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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

POWs during the Civil War

Several men from Lawrence County enlisted in Company I, 130th Regiment Illinois Infantry and took part in the following engagements: Port Hudson, Champions Hill, Big Black River, Siege of Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi.

After these engagements they were transferred to the Gulf Department, and during Banks' unfortunate expedition up Red River some were taken as prisoners at Sabine Cross Roads. They were immediately taken to Camp Ford, near Tyler, Texas, where they were confined as prisoners of war from April 6th, 1864, until paroled May 25, 1865.  

The prisoners who were confined at Camp Ford were put in a stockade eight feet high in which was a dead-line fifteen feet from the stockade, and any prisoner passing that line, either accidentally or otherwise, incurred the penalty of death, at the option of the guard.  Philip Belle from Lawrence County stated after the war that in his candid opinion, from circumstances which came under his own personal observation, the guards were promoted and given furloughs for shooting down a prisoner when found over the dead-line.

To illustrate it more distinctly, Belle remembers a case in which a prisoner from an Ohio regiment was persuaded across the dead-line by a sentinel, with promises that he would not be molested, as he simply wanted to talk to him. When the prisoner was within five or six feet of the stockade the sentinel warned the man that he would shoot him, and as the prisoner turned to run the sentinel shot him in the back. That sentinel was not seen again for thirty days, and when next seen was sergeant in command of a squad of Confederate soldiers.

During their confinement three different attempts were made to tunnel out of the prison. Owing to the treachery of some of the prisoners, these were not very successful, and even when successful, the chances of escape to the Union lines were very meager, as there was a corral of bloodhounds kept at the stockade for the purpose of capturing escaped prisoners. Some of the hounds would strike a trail forty-eight hours old and overtake the prisoner. At one time Belle was an eyewitness where six blood-hounds caught a prisoner and mangled him so that he died within five days.

At one time their rations for five days were a pint and a half of shelled corn. Absolom Banks stated that his time at the prison was all starving and suffering.  “Sometimes for seven days at a time, I never tasted food. What saved my life was the fact that I was handy with the pocketknife.  With a little pocketknife that I happened to have with me when I was captured down the Red River, I used to make things out of horn --powder horn, rings, blow horns and such things.  I sold them and used the money for food. It was the few dollars that I earned with my pocketknife that kept me from starvation.” He states that he supported twenty- two of his fellow prisoners on money earned by his jackknife.

John Caroll Watts, of Lawrence County was another prisoner of war at Camp Ford in Tyler Texas.    Capt. Watts had unusual freedom in the camp and was allowed to work out of the camp to earn money to buy food for his troops.   He was given permission to farm 10 acres within the confines of the camp and he hitched several dozens of his men to a plow.  The men were released before any of that food could be harvested.

Not every man who ever served in Co I, 130th Ill. Inf. was captured at the Battle of Sabine Crossroads and held prisoner at Camp Ford in Tyler Texas but those who were had a story to tell when they were pardoned.  

If you would like to know more about your Civil War ancestor, contact  and John King and Mike Neal will be able to help you.


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