American Camp (1859-1874) - First established as American Camp in 1859 by U.S. Army Captain George E. Pickett (Cullum 1330), and Company D, 9th U.S. Infantry, on San Juan Island, San Juan County, Washington. Renamed Camp Pickett, Post of San Juan (1863), Camp Steele (1867), and finally Camp San Juan Island (1868). Abandoned in 1874.
The first American Camp was established on 27 Jul 1859 by Captain George E. Pickett and Company D, 9th U.S. Infantry, from Fort Bellingham. Captain Pickett and his troops were ordered to San Juan Island in response to an incident on the Island that came to be known as the Pig War. The Pig War occurred during an unresolved territorial dispute between Britain and the United States over who owned the San Juan Islands: the incident that triggered the U.S. military response began when a British pig was killed by an American farmer.
Captain George Pickett arrived on San Juan Island with 51 men from Company D, 9th U.S. Infantry and four officers. On the British side, the 31‑gun Royal Navy frigate Tribune was sent to the island as a guard ship from Esquimalt. The initial U. S. campsite proved unsuitable and it was moved twice in a matter of days to a more suitable site on high ground on the south end of the island. By August 1859 the force had expanded to 424 men including ten officers including Lt. Colonel Silas Casey (Cullum 467), who assumed command and escalated tensions. The U.S. units involved included elements of the 9th U.S. Infantry and the 3rd U.S. Artillery. In September, 2nd Lieutenant Henry M. Robert (Cullum 1763) (of Robert's Rules of Order fame) is shown as already engaged in constructing a redoubt above the camp.
Cooler heads prevailed at all levels with the intervention of General Winfield Scott. Lt. Colonel Silas Casey was replaced and the U.S. garrison was reduced to a mere 66 men with four officers. The English Camp on the north end of the island was similarly reduced and was limited to a single warship. The two garrisons fell into friendly relations, visiting each other's camps on important dates like the 4th of July and the Queen's birthday.
The American Camp was garrisoned by regular Union troops throughout the U.S. Civil War. At the beginning of the war Captain George E. Pickett was the camp commander and he remained so until 25 Jul 1861 when his resignation was accepted and he left to join the Confederacy. The post at that time was named Camp Pickett after Captain Pickett and that name was retained until May 1863 just before the Battle of Gettysburg.
The boundary dispute was not settled until Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany negotiated an agreement in 1872 that gave the San Juan Islands to the United States. The British Royal Marines left English Camp that same year but the American Camp remained until abandoned 1 Jul 1874.
Part of the San Juan Island National Historic Park administered by the National Park Service. One officers quarters, an original building moved back to the camp from town and one laundress quarters are the only remaining buildings. On a hill above the camp is the earthen outline of a protective redoubt built under the supervision of Superintending Engineer Lt. Henry M. Robert (Cullum 1763) (of Robert's Rules of Order).
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Visited: 7 May 2014