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This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Whenever I watched the encampments of Civil War reenactors at McClellan park in the Village of East Davenport, it was from a safe distance. While I admired their painstaking attempts to be authentic in dress and living conditions, bootcamp was never my idea of a pleasant weekend. That is until I came across the diary of Basil H. Messler, who was mustered into the Union Army at Camp McClellan, that very location, in March of 1864.

During the Civil War, Camp McClellan was one of the largest collecting points for volunteers from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Here they received basic training, some drills, before heading south for further training, or to the war itself.

Messler arrived at Davenport on Saturday, February 27th. After presenting himself at the recruiting office and filling out his papers in duplicate and taking a doctor's exam, he was given a furlough for the weekend. He put up at the Pennsylvania House in Davenport, took dinner and attended the theater with several other enlistees

Sunday, he strolled around town and went to church. On Monday, he reported to Camp McClellan, was mustered into the service for three years unless sooner discharged. He was given a local bounty to buy supplies. By noon he was back in Davenport, where he bought a sky-blue vest and a large trunk before strolling around town all evening.

Private Messler returned to Camp McClellan on Tuesday but finding nothing much going on. He returned to town, took a nap, and then had oysters and coffee at Charlie Bell's Saloon. On Wednesday, he decided to visit home near Galesburg, Illinois to see old friends. He returned to Camp McClellan in time for payday on March 21st, which he spent in Davenport on theater, hotels and good food.

On Wednesday, March 23rd, Basil Messler and 600 fellow recruits finally left by train for a camp at Memphis. He had spent one night in the barracks at Camp McClellan; it was too rainy and cold to go out.

Now that I have an authentic daily diary as a guide, I think I might be interested in joining the Civil War reenactors, playing Basil Messler. The Pennsylvania House is gone, of course, but the Radisson should do just fine.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.