Camp Ford - Early Days as a Prison Camp

Camp Ford - Early Days as a Prison Camp (HM14W5)

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° 16.102'

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???During the winter of 1863-64 the camp housed only about 170 prisoners, mostly officers. Life was generally pleasant and the men were well treated. Prison crafts and endeavors flourished. Fairly substantial log cabins were erected. Streets were laid out and named, and Captain William May of the 23rd Connecticut even produced three issues of a hand lettered prison newspaper The Old Flag. Most important for the future, Captain Amos Johnson of the USS Sachem was named "commissioner of Aqueducts" and developed a series of catch basins in the spring branch, one for drinking, one for washing, and one for bathing.

Enlargement of the Stockade

???In early March 1864, with the threat of the Union advance on Shreveport, the 700 prisoners from Shreveport were marched back to Tyler. On April 8th and 9th 1864, at the battled of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, Confederate forces captured more than 2,000 Union soldiers, who were quickly marched to Tyler. The Camp Commander, Col. R.T.P. Allen, recieved orders on April 12 to prepare for the new inmates. The existing stockade did not have sufficient area to house them, and an emergency enlargement was undertaken. Local slaves were again impressed, the north and east wall dug up and the logs cut in half, and the top ten feet of the logs of the south and west walls were cut off. The resulting half logs gave sufficient timbers to quadruple the area of the stockade, and it was expanded to about eleven acres.
??? With additional battles in Arkansas and Louisiana, the prison population had grown to around 5,000 by mid June. Hard-pressed CS officials had no ability to provide shelter for the new prisoners, and their suffering was intense. The number of tools was inadequate, and many men could only dig holes in the ground for shelter. Rations were often insufficient and the death rate soared, but nowhere to the levels of other prisons. Of the 316 total deaths at the camp, 232 occurred between July and November 1864. Probably the most significant factor for the Camp's low death rate was Captain Johnson's catch basins' that kept the camp's water from being contaminated.

Summer of 1864

??? Feeding over 5,000 prisoners placed a strain on the Smith County area, and efforts were made to reduce the population at the Camp. Camp Groce was reopened and on July 4, 504 prisoners were sent there. On July 22, 856 of the early prisoners captured in Louisiana were paroled and sent to Shreveport for exchange.
???The prison settled into a period of grim boredom. An open area at the top of the hill was used for playing baseball, and it was circled by a track or "ring" where prisoners would aimlessly walk for hours.
???With the approach of fall, the prisoners felt it imperative to have better quarters and made pleas to the US military to supply clothing and tools. In a convoluted trade for Confederate cotton, those items were sent through the lines in mid September. With further exchange of another 800 prisoners in October, the remaining men were able to erect sufficient log huts for the upcoming winter.
HM NumberHM14W5
Placed BySmith County Historical Society
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Saturday, October 18th, 2014 at 5:25am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)15S E 286643 N 3586629
Decimal Degrees32.39631667, -95.26836667
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 32° 23.779', W 95° 16.102'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds32° 23' 46.74" N, 95° 16' 6.12" 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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