Conflict. “It was located on a high hill surrounded by plains and open fields,” he explained.
Barton, who taught history at Mayfield High School for many years, said Camp Beauregard was near plenty of water and firewood. Close, too, was a railroad that connected the camp to the Rebel camp at Union City, Tenn., about 20 miles away.
“By Christmas of 1861 upwards of 5,000 men were training on the hilltop,” Allen wrote. “The troops were almost ready to take their places in the Southern battleline.”
Even today, there is disagreement over what the deadly malady was at Camp Beauregard. “Some claim it was measles,” Barton said. “Others say meningitis. It may have been both.”
Most of the men lived in tents, which afforded scant protection against the elements, thusprobably making the epidemic worse.
In any event, the Rebels soon abandoned the camp, which the Yankees took without firing a shot.
-- Berry Craig is a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers,and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. The books are being sold to raise money for scholarships at WKCTC. They are available by contacting Craig by phone at (270) 534-3270 or by email at email@example.com.