George A. Campbell - The Untold Story
Richard E. Taylor
The conductor called, “All aboard.” It was 5:00pm at Union Station, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, November 15, 1910. The engineer seized the throttle. The train chugged out of the terminal beginning an overnight journey to Salisbury, North Carolina.
On board were invited guests bound for a special celebration. Their transportation first to Harrisburg and then to Salisbury had been paid by the grateful Pennsylvania government. These residents of Pennsylvania were going to memorialize the special sacrifices of the men who were imprisoned and died at the Confederate prison in Salisbury some 45 years earlier during America’s Civil War. Speeches would be made. Memories would be shared. Stories would be repeated. When it was done, they would erect a monument to the memory of the Pennsylvanians who had been there.
The train arrived the next morning at Salisbury at about 9:30am. The veterans stepped off the train. Many of them were old men of 60 and 70 years. Some were crippled. Some were sick. They spent the day reliving and memorializing the nightmare they had lived at that place. Later that night, at 9:00, they boarded the train and made the return journey to Pennsylvania arriving back in Harrisburg at 12:30pm the next day.
Making the journey was George A. Campbell, who lived at 227 Erie Avenue, Richland Center, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He was 65 years old and in relatively poor health, partly because of Salisbury Prison. Like others who had been imprisoned there, his prison experience left him scarred and weakened, both physically and emotionally.
Why did George Campbell make this long journey south? He might have gone because of his pride as a veteran, taking a stand with the other veterans who would strut with their chests out and heads held high. But Campbell took no pride from what he had done. He might have come for the honors that would be given, to hear his name read loudly among the valiant ones who had been there. But Campbell was not a man to seek such acclaim. Perhaps he made the trip like many of his brother soldiers then and now who need to come to grips with memories they wish they could forget. Memories he carried from the six months in the terrible prison at Salisbury were his companion for the rest of his life.
Campbell became a preacher in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. The church believed in non-resistance. No man or woman should take up weapons of destruction for any reason whatsoever. The Civil War veteran turned preacher could not tell the stories of his experiences. His experiences did not make him a hero in their eyes. No one in his church would thank him for what he endured. What he suffered was not to be shared but rather kept to himself. Campbell wrote almost nothing of these experiences.
Little is known of George’s early life. He was born on July 25, 1845, in Springfield Township, Bucks County Pennsylvania. In 1850, the census indicates that he was still living there with his father, John, mother, Juliana (Amey), and brother Samuel.
His untold story begins on September 11, 1862, when George enlisted as a member of the 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery. He was enrolled in Lehigh County but mustered in at Philadelphia at the rank of private. He gave no indication of his reason either for enlisting or for enlisting in a heavy artillery unit. The history of the 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery may offer an explanation.
Inducements offered to join the organization were numerous and variegated. All kinds of assertions as to the light duty to be required were made, and in one or two instances the handbills of recruiting officers stipulated that ‘members of this regiment will have nothing to do – no marching required, and as quarters equal to most hotels will be provided in fortifications, the men will virtually be at home.’
Men enlisted for many different reasons. Some saw a duty. Others saw glory. Some even chose to escape jail. Heavy artillery promised easy duty. Perhaps that was on George’s mind. A large number of the men recruited from Philadelphia were Germans. He inherited a German affinity through his mother whose family had emigrated from the Palatinate in Germany. He later joined the Mennonite Brethren in Christ when the preaching was in German. At any rate, he identified with the Germans of Pennsylvania.
The regiment was already nine months old when George signed up. It had been organized in January, 1862, and from that time until March, saw duty at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River. In March, the unit was loaded up and became part of the defenses at Washington, D. C., in forts Slocum and Massachusetts.
Coinciding with George’s enlistment, things had begun to be different in the 2nd PA. Discipline had been lax. Military procedures had been ignored. In September, 1862, change came to the unit. They were drilled and disciplined. They were set to the task of rebuilding the earth forts which they inhabited. Perhaps George was disappointed that his easy duty had become hard work. But if he had his heart set on easy duty, more bad news lay ahead.
In March, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was appointed commander the Union Forces. He received the command because of his determination to take the battle to the Confederates. He lived up to his reputation. His appointment would mean a new assignment for the 2nd PA Heavy Artillery and other heavy artillery units who waited behind the walls of the forts in Washington. Grant determined that more men were needed at the front. He issued an order to move the heavy artillery units out to the front lines where they would serve as infantry. On May 27th, Campbell’s regiment marched through the streets of Washington to Sixth Street where they boarded transports for their journey to the front lines. They traveled down the Potomac River and up the Rappahannock where they disembarked at Port Royal, Virginia. They marched sixty miles across the land and joined the 18th Corps at Cold Harbor. After the bloody battles at that place, they settled in to become part of the tightening noose of siege works that Grant laid around the city of Richmond.
September 28, 1864, found the 2nd PA Heavy Artillery on the west side of the James River at a place called Bermuda Hundred. Unknown to them, an attack on the defensive line south of Richmond had been planned. A line of forts stretched from the James River on the left eastward in a ring around Richmond. General Edward Ord, commanding the 18th Army Corps of which the regiment was a part, had planned a surprise attack. He issued no written orders and did not even tell his subordinates of the attack until after dark on the night of the 28th. By that time, picket lines were established and the talking that might reveal the plan was through. He feared spies in the area and took the special precautions to assure greater secrecy.
Ord’s troops were divided between two commanders, Generals Stannard and Heckman. Their objective was Fort Harrison located near the farm of a Mrs. Chaffin. About 9pm, on the night of the 28th, the men of the 2nd PA knew that something was brewing. They received their orders to draw a full pouch of ammunition with 20 extra rounds and four servings of hardtack. And then they waited. When the order came to march, they headed north leaving behind knapsacks, blankets, tents and other equipment and traveled along the narrow roads toward the James River. After a ten mile march, they found themselves across the river from Aiken’s Landing. A pontoon bridge had been constructed with special attention to muffling the noises that would be made as the army crossed it. After day break on September 29, the 2nd PA crossed the bridge and marched up the bluffs on the opposite side on the Varina Road that led north toward Richmond. They proceeded another three miles along the road and were soon organized into battle line. They fell in line with the division which formed to the right under the command of General Heckman. The left side of their line had their sights set on Fort Harrison. Their plan was to attack and take this fort and begin to break down the defensive perimeter around Richmond. Ord sent Stannard and his divisions off to take Fort Harrison. Heckman’s troops would offer support from the right. As was often the case, after the attack was begun, confusion prevailed. Fort Harrison was nevertheless overrun. Stannard’s troops endeavored to remove the Confederates from the fort and take complete possession. Heckman’s troops on the right had become scattered and disorganized in their movements and were not available to help in clearing Fort Harrison. They had entered a woods, lost their bearings and came out in front of a second fort known as Fort Gilmer which was to the right or north east of Fort Harrison. General Ord and his officers plunged into Fort Harrison to organize the attack. In the fort, Ord was wounded in his thigh. He turned command over to General Heckman who had appeared nearby. Heckman’s troops, including the 2nd PA, had not yet engaged the enemy but were forming up in front of Fort Gilmer. Ord insisted that possession of Fort Harrison be guaranteed before they moved to capture any other fort. As Ord prepared to relinquish his command, he saw troops moving into Fort Gilmer and believed that Union troops had taken this fort as well. Unfortunately, the troops he saw were Confederate reinforcements who were now filling the rifle pits and taking their places behind the walls of Fort Gilmer.
Fort Gilmer, to the east of Fort Harrison, contained five or six heavy cannons and was manned by about 40 - 50 men prior to the arrival of reinforcements. After General Heckman took command, he intended to continue his progress and directed his forces to capture Fort Gilmer.
The first assaults against Fort Gilmer came from two units of the Tenth Corps. Two regiments made a frontal attack. Notable in this attack were the soldiers of Birney’s division who were African American. They were fierce soldiers who understood they had much to lose in battle. The Confederate forces nearly took insult that black troops would attack them. They were particularly vicious in their response. In this case, the two units of the Tenth Corps were repulsed with a heavy loss of life, particularly among the black soldiers.
Major James Anderson, commanding the division containing the 2nd PA, thought he saw what was an opportunity. He might have been driven by the promise of six months’ extra pay to the first Union troops to enter Richmond. He sought and received permission to launch another assault on Fort Gilmer. He aligned the 2nd PA for the attack with support from the 89th New York. As they crossed the crest of a knoll, they faced a corn field and beyond that a cleared plateau between themselves and the fort. Because they were taking fire from the fort and gunboats in the James River, Major Anderson hastily ordered them forward even before support from the 89th New York was up and ready. Before the fort itself was a 10 foot ditch that needed to be crossed to get to the dirt walls of the fort. The regimental history describes the action:
...[T]he three Battalions bravely advanced under the concentrated fire of all the above guns, in addition to the volleys of musketry from troops defending the works. The regiment had not yet fully entered the plateau when the command, “double-quick!” was given, and, with a cheer the First Battalion sprang forward, followed by the other two, under a shower, as it were, of bullets and shells, men dropping, killed or wounded, at every step; yet they press on; and when within three hundred feet of the goal, Major Anderson fell, killed, Captains Baggs and Jones and Lieut Cannon wounded. Major Sadler, seeing this, ordered his and Captain Jones’ Battalion to “halt and cover,” then sprang forward to the First Battalion, which was beginning to waver under the terrific fire poured upon it, and, on reaching which, flashing his sword, led it forward, as to attempt to fall back then would mean certain death to almost every man, and, though wounded, gallantly led the remains of the shattered Battalion into the redoubt, where it was over-powered and the men made prisoners by the Confederates, who numbered several thousand.
Charles Johnson, a Confederate soldier in an artillery unit known as Griffin’s Battery, wrote an account of the attacks on Fort Gilmer.
"Fort Gilmer" was on a hill, with quite an extensive flat in front, from which the trees had all been cut, and most of the trees were lying on the ground with their branches still attached. The "Louisiana Guard Artillery" on the left, and "Salem Artillery" on the right of the fort, occupied redoubts so constructed that each had an enfilade fire upon the Yankees as they advanced. The enemy came rather cautiously at first, but finally they came with a rush, our artillery firing shrapnel at first, but they soon begun to load with canister, and the way those negroes fell before it was very gratifying to the people on our side of the works. But the Yankees came on until they got to the ditch in front of "Fort Gilmer" -- a dry ditch about ten (10) feet deep and twelve (12) feet wide. Into this ditch a great many of the negroes jumped, and endeavored by our infantry, and almost all of them killed. One negro, who was either drunk or crazy, crawled through a culvert which ran from the inside of the fort into the ditch, and was shot on the inside. No great number of negroes got into the ditch, and the rest of the attacking column having no shelter from the fire of both artillery and infantry, were forced to give way and retire.
The action at Chaffin’s Farm brought grim statistics. Union forces saw 383 killed, 2,299 wounded and 645 captured. Among the 645 prisoners was George Campbell. At first, it was believed by his friends and superiors that he had been killed. Initially, he was reported missing in action. Later, it was determined that he had been taken prisoner.
The specific details of Campbell’s first hours of captivity and journey south to the prison are unknown. Some things are easily imagined. The prisoners were collected at a point in the rear of the battlefield. They were made to sit or stand until all the prisoners were together. Surrounded by guards, they would have begun the slow march away from the battlefield. Few if any of them imagined the battle ahead.
We are able to picture the journey through the eyes of another who traveled a similar path. Robert Knox Sneden’s diary gives his account of the journey into captivity. Sneden was captured by a group of the soldiers who rode with the infamous Mosby’s Raiders. He was taken first to Libby Prison in Richmond. Three months later, he was moved south by rail and made a stop at Salisbury, North Carolina. He describes the experience,
After a long wait we were marched over the railroad bridge to Manchester, where we were packed sixty to seventy into cattle cars and boxcars which stood on the track. These cars were in a filthy state, and the manure was some inches deep in the cattle cars. There were no seats, and we had to stand pretty close together. Here we were left for the rest of the night. It must have been 3 o’clock in the morning. Rebel guards were posted on the roofs of the cars, and were strung out on both sides of the track. We munched on our corn bread and shivered with the cold until sunrise. There was no water to be had... Some of the sick fellows had come with us too, and they had to squat down on the filthy floors of the cattle cars. There was no sleep for any of us as we were so closely packed together that there was no room to lie down. We worried through the remainder of this miserable night... We passed this miserable time eating our corn bread, smoking and conjecturing where we were going. There were thirteen cars; part of the train stood on a high trestle work. We never gave a thought to try to escape and we were strongly guarded.
Sneden and his companions did not know that they were to be taken to Andersonville. As they were transported south, they were sidetracked to Salisbury and saw the sights that awaited George Campbell in October, 1864.
We crossed the Yadkin River about 3p.m. on a trestle bridge, and after waiting an hour to let another train pass, continued on and arrived at Salisbury, N.C. about 6p.m. Here the engine broke down, and we were switched on a side track which ran past the prison fence, which looked to be twenty feet high. Another engine pulled off most of the train of ten flat cars with the prisoners on them, while two cars were left behind. We were marched into the prison yard for the night. There were about eighty of us. Here we met several hundred of our fellow prisoners who were dirt begrimed, ragged and in a deplorable state, covered with mud from the yard which looked and smelt like a hogpen. They shouted, “fresh fish, Where did you come from? What army do you belong to? Where is Meade?” and a hundred other questions at once. There were five or six ragged Sibley tents in the yard with the mud a foot thick all around them and dozens of skeleton looking prisoners crowded around us.
We entered the prison yard through a strong gate in the high plank fence, on the top of which were posted the Rebel guard. Two small pieces of artillery were mounted on scaffolding outside the fence. These guns could sweep the yard with grape and canister from end to end. The yard was overcrowded with the most abject, dirty, ragged lot of prisoners that we ever saw. It was hard to believe that these grimy skeletons of men were once in our army... In October last there were 10,000 prisoners confined here, now there were about 3000, hundreds of whom had died. The place was so crowded that many had to sleep and live in the filthy yard which was trampled into a muck which went over our shoes, and smelt just like a pig pen. Very frequently one or more detachments of 800 men would get no rations at all for twenty-four and thirty hours. Bread was from $5 to $15 a small loaf (Confederate) and the prisoners having no money, sold their overcoats and blankets, blouses, buttons and anything they had for food.
For weeks the prisoners in the yard had no shelter whatever. All were thinly clad, thousands were barefooted, and not one in twenty had a blanket, blouse, shirt or shoes! One Sibley tent and one A tent were furnished to each squad of 100 men. There were only a few of these standing now, all were torn, ragged and very dirty. The cloth had been cut from them to patch clothes with. The rest burrowed in the ground, or under the buildings, having first torn away the foundation stones. The main building was crowded to suffocation from the second floor to the attic. The windows of the ventilator on the roof was partially boarded up to keep out the cold.
The prison was originally a cotton factory....A smaller building was near in in the yard which had been a boiler and engine house. All were of brick. The main building had a tower with doors on each story....At one time no prisoners were confined on the first floor of the factory. A novel contrivance was made so that the prisoners could get access to the rooms above the first floor. This was a mast, holding a movable gangway or boardwalk which worked by a rope and pulley. When it was hoisted close to the mast all access was cut off from the second floor to the ground. There were two old broken stoves, which filled the rooms with dense smoke, and the whole place was infested with vermin, while ragged clothes, bed quilts, and blankets, all reeking with vermin hung up on nails and strings in every room. The mud and other filth in the yard was horrible. All the prisoners were covered with red mud and filth, ragged and half starved.
Sneden was describing Salisbury Prison in February, 1864. Ten months later, the same sights and sounds, the same smells and slime would greet George A. Campbell. When George walked through the gates of that awful place, he faced another battle - the battle to survive.
The brutality of the battle for life at Salisbury is seen through the grim statistics for the first two months of Campbell’s imprisonment. The reports from the camp showed an average of 8200 prisoners in the stockade from October 12th to December 12th. On the average, 22 men died every day during this period. A statistical high was recorded on November 6 when 8740 prisoners were recorded as present. Conditions at the prison were so bad that the citizens of Salisbury petitioned for a reduced number of prisoners. They cited overcrowding, lack of water, dwindling firewood and insufficient wheat as their basis. They asked that one half of the prisoners be relocated.
After Campbell had been in his new home for nearly two months, ominous rumors began to circulate throughout the prison. The noose was beginning to tighten around Richmond. Confederate leaders were worried about the prisons of Richmond and what might happen if the prisoners there were liberated and able to join the ranks of blue coated soldiers pressing their advantage. The rumors brought news that the prisoners of Richmond were to be moved south. The prisoners of Salisbury could not imagine that even more prisoners would be added to their grossly overcrowded prison. The talk of more prisoners at Salisbury was not good news.
On November 25, 1864, the rumors blossomed and the fruit soon appeared. The prisoners, nearly crazed with over crowding and under supply rushed the main gate of the prison with its two cannon poised to fire into the yard. These two canons and the muskets of the guards were fired into the on-rushing crowds. There is no way to know whether Prisoner Campbell was among the hordes moving toward the gate. The cannons were filled with grapeshot which went through the compound indiscriminately. At least ten men who died were in their tents and not even part of the riot. Hard statistics are not available. Approximately 65 men were killed outright. As many as 265 ultimately died of wounds received that day.
The commandant of the prison, Jonathan H. Gee, dutifully filed his report describing his version:
In obedience to orders I have the honor respectfully to state that on the 25th ultimo the prisoners of war confined in C. S. military prison at this place made a desperate attempt to escape by overpowering the relief guard of nine men and sergeant as they were coming out of the prison after relieving the guard stationed in the prison for the purpose of guarding hospitals, water, separating prisoners, and enforcing proper policing.
They succeeded in getting possession of most of the guns and commenced an attack on the sentinels on the parapet at the same time that a rush of about 1,000 was made for the water gate and that part of the fence near the sinks where there are no troops encamped. The guard, consisting of reserves, were with difficulty got to fire upon them, some of them throwing down their arms and running off.
By great exertions, however, a few were induced to fire, which with three discharges from two 6-pounders were sufficient to quell the revolt.
One of the pieces was loaded with a shell which failed to explode, struck the ground and ricochetted into the town, doing no damage. The two other discharges were of canister.
The result of the affair was 2 of the guard killed, 1 mortally wounded, and some 8 or 10 slightly wounded.
The prisoners had 13 killed, 3 mortally wounded, and 60 others wounded. Three ringleaders, who were arrested after the disturbance was over, were sent to Major Carrington, Richmond.
When the dust had cleared, George Campbell had received a wound to his left side. The wound was apparently not serious enough to require hospitalization.
In December, George faced another nightmare. He was diagnosed with scurvy. Scurvy is the result of a lack of vitamin C. Capillaries in the body begin to break down. Blood oozes from around the teeth and other external parts of the body. Fresh fruits are a quick and easy remedy. The Confederate States were having enough problems supplying their own soldiers. Union prisoners were much lower on the priority list when it came to fresh fruit.
The daily battle for life continued for George Campbell through January, 1865, and February and finally into March. There was hope. Prisoners were being exchanged again. George’s friend Thomas Winters was exchanged on March 3. The Confederates were glad for the exchanges because they could not provide for the prisoners who had become a great liability. On March 20, release came for George and he was on his way home.
The return voyage would be like the journey there. He would be marched from the prison compound to the city of Greensboro. He would be again packed into a crowded freight car. He would then be taken to Wilmington, put on a ship, paroled, boarded and sent on his way. We return to the experience of Robert Sneden who made the journey in December. Sneden writes of his arrival at the ship sent to take them home,
Large tubs of warm water were at the gangways. And every prisoner was compelled to take a thorough wash, while every article of clothing of which they had divested themselves was thrown overboard... New clothing was distributed to the prisoners, and after a while all were in clean new clothes from head to foot; while three or four barbers cut hair, and shaved until night. Many of the prisoners could not realize the new situation, and were wild with joy and excitement.
The ship with its human cargo headed north to Camp Parole on the grounds of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Sneden recounts,
There was an excitement among the prisoners as we grew near the end of our voyage, and discussions as to what would be done with us on landing. About 4p.m. we made the harbor of Annapolis and came to anchor, while we were taken off by a large tugboat, and land about dark at the wharf near the Naval Academy. A band of music, and about 200 people were waiting to receive us, who escorted us to “Camp Parole” in the vicinity, where we were all put in long barracks, in which bunks were fitted up, [and] where after rations were issued we smoked and discussed matters to a late hour.
The grounds were level but the mud was deep and sticky as about 2000 returned prisoners are here who tramped most of the ground into a quagmire, especially around the log house cook houses which were built about 150 feet from the barracks buildings. A high stone wall with open iron gates separated us from the academy buildings with the waterfront on one side and a guard on the other two sides.
We are quartered in several barracks which are built on a dreary waste of mud and about 200 are in each building. There is a sutler here too, where we can buy luxuries at a reasonable price, and the large wood stoves are surrounded by men cooking eggs, cheese, ham and all kinds of messes from morning to night. As fast as the papers can be made out, detachments are furnished with [a] thirty day furlough, and advanced all their legitimate ration money accumulated during their imprisonment, which in many cases amounts to over $150. They are then sent home.
Of these days George wrote his only comments about his military experience years later in a letter to the Gospel Banner,
I was a prisoner in Salisbury, N. C., came to Anapolis [sic] hospital as a mere skeleton, about ready to die, when a sister in Christ came along and stopping before my couch commenced talking with me. She asked me whether I expected to get well. I told her I did not know nor care. Then she asked me whether I had peace with God. I in my spiritual unconsciousness told her I did not know. She then spoke with me on the subject of religion. After she left me, I contemplated, commenced to pray and obtained peace in a small measure, but when I got well it was like sickbed conversions mostly are: it was soon lost, but a small light was still glimmering, and a small voice calling; and I thank God that I am what I am; nothing to boast of myself.
George was later transferred for convalescence to Spring Mill, Pennsylvania, somewhere in the vicinity of Philadelphia, where he regained strength to return home. On June 14, 1865, he received an honorable discharge from the service and was free to return home and to the routines of life.
During his absence, his father had died. His mother needed his care. George returned to his home and settled into the routines of making a life. On September 28, 1867, he was married in Bethlehem to Helena S. Mann. Nearly two years later, they received a daughter, Flora, born August 27, 1869. In 1870, he was working as a shoemaker. On February 25, 1871, a second daughter, Minnie, was born to George and Helena.
At some time during these years, George had begun to attend the meetings being held in Springfield Township by the Evangelical Mennonites. One of their preachers, Jonas Musselman, had moved near Quakertown in 1868. Musselman was an aggressive evangelist who was always on the lookout for places to hold meetings and preach the gospel. He had begun to preach at Springfield. George Campbell attended protracted meetings held in Springtown in March, 1876. In September, 1879, he recounted the event in a letter to the Gospel Banner,
It was three years last March, since I gave my heart to Jesus, with my dear wife, and can say “me and my house will serve the Lord.” We were converted in a protracted meeting conducted by Eld. Jonas Musselman, and soon after received baptism as an “answer of a good conscience toward God.” I must confess with grief to my own shame, that I know that I ought to have been religious, long before, but did not believe that the religion of Jesus was so sweet, but now find it is “sweeter than honey and the honey comb,” and can say that I am not weary of serving the Lord. No! I feel to push boldly forward, through storms and clouds as well as sunshine, up hill, as well as down.
While his previous brush with conversion had a momentary effect, what happened at Springtown was genuine and real. His letter continued,
It is the Lord’s doing; he has saved me, and I feel to do something to his honor, and improve the talent he has entrusted to me. If I cannot stand on Zion’s walls to proclaim God’s truth, I can assist in staying the prophets arms, that the banner of Christ may wave victoriously over his people, that satan’s bulwarks may be stormed, big cannons silenced, and his strongholds crumbled in the dust. I do not believe that dens of thieves and places of drunkenness and revelry, gambling houses &c., are the most dangerous amongst satan’s strongholds; he has snares and traps of a finer work of art, by which he seeks to ensnare the unwary by offering them in the garb of religion. Many, alas! Have been deluded and led away, who as Paul says “have the form of godliness but denying the power thereof.”
His comments reveal a deepening faith and commitment to the Lord. They may also reveal that he had begun to think about the Lord’s work and the call of the preacher.
The Campbell family continued to grow. On February 7, 1877, God gave a son who received the name John. On July 31, 1884, another son, Claude, entered the Campbell family.
Not only was George’s family growing, his faith in Jesus Christ was growing and blossoming. He wrote on a couple of occasions to the Gospel Banner. His letters are full of mature expressions of faith. In February of 1881, he wrote a brief article entitled, “Gathering or Scattering.” In it he wrote,
It is then a matter of importance for us to determine whether we are for Christ, and gather for him, or whether we are against him and scattering abroad. We can only become the true servants of Christ, by abandoning, and altogether refusing to serve our old master, by fleeing to Christ, who is strong to deliver, and who will make us free from the bondage and slavery of sin and the devil. Thank God, whom the Son makes free, shall be free indeed. Thus being delivered through the power of Christ, we will realize that it is no hard matter to serve him, and that his “yoke is easy and his burden light.” May God enlighten the eyes of our understanding, that we may know our duty, and by the influence we exert, gather into his fold the erring and wandering ones, instead of scattering them abroad.
Later that year, George wrote again. He said, “I find it no burden to serve the Lord, but instead a great pleasure and happiness; and I can say the Lord’s will is mine – do with me according to thy good pleasure. But it makes my heart feel sa[d] that not more are willing to stoop down and receive Christ the sinners’ friend.”
During these years of early spiritual formation, George had become attached to the newly formed class of Evangelical Mennonites in Springtown. In his letter of November 15, 1881, he notes the work there.
We had erected our new tabernacle in Springtown two weeks, but on account of the cool weather prevailing it has visibly not been such a marked success as we hoped, yet at seasonable times it was crowded with people anxious to see and hear the Word of God which was wonderfully proclaimed in spirit and power. And we trust the good seed sown will yet bring blessed results in the future. One sister received full salvation, and on the last Sunday three were willing to follow the footsteps of Jesus even into Jordan to be baptized, and it pleased the Lord to abundantly bless us. There were perhaps a thousand people present, and they gazed on with awe and wonder as to what these things meant.
The expressions of joy and faith from George Campbell gave clear evidence that his past of unbelief and doubt were gone. But his past as a Union prisoner in Salisbury prison was not so easily laid aside. While his spirit was healthy, his body was not. In September, 1880, he applied to receive an invalid pension. In November, 1880, he followed his original application with an affidavit. In it he stated,
That I am unable to furnish the testimony indicated in form 58 bearing date of Sept. 24th, 1880. I was taken prisoner and was confined in Saulsbury (sic) prison N. C. and while there on or about the 25th of Nov. 1864 the rebels opened fire on us and wounded me in my side namely left side and I was treaded (sic) what little treatment I received for said wound by rebel Surgeons and later while confined in said Rebel prison I contracted the Scurvy in the month of Dec. 1864 and I had only one person with whom I was acquainted in said Prison who is still living but he removed to the western States viz. Illinois.
Apparently his request for a pension was denied. In, February of 1882, he filed again. In it, he explained the reason for his nearly 15 year delay in filing for the pension. He testified,
That I am unable to furnish medical evidence or other competent testimony showing that I suffered from wound of side and back at the time of my return from the army I only had an old mother living. My father died during my absence from home while in the service and I being very young did not complain to any one nor show my wound inside and back and it did not trouble me much at that time, I having been treated by a Surgeon at Spring Mill Penna, shortly before I was discharged and felt no pains just immediately after my return home not until some time when I commenced to or attempted to work I felt pains in my side and breast and also in my back and said pains are continually increasing as I grow older.
I have been using linaments & oils to ease my pains am not treated by physicians now for said wounds.
In 1883, his claims received confirmation from a fellow prisoner, Thomas Winters. Winters was also from Company H of the 2nd PA Heavy Artillery and captured with George at Chaffin’s farm on September 29, 1864. He had also been taken to Salisbury but had been released two weeks earlier than George. From his place of residence in San Francisco, California, he gave testimony about the wounds. He stated,
That I was also a private of Co. H 2nd Heav. Arty. Vols. and was a prisoner in Saulsbury Prison N. C. and was present and saw when the above named Soldier Geo. A. Campbell was wounded in his left side the Confederates opened fire on us prisoners on the 25th day of November 1864, and in said charge Comrade Campbell received the wound in his left side I seen the wound at different times while in the Saulsbury Prison.
God’s work had begun in the Campbell family. In November, 1883, the fourteen year old Flora gave her testimony.
Pleasant Valley, PA.
Dear Brother Brenneman: – I feel it my duty to write a few lines to the Gospel Banner, to let its readers know what the Lord, had done for me. About two months ago I gave my heart to Jesus at the Chestnut Hill camp meeting. Since that I have enjoyed myself very much; and I still know that the Lord is with me. Bless his holy name for free salvation. Glory to God, he hath cleansed me from all sin. I never can forget the day when Jesus washed my sins away.
This is the first time I wrote for any paper. I am fourteen years old, and attend Sabbath-school and church. I have a brother and a sister living, and one little brother has gone to heaven to live with Jesus. My desire is to serve the Lord as long as I live. I need the prayers of all the dear brethren and sisters that I may be kept humble at Jesus feet.
Your Sister in Christ,
Flora M. Campbell.
While his health was in decline, George’s life and ministry were taking a new turn. On Monday, February 7, 1887, George Campbell was presented as a probationer to the Annual Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. The veteran turned shoemaker had sensed the call of the Lord. At the age of nearly 42 years old, he submitted to become a preacher. His first assignment was near home in the Quakertown and Hatfield Circuit.
In 1890, George accepted assignment to Western Pennsylvania. He moved with his family to the town of Pleasant Unity, southwest of Latrobe, in Westmoreland County. In 1891, his vision and responsibility were broadened. He was given supervision of Westmoreland, Armstrong, and Blair counties and was told that he might invite other preachers to join with him. Clearly he was seeing a harvest in the fields there.
In 1892, Campbell was absent from the Annual Conference. He dutifully submitted an excuse which was deemed acceptable. The minutes record, “A letter from Elder George A. Campbell was read in which he explained to the satisfaction of the Conference why he cannot be present.” Later in that conference, Campbell was among the list of men who were conditional in their submission to the Stationing Committee. When a preacher was listed as conditional, it was implied that he was unable or unwilling to be assigned unconditionally. Often, men were listed as conditional when their health prohibited their relocation. George’s health had begun to deteriorate again.
In May, 1892, he had returned to Pleasant Valley, and applied again for a pension. His application stated that he was unable to earn a support by reason of “necrosis of lower jaw gun shot wound of left side of back and bed sores heart disease and catarrh.” The effects of the months in Salisbury were taking a toll as the wound and scurvy were felt. This application indicates that he had not been receiving a pension and was seeking one now.
In 1893, he was assigned to Reading where he served for the next three years. In 1895, he was again among those whose ministry was conditional. In 1896, he was re-assigned to the nearby Hatfield and Quakertown circuit. In August, from his home in Pleasant Valley, he re-applied for a pension. He sought to receive $6.00 a month. His application gave an expanded diagnosis of “necrosis of lower jaw, scurvy and results, gun shot wound left side of back & results, loss of teeth - bed sores - catarrh - heart disease and general disabilty.” On October 16, 1896, his neighbor John K. Hess testified on his behalf. Hess said,
I have known the claimant - George A. Campbell - and have been personally acquainted for about 14 years and can testify that the disabilities for which he claims pension namely necroses of lower jaw, Gun shot wound in left side of back, bed sores, Catarrh, and Heart-disease does exist and which is not the result of visious habits as the claimant is a peacable and altogether temperate man and always has been so and that the disabilities totally incapacitate him from the causes alleged for manual labor.
Another neighbor, Henry S. Funk, gave similar testimony but added a character comment, “The disabilities are not the result of any vicious habits or intemperance as he is [a] man of strict moral habits and always has been. He is one of our most honored cititzens.”
His kingdom work went on. In 1897, he was again assigned locally to the Quakertown / Hatfield Circuit. In 1898, he was set apart for the New Tripoli / Northampton circuit. In 1899, he again presented himself unconditionally and was assigned to the Graterford / Harleysville circuit. During the years 1900 to 1906, he presented himself unconditionally to the Conference. He served the Graterford / Harleysville circuit until 1901, spent two years on the Remps / Terre Hill Circuit, and was assigned for three years to New Tripoli / Walnutport.
In 1901, Campbell gave an address at the Ministerial Convention. One of his recurring Annual Conference duties was that of service on the committees overseeing pastors. He brought that background as he spoke on “The Necessary Qualifications of an Applicant for the Ministry.” He gave his views.
A call of God and studious habits to study the word are necessary. He needs qualifications of an ambassador in Christ’s stead beseeching men to become reconciled to God.
A certain man said, if a man can stay in the home land let him not go to the Foreign field. So with the call to the ministry. Paul said, “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.”
Aptness to teach and instruct in order to perfect God’s people here below is necessary. Illiteracy is no excuse, as Peter and John did much work and people saw God with them. An applicant with too much forwardness and desire of recognition and lack of willingness to teach a class of Sunday School scholars, collect Pastor’s salary, etc., should have more humility, patience and judgment. A desire for a fat living is not a quality of God’s called minsters.
In 1904, he was called upon again to teach his brothers at the Ministerial Convention. On this occasion, he was assigned to teach about “Deacons, Their Qualifications and influence for Good.” His presentation was summarized briefly. “The Deacon is an officer in the Church of Jesus Christ to assist the pastor in temporal affairs so he can give more of his time to the word. A man of sound judgment in financial affairs, not double tongued or two sided, and should have a home to entertain strangers. It is a permanent office. First proven, and then ordained.”
In 1907, he again entered the list of the conditional. From his residence in Walnutport, he filed a new application for a pension with the government. He lists his occupation as that of farmer. It appears that he finally received a positive response to his request. Papers filed at the time of his death indicated that he was receiving $12.00 per month.
This was apparently the last of George’s assignments. In 1908, he received no assignment but was listed as a local preacher on the Quakertown / Harleysville circuit.
In 1910, the census taker found the Campbells living in the boro of Quakertown. George listed himself as retired having his own income. In November of 1910, George made the railway journey to Salisbury to visit his memories. What prompted him to take the trip and whatever thoughts were kindled by it are as unknown as the story itself.
On October 11, 1911, the Ministerial Convention noted the absence of the preacher. “The committee learned with sorrow that the Ministers G. A. Campbell and L. B. Taylor are unable to be present at this Convention on account of their physical condition. May the Lord greatly bless them.” When the Annual Conference began the next day, George again sent his excuse. He wrote, “My heart’s desire is to come to Conference, but it seems all pertaining to this life has an end. I trust you will pardon me as my time has been, and I am perfectly satisfied. The Lord has been good to me. You must increase but I must decrease. I trust the Lord will deal kindly with you all and lead the work to His honor and glory.”
Campbell’s condition continued to deteriorate. On November 7, almost a year after his return to Salisbury and 46 years after his release, George fought his final battle. He lost that battle but won the war as he was gathered into his heavenly home to experience the glorious rest promised to God’s children. A notice was sent to the pension agent in Philadelphia. The printed form bureaucratically stated, “Sir: You are hereby directed to drop from the roll the name of the above-described pensioner who died Nov. 7, 1911. J. L. Davenport, Commissioner.”
Helena, George’s widow, filed for and received a widow’s pension in December, 1911. Her request was approved. She received the pension until her death on March 1, 1923. She was receiving $30.00 a month.
George Campbell testified in his first letter to the Gospel Banner, “When seventeen years of age, I enlisted in the Union army, as I was then in the world, I supposed it to by my duty, but now as a follower of the meek and lowly Jesus, I view these matters entirely different. I experienced great trials and hardships during those three years, but the Lord has delivered me: blessed be his holy name.” When he wrote these words in 1879, he did not know how his health would begin to deteriorate in the following year. Trials and hardships were ahead. But he said nothing then or later as his problems worsened. Perhaps it was because he viewed these matters entirely different.