Camp William Penn was the largest and first Civil War facility to exclusively train Northern-based federal black soldiers during the war. It was located in Chelten Hills just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the 19th-century’s epicenter of the Underground Railroad. Boasting the biggest free-black population in the country, Philadelphia and Camp William Penn, hosted the greatest anti-slavery abolitionists and Underground Railroad of that century, including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Robert Purvis and William Still. Douglass and Tubman spoke to and rallied some of the almost 11,000 soldiers, many of them runaway or ex-slaves, who trained in eleven regiments that fought in a slew of major battles, helped to corner the Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Rebel forces, as well as capture President Lincoln’s assassins. Several earned the Medal of Honor for their bravery, and many gave their lives. At a time when America’s very existence was threatened, the warriors and freedom fighters for human equality associated with Camp William Penn were a major part of the country’s salvation. The complete story is told here
Donald “Ogbewii” Scott, a history columnist for the Journal-Register Co. and an assistant professor of English at the Community College of Philadelphia, has written two history books focusing on Camp William Penn, as well as the history of the township where he resides: Cheltenham, a northwest suburb of Philadelphia, PA.