2011-04-07 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright

Tuesday, April 12, is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. On that date in 1861, soldiers of the army of the Confederate States of America, which had been formed two months earlier, fired on the U.S. Army garrison at Fort Sumter near Charleston, S.C.

A member of the society reminded us of the date and wanted to know if we would commemorate the anniversary.

Jamestown’s part in the fighting was small. There were over 25,000 Rhode Islanders, which was about 14 percent of the total population at the time the war was fought. The official roster of Jamestown men in the Union Army lists just 15 names—only 3 percent of the island’s population. Other sources put the number as high as 41, or about 10 percent. In 1869, the surviving soldiers received engraved certificates for their service and Charles E. King’s certificate is in the JHS collection.

There were two Civil War military installations in Jamestown: Camp Bailey and Camp Meade.

Camp Bailey on Dutch Island was built by the 14th Heavy Artillery, Rhode Island’s black regiment. The war department authorized formation of the company on July 19, 1863, and 1,800 black soldiers, commanded by 77 white officers, were recruited from Rhode Island and other Northern states.

The first units arrived on Dutch Island in early September. They constructed an eight-gun earthwork near the center of the island and a battery about 700 feet north of the lighthouse. Sixteen of the men died of smallpox during the winter of 1863-64. Their bodies were originally buried on the island but were moved to the Long Island National Cemetery in 1948.

The regiment left the island for the front lines early in 1864, serving primarily in Texas and Louisiana.

Nothing much happened at the military base until the end of the 19th century. In the mid-1870s, Camp Bailey housed only an engineer, his household and one soldier. A more substantial installation — Fort Greble — replaced Camp Bailey at the end of the century and the military remained there in varying strengths until after World War II.

Camp Meade — sometimes spelled Mead — was a recruiting station for the 3rd Rhode Island Cavalry, which was formed on July 1, 1863, and disbanded on Nov. 25, 1865. All 3rd Rhode Island recruits — about 1,000 over two years — trained at this 16-acre camp in the heart of town. As best as can be determined, the camp’s boundaries were Narragansett Avenue to the north, Green Lane to the east, a line just beyond Brook Street to the south, and a line about halfway between Clinton and Howland Avenues to the west.

For a while after the war, the town and others used some of the camp buildings. Then Camp Meade vanished, leaving no trace.

The Silver Screen

Over 40 people braved the snow on March 31 to hear Steven Feinberg, the executive director of the Rhode Island Film and Television Office, discuss how his office attracts producers and directors to the state. In addition to confirming that the Wes Anderson movie “Moonrise Kingdom” would be filmed at Fort Wetherill and other unidentified locations on the island, Feinberg defended the motion picture tax credit, which is under assault in the current budget.

“Rhode Island was the first state in New England to offer these credits,” he said. “The rest have copied us.”

The “Jamestown and the Silver Screen” series is sponsoring two events this month. On Wednesday, April 13, the 1936 classic “Rose Marie,” starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, will be screened in the library meeting room at 6:45 p.m. It is sponsored by the Jamestown Community Theatre. Eddy was born in Rhode Island and his father later lived in Jamestown.

On April 18 and 19, the book discussion group will discuss the work and life of Emily Dickinson. They will follow up the discussion on Tuesday, April 26, at 1 p.m., with the film “Loaded Gun: Life, and Death, and Dickinson,” a documentary about the poet, written and directed by former Jamestowner Jim Wolpaw. The 60-minute PBS movie will be shown in the Wright Museum at the library.

All planned Jamestown and the Silver Screen programs are listed on the JHS Web site: jamestownhistoricalsociety.org.

Dr. Bates’ Diary

From 1900 until his death in 1932, William Lincoln Bates operated a health facility on Conanicus Avenue across from the Bay Voyage Hotel. Dr. Bates Sanitarium, or Maplewood as it was often called, was part resort, part a place for rest and recuperation, and part nursing home for the chronically ill. In his youth, Bates had been sentenced to three years at the Providence Reform School for stealing from his great-uncle Isaac Carr. For one of those years, 1874, Bates kept a diary.

This month Barbara Magruder, a Bates’ descendant, presented the diary, along with two photographs, to the JHS.

Conanicut Battery Day

Our biennial Conanicut Battery Day at the Conanicut Battery Historic Park is planned for Saturday, May 14. At least three companies of re-enactors will participate: Captain Tew’s 1st Company of the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment of Foot, the Artillery Company of Newport and the 14th Heavy Artillery.

The ceremony begins at 1 p.m. Mark your calendars.

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