Named for John Salmon "Rip" Ford, Camp Ford was the largest Confederate Prisoner of War camp west of the Mississippi River. Ford, who was a lawyer, doctor, and ranger, was the state conscript commander who enlisted and trained soldiers for the Confederacy during the Civil War. About 6,000 Union prisoners, Confederate guards, and African-American slaves lived at the stockade. Today, the Camp Ford is a historic park managed by Smith County Historical Society.
Backstory and Context
In 1864, after the Confederate victories at the battles at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, approximately 3,000 prisoners were added at Camp Ford causing extremely uncomfortable living conditions, despite the expansion of the stockade to double its original size. According to the Handbook of Texas, the prisoners had little food and their shelters were falling a part. "The prisoners improvised all sorts of crude shelters ranging from brush arbors to blanket tents. Some simply dug holes in the ground for protection from the cold winds. A popular form of shelter was called a 'shebang,' a burrow into a hillside covered by a crude A-shaped framework made of poles, sticks, and clay to protect the entrance." Additionally, the POW usually only had the clothes that they were captured in, but thanks to a letter written by the ranking Union officers at Camp Ford, the federal government sent a few shipments of clothes for distribution among the thousands of prisoners.
Of the 6,000 inmates that were contained at Camp Ford during the two years it was in operation, 268 died there. The 1,200 that were there when the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department surrendered were released and went back to Shreveport.
After the Civil War ended, a number of the released prisoners filed charges against the Confederates for the way they were treated at Camp Ford, but due to conflicting accounts, none of the charges against the Confederates were succesfully carried through.