CAMP FORD PRISON,
A New York Soldier's Bitter Experience in that Prison Pen, F. F. COGGIN, 165th New York Volunteers (2d Duryea's Zouaves).
CAMPFIRE SKETCHES AND BATTLEFIELD ECHOS OF THE REBELLION
Compiled by W. C. King & W.P. Derby, of 27th Mass. Reg.
W.C. King & Co., Publishers,
WHEN I reached Camp Ford, which as simply a stockade, inclosing, as nearly as I can recollect, about fifteen acres, and about four miles from the town of Tyler, there were several hundred prisoners in the place, including the crew of the Morning Light, captured at Galveston, and also those of the gunboats Clifton and Sachem, taken during the ill-fated Sabine Pass expedition. They had built comparatively comfortable headquarters, - a log-house, &c., - cutting their timber in the adjacent woods, under guard, and bringing it upon their backs to the camp. The sudden increase of the camp had not been provided for. The delegation of prisoners captured at Sabine crossroads and Pleasant Hill numbered several thousand, and included men belonging to the 13th, 16th, and 19th corps, General Lee's cavalry division, and a part of General Steel's, forces. On our arrival we found no shelter, other than the sky. Our clothing was of all sorts. Some of us had on original uniforms, while many had parted with their clothing and other valuables at the "urgent" demand of their captors, and had received in exchange clothes which had survived their usefulness. The rations furnished were supposed to be one pint of meal (cob and all), one-half pound of beef, and once in a while a few ounces of bacon in place of the beef, each day. These were supplied when they felt so disposed, or the mill hadn't "broken down," or the "creek was low," so that the wagon could cross. We also had a small ration of salt occasionally.
The cooking utensils consisted of one skillet to about fifty men, and one iron pot to every two skillets, so that at every fire you would see a crowd of men waiting for the "dodger" to be cooked, so as to obtain the skillet to cook for themselves.
The weather during the summer of '64 was very warm and many deaths occurred in the stockade. There was a so-called hospital outside of the stockade, but, judging from the number who entered it and the few who came out alive, the motto of Dante's Inferno would have been an appropriate inscription for its doors.
The guards were Colonel Sweet's Texans. They had been to the front, and used us comparatively well. The pressing need of the Confederacy for fighting men resulted in their being relieved by conscripts, composed of boys under fourteen and men over sixty, and their treatment of us was a little short of barbarous. One of these guards, a boy about twelve years of age, emptied his double-barreled shotgun into a soldier of the 173d New York, and he gave as a reason for this murder that he had promised his mother to "kill a Yankee." On another occasion the prison adjutant, - one Lieutenant McCann, who never entered the prison except on horseback, revolver in hand, - finding at the morning count of prisoners that one of the wards was a man short, and having been told that the man was sick and lying in a brush hut, he rode up to the hut, ordered the man out, and on his not appearing - being in a dying condition and unable to rise - he shot him dead, with the remark, " I'll learn you Yankees to obey my orders." Only the presence of a strong force of armed guards prevented a righteous punishment from being meted out to the murderer then and there. These are but two of many incidents which I could give to illustrate the vindictive feeling which the guards had towards the unfortunate prisoners temporarily left in their power.
The long rows of unmarked graves on the hillside at Camp Ford are mute though powerful witnesses of the treatment received by the men confined in the "pen."
Of the thirty-one men who were captured on the 9th of April, 1864, but four remained to tell the story when we again entered our lines on the 27th of May, 1865. A few escaped, and were never heard from; the rest sleep the long sleep that knows no waking, on the hillside at old Camp Ford.
At different times, several hundreds were exchanged, but it was my fortune to remain till the final collapse of the rebellion. Rumors of a parole were prevalent all through the winter's captivity, but it was not until the middle of May, '65, that we were notified that we would be paroled and sent to our lines. The news seemed too good to be true. That afternoon we were paroled and the next morning commenced our march towards Shreveport, where, on our arrival we found things in general disorder. The Confederate soldiers were helping themselves to horses and mules and starting for home.
At Shreveport we were placed upon three steamboats - the Nina Lemus, Judge Fletcher, and General Quitman, and started on our way down the Red river to "God's country."
On the morning of the 27th of May, '65, we entered the Mississippi under a flag of truce, and found ourselves in the presence of a fleet of gunboats over each of which floated the glorious old flag - the flag for which we had endured so much, and whose stripes and stars had been so long only a memory to us.
We landed on the east side of the river, and found campers there waiting to receive us, if I remember rightly, the 48th Ohio, with long rows of fires burning, kettles of meat and "Lincoln coffee" and boxes of hard-tack. We ate and drank our fill for the first time in more than a year.
This ended my captivity - an experience which I am not likely ever to forget.
Return to the 48th Ohio at Camp Ford