The Civil War created many tight bonds between soldiers, between comrades and enemies, as well as soldiers and animals. Cavalrymen were so reliant on their mounts that they often treated them as pets and became emotionally attached. This also happened with some of the soldiers’ mascots, which included an eagle, numerous dogs, and in one rare case, a camel. Douglas the camel was an especially revered mascot. He was killed at the Battle of Vicksburg. I have had the opportunity to see where Douglas’ headstone is located (his body isn’t in a grave), and it was quite moving to think that the soldiers who knew him loved him so much that they made him a marker.
GRAVE OF DOUGLAS THE CONFEDERATE CAMEL
The final resting place of the camel who served with the Confederate Army during the Civil War
Among the 5,000 grave markers for Confederate soldiers in the Soldier’s Rest section of Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi, one pays tribute to Old Douglas, the camel of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry, Company A, nicknamed “The Camel Regiment.”
It is not known how Douglas, a dromedary (one hump) camel, came to serve with the 43rd Mississippi infantry during the Civil War. He was a gift to Colonel W. H. Moore, who assigned him to carry the instruments and knapsacks for the regimental band. Douglas participated in the Battles of Iuka and Corinth under Major Generals Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn, respectively, before being shot by a Union sharpshooter on June 27th, 1863, during the siege of Vicksburg.
Douglas was well loved by the humans of his regiment, less so by the horses. On one occasion, Douglas is said to have spooked one of the horses into stampeding through a camp near Iuka, injuring horses and soldiers, possibly killing some of the former. Soldiers climbed trees to get out of the path of destruction.
Douglas routinely broke free of his tether, but usually used his freedom to graze, never wandering too far from the regiment. On that fateful day in 1863, though, he wandered into no man’s land between the Union and Confederate armies, and paid the ultimate price.
The Union army responded to the camel’s death, according to legend, by eating him, since food was scarce, and making war souvenirs out of his bones. The Confederates responded by making a point of severely wounding the sharpshooter who had killed their beloved camel. His gravestone, however, states that he was eaten by his own Confederate regiment who were suffering under the Siege of Vicksburg.
Douglas was not the only camel in the United States during the Civil War. Before he became president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis was the U.S. Secretary of War, and implemented the Texas Camel Experiment in the 1850s to see how useful camels would be in the American Southwest where horses were beginning to have trouble on long trips. Camels can carry immensely heavy loads for long distances with little water. They are also not nearly as tamable as horses, though Douglas was called “faithful” and “patient” by those who knew him best.
Camels were brought over from the Mediterranean and North Africa, and used for exploring the Southwest. The Civil War took the steam out of the experiment, and the camels eventually dispensed. Many were sold at auctions in 1864 and 1866 to work in circuses and mines, as postal carriers and pack animals and racing camels. Some even escaped or were set free, and feral camels were occasionally spotted roaming the American Southwest for years after.
Lest the contributions of camels in the Civil War be forgotten, the Texas Camel Corps promotes their stories with reenactments and hosts camel rides. Two of the camels are descendants of Old Douglas.
Know Before You Go
To find Douglas turn into the cemetery at Lindsey Street from Sky Farm Ave. A bit after the first cross street you will see a group of graves with Confederate flags on the left. Douglas’ marker (the one with the camel on it) is on the right side of the group, second row in.
(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Private Samuel A. Hughey Camp #1452 Sons of Confederate Veterans, Hernando, MS, vol. 43 issue 5, May 2019)
Old Douglas’s Memorial Marker, Cedar Hill Cemetery, Vicksburg, MS
(Almost) Confederate Camels
As preposterous as it seems, Jefferson Davis believed that camels would be beneficial to the army. While serving under President Franklin Pierce as Secretary of War, Davis devised a plan to mount cavalry troopers on camels. The reasoning behind it was to replace horses and mules in the southwest, which were dying in vast numbers because of dehydration. In an experiment encouraged by an enthusiastic public, the U. S. Army imported camels from Africa and the Middle East in 1856 for use in mounted operations in the Southwest. But when the animals arrived in Texas, differences between camels and horses became apparent. Loading and unloading the beasts took practice, and the camels’ loads often ended on the ground.
Because camels have good memories, they remember people better than horses do. So if a handler grew angry or irritated and mistreated one, the camel would later react by hissing, biting, and spitting at the man. Not only that, but camels have a unique aroma, which horses don’t generally take to. One soldier who had the misfortune of being assigned to care for the camels, James Washington “Okra” Walker, complained that the camels “seemed much given to malingering, held grudges for any perceived mistreatment, and had the habit of spitting on those they didn’t like. They also frightened the mules and horses and generally looked mighty out of place.”
Therefore, the horses would react to their new counterparts by bucking, rearing, and bolting. The camels proved adequate for desert country, but they “scared the daylights out of the horses” and the men who had to handle them. In one instance, 86 camels broke loose in Galveston, Texas, which threw the town into a tizzy.
Military leaders were confused about how to appropriately utilize the animals: should they be ridden, used to transport artillery pieces, or serve as pack animals? They decided on all three, and were also used for packing supplies on numerous boundary and road survey expeditions. More than 100 camels were imported by the government. Others were shipped for private use as livestock on farms and plantations.
In 1856, Robert E. Lee wanted to show his support for Jefferson Davis’ experiment, so he sent for two dozen camels from Africa. Known as “The Great Texas Camel Drive,” Charge d’ Affaire, Major Henry C. Wayne, gave the order on June 6, and the dromedaries were herded from Indianola, Texas to San Antonio, where Lee was stationed. Wherever Wayne decided to camp, the people of the area came to see the camels for themselves. The big hit of this free circus was usually the one lone baby camel. The camel caravan arrived on June 18, and a permanent home, Camp Verde, was established for them.
The camels, by performance, had proven themselves to be superior to horses and mules in the desert, but dreams of a U.S. camel cavalry, a true camel corps, faded as the dedicated men involved in the evaluation were divided by the Civil War.
However, one particular camel became a legend. In 1862, the 43rd Mississippi regiment acquired a camel. It is believed that the camel, which was nicknamed “Old Douglas,” was actually a privately-owned animal, and one of scores of camels who were privately imported and “broken to the plow.” Douglas was owned by the Hargrove family, and used on their plantation in Monroe (Lowndes) County, Mississippi. When his owner enlisted with the Confederate army, Douglas came along. First Lieutenant Hargrove of Company B gave Old Douglas to Colonel William Hudson Moore. The camel became the regimental mascot.
W. Cook of Helena, Arkansas, who served with the 43rd Mississippi, Company A, later wrote about the camel: “Col. Moore assigned Douglas to the regimental band, for whom he carried instruments and knapsacks. The camel’s first active service was with Gen. Price in the Iuka campaign. He was sent to the wagon train, and stampeded all the teams. There was only one horse in Little’s Division which would face Douglas at first, and that was Pompey, the little bay stallion belonging to Col. Moore, but it was not long till he was on intimate terms with all. His keeper would chain him to keep him from wandering off, but Douglas would sit back and snap any kind of chain, then proceed to graze at leisure, though never leaving the regiment or interfering with anything that did not interrupt him. When the regiment was ready to start, Douglas would be led up to the pile of things he was to carry, and his leader would say, ‘Pushay, Douglas,’ and he would gracefully drop to his knees and haunches and remain so till his load was adjusted and he was told to get up. His long, swinging gait was soon familiar with the entire command, and ours was called the ‘Camel Regiment.’”
Colonel Robert S. Bevier referred to Douglas as “a quiet peaceable fellow, and a general favorite” with the men. Because Douglas first served under General Price, he acquired the nickname, “Price’s camel.”
The horses of the command were afraid of the camel, [so Douglas’s] driver was instructed to stop just outside the camp when [the regiment] halted. But in a forced march toward Iuka, Miss., the command had halted just after dark, and the camel and driver got in the line of march before he knew it. The result was that a horse made a break with a fence rail attached to his halter, and running through the camp, he stampeded men and animals in every direction. Many men took [to] the trees or any other protection, and the panic spread through much of the brigade, and many men and animals were badly hurt, and one or two horses … were killed.
Douglas became part of the action at the Battle of Corinth under Major General Earl Van Dorn. On the second day of the battle, the camel’s owner, Colonel Moore, was killed.
In early 1863, the 43rd was ordered to Vicksburg, Mississippi, serving under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton. On that hot, humid afternoon of June 27, 1863, Douglas stood silently, observing the battle from a grassy hill safely behind the lines, a little north of his unit’s third redoubt … It was 3 P.M when a rebel soldier at the third redoubt repeated a cry: “Douglas has been shot!”
The news traveled through the trenches like a brushfire. Then someone yelled, “Murderers! Yankee murderers!”
Douglas was shot by a Union sharpshooter while the animal was grazing,” reported J.W. Cook. “The Confederates shot back, but their rifles were just out of range. The Yankee proceeded to mock the Confederates just out of range. However, other rifles were brought in … and the next time the Yankee showed himself to mock the Confederates, a Southern sharpshooter put a bullet between his eyes causing him to fly backwards onto his back. Douglas was avenged.” Colonel Bevier enlisted six of his best snipers to successfully shoot the culprit. Bevier later said, “I refused to hear his name, and was rejoiced to learn that he had been severely wounded.”
Descendants of the soldiers were told that, following Douglas’ death, the Confederates decided the best thing to do (since they were all starving) was to put his carcass to good use, so they carved camel steaks and had a feast. When the Union Army finally gained control of Vicksburg, Yankee soldiers entered the city, passing by the remains of Douglas. According to one Illinois soldier, “…our sharpshooters had killed ‘Price’s Camel’ used as a pack animal by the Confederates. His skeleton was picked up and his bones made into finger rings and other ornaments and sold to curiosity hunters from the North. When the supply was exhausted, the bones of cattle slain for beef were substituted, the souvenir fiend being fully satisfied they were part of ‘Price’s Camel.’”
Douglas was buried near members of his regiment with full military honors.
Once the Civil War ended, military personnel lost interest in pursuing the use of camels, and abandoned the idea of a camel corps. Unionists took control of Camp Verde in March 1866, and sold off the animals to the highest bidders102 to be employed in circuses, zoos, traveling menageries, and mines. Others were turned loose in the desert and, presumably, hunted down and eaten by Comanches who were not particular about their diet. Some of the camels were used in Austin’s Mardi Gras parade. The King of the Carnival’s float was drawn by 32 camels, and each one was lead by a costumed freed slave holding a lighted torch.
After Major Henry Wayne was released from prison, he was awarded the First Class Medal of Honor from the Societe Imperiale Zoologique a-Acclimination de Paris for his efforts and achievements with the camels. It is believed that the last descendant of the army’s camels was seen in an Arizona desert in 1941. However, some people claim to have seen camels roaming remote areas of Texas, Arizona, and California to this day. The last captive offspring of a government camel, Topsy, died in the Griffith Park Zoo in Los Angeles in 1934.
In 1995, founder Doug Baum established the Texas Camel Corps, whose mission is to promote stories of camels that were used during the Civil War. On April 12 and 13, 2011, Vicksburg National Military Park hosted “Douglas the Camel,” a dromedary reenactor. After giving a presentation about the use of camels during the Civil War, Douglas, along Doug Baum, who is his handler and a U.S. Camel Corps re-enactor, visited a local school.