African Americans at Camp Ford

African Americans at Camp Ford (HM14VT)

Location: Tyler, TX 75708 Smith County
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Country: United States of America
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N 32° 23.779', W 95° 16.103'

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???The issues of African Americans in the military became a keystone of controversy involving the politics of prisoner of war exchange. This issue did not start in the east, but in the theater of the Mississippi river, and Camp Ford became a critical part in the drama.

???African Americans were involved with Camp Ford from its beginning as a prison camp. Local slave labor built the stockade. There were four white officers of black troops detained in the facility, and at least 27 black naval personnel were held here. Sadly their names cannot be identified , as they were used apparently as a labor source for their captors. After the February 1865 exchange, Lt. Frederick Crocker of the USS Cliffton made a strong report that the Confederate exchange commissioners had violated the exchange agreement and had refused to release 27 black seamen, who were "held to labor" at Camp Ford. Late in the war, confederate accounts refer to using 27 black laborers to dig a trench to prevent tunneling, and is assumed that these were the same men.

???Intense political issues accompanied the question of what to do with prisoners of war during the Civil War. Early in the conflict, some northern politicians advocated that captured Confederates be treated as traitors and subject to summary execution. However, as the north held more prisoners, threats of retaliation forced both sides to face the issue of formal POW exchanges. Talks were begun, and in June of 1862 the Dix-Hill Cartel establishing procedures for parole and exchange of prisoners were approved. This pact utilized a ratio of one private, two privates for a corporal, three for a sergeant, and so on. When captured, most prisoners were paroled, taking an oath that they would not take up arms until formally exchanged.

???In mid 1862, the North began experimenting with recruiting African-Americans into the army. The most significant early recruiting efforts occurred in the west, where five regiments of the Corps d' Afrique were raised in Louisiana. President Jefferson Davis ordered the suspension of exchange of officers in early 1863, and the balance of the cartel was repudiated in July 1863, partially over the issue of the south refusing to recognize the legitimacy of African American soldiers.

???The fears of large numbers of black soldiers caused the Confederacy to react to this threat, foreseeing hordes of freed slaves in blue ravaging the countryside. Although the fears were to be unfounded, the political legacy it generated would last to the end of the war.

???The policy in the South varied as to what to do with captured blacks and their white officers. Some advocated summary executions, others urged re-enslavement, and some suggested that the treatment of blacks in the US Army was so bad, that they should be welcomed and treated kindly to foment desertion.

???With the breakdown in the exchange system in the early summer of 1863, the respective Trans- Mississippi commanders were left to their own devices for handling the POW issue, each appointing their own commissioners for exchange to deal with the opposing side.

???General Nathaniel P, Banks, commanding the US Department of the Gulf adopted the policies and ratios of the Dix-Hill Cartel in dealing with his Confederate counterparts. However, Banks imposed the requirement that any agreements for exchange should make no "distinction as to corps." In other words, there could be no discrimination as to captured black troops or their white officers. In the late spring of 1864 the two commanders established their own exchange agreement.

???It is probable that this issue was the primary reason for selecting Tyler as the location of Richard Taylor's prison camp. He could deposit his prisoners in Texas and selectively transfer them to camps in Shreveport, and legitimately assert that any black troops or their white officers were in Texas and not subject to jurisdiction.

???There were never large numbers of African-American POW's at Camp Ford, but the political and legal issues surrounding them had a significant impact on its establishment. Although initially threatened with severe treatment, nothing came of it for the hadfull [sic] of white officers and most were exchanged in the July 1864 transfer.
HM NumberHM14VT
Placed BySmith County Historical Society
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Sunday, October 12th, 2014 at 10:20pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)15S E 286641 N 3586629
Decimal Degrees32.39631667, -95.26838333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 32° 23.779', W 95° 16.103'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds32° 23' 46.74" N, 95° 16' 6.18" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)903
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 4051 N Northeast 323 Loop, Tyler TX 75708, US
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