Camp William Penn was the product of several historical forces. The camp owed its existence, in varying degrees, to the presence of Quakers, gentlemen’s clubs determined to preserve the Union, the North Pennsylvania Railroad, and the Philadelphia free black community; the largest in the nation at the time. Furthermore, the men who trained at Camp William Penn joined the Union army for a variety of reasons. They came as freed slaves determined to destroy slavery, for pay to support their families, to prove their worth as men, and sometimes, due to conscription, reluctantly. These puzzle pieces came together in the middle of the Civil War, when Camp WIlliam Penn opened in the spring of 1863.
This lesson will focus on two issues: how Camp William Penn was founded and why African Americans enlisted in the United States Colored Troops (USCT). It will analyze a variety of primary sources, and students will discuss the many historical causes that sent men to the camp in the first place.