Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Camp Watts: a Legendary Camp of Southern Independence

Two tombstones are the only reminder of what once was here. The mules, the tents, the soldiers, and the wounded were all a part of this now cow pasture. "Camp Number One of Instruction" ( better known as Camp Watts was the stuff of legend, making men of boys and sending them to their untimely graves.
Camp Watts was one of the many training grounds in Lee County Alabama for young men during the Civil War. It had temporary buildings for two to three thousand men along with wall tents, a railroad and station, a grand cemetery, and a hospital ( The most famous of the buildings on site was the hospital, because after General Lovell Rousseau came through, it was the only building left standing.
Rousseau came through Alabama in 1864 with about twenty three hundred men from the Union Armed Forces and his sole mission was to cripple the West Point Railroad. During this mission, known commonly as “Rousseau’s Raid”, he and his troops burned cities by the dozens all the way from Montgomery and up towards Atlanta Georgia. Some of the cities burned were Notasulga, Loachapoka, Beauregard, Opelika, Auburn, Chehaw, Decatur, Greensport, and Ten Island Ford (which as far as I can tell, is not even in existence now). ( During his raid, Rousseau met opposition at Chehaw and was forced to retreat to Camp Watts with wounded soldiers. It was at this time, he burned the camp, the well, the railroad station, and the barracks. He spared the hospital, but left them with little supplies and no well. ( Journals of personnel stationed at Watts talked of high water, so water may have not been an issue (
If you try to find Camp Watts today, you will only find a pasture. It is almost impossible to find where the camp would have been on the acreage. You can see where an old dirt trail would have possible led to a general store or the depot, but how far back, no one knows. Needless to say, the hospital may have been down wind from the general barracks, and the cemetery near the hospital. Other than that, very little evidence has surfaced on where the camp was exactly. The majority of records are in the library of the University of Texas, Austin in the Samuel H. Stout collection. These were detailed medical records over 22 linear feet of paper, with no index hand written by Stout, the medical Director of the Confederate hospitals (Samuel Hollingsworth Stout Papers, 1837 (1860-1865) 1902, Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.) Any records in the town of Notasulga were burned in a fire years later that engulfed the town. At one time, the land was riddled with grave markers, buckets, horseshoes, and other litter, but as the years went by and the three hundred and twenty acres was turned into farm land, the markers were removed, the fields cleared, and the Legend became all but a ghost.
Camp Watts was added to the Alabama Registry of Military Heritage in May 1, 1979 (, but was long before in the hearts and stories of those in Lee County. While traveling down the road you can almost feel the air change as you approach the field. If you did not know its history you would blow it off as indigestion. But knowing the history, knowing the fright, the fight, the bravery, and the deathly call the land suffered; even a Northern Sympathizer would stop, turn off their car, and say a prayer for the thousands that died at the hands of a gripping war; laid to rest here at Camp Watts, Notasulga, Alabama, trodden on by cattle and long since forgotten.

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