Camp Ford: A Prisoner of War Stockade at Tyler Texas
Ironically, after reading Kantor’s Andersonville, I discovered the existence of another prisoner of war camp, Camp Ford, within easy driving distance. It is located four miles northwest of Tyler, Texas, just off Loop 271. On my way to visit my parents in Kemp, Oklahoma, I stopped and checked it out. The marker at the site says:
On this site during the Civil War was located Camp Ford, the largest prisoner of war compound for Union troops west of the Mississippi River, named in honor of Col. John S. ‘Rip’ Ford who originally established a training camp here in 1862. It was converted in the summer of 1863 to a prison camp.
It first consisted of four to five acres enclosed by a stockade sixteen feet high. In the spring of 1864 following the Confederate victories at Mansfield, Louisiana and Mark’s Mills, Arkansas the enclosure was doubled to accommodate the large influx of prisoners. Approximately 4700 Federals were confined here during this period. This overcrowded condition was somewhat relieved through a series of prisoner of war exchanges between the North and the South.
Union soldiers representing nearly one hundred different regiments plus sailors from gunboats and transports were confined here. In addition there were imprisoned Union sympathizers, spies, and even Confederate deserters.
The prisoners constructed their own shelters ranging from log huts and burrows called “shebangs” to brush arbors and tents made of blankets. A spring located about 100 yards southwest of this marker furnished an ample supply of good water. Their meager rations, essentially the same as that of their guards, usually consisted of beef and corn meal and were sometimes supplemented by vegetables purchased from nearby farms.
Although escape attempts were frequent, very few were successful due to the long distance to Union lines and the difficulty in eluding the tracking hounds used by the Confederate guards.
Even though conditions were primitive it compared favorably with the other Civil War prison camps. Camp Ford continued to serve as a prison until the surrender of the Trans-Mississippi Department in May, 1865. It was later destroyed by Federal occupation troops.
You can read more about Camp Ford here: http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/ford/index.html