The Experiences of Lt. John W. Dana
at Camp Ford

Contributed by his Great Grandson, Dana Peckworth of Wilmington, NC

John Winchester Dana of Portland, ME volunteered in Oct. 1863 and was assigned to Co.A, 12th Maine. He was in New Orleans after it was captured by Union forces and subsequently was assigned and trained in the Signal Corps. On Sept. 8, 1863, while serving as a signal officer on the Gunboat Clifton, he was wounded and taken prisoner during the ill-fated Battle of Sabine Pass. He was taken first to Houston, then Camp Groce, and ultimately to Camp Ford in Jan. 1864. He was freed with a prisoner exchange at the end of June 1864.

Here is an excerpt from his letters:

Camp Ford, Near Tyler, Texas, January 12, 1864

My dear Father:

     Since last writing you from Camp Groce, the federal prisoners there have been marched to this place, where we are all living in log houses. It is a much healthier place than Camp Groce, and my health is excellent. Several of the officers here have received letters from home, so if I remain here until this reaches you, possibly a letter from you may reach me, if brief and containing nothing contraband.

                         Goodbye. Love to all
                         Yr. aff. son, John W. Dana

He wrote a similar letter to his friend in the Signal Corps, Capt. S.M. Eaton. Freeman H. Chase, a fellow prisoner in John's "Mess", who wrote about his experience in more detail in "A Story of Adventures and Incidents in a Rebel Prison in Texas." Maine Bugle IV (1897): p35 (which I found in the library at the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle, PA.) The following is quoted from that article:

Our original forty-two, who went to Texas, stuck together, more than a band of brothers. Our troubles, our isolation, our privations, and our joint misfortunes cemented us together. Not a serious trouble occurred during our thirteen months together. Bickerings from our nervousness were soon forgotten. One old man, a quartermaster, died and was buried in our camp. . . . We were signally exempt from serious illness. We took stringent rules for our health, policing our camp and daily life. All seemed to be fine men. We had a weekly prayer-meeting and Sunday services, and a number were baptized. We had a literary club for discussions, published The Camp Ford News, had a base-ball club, a cavalry drill, a dance ground, and a chess club. Card playing was universal, and dozens of other things got up to pass away our time. United States officers generally have good educations, and we had among us men of many trades, and if anything was needed to be done, someone was able to do it. Some always gay, some story tellers, mechanics, and others ready speakers and athletes. We had a gymnasium, organized by Lieutenant Dana of the Twelfth, signal officer, who was with us, taken at Sabine Pass, who was an immense favorite in our camp. He was a favorite in the colonel's family who guarded us, and seemed to be well acquainted with certain young ladies of the household. [John was 21 and a bachelor at that point in his life!]

In a letter written by John Dana's son, Samuel T. Dana, in 1974, he talks about his father's life in the POW camp:

While at Camp Groce and Camp Ford his brief letters to family and friends (which were of course read by the Confederate officers in charge) stated that he was well, in good spirits, and was being well treated. The actual facts are given in the enclosed copy of a letter of July 29, 1864, to his father. [my note: unfortunately this letter has been lost.] It was such a gruesome experience that he did not like to talk about it later in life. Although he was apparently in good health when exchanged, the hardships he suffered must have taken their toll. From the time I first knew him, he was afflicted by severe rheumatism and catarrh, and prison life may have had something to do with the Bright's disease from which he eventually died. He emerged from the conflict as a hater of war, which he regarded as the worst evil that could befall mankind.

 

 

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