There was more than one Camp Holmes during the war. In September 1861, there was Camp Holmes in the Fredericksburg area. Another was located near the mouth of the Little River in Indian Territory. And there was also a Camp Holmes in Raleigh, North Carolina. It is unclear just who was the source of the name for the one in the Indian Territory. The ones near Fredericksburg and in Raleigh were both named for Confederate Lieutenant General Theophilus H. Holmes (1804-1880).
A North Carolina native and son of former North Carolina governor Gabriel Holmes, T.H. Holmes was a graduate of West Point and a career army officer prior to the war. Holmes bounced around in different commands, including eastern North Carolina. After a lack-luster showing during the Seven Days campaign, Holmes was shuffled off to the Trans-Mississippi theater, commanding the district from October 1862 to March 1863. The new commander, E. Kirby Smith, appointed Holmes to command the Department of Arkansas. Holmes resigned that appointment and was appointed commander of the reserve forces in North Carolina.
At the start of the
war, there were many different camps of instruction in the greater Raleigh area
: Camps Badger, Boylan, Vance, Winslow, Wyatt, Ellis, Mangum and Crabtree. Many
of the camps were short lived, opened to handle the influx of new volunteers as
the state began recruitment efforts in 1861. The Conscription Law mandated that
most of these camps be closed. Camp Holmes, opened in 1862, became the primary
camp of instruction not only for the Raleigh area, but for the state.
Camp Holmes (National Archives)
Camp Holmes contained barracks for soldiers, but also a hospital, quartermaster and ordnance depots, offices, and a guardhouse. In charge was Major (later colonel) Peter Mallett. Mallett was able to report by June 10 that he had selected a location to the north of Raleigh for the camp. The camp was opened by July 15, 1862. The primary function of Camp Holmes was to process new soldiers coming in due to the Conscription Law. It was also a place to hold those new recruits and to hold deserters who had been captured, until they could be forwarded to regiments in the field.
Camp Holmes would assume a new responsibility in March 1863. The previous October, the Confederate Congress had passed regulations stipulating what was to become of recaptured slaves. Section 2 stipulated that the depots for recaptured slaves were to be established by the Secretary of War “at convenient places, not more than five in number, in each State, and all slaves captured in such State shall be kept in such depots.” According to section 3, physical descriptions of each slave, where they were arrested, and the name of their owners were to be recorded and published in one or more newspapers. Section 4 stated that “While such slaves are in the depot they may be employed under proper guard on public works…” While other states had more than one camp (Virginia had three) North Carolina had only one – the Camp of Instruction in Raleigh.
The late Walter C. Hilderman III wrote a good book on Confederate Conscription in North Carolina – They Went into the Fight Cheering (2005) that makes frequent mention of Camp Holmes, Colonel Mallett, and the role of Mallott’s Battalion in the enforcement of the Conscription Act. There is not, however, anything on just Camp Holmes or the role of the camp as a depot for recaptured slaves.
The other Camps of Instruction that Cooper designated were Alabama – Notasulga (Camp Watts) and Talladega (Camp Buckner); Arkansas – Little Rock; Florida – Tallahassee; Georgia – Macon and Decatur; Louisiana – Monroe, Camp Moore, and New Iberia; North Carolina – Raleigh (Camp Holmes); Mississippi – Brookhaven and Enterprise; South Carolina – Columbia (Camp Johnson); Tennessee – Knoxville and McMinn; Texas – Houston; Virginia – Richmond (Camp Lee), Petersburg, and Dublin.