CAMP FORD PRISON.
CRUELTY, STARVATION AND EXPOSURE BEYOND ENDURANCE.

EXPERIENCE OF DANA W. KING, NASHUA, N. H.

Excerpted from
CAMPFIRE SKETCHES AND BATTLEFIELD ECHOS OF THE REBELLION
Compiled by W. C. King & W.P. Derby, of 27th Mass. Reg.
W.C. King & Co., Publishers,
Springfield, Mass.
1887

LONG will live the memory of Camp Ford. This prison was a stockade, covering about seven acres of ground, on a sunny slope not far from Tyler, Texas. At the southeast corner of the inclosure was a spring strongly impregnated with sulphur, but its supply of water was sadly inadequate for the 4,600 men confined there during 1864. There was hardly enough for cooking and drinking, and to secure this men would have to stand in the hot sun, shoeless, hatless, and shirtless, awaiting an opportunity to fill their gourds. Washing per se was sadly neglected. Within fifty feet of the outside of the stockade was a much larger spring, but this was reserved for the rebel guards. Booths of brush were constructed by some, and a few of the earlier comers were fortunate enough to get a few logs with which to build a cover, but by far the larger number had holes in the ground or no shelter at all. The men dropped themselves into the holes, feet first, and, during the winter, obtained partial protection from the bleak winds; but when a northeast rain storm set in the waters soon drove the men from the holes and there was no escape from standing in the cold wind and rain. Constant exercise to keep up circulation and warmth was the only safeguard.

Of clothes, many had a simple pretense; and quite a number were reduced to a rag around their loins. It was no uncommon thing for a man in anticipation of death to sell such apparel as he might have for food, the purchaser to take the clothes from the body of the seller after death. To such an extent did comrades suffer from hunger that in cases they have sold their clothes to one, two; and three different parties before they died. Of course in such cases it resulted in serious and bitter quarrels as to the ownership of the rags. At no time was fuel furnished but for cooking purposes, and then very meagerly; yet there was just outside forests in abundance. For a little time details of men were allowed to go out for wood, but the number attempting to escape soon cut off this privilege. A pint of meal, - corn and cob ground together, - a small piece of blue beef, constituted a day's rations. Many were too reduced to eat such food, but nothing else was furnished, and even this was raw. The writer has seen a man just at the gates of death eagerly clutching and gibberishly talking to an ear of corn, as though it were an inestimable treasure. The enemy frequently quoted their abundant supply of corn as an evidence of their ability to continue the contest until victory should crown their effort. The ground was alive with vermin and of necessity the living suffered indescribably from them. Only the maggots would feed upon the festering corpse; other vermin would leave the victim as soon as dead and seek if possible to increase the swarms already covering the living. The anguish of lingering deaths suffered by comrades, if possible to describe, would haunt the reader with a specter so horrid as to blast every pleasure of life. The atmosphere was poisoned from the sinks which occupied the upper part of the inclosure. No attempt at removing or covering the excrement was made, and so night and day it was breeding disease and death.

There was little that comrades could do for each other; it was an individual struggle for life. The sun by day and the dews and chills of night induced typhus and typhoid fever; chronic diarrhea was alarmingly prevalent; the lack of vegetables induced scurvy, while the poisoned air gave death a mortgage upon all, and in many cases it was speedily foreclosed. The dead line, imaginary in itself, was made real by the forms of those who fell from rebel bullets. Murder was at a premium, and he who could circumvent the death of a Yankee was furloughed or promoted, and no questions asked. One man on his knees, and engaged in prayer in a prayer-meeting,-think of it, a prayer-meeting there!-was shot dead. His murderer was promoted. Bloodhounds were there to outstrip the adventurous one who would attempt to escape, and if he escaped being mangled by the hounds, he could mark time all day in the scorching sun, at the point of the bayonet, knowing, if he faltered but a step, it was instant death or being hung up by the thumbs, until death itself would seem a glad relief. The insubordination of any person furnished an excuse for cutting off the rations from the whole camp. Thus, the soldier of the Union endured and suffered; and, alas! how many died, until the glad hour of peace brought back hope and home, and a grand realization of all for which they fought and waited?


 

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