Heritage, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1996 Page: 17
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The Camp Ford captives represented
about 100 different regiments from 17
states, including two Southern states. Artillery
and signal corps units, steam and
gunboat crews, Union sympathizers, suspected
spies, and a correspondent from
the New York Herald who had been captured
on board the Queen of the West
added to the amalgam of prisoners represented
at Camp Ford.
In spite of this diversity and overcrowding,
the prisoners, for the most part, evinced
good morale and obedience to their superiors.
The Mansfield captives, some 1,100
strong, showed their spirit by loudly singing
"The Battle Cry of Freedom" while
marching through Marshall enroute to
prison. Through the exertion of Union
Colonel Charles C. Nott, morale was somewhat
improved by the serving of a Christmas
dinner, concocted of a variety of food
and substitutes that had been gleaned from
the prison neighborhood.
Other morale-building pastimes included
square dancing, musical concerts,
wrestling, ball playing, working with parallel
bars, or simply walking in circles
around a "pen". It has been claimed that
the first game of baseball played in Texas
was presented by Camp Ford prisoners who
brought Union General Abner Doubleday's
One of the most remarkable enterprises
undertaken at Camp Ford was the publica
tion of several newspapers. Captain William
H. May was the editor, printer, publisher,
and distributor of this publication,
which bore the patriotic title of "The Old
Flag". May's ability as composer and editor
was better than average, and under the
circumstances, he did a commendable job.
Using borrowed paper and, as he described,
"Secesh" ink, he laboriously hand printed,
using a steel pen, every word on the fourpage
paper. He would then sell this one
copy to some inmate for five dollars in gold.
In this manner, it circulated from hand to
hand until every prisoner had read the
copy. Having originally reserved the right
to the return of the paper, he ended up in
possession of his creation, dog-eared and
worn but still legible.
There were only three issues of The Old
Flag printed, dated February 17, March 1,
and March 13, 1864. When May was exchanged,
he sewed the three copies under
his epaulets, smuggled them home, and
later had a limited number of facsimile
reproductions of these priceless documents
Escapes from Camp Ford were not difficult.
Methods of getting outside the walls
varied from complex to simple. The most
elaborate efforts were tunneling, several of
which were attempted and a few successfully
completed. Other methods included
forging false passes and just walking away,
to concealment in refuse carts to be hauled
off. One man took the identity of a deceased
member of a regiment who was
about to be exchanged. But, regardless of
method, most escapees were recaptured
within a few miles of the prison, being
tracked by hounds and Confederate cavalry.
Those who eluded their captors had
to make their way across 300 miles of
Rebel countryside before reaching Union
The news of the collapse of the Confederacy
in the east reached those in and
around Camp Ford in late April 1865.
Demoralization and desertion marked the
rapid disintegration of the Trans-Mississippi
Confederacy. For the Union prisoners
there were no close Federal armies to
help them and Rebel control was fast disappearing,
leaving them to an uncertain fate.
Fortunately, the familiar Confederate parole
officer arrived on May 13 and notified
them to prepare to march to Shreveport.
All were to be exchanged.
Federal occupation troops destroyed
what remained of Camp Ford that summer.
The last vestiges of the stockade and log
structures returned to the earth in the years
that followed, and the location of the old
walls will have to await time and funds for
modem archaeological research and excavation.
This plan, though, is currently one step
closer to reality. The Smith County Historical
Society has received a dollar-matching
grant through the
Transportation to enhance
the Camp Ford
site. An archaeological
survey is part of the program
along with the development
of nature trails
and interpretive signage.
Perhaps in time the old
stockade at Camp Ford
can be fully restored for
posterity and as a memorial
to those who lived
and died there so long
Dr. Robert W. Glover is
program director of the Department
ofHistory at Tyler
Junior College. He coauthored
the book "Camp
Ford C.S.A" (1964), along
This etching of Camp Ford shows the hard conditions under which the prisoners were forced to exist. Photo courtesy of the with the late Tyler attorney
Archives Division - Texas State Library, Austin. F. Lee Lawrence.
HERITAGE * SUMMER 1996 17
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1996, periodical, Summer 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45405/m1/17/: accessed January 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.