Bits and Pieces of Decatur County history

Published 6:01 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Camp Recovery was a place full of hope and compassion. Men were dying at Fort Scott, not from a human enemy but an environmental one. True, Fort Scott was placed on land that was above the Flint River. However, this place was surrounded by swamps which in turn were an ideal breeding ground for this enemy, the mosquito. It carried fevers, ones which medicine knew little about and could not seem to cure.

Allow me to take you back in time to the very early 1800s, to Camp Recovery. Let your imagination make you feel hungry and sick with what was an incurable disease. Perhaps, after reading, you will want to say a prayer.

Camp Recovery – Helping Someone Go Up To Heaven

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Back in a lonely, grassy field about 200 feet from the asphalt pavement of Booster Club Road, is one of the oldest historic sites along the Flint River that still exists, Camp Recovery. Located about 21 miles southwest of Bainbridge, it is a most touching place from the past, for it was the site of a hospital that afforded hope to those soldiers at Fort Scott who were suffering and dying from a variety of diseases.

Camp Recovery is easy to find. It is marked by an historical marker and a large arch connecting two brick pillars at the entrance to where the hospital and graveyard were once located. Even though this camp is just a short drive from all of the activity of Bainbridge, once you are there, you may feel like you are a million miles from civilization. High above the Flint River, its waters can be seen, glistening below the trees and shrubs of the nearby waterfront homes. However, one can feel a kind of loneliness that hangs, like a smothering blanket on the air.

Through the arch, it is a short walk to where, more than 195 years ago, the large canvas tent, furnished with wood and cloth cots, was occupied by men dying from illnesses that as of yet, doctors new nothing about. The need for Camp Recovery came from the fact that there were quite a few deaths at nearby Fort Scott not from fighting Indians but from these diseases, mainly malaria, yellow fever and dysentery.

Fort Scott was built of logs, on the west side of the junction of the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers. Although Fort Scott was on a high bluff, it was surrounded by land that was a swamp. At this time, it was not known that mosquitoes carried diseases and that they love this kind of environment. So the diseases which they spread were as common as a cold. This type of landscape also promoted unsanitary conditions. Latrines were shallow and filled up fast. They had to be moved often. This promoted dysentery and typhoid, making these diseases also common among the soldiers.

To help cure the many men who mostly battled illnesses, in 1819, a doctor at Fort Scott asked Washington D. C. for permission to build a hospital on a site across the Flint River. He did not know that mosquitoes carried the diseases and could cross over, too. The site chosen for the hospital was 200 feet higher than the fort. Here, there were tall pines, dogwoods, and wire grass, all of nature’s creations that would help a Georgia man feel at home. The doctor got permission and they put up breastworks of dirt near a square area for protection from the Indians and put more trees in the enclosure, for it was known that trees help filter the air and purify it. Excavation began on September 15, 1820. When ready, 70 men were first brought to this tent hospital. The hope was that these soldiers would quickly recover.

The men had barely gotten themselves settled, when on a cold, early October day, a five day rain set in. This onset of cool, wet weather caused deaths amongst the men, claiming the weakest ones first. After this devastating beginning, life did start to get better. Everyone held out hope for the recovery of the remaining men. 

However, the ideal conditions did not last. Late in October, the temperature fell to an unusual low and once again, men died, dealing another devastating blow to the recovery effort. Now, more men had been lost than saved. Because of this, it was felt that it would be best to close Camp Recovery. After just two months, on Nov. 23, 1820, the area was evacuated.

All in all, the 70 men died and were buried in a clearing several yards from where the tent hospital stood. Somewhere, below this earth are the graves of the dead soldiers. The wooden markers that bore their names and regiment were made of pine and have long since easily and quickly decayed, so there are none left. However, when walking the grounds you will see the indentations of where graves are as the land has settled downward.

Now, there is a fairly small, cream colored, block building denoting where the hospital was. At times, this sturdy structure may have within its walls, flowers and mementos put there by visitors as a memorial for those who were here so very long ago during that fatal fall.

In October, 1882, a monument consisting of a 32 pound cannon with a barrel standing on end on a granite block from Georgia’s Stone Mountain, was placed in the shade of an oak tree. An inscription on the cannon’s base states: “Erected on the site of Camp Recovery near which are buried officers and soldiers of the United States Army who died during the Indian Wars in the Flint and Chattahoochee River Country 1817 to 1821.”

The local people have maintained the grounds and helped sustain the men’s memories. However, this was not always so.

I found in a diary where for years, this area used to be overgrown by thick foliage. To get to the memorial, you would have to go over two barbed wire fences and across a couple of fields. You could tell that you were not very far from the Flint River by the sloping of the land. The cannon was there, marking the burial grounds.

I am not sure of the time period. The memorial area was dedicated in 1955. The writing in the diary is dated 1979. Perhaps the money needed to maintain this precious area was scarce. Also, sometimes people don’t realize how important an historical site is, until it’s gone. Or in this case, almost gone. I am sure that many of us are glad that this condition did not continue. Now, we can visit this place, where men so far from home and their loved ones died so that our Decatur County would be safe for settlers. Now, we can bring them the comfort that they are not forgotten and that their sacrifices did mean something and are appreciated.

The tiny town of Recovery still exists. Once, there was a turpentine still, one or two stores, a depot, a courthouse and a number of homes. Now, there still are homes but all else is gone.

It wasn’t too long after the closing of Camp Recovery that Fort Scott closed. This was in 1821. At this time there were 396 soldiers stationed there of which 82 were sick and 22 had died in just a four month period. This does not included those that had died at Camp Recovery. 

We know that men died at Fort Scott. It is believed that there are around two hundred graves on this site. Even after the Flint River was backed up by the Woodruff Dam, there are still high places, where there could have been signs of burial places. No one excavated, even though it was and still is government land. 

Moses Chapel – Coming

Together To Form A Family

On a dirt road, named after the chapel, is an inspiring little church. This congregation came into being back in 1836. Three very small churches that were in the area, came together. They decided to build in this place, a chapel for all three groups. They named it Moses Chapel.

The outside is made of planked wood that is quite striking with its aged coloring. The foundation sets on fat pine blocks of wood that look like they are twelve inches square. However, in some places these have been replaced with hand cut stones to keep the church level.

There is a small, square steeple on the roof which has a top that reminds me of the kind found on a lighthouse.

The interior is also rustic. The seats are around the walls not down the middle, as in most churches. At the north end of the church, in a little area that has a slightly higher floor, there is the pulpit. Years ago, during the week, the church was used as a school for local children.

The congregation has built a newer church made from sturdy cement blocks, next door. Here, the congregation meets regularly to worship God.

The tree, pyramid magnolia, is found growing around the chapel grounds. Because of the type of soil it needs to thrive in, this magnolia is rare but loves this area.