C H A P T E R   X X X I X .


Camp Ford - South View
From a lithograph of a sketch made by James F. McClain
Courtesy of the East Texas Historical Association

ONLY a short time previous to the immigration of Red River prisoners, our numbers had received a large accession by the return of more than seven hundred men from Shreveport, including our sailors and soldiers who had been paroled at Camp Groce, and whom we supposed had long since been forwarded to Federal lines. With the Camp Groce enlisted men came others, who had formerly been confined at Camp Ford, and sent thence to Shreveport on Christmas day of 1863. Dismal had been the experience of the latter poor fellows; bitter their sufferings during a severe winter in a shelterless camp near Shreveport. Even while at Camp Ford, before being marched to Louisiana, these men were destitute of cooking utensils, as well as clothing, and could only prepare mush, instead of bread, in pots loaned them by the guards. On that cold Christmas morning when they left their prison quarters, cherishing delusive hopes of speedy liberation, the half-clad and shivering fellows were obliged to march over the snow and ice that covered the roads. Of the six hundred who started, not two hundred had shoes, or other covering to protect their lacerated feet. They had been constrained to part with their scanty clothing, months before, when, nearly starved, on their marches from the Mississippi into Texas, they gave everything not absolutely necessary to decency in exchange for food wherewith to stop the cravings of hunger. But they were American soldiers -- these suffering captives; and, inspired by longings for liberty which almost banished the sense of pain, they trod manfully forward, tracking the road with bloody footprints. Two days after their departure these mournful impressions of patriot feet could be traced on the snows that surrounded Camp Ford.

Arrived near Shreveport, to which place they were hurried by forced marches, the Federal prisoners were halted at an ice-bound spring, and thereafter told to shelter themselves as they might in the open fields and woods. The arrangements for "exchange" had not been effected; so they were notified; and yet no provisions were made for their comfort or shelter. Bare sustenance was furnished them, in rations of meal, with occasional beef or bacon. In this condition they were placed under a strong guard, and left to shift for themselves.

No one who did not participate in the endurances of these brave men, can realize or depicture those winter months at Shreveport. Some of the naval prisoners, warrant officers, who were confined in the guard-house at Shreveport, were subject to many hardships and privations; but their sufferings were mild in comparison with the exposed dwellers in that bleak camp near the Four Mile Spring. Many were the attempts made by rebel emissaries to seduce our loyal soldiers and sailors from their allegiance to the Union. The seamen, particularly, were approached by every inducement which it was in the power of Treason to present. They were reminded of their daily cruel life, as prisoners, and promised position and liberal wages as workmen on Confederate gun-boats. But our noble tars were steadfast in fidelity to their colors. They had seen their comrades dying of fever, cold and famine. They had been marched over snow and ice, while their blood tracked the path. They were forced to drag fire-wood for miles, in order to cook their scanty rations. They were shot down and hunted by bloodhounds at every attempt to escape! But, God bless them! In Shreveport woods, at night, a score or so would steal off, in groups -- under a clouded sky -- and, while some acted as pickets, a gray-headed tar would draw from his bosom the "Old Flag" -- the "Stars and Stripes," and hoist it on a pole, to wave in a fierce "norther;" while the full hearts of his noble comrades were relieved by a hearty hurrah that startled rebel sentries on their posts, with sudden fear of Yankee insurrection. Then Jack would hide away his flag again, and creep back in the gloom, to his bed on the hard ground, and his breakfast, next morning, of corn-meal, salt and water.

When, in March, these hopeless captives were again removed from Shreveport to Camp Ford, in order to prevent their recapture by the advancing army of General Banks, they presented a spectacle which beggars all effort at portrayal. Numbers were literally naked, save blanket rags fringing their loins. It was like an irruption of squalor and pauperism on Camp Ford. Several log-houses, which they had built before their exodus in December, were restored to them, and a space of about three fourths of our camp-ground was appropriated for their use. More than half their number, however, received speedy orders to take the road again. These were the enlisted men of Lt.-Col. Leake's command, who, as I have before stated, were paroled and reported for "exchange." We bade farewell to them a short time previous to the first arrival of Red River prisoners.

But the influx of immigrants, by the thousand, which followed the disasters to our armies, not only absorbed all the area of "Old Ford Borough," but rendered expansion a public necessity. An order soon came, there-fore, to enlarge the limits of the stockade. This was effected, under Col. Allen's direction, without much expense, by the ingenious expedient of "docking" eight feet from the sixteen-feet split logs that confined us, and using the upper halves as new stockade-posts to enclose the necessary enlargement. Our population swelled rapidly; though materials for building or shelter did not augment proportionably. But, fortunately, the warm weather was at hand, and our new-comers were, as yet, in a healthy condition. They were fresh from camp-life and service; captivity was novel to them; and they soon constituted themselves into messes, arranged their bivouacs in streets, and began to amass green boughs for wigwams, or dig cavernous vaults for troglodytic dwelling. In a short time, Camp Ford, in its increased proportions, began to wear the aspect of an immense bivouac-ground, stretching from side to side of the low stockading.

We had cherished "great expectations" of our agricultural interests before Spring set in. As gentlemen-farmers of the old "Borough," we had laid out kitchen-gardens very extensively. We planted corn, rye, lettuce, sweet potatoes, water-melons, beans, peas, cabbages, and red peppers. We hedged in plots, dug drains, made beds, and fixed our vine-poles. A propitious season and abundant garden-sauce were much prognosticated. But when the ides of April came, and with them General Banks -- as far as Red River; and, when three or four thousand of his troops came some hundreds of miles further, breaking, like an irruption of the Goths, on our peaceful prison-yard, then, alas! our vegetable speculations were nipped with "morus multicaulis" frost-fingers. Sandals of zou-zous, boots of cavalry-men, trampled unheedingly over embryo garden-crops. A clump of tall corn long remained to mark the spot where Captain Hammond used to dig betimes on February mornings; some green sprouts peeped out afterwards from Capt. Fowler's sheltered beds, hard by his log-hut. But all else in the agricultural line yielded to the invaders. Our kitchen-gardens became a reminiscence of the past.


Captain May's map of Camp Ford
From Duganne, Twenty Months in the Department of the Gulf

Click on map above for a composite sketch of Captain May's map, plus other sources, showing approximate locations of known "shebangs" within the archaelogicaly discovered walls of the original stockade.
Courtesy of the East Texas Historical Association.


Fancy -- but no! one cannot fancy a resemblance to our grotesque city of captivity. It is a place of Succoth -- of booth-dwelling in the wilderness. It is a gipsy rendezvous. It is a wigwam metropolis. It is a Tartar encampment, without horses; a Boschman village, without oxen.

Fancy, then, a space of half a dozen acres, enclosed with a stockade of timbers eight feet high. One-sixth of this area is allotted to the officers, who dwell in log-cabins, erected by themselves or purchased from some former tenant. Each cabin hut, or "shebang," as we term it, shelters and accommodates a mess. The numbers of a mess are various; some messes have no more than three, and others muster ten or twelve. These "shebangs" are arranged in streets, right-angled with a central thoroughfare called "Fifth Avenue." Midway, a platform, covered with a canopy of pine boughs, is the market-place. To this, each day, the rebel commissary sends our rations, beef and cornmeal. These are apportioned between messes in the ratio of their numbers, the meat and meal being brought in bulk, and given to the hands of weighers chosen by ourselves from our own officers. The cattle have been butchered by selected men from our own numbers; likewise, these experts enjoy "tit-bits" for themselves, of kidneys, livers, and the like. To this meat-market comes occasionally some venturous farmer of the neighborhood, allowed to be a sutler or purveyor, for the nonce. Unfortunate rustic! Victim, oftentimes, of misplaced confidence! His sugar -- held at thirty dollars a pound -- is scooped up by a dozen hands before he can identify their owners; his turkeys fly away incontinently; his sacks of flour are passed from hand to hand, and nevermore return to him; and woe, O woe! if the poor man have whiskey! Our Yankee foragers allow no smuggling. Neither commandant nor guards were ever able to protect a sutler's stores. Perhaps they had no interest in them. But we counted "Artful Dodgers" in our motley midst, who would have joyed the heart of venerable Fagin! A rebel officer of the day once had his pistol stolen from him at roll-call, and we were threatened a deprivation of our meat-rations till the article should be restored. The threat was never carried out, however. Another day, a rebel officer was relieved of his pipe, and next morning found it in his pocket, with the "Stars and Stripes" carved on its wooden bowl. Our scamps of Yankee prisoners were forever playing tricks on rebel travellers.

During early prison life here, swine were quite numerous around the precincts of Camp Ford, though bacon-rations seldom visited us within. Our boys, however, in going out, under guards, to cut fire-wood, would take occasion, when accompanied by some "Union" Texan, to kill a fine hog or two, and, cutting the flesh into quarters, "pack" it gracefully under sheltering brush. Shouldering their secreted spoils, our foragers could pass the sentries unsuspected; and, then, ho! for a feast, my masters! One day, the rogues "toted" in a long, hollow log, from which a fine grunter was soon "extracted." Captivity is the mother of "strategy."

See, then, this camp! Besides our officers' quarter, with its street of log-huts, each a small community, every doorway shaded by a broad verandah, thick with evergreens, in some streets these verandahs joining midway, so that the whole space between the houses is protected from the sun, which only strikes our porches in checkered light, at sunset, through latticed leaves; besides this area allotted to the officers, our prison habitations stretch on three sides, densely populated as the tenant-houses of a New York ward. What curious abodes! What odd contrivances for shelter! Here upright sticks sustain a simple thatch of leaves; there poles fixed slantwise, and overlaid with bark, compose an Indian lodge. Some householders are satisfied with blankets stretched across two saplings; others make a palisaded mansion, eight feet square, with stakes, inserted in the earth, like picket fences, and covered with a roof of twigs. Another's dwelling is of basket-work, wrought out of ashwood peelings; beyond this is a roof, composed of oak-slabs, slanting from a mud-wall six feet high, down to the ground, and plastered with a layer of clay. Hard by the brook are caverns, excavated in the clay bank, with steep earthen stairways entering to their subterrene apartments. Two parallel avenues are thus occupied by troglodytes. All architectural "styles," from Gothic arches, shaped with curved grapevines, down to nondescript contrivances that beavers would reject for domiciles, are here elaborated or improvised, according to the thrift and taste, or lack of both, which may have characterized the squad or individual.


Return to
Chapter 38

Proceed to
Chapter 40

Return to the 48th Ohio at Camp Ford

Return to the 48th OVVI Home Page