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Where is my Civil War Ancestor’s Camp?

Letter from Iselin Roberts to wife Nelly dated Dec. 31, 1861 - Scroll down for transcription


Union soldiers in Arlington wrote from geographic locations such as Arlington Heights and Hall’s Hill. While the forts in the defenses of Washington are well-documented and photographed, it can be difficult to find information on temporary camps and hospitals. State and local historical organizations help piece together the “puzzle” of a Civil War ancestor’s life after consulting on-line photographs and other sources available through the Library of Congress and National Archives and Records Administration.

For example, on December 31, 1861, Iselin Roberts of the 4th NY Cavalry wrote a letter to “My Dear Wife Nelly” from Camp Hunters Chapel. Information from the Arlington Historical Society website  and Arlington United Methodist Church historian Sara Collins locates this camp at Glebe Road and Columbia Pike, at the site of the Hunter’s Chapel Methodist Church. The Union Army established a camp and appropriated church building materials. Hunters Chapel’s successor, Arlington United Methodist Church, is two blocks away.

The New York State Museum and Veteran’s Research Center website has a regimental history of the 4th NY Cavalry’s service, including their journey to Fairfax Court House and onward to the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas, and the writings of Gustavus Asche-Berg, “This Sorrowful War: A Veterinary Surgeon in the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign.”

Another New York regiment stationed at Hunter’s Chapel, the 8th NY Infantry, also known as the German Rifles or Blenker’s Division, was made up of German immigrants. The aristocratic military veterans of European wars in Blenker’s Division impressed General-in-Chief George McClellan with their drilling practices and neat campsites. A book owned by Arlington Central Library, The Soldier’s Pen: Firsthand Impressions of the Civil War by Robert E. Bonner contains soldiers’ writings and drawings from the Gilder Lehrman Collection of New York City. A unique drawing of Camp Hunter’s Chapel and drawings of other Northern Virginia locations by Private Henry Berckhoff of the 8th NY German Rifles can be found in this book and in a virtual exhibit on the Digital History website of the University of Houston.

What about you?

Do you have a Civil War ancestor who came to Arlington? Do you know of documents or images of the Civil War in the Northern Virginia area? The Virginia Room wants to know.

Transcribed text of letter from Iselin Roberts to wife Nelly

December 31, 1861
Headquarters New York Mounted Rifles
4th Calvary N.Y. Volunteers
Camp Hunter’s Chapel, Virginia

My Dear Wife Nelly,

I wrote to you two days ago and I cannot help writing to you again. You will excuse the writing as my head aches so I can hardly see I have such a bad cold still I must have a few words with my Nelly. I received an nother Box yesterday from my Sisters and Brothers for Christmas and we had a jolly time over it I assure you for there was lots of good things in it. My Dear Nelly, I wrote to you on Sunday last the day that I received your letter and I am in hopes that I will hear from you soon again. I wish that you could write to me often as your letters do me so much good, and I like to hear from you so very much.

Dear Nelly, I did not say much in my last as I was in such a hurry but you can give my Best Respects and wish all of them a Happy New Years for me. I mean Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Jenner, Mrs Simmons, Mrs. Richmond, Mrs. Clark, Mrs. Green, Mrs. Arnold and all inquiring friends, also Mr. Phillips, Mr. Jenner, Mr. Rodman, Dr. Crane, Dr. Baker and all of your friends. I hope there will be no trouble about the Furlough, they say that we will get paid the fifth of January. I hope we will as I want to try and bring the money home to you. I haven’t much to say at present, only I hope that my dear Nelly will have a good New Years.


  • Arlington Historical Society website
  • Bonner, Robert E., The Soldier’s Pen, Firsthand Impressions of the Civil War, New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.
  • Cooling, Benjamin Franklin III, Owen, Walton H. II, Mr. Lincoln’s Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington, Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.
  • Digital History, University of Houston website: http://www.digitalhistory/ Virtual Exhibitions: Watercolor Sketchbook by Henry Berckhoff 8th NY German Rifles, Gilder Lehrman Collection GL1606 p.6 Morning Scene at Camp Hunter’s Chapel, October 1861.
  • Gernand, Bradley E., A Virginia Village goes to War: Falls Church during the Civil War, Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Co. Publishers, 2002.
  • Gilder Lehrman Collection website:
  • New York State Museum and Research Center
  • Virginia Room Newsclipping Files – Civil War – Various categories Includes notes by Arlington United Methodist Church Historian Sara Collins, U.S. Sanitary Commission list of camps, lists of many Union regiments in Arlington.

Comments (4)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Some three months after my Great-grandfather Iselin wrote the above letter, he received a medical discharge from the Army and returned home to Providence, R. I. to his wife, four step-children by her previous marriage and his own daughter of just three months, born while he was at Camp Hunter's Chapel. In a short time, he returned to his job as a plumber with his old company whose owner, in a later affidavit, stated "…his health had been shattered and broken." In spite of this, Iselin and his wife went on to have two more children before his premature death at the age of 38 years, some ten years after his discharge from the Army. Fortunately for me, his last son (my grandfather) was born on July 4, 1871, less than one year before Iselin died in New York City's St. Lukes Hospital of phithisis on June 15, 1872. So you see, I too had a very close call! Edward

  2. Rich Hemphill says:

    I Just wanted to say my 2nd great grandfather, SGT. William Ransell fought with the 62nd regiment Pa. Volunteers and on Sept 11,1861 set up camp Near Fort Cochran setting up fortress and clearing pine forest near Arlington Heights. If you can tell me what went on there it would be appreciated.

    Rich Hemphill

  3. David Braun says:

    The 35th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, composed of Germans, was nick named “Schimmelfinnig’s Infantry” after Colonel Alexander Schimmelfinnig. On September 29, 1861, the 35th Regiment crossed the Long Bridge from Washington, D.C. into Alexandria County, Virginia and went into camp at Camp Grinnell near Roach’s Mills, an old cotton factory about 9 miles from Washington, alongside of the Alexandria and Leesburg Railroad which parallels Four Mile Run. (Today it is the W&OD bicycle trail). The unit worked on the construction of Fort Blenker, later named Fort Reynolds, in September, 1861. The fort was constructed as a redoubt, One of 68 Redoubts built around DC, to command the approach to Alexandria by way of the valley of Four Mile Run. It had a perimeter of 360 yards, and places for 12 guns. It was itself protected by nearby Battery Garesche and was augmented with rifle pits and serviced by Military Roads. It was to the North of Fort Ward across the Leesburg and Alexandria Turnpike, now Route 7. The 35th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment is reported to have move to and wintered at Hunter’s Chapel, The unit was re-named the “74th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment” in early 1862.

  4. Karen Rogers Adams says:

    Dear Sir:
    My great grandfather Nicholas Darrow Rogers was recovered from missing in action at Halls Hill Hospital on September 3,1862. He had survived ” The Vortex of Hell” on August 30,1862 at the Second battle of Bull Run. He was in Company G 5Th New York Volunteers. He was wounded above the right knee as the John Bell Hood’s Texans, Georgians and Southern Carolinas annihilated the 10th and 5th New York Volunteers. Nicholas was captured and later exchanged on the 3rd of September.
    I would like to locate Halls Hill Hospital and obtain information on the Hospital. I look forward to hearing you soon.

    Karen Adams

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