Ford is the subject of an informative monograph written by Dr.
Robert Glover and published by the East Texas Historical
The Confederacy located Camp Ford near Tyler
in 1862 as a training camp for conscripts and named it in honor
of Colonel John S. (Rip) Ford. It is much better known as the largest
prisoner of war facility located west of the Mississippi River.
Union prisoners were detained at Camp Ford in an open area until
late in 1863, when local citizens, fearing escapes, erected a stockade
that enclosed two or three acres. Prisoners had to erect their own
shelters, called "shebangs," that mostly were constructed of brush
and other available materials scrounged from with the stockade.
When this was depleted, guarded work parties were allowed out of
the stockade to scavenge for more brush and logs.
At first the prisoners fared about as well as could be expected.
Their rations equaled those allotted their guards and they sold
or bartered goods such as brooms, clay dishes, and other articles
they made from available resources for food and clothing.
One enterprising prisoner "published" a newspaper titled The Old
Flag. Actually, it was hand copied, then sold again and again until
returned to the publisher, who ended up with the money from the
original sale and the newspaper itself, which eventually was smuggled
out of the camp.
Conditions in the camp deteriorated after the spring of 1864 when
too many prisoners from battles at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill in
Louisiana joined others who already had pretty well filled up the
stockade. Because of dwindling supplies, the Confederacy was not
able to increase rations, so all suffered.
About 6,000 Union military personnel were held in Camp Ford over
a two-year period. Their numbers were down to just over 1,200 when
the war ended in 1865.
The story of prisoners of war during the Civil War is not one of
success for either the Union or the Confederacy. Most historians
conclude that for the most part the Confederacy did about as well
as it could with its more limited supplies.
In recent years a group of Smith
County historians led by Glover have attempted to recreate portions
of Camp Ford so visitors can learn more about this portion of the
Civil War in Texas.
October 14-20, 2001
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers