By Tim Hughes
With the Civil War sesquicentennial upon us, more people will likely visit the stone marker at the intersection of Harlem Boulevard and Guard Street marking the entrance to Camp Fuller, the training ground for four Civil War regiments, one being Rockford’s 74th Volunteer Infantry. There’s just one problem. That wasn’t the entrance to the camp. The entrance would have been located at the intersection of North Main and Guard Street. So, why is the marker at the intersection of Harlem and Guard? Most likely, it is because of the faulty memory of those responsible for putting it there in 1927, and here’s why.
It’s a little-known fact that Camp Fuller was reactivated in 1884 as a training ground for what was then the State Guard and is now the National Guard. At the time of the Civil War, there were no intersecting streets where the campground stood; in fact, prior to officially naming the grounds Camp Fuller, it was unkindly referred to as Camp Dead Horse by soldiers, because of all the dead horses indiscriminately dumped there over the years. The first soldiers arriving at the camp spent those first days removing rotting horse carcasses from the area. Harlem Boulevard, originally known as Harlem Avenue, was not laid out until 1863. The State Guard headquarters in 1884 was located on Harlem Avenue.
I am hoping a suitable interactive memorial can be erected during the sesquicentennial to permanently recognize this important aspect of Rockford’s Civil War heritage. Blinn’s Point, as it is known, at the intersection of Harlem Boulevard and North Main Street, would be the ideal location. It is city owned and forms a footprint of the layout of the actual camp. The poem I have written called “A Stirring Upon the River” will, it is hoped, serve to generate interest in the project.
“A Stirring Upon the River”
By Tim Hughes
There is a stirring upon the river
in early morning breeze
Where lingering mist above the waters
spreads phantom tents amid river side trees
and all the land around
echoes with a battle calling sound.
The shrill cry of cawing birds
sends forth a piercing fife
while rising flocks of geese
wing flap their way to flight.
The massive flutter of drumming wings
drums phantom soldiers to their old campsite
and steady lapping of river waters
heralds the tread of Union might
as glimmering dew on blades of grass
gleams like bayonets
advancing to the fight.
(Camp Fuller Sesquicentennial, 1862-2012, Rockford, Ill.)
Tim Hughes is a former teacher in Rockford School District 205 who coached debate and taught English at Auburn High School for 20 years. At Auburn, he coached three debate teams to first-place national championships.
From the Feb. 22-28, 2012, issue