US GenWeb

This biography is from HEROES OF ALBANY, by Rufus W. Clark, D. D.

Corporal Robert H. Cameron

Robert H. Cameron, son of John and Mary I. Cameron, was born in Belfast, Ireland, July 2, 1837, and came to this country at the age of two years. In his youth, he was remarkable for his frank and truthful disposition. Gentle and affectionate in his nature, he was constantly seeking opportunities for the performance of some of those little offices of kindness, which makes our daily life so pleasant. Although never having made a public profession of religion, yet he had the most exalted opinion of the worth of Christianity, and would not suifer it to be spoken lightly of in his presence. If he could not change the subject, he would withdraw from the company and would not ever give such conversation the sanction of his presence.

Possessing business capacities of a very high order, life opened upon him with very flattering prospects. But when the tocsin of war sounded through the land, and called for those who were willing to sacrifice all for their country, Robert was found among the foremost. He was ready to give up his business prospects, to sunder the ties which bound him to a home he highly prized, and to his wife and child, who were as dear to him as life itself. We can realize something of the sacrifice he made. His motto was, "my country first," and for the time his country became mother, wife and child to him.

Enlisting in April, 1861, as private in Company A, Hawkins' Zouaves, he arrived with them June 8th at Newport News, then in part occupied hy the rebels. Here his company had their full share of the lonely picket guard duty, and the long weary marches. While there, they suffered a great deal from the bad quality of the food, and the insufficiency of shelter provided for them, for we then were in our infancy in all matters which pertained to war.

Writing from Newport News, of a very narrow escape from capture, he says:

"Last evening about nine o'clock, our company was ordered out on a scouting expedition. We marched through woods all night, and in the morning found ourselves but a very short distance from the enemy's camp. We continued to march very cautiously until we suddenly came upon the enemy's picket guard, when they sounded the alarm, and a large body of infantry and cavalry immediately started in pursuit of us. The order was given to retreat, and we immediately made the best time possible for a piece of woods a short distance in our rear, and succeeded in reaching it, when each one of us posted ourselves behind trees, determined to sell our lives as dearly as possible. We all thought our time had come; but the enemy, instead of engaging us, seemed determined to capture the whole company. They divided themselves into two parties to cut off our retreat; but instead of returning by any of the roads, we made our way through the woods until we came to the river. When the enemy found we had taken this route, they endeavored to prevent our effecting this, but we were too soon for them, and succeeded in reaching camp without losing a single man. We were almost dead, however, from fatigue.

"Some of the men were ready to give up, and wanted to lie down; and they had to be almost carried along, to prevent their being captured by the enemy. After our return from this expedition, another company of our regiment being ordered on a similar scout, were attacked by the rebels, and after a sharp fight in which they lost their Colonel and eight privates, our boys succeeded in reaching camp safely."

While at Newport News at a general inspection, Robert was offered his discharge on account of defective sight, but he refused to receive it, saying to those who offered it, "When I joined the regiment I joined them to stay with them, and I shall not leave them while the war lasts, if I am able to remain. I should be ahamed to be seen in the streets of Albany at this time, when the conntiy needs every man so much."

From Newport News the regiment went to Hatteras Inlet, where the real sufferings of the regiment began. Provided with tents which formed no real protection against the rain storms of that section, and at the most inclement season of the year, when the miasma arising from the low swampy lands npon which they were encamped, sent fever throngh the system with every breath they drew, sickness soon began to show itself in the regiment. Often after lying down at night, they would he roused by the water flowing all around them, and they would be obliged to move their tents and seek some drier spot; and sometimes this would be repeated in the course of the night. This exposure, added to their long and severe marches, soon wore out a constitution not naturally very strong, and forced Mr. Cameron to the hospital, from which very few who entered it with this fever, ever came forth alive.

Writing to his wife from Hatteras very soon after his arrival there, he said, "I am well as yet, and have to be thankful in being able to say that; for around me on every hand, are lying comrades not able to leave their tents, and many of them scarcely expecting to leave them alive. Even now as I write, I hear the solemn notes of the dead march wailed out, as some company marches past with the remains of a dead comrade for interment. Now that the cold season is but just commencing, I fear that many more will follow him unless we are speedily ordered from this place. You will better understand why it is so unhealthy, when I tell you, that every heavy rain we have, entirely floods this part of the island on which we are quartered, sometimes driving us entirely out of our tents, to seek protection on the highest part of the island. So far, I have escaped, while many with apparently stronger constitutions have been taken sick and died; but we have some hopes of leaving here soon."

That order did not come in time to save him. He soon sickened, and lingering but a short time, died. During his sickness, he begged of his comrades not to write to his mother. He said, "I shall be around again in a few days, and then I will write and tell them I have been sick." So careful was he, lest he should cause her auy unnecessary anxiety. But his comrades, seeing that his recovery was impossible, wrote to his mother, who immediately started for Hatteras, that she might give him a mother's care in his sickness. But the summons reached her too late. When she arrived there she found him dead and buried. He had received his final discharge.

His companions, to whom he was sincerely attached, mourned his loss as that of a brother.

Col. Hawkins, writing to Robert's mother after his death, says, "He was universally mourned in the regiment. From the highest officer to the lowest private, each one felt that in Robert's death, he had lost a friend and that there was a vacant place made, which could not be easily filled."

A member of his own company in speaking of him said, "I will say, that, in his departure from this life, the members of Company A lost one of their best friends. He was loved and respected by all. With his Captain he was an especial favorite. There was something in his manner and appearance which commanded respect, and he could have an order obeyed at any time, without any grumbling on the part of the men. I shall never forget the appearance of the men as they took the last look of poor Cameron. Turning away from the dead face of their comrade, they could not restrain their grief. The tears and broken sobs, told what a loss they had sustained."

About a week after he was buried, his mother, who in feeble health, had made the journey from Albany alone, arrived. Her intense grief at finding her dear son dead and buried, can be more easily imagined than described. She found, however, many sympathizing hearts among the brave and noble soldiers of our army. She had the precious remains disinterred and brought home, and they now rest in our beautiful cemetery, with the many other heroes of the war.

Send comments or suggestions to:
Debby Masterson

Go Back to Albany County Biographies
Go Back to Home Page