Camp Ford 11
daring proposal, however, was dropped. Target date for comple-
tion of the tunnel was the evening of April 15, when the moon
would be favorable. But the battle of Mansfield, Louisiana, on
April 8, proved a disaster not only to the Federal army under
General Banks but also to the officers at Ford. On April 15,
the day the tunnel was to have been completed, the Confederates
found it necessary to enlarge the area of the stockade, and the
prisoners' proposed exit turned out to be in the middle of the
During 1863 and the first few months of 1864 the health at
Camp Ford appears to have been remarkably good. The prisoners
sent from Shreveport at the end of March and the new ones from
Banks's army do not appear to have altered this situation, but
about the time of the arrival of the prisoners from Arkansas there
was a sharp reversal.
The healthy character of our camp changed in a single week. Dis-
ease and death followed each other quickly in. The friendless sick lay
shelterless on the ground around us, the sun scorching and blighting
them by day, and the cold Texan night-wind smiting them by night.
We walked over the dying and the dead, whenever we moved, and saw
and heard their miseries through every hour. Besides the gate stood
a pile of coffins, reminding all who went out and came in, of their
probable impending fate.89
There is evidence that this picture is overdrawn or that the
condition was temporary. A chaplain who was held at the prison
during May and June, 1864, recalled later:
The health of the prison was remarkable, and disappointed many
apparently well grounded fears. Had anyone told me that I could live
six weeks, when turned into that pen, I would have thought him a fool.
But out of a hundred and thirty men of our regiment, we lost only
two in fourteen months.40
The historian of the 42nd Massachusetts, concerned with the
period down to July 9, 1864, thought the death rate at Ford was
88Nott, Sketches in Prison Camps, 182-184, 188-189, 192.
4oMcCulloch, Reminiscences, in Baker, Camp Ford, 94. Illinois, Adjutant General's
Office, Report ... for the Years x86z-z866, revised by Brigadier General J. W. Vance,
Adjutant General (8 vols.; Springfield, 1886), IV, 649, 651, 658, 663, 666, 673, appears
to list six deaths in the 77th Illinois at Camp Ford.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 66, July 1962 - April, 1963. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101196/. Accessed May 2, 2016.