Camp Discharge

Rediscovering Camp Discharge

Visiting the Site

The Camp Discharge location is privately owned and off limits to the general public — except for a lone, legal avenue of access for the hiker, the Sid Thayer trail, a blazed footpath (0.9 miles one way) that is part of Lower Merion Township’s Bridlewild Trail system.

The walk offers views of the Schuylkill River (and Expressway) and takes you into a corner of Lower Merion where remnants of our 18th and 19th-century farming heritage persist. You will see several dry stone walls that demarcate 170-year-old property lines and the remains of Joseph Kirkner’s farmhouse, barn and springhouse that predate Camp Discharge.

Camp perimeter

Parade ground

Sid Thayer trail (public access)

farm lane and building ruins

audio description location

The Camp perimeter and parade ground are based on locations and measurements in the 1864 architect’s plan.

Our trail description starts from Riverbend Environmental Education Center, at the eastern end of Spring Mill Road in Gladwyne.

A Native Son’s Journey

Most people, even those living nearby, have no idea there was once a Civil War post located here. But Brad Upp knew. During his boyhood in Gladwyne, he read about the camp, hiked the area with his friends and vowed to learn more.

man in overalls stands in deep pit holding a dirt-caked glass bottle
Brad Upp excavates

In the book Back From Battle, Brad tells the full, entertaining story of his Camp Discharge journey. He moved away, became a Civil War re-enactor and took up metal-detecting on Civil War sites, mostly in the South. Back in Gladwyne, Brad began uncovering artifacts. His excitement grew when he located images of the camp roster, and the singular old photo of the camp itself, seen in its glory from across the river. Jerry Francis, president of the Lower Merion Historical Society, helped him secure limited permission from The Philadelphia Country Club, owner of the property, to continue metal-detecting on the grounds. Even more relics emerged.

Partners in Research

Jerry saw the makings of an exciting project with much wider interest. He reached out to Lower Merion resident Jim Remsen, a retired journalist who had already researched and written two books about other forgotten aspects of local history.

Jim and Brad plunged into a fruitful two-year research sojourn. They visited archives in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Wilmington, Norristown, Chester and Washington, D.C. It proved an emotional experience, too, from the ecstatic (uncovering blueprints of the camp and its buildings) to the sobering (encountering the suffering and struggles revealed in military pension files).

Writing and Digging

head and shoulders portrait of man with glasses
Jim Remsen

One of Jim’s goals was to identify the Camp Discharge men who had survived imprisonment at Confederate hands. By the time the book was published, Jim’s POW list stood at 490 men, 44% of the 1,118 soldiers mustered out at Camp Discharge. Brad and Jim investigated each of those 1,118, plus the 642 who served at the camp as garrison guards. The massive roster names and profiles each of those men.

Jim pulled all their information together into a book-length narrative that chronicles the camp, its men, and its place in military and local history. Brad functioned as editor and fact-checker, and scoured the internet for images of the Camp Discharge men. All the while, Brad continued his excavations at the camp site—outings that continue to this day.

A few of the artifacts unearthed on the site: bottles, buttons, wedding rings