Long before becoming the site of the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office and Jail, a tract of land at Highway 21 and First Street in Springfield was home to a Confederate convalescent camp during the Civil War.
Historic Effingham Society dedicated a historical marker on Friday commemorating the location of Camp Wilson, which operated from July 1862 to January 1863.
“If we don’t tell our children and our children’s children, they will not know our history,” said HES president Norma Jean Morgan. “We have a way of repeating history and not learning from history if we do not study our history.”
The Effingham Hospital Authority provided the funding for Historic Effingham Society to erect the sign. It stands along First Street, between Highway 21 and the ECSO entrance.
Soldiers sent to the convalescent camp were not bed-ridden, but they were sick enough not to be at full strength, according to local historian and HES member Norman Turner. They were treated at Camp Wilson and returned to their units as soon as possible.
“The troops that were sent to hospitals actually overwhelmed the local hospitals,” Turner said. “After they came to a point that they were well enough to come out of the hospitals but not well enough to go back to their unit, they needed a place to get them better.”
The camp was named for Dr. William Watson Wilson, a local doctor who was hired on July 2, 1862 to be the convalescent camp physician. The camp was located on Wilson’s farm and “was probably a tent city using barns and outbuildings to store food and medical supplies,” according to the historical marker’s text.
Through his research, Turner documented 772 Confederate soldiers who were treated at Camp Wilson. Hundreds more possibly could have been.
However, Turner said, the need for the convalescent camp declined as hospitals in Guyton and Savannah expanded and could handle more patients. Camp Wilson shut down after approximately six months of operation.
“The purpose of this disappeared by January of 1863,” Turner said. “By February 1863, Dr. Wilson is recorded on a pay voucher that he was working for the Confederate engineer department in Savannah.”
Operating a farm, as Wilson did, was a way of life in Effingham County in the Civil War era. The local men who joined the Confederate Army were farmers who produced crops such as corn, sweet potatoes, rice and cotton, Morgan said.
“They were not intended to be military people,” she said. “Effingham County was made up of farmers, farmers, farmers. But over 550 men left their homes (to serve).”
To illustrate how different life was then, Morgan gave statistics from the 1860 census. Effingham County had 4,755 people, compared to about 55,000 residents today, and the price of land was $3 an acre.
“Can you imagine settling for $3 an acre today?” Morgan asked.
She also shared an account she came across from a clergyman in those days who described Effingham as a “group of very pious people.” Those who called Effingham home were humble people who lived in modest homes, Morgan said.
“Reverend White said — and this makes me smile — ‘the only thing I can recommend about Effingham County is health, pure air, good water and fine schools,’” Morgan said. “And I said, ‘Yes!’ We’re still on top of that.”