Life in a Texas Prison Pen
The 48th Ohio at Camp Ford
"Camp Ford, Texas"
Harper's Weekly, March 4, 1865
Following their capture at the Battle of Sabine Crossroads (Mansfield), the soldiers of the 48th Ohio regiment were escorted to Camp Ford, four miles from Tyler, in the northeast corner of Texas. They were among 1,186 men taken by General Richard Taylor's victorious forces, and were quickly joined by many more unfortunate victims of Gen. Nathaniel Banks' disastrous Red River campaign. Within weeks the prison population had swollen to 4,725, creating the overcrowded community in which the men of the 48th would spend the next five months.
Camp Ford had not always been a prison. It was established early in the war as a training facility, a muster point for conscripts from all over northeastern Texas to be inducted into the Confederate army. With a built-in garrison, early in 1863 Camp Ford was a convenient stop-over for occasional small groups of Federal prisoners, as they made their way to the exchange depot on the Red River at Shreveport, Louisiana. However, in July 1863 the first permanent prisoners arrived at the camp, creating a regular population of seventy-two inmates. In late summer and early fall, these were joined by 461 men captured during Confederate raids in southern Louisiana. A. J. H. Duganne was among these new arrivals.
August Joseph Hickey Duganne was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1823. Settling in Philadelphia, he came to public notice as an author of patriotic poems and prose in support of the emerging Nativist movement. Duganne was commissioned Lt. Colonel in the 176th New York Vol. Inf. with which he was dispatched from New York to Louisiana in January 1863. Along with a sizeable portion of his regiment, Duganne was captured at Fort Buchanan, near Brashear City in the spring of 1863. Duganne and his fellow prisoners were first confined in Camp Groce, hear Hemstead, Texas, but were later transferred to Camp Ford, Duganne arriving there in February, 1864.
Duganne's Camps and Prisons: Twenty Months in the Department of the Gulf. chronicles his experiences from his arrival in New Orleans in February, 1863, to his eventual exchange at Shreveport in July, 1864. The last 100 pages of the book describe his life at Camp Ford in some detail, covering the period of six months from his arrival in February 1864 to his departure the following July. It was during Duganne's incarceration at the prison that the soldiers of the 48th OVVI were brought there.
The chapters from Twenty Months in the Department of the Gulf reproduced here provide an excellent compliment to Bering & Montgomery's treatment of Camp Ford in their 1880 regimental history. Duganne's descriptions of camp life are written in an elaborate style, typical of the 19th century, and provide a rich and detailed glimpse of the Camp Ford experienced by the men of the 48th OVVI. Of particular interest is the collection of engravings of camp scenes accompanying the text, a description of the Battle of Mansfield, at which the 48th was captured, and specific references by name to 48th officers.
Click on map to view
location of Camp Ford.
Library of Congress
Camps and Prisons
TWENTY MONTHS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF. BY A. J. H. DUGANNE, AUTHOR OF "A HISTORY OF GOVERNMENTS ;" "FOOTPRINTS OF HEROISM ;" "WAR
IN EUROPE ;" "A COMPREHENSIVE SUMMARY OF HISTORY ;" ETC. ETC.
THIRD EDITION. NEW YORK:
J. P. ROBINS, PUBLISHER,
37 PARK ROW.
Scanned from a copy of the original 12/2000 by Don D. Worth, email@example.com While this book is in the public domain, this digitization is Copyright 2000, Don D. Worth,
and may not be published or reproduced without permission.
CHAPTER XXXV - Camp
Duganne's early days at the prison.
CHAPTER XXXVI - A
Washington's birthday celebration and the prison newspaper.
CHAPTER XXXVII - Bloodhounds.
Escapes and recaptures.
CHAPTER XXXVIII -
Red River Advices.
The Battle of Mansfield.
CHAPTER XXXIX - Immigration
Influx of the Red River prisoners and the 48th OVVI.
CHAPTER XL - A Day
at Camp Ford.
Sunrise to sunset - a typical day in the life of a Camp Ford prisoner.
CHAPTER XLI - Operations
The Battle of Mark's Mills brings more prisoners.
CHAPTER XLII - Prison
Fellow prisoners and a lynching of Union men.
CHAPTER XLIII - Closing
A change in Commandant brings harsher treatment.
CHAPTER XLIV - "Exchanged!"
Duganne is released.
Experiences of Capt. S. A. Swiggett,
36th Iowa Volunteer Infantry
S. A. Swiggett was born in 1834 in Maryland, and, when the Civil War broke out, he was working as a Postmaster in Blakesburg, Iowa. He joined a local company and was mustered into service with the 36th Iowa Infantry in October, 1862. His regiment was sent to Helena, Arkansas to join Gen. Prentiss's forces there and participated in the battle of Helena the following July. Falling under the command of Gen. Steele soon after, his unit marched south to join Gen. Banks at Shreveport in April 1864. While escorting a supply train from Camden to Pine Bluff, Swiggett was captured, along with 34 others from his company, near Mark's Mills, Arkansas. The prisoners were taken to Tyler, arriving in early May, 1864, less than a month after the 48th OVVI joined the prisoners at Camp Ford. Swiggett escaped twice and was recaptured both times. Along with Maj. Bering and Lt. Srofe of the 48th OVVI, his escapes prevented him from being paroled with the rest of his regiment, and he remained in prison to the end of the war. Swiggett claims the dubious distinction of being the last prisoner to leave the Camp Ford compound.
The following are excerpts from Swiggett's memoirs that describe his stay in Camp Ford.
THE Bright Side of Prison Life.
Experiences, In Prison and Out, of an Involuntary
Sojourner in Rebeldom.
By CAPTAIN S. A. SWIGGETT. PRICE $1.25. Press of
FLEET, McGINLEY & CO.
Scanned from a copy of the original 3/2001 by Don D. Worth, firstname.lastname@example.org While this book is in the public domain, this digitization is Copyright 2001, Don D. Worth,
and may not be published or reproduced without permission.
CHAPTER V - The Stockade.
Swiggett's arrival at Camp Ford and early escape attempts.
CHAPTER VI - Incidents.
Roll-calls, a greedy trader, and a prison fight.
CHAPTER VII - Events.
Religion, gambling, and tunneling.
CHAPTER VIII - An
CHAPTER XIII - Incidents,
and Another Escape.
Preparing for winter, and forging a pass.
CHAPTER XXIII -
To Camp Ford and Joy.
Swiggett sits out the remainder of the war.
Charles Cooper Nott (1827-1916) began his Civil War career as a captain in the 5th Iowa Cavalry. In December of 1862, he raised a regiment of infantry for New York, the 176th "Ironsides" Regiment, and became its colonel. The 176th immediately left for the Gulf of Mexico, and served in the defenses in and around New Orleans, where Nott was captured by the enemy in early 1863 and taken to Camp Groce in Texas and later to Camp Ford. In all, he spent almost 13 months in captivity.
The following are excerpts from Nott's book, describing his time at Camp Ford.
A CONTINUATION OF
Sketches of the War
CHARLES C. NOTT
LATE COLONEL OF THE 176TH NEW YORK VOLS.
"On her bier,
Quiet lay the buried year :
I sat down where I could see,
Life without and sunshine free --
NEW - YORK ;:
ANSON D. F. RANDOLPH,
770 BROADWAY, CORNER OF 9TH ST.
While this book is in the public
domain, this digitization is Copyright 2005, Don D. Worth,
and may not be published or reproduced without permission.
CHAPTER IX - A Dinner.
Nott's arrival at Camp Ford and foraging for food.
CHAPTER X - Escape.
An attempt to escape and diggning a tunnel.
CHAPTER XI - Exchange.
A visit by a young poetess, and Nott is paroled.
EXCERPTS RELATED TO CAMP FORD
CAMP FORD PRISON, TYLER, TEXAS
A New York Soldier's Bitter Experience in that Prison Pen,
F. F. COGGIN, 165th New York Volunteers (2d Duryea's Zouaves).
CAMP FORD PRISON.
Cruelty, Starvation and Exposure beyond Endurance.
Experience of DANA W. KING, Nashua, N. H.
Scanned from a copy of the original 10/97 - 12/99 by Don D. Worth, email@example.com
CHAPTERS RELATED TO CAMP FORD
CHAPTER XVI - Prison Life in Texas
The 48th OVVI at Camp Ford.
Escape and Re-capture
of Maj. J. A. Bering and Lieut. W. J. Srofe.
Click above to view letter from Maj. J. A. Bering
to the Commissioner of Exchange following his recapture
Bryan McDade as John Bering in
"Meet Major Bering"
"Meet Major Bering" is a living history program presented in the original courthouse building at the Old Washington Historic State Park in Washington, in Southwest Arkansas. "The time is 1864 and the War Between the States is raging. Meet Major John Bering, a Union prisoner of war who has been brought to Washington, Arkansas. Listen to him as he describes the harrowing story of his escape from a Confederate Prison of War Camp, his recapture, and his impressions of Washington."
Program details and photograph courtesy of:
Old Washington Historic State Park
P.O. Box 98
Washington, AR 71862
1836 Hempstead County Court House in Washington, Arkansas where Bering
and Srofe were held after their recapture.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BRYAN MCDADE
List of 48th OVVI Prisoners at Camp Ford
Provided by Randal Gilbert
Highland Weekly News, 9 June 1864 Highland Weekly News, 17 Nov 1864
In Very Hard Luck
Col. Leake's Command
in Camp Ford Prison, Tex.
National Tribune, Dec. 26, 1889
A List of the Dead at Camp Ford
National Tribune, July 17, 1890
[From Harper's Weekly, March 4, 1865]
CAMP FORD, TEXAS
CAMP FORD, the chief prisoners' camp of Texas, of which we give a sketch on page 132, lies on a sandy side-hill, three miles from the little town of Tyler, and one hundred miles west of Shreveport. A slight ravine bounds it on the southerly side, and in this rises a large spring of clear water not remarkable to Northern eyes, but far the best that any Yankee prisoner was ever refreshed with in Texas. Before the war the gay and festive youth of Tyler rode out to picnic at the spring; but now the trees around it have been cut away, its waters turned into a large long trough, and momentarily troubled by dirty panikins and buckets; while a hideous stockade fence cuts the spring in two and incloses many wretched home-sick hearts and weary broken forms. "The treatment of the prisoners," the subject of the day, has varied in a hundred ways. When a few officers were confined there, and the camp was commanded by Colonel Robert T. P. ALLEN, they were allowed to go out and play ball on parole, and the amiable wife of the Colonel daily visited their sick and brought them little luxuries of her own preparing. The authorities, however, reprimanded and then removed Colonel ALLEN for this, and under the rule of Lieutenant-Colonel BORDERS men were shot down without notice, and recaptured fugitives were put in irons. An officer, for the crime of escaping, was made to "mark time" on a stump, bareheaded, in the scorching sun for three days (his guard under orders to shoot him the moment he stopped); an unfortunate sailor, for taking the name and place of a dead soldier, was bound hand and foot and buried alive for forty-eight hours. Filth, disorder, want, and wretchedness were allowed to have their way.
The oldest prisoners in the Confederacy are in this camp. Their imprisonment is now measured by years. On 21st January, 1863, the officers and crew of the Morning Light were captured off Sabine, and they still remain prisoners of war. A fatality seems to have attended all the naval prisoners who have found their way to a Texan prison camp. Those of the Clifton and Sachem, captured at Sabine Pass, September 8, 1863, also share the same fate. Exchange after exchange of army prisoners takes place, but the boon never reaches these sailors. Soldiers have been taken from the same camp and sent back to our lines who have not been held as prisoners a month. Yet the gallant tars have shown a devotion to their flag unsurpassed, perhaps unequaled during the war. With the feeling that they have suffered gross injustice, with sense of neglect by their own Government, they have never deserted. There have been desertions to the enemy from this camp, but they have not been by sailors.
Confederate Col. R. T. P. Allen, Commader of Camp Ford
Online Information About Camp Ford
CAMP FORD, C.S.A., The largest Confederate Prisoner of War Camp west of the Mississippi River. CAMP FORD: Texas Beyond History
Texas Archeological Research Laboratory
and Texas Archeological Society
Archaeological and Historical Investigations at Camp Ford, Texas, Center for Ecological Archaeology, Texas A&M University Modern Photographs of the site of Camp Ford, from Scott & Gwen Green's John H. Upton page Camp Ford Prison
Smith County Historical Society
Camp Ford, Tyler, Texas
Camp Ford: A Civil War-Era Prisoner-of-War Camp by Dr. Alston V. Thoms POWs, Guards, and Citizens:
A Prison Camp Reveals Complex Ties Among Civil War Populations in Texas by Dr. Alston V. Thoms
Prison Life: from the History of the 77th Illinois Volunteer Infantry by Wm. H. Bentley
from the 77th Ill. Vol. Inf Website
The story of William Ryan who was a prisoner at Camp Ford. By his descendant, Herb Swingle. Other Personal Reminiscences
of Life in Camp Ford Prison
- Green, John W., Camp Ford Prison; And How I Escaped, Toledo, Ohio (Barkdull Printing House), 1893. Reprinted in 1992 by Richard S. Skidmore, The Nugget Publishers, 231 Hillsdale Ave., Greencastle, Indiana 46135.
- Heartsill, W.W., Fourteen Hundred and 91 Days in the Confederate Army, Bell I. Wiley, ed., Jackson, Tennessee (McCowat Mercer Press), 1954.
- MacLean, David G., ed., Prisoner of the Rebels in Texas, The Civil War Narrative of Aaron T. Sutton, Corporal, 83rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Americana Books, Decatur, Indiana, 1978.
Many thanks to the East Texas Historical Association, and, in particular, its Executive Director and Editor, Dr. Archie P. McDonald, for permission to reproduce several illustrations from the book, "Camp Ford: Tyler, Texas, C.S.A.", by Robert Glover. The book provides an excellent history of the camp, from its founding to its abandonment, as well as interesting information about recent archaeological excavations in the area. Copies may be had for $7.50 plus $1.25 S/H by contacting:
Department of History
Stephen F. Austin State University
P.O. Box 6223 SFA Station
Nacogdoches, Texas 75962
Web address: http://www.sfasu.edu/history/