Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Ghosts of Douglas the Camel

In the summer of 1863 the brave men of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry, Company A, were part of the forces manning the earthwork fortifications surrounding the city of Vicksburg. By their side was a most peculiar sight - their faithful mascot, "Douglas the Camel," which gave this unit its nickname as the ‘Camel Regiment.’

Doug Baum and Friends
This summer,visitors to Vicksburg National Military Park were able to see two of Douglas' descendants thanks to US. Camel Corps re-enactor Doug Baum.  Mr. Baum brought his two camels, Douglas and Ibrahim to the park.

The "Camel Regiment" story begins on April 26, 1843, when Captain George H. Crosman encouraged the U.S. Department of War to use camels for transportation. His report was ignored until 1847-48 when his suggestion and comments by of Major Henry C. Wayne got the attention of Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. When Davis became Secretary of War in 1853 he proposed using camels to operate in the arid and desert regions of the West.

Davis wanted to improve Army transportation in the southwestern US.  In his annual report for 1854, Davis wrote, "I again invite attention to the advantages to be anticipated from the use of camels and dromedaries for military and other purposes..." On March 3, 1855, the US Congress appropriated $30,000 for the project.
Major Wayne was assigned to obtain the camels. On June 4, 1855, Wayne departed New York City on board the USS Supply, under the command of then-Lieutenant David Dixon Porter. After arriving in the Mediterranean Sea, Wayne and Porter began purchasing camels at places like Goletta, Malta, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. They acquired thirty-three animals and hired five camel drivers.

Allen and Douglas
During the early summer of 1856, the Army loaded the camels and they were driven to Camp Verde via Victoria and San Antonio. Reports from initial tests were largely positive. The camels proved to be exceedingly strong, and were able to move quickly across terrain which horses found difficult. Their legendary ability to go without water proved valuable on an 1857 survey mission led by Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale. He rode a camel from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River and his team used 25 camels on the trip. The survey team took the camels into California, where they were stationed at the Benicia Arsenal.

Ibrahim Relaxing - Note Pads on Feet
During a 1859 survey of the Trans-Pecos region to find a shorter route to Fort Davis, the Army used the camels again. Under the command of Lt. Edward Hartz and Lt. William Echols, the team surveyed much of the Big Bend area. In 1860, Echols headed another survey team through the Trans-Pecos that employed the Camel Corps

With the outbreak of the Civil War, the Camel Corps was mostly forgotten. Handlers had had difficulty with their camels spooking the horses and mules. Beale offered to keep the Army's camels on his property, but Union Secretary of War Edwin Stanton rejected the offer. Many of the camels were sold to private owners; others escaped into the desert throughout the West and British Columbia.

Although the details are unknown, Douglas somehow made his way to Mississippi. He was initially given to Colonel W. H. Moore by 1st Lt. William Hargrove. Besides being a mascot, Moore assigned Douglas to the regimental band, carrying instruments and knapsacks.

Though the men tried to treat Old Douglas like a horse, the camel was known to break free of any tether, and was eventually allowed to graze freely. Despite not being tied up, he never wandered far from the men. The Infantry’s horses feared Old Douglas, and he is recorded to have spooked one horse into starting a stampede, which reportedly injured many, and possibly killed one or two horses.

Old Douglas Marker
Old Douglas’s first active service was with Gen. Price in the Iuka campaign. He also participated in the 1862 Battle of Corinth. He remained with the regiment until the Siege of Vicksburg, where he was killed by Union sharpshooters. Enraged at his murder, the men swore to avenge him. Col. Bevier enlisted six of his best snipers, and successfully shot the culprit. Of Douglas’s murderer, Bevier reportedly said, “I refused to hear his name, and was rejoiced to learn that he had been severely wounded.” According to legend, after Douglas was shot, his remains were carved up and eaten, with some of his bones made into souvenirs by Federal soldiers.

Now thanks to Mr. Baum, visitors could see what it must have been like to see a camel on the battlefield.

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