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Established in the spring of 1862 as a training camp for new Confederate recruits, the camp was named for Col. John Salmon Ford, a Texas Ranger and the Superintendent of Conscripts for the State of Texas. The first handful of Union prisoners did not arrive until August 1863. The captives were initially held in the open, but a panic ensued in November 1863 when 800 new prisoners threatened a mass breakout. A military stockade enclosing 4 acres (16,000 m2) was soon erected.
With over 2,000 new prisoners taken in Louisiana on April 8 and 9 1864, at the battles of Mansfield, and Pleasant Hill, the stockade was quadrupled in size. With more prisoners captured in Arkansas, the prison's population peaked at about 5,000 in July 1864. The population was reduced by exchanges in July and October 1864, and again in February 1865. The last 1,761 prisoners were exchanged on May 22, 1865.
During the course of the war, the total number of prisoners who passed through the camp was slightly more than 5,500. About 327 prisoners died in captivity, giving the camp a mortality rate of 5.9%, one of the lowest of any Civil War prison. The deceased prisoners were reinterred to the Pineville, Louisiana, National Cemetery in 1867.
The original site of the Camp stockade is now a public historic park, owned by Smith County, Texas, and managed by the Smith County Historical Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1959 by individuals and business firms dedicated to discovering, collecting and preserving data, records and other items relating to the history of Smith County. The park contains a kiosk, paved trail, interpretive signage, a cabin reconstruction, and a picnic area.
The park is located on US Highway 271, .7 miles north of Loop 323 in Tyler, Texas. The geographical coordinates are: 32°23'44.13"N - 95°16'7.28"W
- Camp Ford Historic Park
- Smith County Historical Society
- Texas Beyond History: Camp Ford
- Camp Ford from the Handbook of Texas Online
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