Camp Ford

Harper's Weekly, 4 March 1865

Camp Ford, the chief prisoners' camp of Texas, of which we give a sketch on page 132, lies on a sandy side-hill, three miles from the little town of Tyler and one hundred miles west of Shreveport. A slight ravine bounds it on the southerly side, and in this rises a large spring of clear water not remarkable to Northern eyes, but far the best that any Yankee prisoner was ever refreshed with in Texas. Before the war the gay and festive youth of Tyler rode out to picnic at the spring; but now the trees around it have been cut away, its waters turned into a large long trough, and momentarily troubled by dirty panikins and buckets; while a hideous stockade fence cuts the spring in two and encloses many wretched home-sick hearts and weary broken forms. "The treatment of the prisoners," the subject of the day, has varied in a hundred ways. While a few officers were confined there, and the camp was commanded by Colonel Robert T. P. Allen, they were allowed to go out and play ball on parole, and the amiable wife of the Colonel visited their sick and brought them little luxuries of her own preparing. The authorities, however, reprimanded and then removed Colonel Allen for this, and under the rule of Lieutenant Colonel Borde3rs men were shot down without notice, and recaptured fugitives were put in irons. An officer, for the crime of escaping, was made to "mark time" on a stump, bareheaded, in the scorching sun for three days (his guard under orders to shoot him the moment he stopped); an unfortunate sailor, for taking the name and place of a dead soldier, was bound hand and foot and buried alive for forty-eight hours. Filth, disorder, want and wretchedness were allowed to have their way.

The oldest prisoners in the Confederacy are in this camp. Their imprisonment is now measured by years. On 21st January, 1863, the officers and crew of the Morning Light were captured off Sabine, and they still remain prisoners of war. A fatality seems to have attended all the naval prisoners who have found their way to a Texan prison camp. Those of the Clifton and Sachem, captured at Sabine Pass, September 8 1863, also share the same fate. Exchange after exchange of army prisoners takes place, but the boon never reaches these sailors. Soldiers have been taken from the same camp and sent back to our lines who have not been held as prisoners a month. Yet the gallant tars have shown a devotion to their flag unsurpassed, perhaps unequaled during the war. With a feeling that they have suffered gross injustice, with sense of neglect by their own Government, they have never deserted. There have been desertions to the enemy from this camp, but they have not been by sailors.