Joseph Finegan

Joseph Finegan.

Joseph Finegan was born on November 17, 1814 in Ireland. His last name is alternately spelled Finnegan but for the remainder of this article the spelling of Finegan will be used. Finegan went to Jacksonville, Florida where he became a successful businessman in the sawmill and railroad industry. Finegan married Rebecca Smith in 1842 and had four children. In the 1850s Finegan had a three story house built in Fernandina Beach for his growing family. In 1861 he represented Nassau County in the 1861 Florida convention, which passed an ordinance declaring secession from the United States on January 10 and later voted to join the Confederacy, which took effect April 22. Finegan not only participated in the secession convention in Florida but also decided to serve in the Confederate Army in the Civil War.

Joseph Finegan (here written Finnegan) represented Nassau County at the Florida convention of 1861. The convention passed an ordinance declaring Florida to be “a sovereign and independent nation.” Florida then joined the Confederacy on April 22.

An ad from the Charleston Mercury dated December 30, 1856 for Finegan’s railroad business.

Camp Finegan

This is a sketch of Camp Finegan by Union Lieutenant John Whittier Messer Appleton after the fort’s capture in 1864. The square labeled “Camp” would have been the northern part of Camp Finegan. The squares labeled “Infantry Camp” and “Artillery Camp” would have been the southern part of Camp Finegan.

An envelop with a letter to Captain Winston Stephens dated November 8, 1862 listing his address as “Camp Finegan Near Jacksonville”

In April 1862 Finegan assumed command of Middle and East Florida from Brigadier General James Trapier who had been transferred to the Army of the Mississippi under General Albert Sidney Johnston. Sometime in late 1862 General P.G.T. Beauregard established Camp Finegan about 8 miles west of Jacksonville. The camp was named after General Finegan since he was the commander of Confederate forces in North Florida. Camp Finegan just like General Finegan is alternately spelled Finnegan. Camp Milton, named after Florida Governor John Milton, is another Confederate camp located within 4 miles west of Camp Finegan.

Camp Finegan served a multitude of purposes in the war. The camp guarded the Alligator Road, Old Plank Road and the Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Central Railroad. The Alligator Road and the Old Plank Road were the two main roads used for traveling into the interior of Florida from Jacksonville. The Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Central Railroad was built in 1860 and connected Jacksonville with Lake City. Camp Finegan was located near this railroad in Marietta and extended south toward present-day Lenox Avenue. The camp consisted of an infantry camp, artillery camp, cavalry camp and a camp near the railroad.

A newspaper article from February 11, 1864 about Union forces at Jacksonville. The article received this information from the commanding officer at Camp Finnegan. These Union forces would later march west towards Lake City and fight at the Battle of Olustee.

An article from the Memphis Daily Appeal dated February 16, 1864 about the situation in North Florida.

An article from The Macon Telegraph dated February 16, 1864 on the situation at Camp Finegan.

General Finegan used the camp on several occasions as a base of operations. Camp Finegan housed anywhere from 100 to 800 Confederate soldiers with some even writing letters or correspondences. Lieutenant Colonel William D. Mitchell, commander of the 29th Georgia Regiment, wrote a correspondence at Camp Finegan on October 8, 1862 about the Confederate evacuation of St. Johns Bluff. Second Lieutenant Jesse Turner wrote a letter at Camp Finegan dated July 10, 1863 saying that he found himself “incompetent the duties of my office as Brevet 2nd Lt.” and therefore decided to resign from the Confederate forces. Lieutenant Colonel John William Pearson wrote a letter in Lake City to his daughter Eliza in 1864 and said that his son Charles had to remain at Camp Finegan. Captain Winston Stephens wrote several letters to his wife Octavia at Camp Finegan in 1862 and 1863. Stephens died on March 1, 1864 in a skirmish with Union forces at the nearby Cedar Creek.

Jacksonville was occupied by Union forces two times in 1862, with troops encountering small clashes with Confederate soldiers from Camp Finegan. In February 1864 Union forces arrived in Jacksonville for a third time with a larger force of 6,000. Union General Truman Seymour wanted to march west out of Jacksonville to procure supplies, disrupt Confederate infrastructures and capture Tallahassee. The 40th Massachusetts Regiment under Union Colonel Guy V. Henry marched out of Jacksonville on a road where they would pass by Camp Finegan. According to Union sources, the camp was about 6 miles west of Jacksonville. Confederate Lieutenant Colonel McCormick was alerted by General Finegan about the incoming Union invaders. Camp Finegan was abandoned by the time Union forces reached the area on February 8. It was estimated that around 350 Confederate soldiers had been at Camp Finegan in February before Union forces reached the camp. Camp Finegan forces were surprised at the Union advance and were forced to leave behind artillery, munitions, food and supplies. Confederate Quartermaster Sergeant William H. Trimmer did not leave Camp Finegan in time and became a Union prisoner of war. Colonel Henry’s cavalry forces left Camp Finegan and captured the nearby Confederate outpost of Ten Mile Station.

Union Major John Whittier Messer Appleton was an officer in the 54th Massachusetts. Appleton was part of the Union forces that seized Camp Finegan in 1864 and later made the above sketch of the camp.

An article from The Abingdon Virginia dated March 18, 1864 on a skirmish fought at Camp Finegan.

The Union forces continued their march toward Lake City. On February 20, 1864 the Union forces clashed with General Finegan’s Confederate forces at the Battle of Olustee. Some of the Confederate forces at Olustee were those that had to abandon Camp Finegan. The Battle of Olustee was the largest Civil War battle in Florida and became a Confederate victory. However, Union forces marched back to Jacksonville where they held the city for the remainder of the war. Confederate forces in the area still put up a fight against incursions by Union forces, including a skirmish near Camp Finegan on May 25. A Union detachment was sent west toward Baldwin to probe Confederate forces in the area. The Union detachment encountered a Confederate infantry and cavalry past Cedar Creek near Camp Finegan. The Confederate infantry and cavalry were believed to have come from Camp Milton.

Confederate forces abandoned Camp Finegan in February 1864, and it is not clear what happened to it until June, when Union forces permanently occupied the site. It may still have been used by Confederate forces but it no longer operated like it once did before February 1864 since the Union forces had already seized everything left behind. Camp Finegan was still mentioned between February and June 1864 but this may have been used simply as a reference point to this area. On April 2, Colonel Henry wrote a report about a skirmish at Cedar Creek. Henry said on the Confederates at the creek, “The enemy was posted in the woods at the creek, in a very strong position” but later “gave way after some skirmishing, and proceeded toward Camp Finegan.” The result of this skirmish was 8 Union wounded, 25 head of cattle captured and 1 horse captured. Henry estimated that the Confederate loss was between 20 and 30.

In June 1864, Union forces permanently occupied the camp, renaming it Camp Shaw after Robert Gould Shaw, a former commander of the 54th Massachusetts. One of the officers involved, Major John Whittier Messer Appleton of the 54th Massachusetts later made a sketch of the camp. On June 6, 1864 Union General J.G. Foster wrote a report on the situation near Camp Finegan and Camp Milton, saying, “Before my arrival General Gordon had performed a handsome feat in turning, by a rapid night march, the enemy’s camps called Camp Milton and Camp Finegan, situated, respectively, 10 and 6 miles from Jacksonville. The enemy, finding a force in front and rear, took to their heels and escaped. The camps were completely destroyed. The enemy fell back on Baldwin, which is strongly fortified. The Milton was also a strongly fortified position against a front attack. The line of well-constructed bastions, rifle-pits, and block-houses extended nearly 2 miles.”

In the Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner, a newspaper in Manchester, England, a report from Union sources discusses the Battle of Olustee and the situation in Jacksonville. This report is dated March 19, 1864.

Camp Finegan was renamed Camp Shaw after Union forces permanently occupied it. The article shows Camp Shaw mentioned on April 24, 1864 in The Times-Democrat.

Camp Finegan today

The Camp Finegan memorial on the grounds of the on the grounds of the Thomas Jefferson Civil Club in Rolling Hills. Photo by Kyriaki Karalis.

This map is based on the research of William M. Jones from 1959. Jones does a great amount of research on Camp Finegan. Jones places Camp Finegan, or at least part of it, between Wills Branch creek and Skye Drive.

The location of Camp Finegan has become somewhat of a mystery as no remains of it have been found to this day. There is a consensus as to its general vicinity thanks to the written reports and the sketch by Major Appleton. Most sources show Camp Finegan between Cahoon Road and Hammond Boulevard. It was supposedly near a railroad by the Old Plank Road, which ran parallel to present-day Beaver Street. The northern boundary of the camp would have been near this railroad and where Beaver Street also runs parallel, somewhat, to Hammond Boulevard. The southern end of the camp most likely extended down to the present-day area of Joseph Stilwell Military Academy of Leadership and the Rolling Hills neighborhood. Various artifacts have been found at this southern end of the supposed camp location.

Rolling Hills Baptist Church began in 1937 as McDuff Avenue Baptist Church. The church moved to a location on Lenox Avenue in 1950 and renamed Parkview Baptist Church. In 1983 the church moved to its current location and renamed to Rolling Hills Baptist Church.

Joseph Stilwell Military Academy of Leadership opened in 1964 and is named after General Joseph Stilwell who served in the India-Burma Theatre of World War II.

Driving on Lenox Avenue near the Wills Branch of Cedar Creek. This is the area noted by W.M. Jones where there were apparently trenches and rifle pits before the construction of the Rolling Hills neighborhood.

In 1960 William M. Jones published A Report on the Site of Camp Finegan. Jones was a resident of the Westside of Jacksonville since 1934 and had heard over many years “of the presence of a series of trenches located on Lenox Avenue at a point one-half mile west of Normandy Boulevard, where Lenox crosses a small creek.” These trenches, according to Jones, were often referred to by residents as “ditches” and had to be filled in before houses could be built. Jones and these residents were not aware that these ditches could be linked to Camp Finegan.

In 1952 a local resident had found Minié balls in his yard especially after a heavy rain. Minié balls were 50-caliber conical bullets used in the Civil War. Other artifacts found by local residents include weapons and a belt buckle. This information was noted in Jones’s report but even he was skeptical about what he had heard. The trenches that Jones noted were interesting but were still inconclusive. After 1960 urban development expanded into these areas thereby making it much more difficult to determine the location of Camp Finegan.

In Phase I Archaeological Testing of a Portion of Camp Finegan by George R. Burns and Dean M. Sais, a general area of what was considered to be Camp Finegan was analyzed. One area that may have been part of Camp Finegan is a lot owned by the Rolling Hills Baptist Church. The report notes that according to Pastor Beasley, “a significant amount of Civil War era material was recovered during construction of the church.” Metal detectors previously used in the area reportedly found horseshoes and Minié balls. Burns and Sais conducted an archaeological dig in the area and found a number of artifacts. However, the only artifacts from the 1800s in this find were bottle glass and square cut nails unrelated to the Civil War.

The Confederate soldier statue at the Camp Finegan memorial on Cahoon Road.

*The Camp Finegan marker on the memorial. The Sons of Confederate Veterans logo was once on the top left corner but has been removed due to suspected vandalism. *

In 2015 a monument dedicated to Camp Finegan was erected at the Thomas Jefferson Civic Club on the corner of Cahoon Road and Hammond Boulevard. While it’s still difficult to determine if Camp Finegan was located here, the location still can’t be ruled out for one of the potential sites.

The written records confirm that Camp Finegan was a real Confederate camp on what’s now the Westside of Jacksonville by Cahoon Road, Lenox Avenue and Memorial Park Road. The camp, as well as nearby Camp Milton, played a prominent role in training Confederate forces and serving as a base of operations against Union forces in the area. When Union forces marched west out of Jacksonville in 1864 they seized Camp Finegan and captured Confederate artillery and supplies. The Confederate forces at Camp Finegan, which had to retreat from the Union invaders, contributed to the Confederate victory at the Battle of Olustee. Camp Finegan became Camp Shaw when it was under Union occupation from summer 1864 to the conclusion of the war. In 2022 no firm evidence of Camp Finegan has been found, making it difficult to accurately determine where it was once located. Camp Milton was saved because it was not consumed by urbanization, unlike Camp Finegan which was most likely developed as the Rolling Hills neighborhood. The site of Camp Finegan is lost to history but it lives on in the Civil War correspondences and histories of that tumultuous time in this part of Florida.

Article by Andrew R. Nicholas. Follow Andrew on Twitter at a_r_nicholas.