Camp Marion: Part II, Through the eyes of Private Kelley
The story of Camp Marion is one that most people probably don’t know, even though they might be walking on its very grounds.
Yet for its relative obscurity – the place was in existence only a few months – Camp Marion is a fascinating part of Summerville and American history.
Happily, new information is coming to light – literally – as a Pennsylvania man shares photos his great grandfather took 114 years ago.
Private Herbert Oscar Kelley (1872-1928) was the 26-year-old drum major of the 14th Pennsylvania Volunteers when that unit was deployed to Camp Marion to prepare for service in the Spanish-American War in November 1898.
Kelley would later become a printer, labor union organizer, and veterans’ affairs advocate, eventually becoming the first National Commander of the American Veterans of Foreign Service, now known as the VFW.
But that year, Private Kelley was by all accounts a happy, go-lucky young man living a life of adventure and – fortunately for future generations – documenting some of that adventure along the way.
According to Kelley’s great grandson, Chuck Cox of Altoona, Pennsylvania, Private Kelley had a budding avocation – photography – and was apparently not only avid but skilled at his hobby.
“I found hundreds of photographs, on 4” x 6” glass plate negatives, and began discovering details about his service,” Cox said. “Among the photos I discovered there are pictures of him and his comrades at Camp Marion, engaged in activities, and pictures of the camp as it appeared then.”
While the photos mostly depict every day life in a Victorian-era army camp, they also give glimpses of Summerville as it was in 1898.
In fact, one photograph depicts the camp after a snowfall. Cox said he researched weather records for that time and as it turns out, the area did experience a major winter storm in February of 1899.
The front pages of Kelley’s Bible contain entries in Kelley’s handwriting, citing the places and dates he served. Kelley entered service in April 1898 at Mt. Gretna, PA. His unit would spend time in Mt. Mott, Fort Delaware, and Camp Meade, finally arriving at Camp Marion in November 1898 until they mustered out at the end of February 1899.
Kelley’s younger brother, George Blackburn Kelley also served in the 14th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Cox noted.
“Like most little brothers, everything Herbert did, George apparently wanted to do, too,” Cox said. “So when Herbert enlisted, George enlisted. They served in the same unit; they both were in Summerville; and they both helped build the church.”
George B. Kelley’s service is further corroborated by a document Cox recently found: an application for veteran’s compensation George filed in Feb. 1934. The application lists his dates of service, including the following line: “Honorably discharged on Feb. 28,1899 at Summerville, S.C.”
The exact location of Camp Marion is not certain; historian Frederick Gregurus wrote that the camp was located near the intersection of Marion and Carolina Avenues, near the Pine Forest Inn, on the same property that Shepard Park is now located.
Chris Ohm, Curator of the Dorchester County Museum, says his understanding is that the camp was located on land near the Halcyon Inn, because that property not only would have been relatively level and dry but also had an artesian well.
To read existing history regarding Camp Marion, one barely gets a glimmer of its short existence – it likely was named for Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox of the American Revolution and it is known that at least three units of volunteers were billeted there, including the 14th Pennsylvania Volunteers, the 3rd Connecticut, and the 9th Ohio, an African American unit commanded by then Major Charles Young, who was the third African American to ever graduate from West Point and the first African American U.S. Army officer to attain the rank of full colonel.
Not much is known of these soldiers and even less is known of their activities. However, a few snippets of information do exist. For example, it was known that soldiers from the camp helped build the first sanctuary for St. John the Beloved Catholic Church. In fact, an original stained glass window from the sanctuary, dedicated to the soldiers of the 14th Pennsylvania, is on exhibit in the Dorchester County Museum.
However, now we know the name of at least two soldiers involved; at some point during their time at Camp Marion, Privates Herbert and George Kelley did, in fact, participate in the building of that sanctuary, Cox said.
“I think it’s just wonderful that to discover that he contributed to the community in Summerville by helping build the church,” Cox noted. “More specifically, as I have unraveled the story from the items I have examined, I am pleased to be learning of my great grandfather’s civic enthusiasm and personal faith.”