A Visit to Camp Ford
The Largest Confederate Prison
Camp West of the Mississippi

(Part 1)



Camp Ford

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.

Camp Ford is located about 4 miles
Northeast of downtown Tyler, Texas,
on Highway 271.


The original enclosure was built in the summer of 1863, but was later enlarged in April 1864 to accomodate a large influx of prisoners taken during the Red River Campaign. Much of the site has been affected by cut and fill, terracing, and other modern construction. However, enough remained intact that an extensive archaeological project was successfully conducted by Texas A&M University in 1997 and 1998.
USGS Aerial Photograph, 19 Jan 1995.

Adaptation of a map by one of the prisoners of the original enclosure.
(Same orientation as aerial photograph above.)
Courtesy of the East Texas Historical Association.


The site slopes gently uphill from the southern edge. The
"sulpher spring" mentioned by many prisoners has
shifted from its original position (from just below the picnic bench
symbol to a point further southeast), but still feeds Sulpher
Spring Creek at lower right.
USGS Topographic Map

Unless otherwise noted, all photos are courtesy of
Bruce Schulze, CivilWarAlbum.com
Thanks Bruce!



Camp Ford:


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