As mentioned in previous posts, FRSP benefited greatly from the help provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Four individual CCC camps operated in the Fredericksburg area between 1933 and 1942. Three of these were located on FRSP lands – one each on the battlefields of Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House.
Camp MP-4 was built in Saunders Field, on the north side of State Route 20, of the Wilderness Battlefield. The initials “MP” stood for Military Park. Later the designation and number was changed to NP-24, denoting that the camp served a national park. Camp MP-4 was established October 14, 1933 and until its closing in 1941 five CCC companies rotated through the camp.
The camp’s layout covered nearly all of the northern half of Saunders Field, where on May 5, 1864 the Battle of the Wilderness began.
The aerial photo shows the camp around 1938, when it was occupied by Company 2329. The red square to the lower left in the photo indicates the current location of the Wilderness Exhibit Shelter. The building in the upper left corner of the photo (marked by the red arrow) is the Camp MP-4 Utility Building, constructed in 1937. It still stands in the woods north of Saunders Field and serves the NPS as a storage building for maintenance equipment.
A recent aerial image, courtesy of Google Earth, reveals that some landscape impressions remain from Camp MP-4. Marked by the red arrow, the Utility Building sits in the woods north of the current configuration of Saunders Field. The blue arrow points to the visible evidence of the circular entrance for Camp MP-4.
A walk through the field east of the current exhibit shelter reveals not only the remaining drainage culverts for the entrance, but also the concrete letters that greeted visitors to the camp.
In addition to their daily work routines, such as building the park tour roads and establishing walking trails, the CCC boys also attended vocational and educational classes. Sports activities often filled the their leisure time and at Camp MP-4 baseball was a favorite. Often the different local camps played each other and the competition was high.
Finding a place to practice at Camp MP-4 proved rather difficult. NPS property only included that area north of State Route 20 and the buildings and camp facilities filled nearly all of the available open space. The boys opted to set up their ball field in the clearing across the road, as evidenced in the camp photo.
The following month, a special investigator had this to say about the friction between Mr. Dempsey and the camp:
“Since the opening of the camp the boys have had the use of a field opposite camp grounds. Here they could play baseball, basket ball, tennis, volley ball. Lately, the owner of the property has forbidden the use of the grounds unless they pay $10 a month. Efforts are now being made to get the use of another field further along the road.
There is a little point in connection with this situation that is of interest. The other day a call came to the camp that a house was on fire and requested assistance. The boys of the camp went to the fire and saved the building. The house was that of the owner of the land that is denied the boys.” – Supplementary Report, dated March 3, 1938, by Patrick J. King, National Archives and Records Administration.
Although the CCC boys saved Mr. Dempsey’s house, the farmer continued to refuse use of his land for athletic activities. By June, Camp MP-4 had secured free use of a field about a mile from camp. Captain Poindexter was relieved of duty in April, upon the expiration of his term of service, and relationships between the camp and Mr. Dempsey eventually improved.
Camp MP-4 (aka NP-24) closed in April 1941. Most of the buildings were razed or removed, while the NPS continues to maintain and use the Utility Building. Saunders Field disappeared as the woods reclaimed the clearing. The NPS eventually built the current exhibit shelter in 1963 and eighteen years later the field was reopened. Despite NPS efforts at scene restoration, physical remnants of the CCC-era are still visible.
Eric J. Mink