A 'YANKEE PRISONER IN TEXAS
William Ryan was born in Ireland and immigrated to America. In 1850 with his family upon where they settled in East Bloomfield, New York. At the age of 25, he enlisted in the 160th New York Volunteers on September 1, 1862.
This farm boy from the rolling hills of Western New York was sent to war without any idea of what to expect about where his duty was to be. Along with other sea-sick farmers, he was sent with his regiment by boat from New York City to New Orleans to fight in Bayou Country.
After meeting the enemy in various skirmishes, his first real battle came at Pleasant Hill, La. On April 9, 1864 he was shot in the left leg. He limped off to a surgeon and was treated for his wounds. As he was trying to find his regiment, he was captured by the Rebels and taken to Camp Ford In Tyler, Texas. This was the largest Southern Prison in the Trans-Mississippi Region.
He was listed as Missing in Action on his Muster Rolls from April to July, and he was a P.O.W. from August to October. He spent six and one half months in a Confederate Prison in East Texas, a far cry from the fertile farmlands of New York.
It is from his pension request forms that he tells about his confinement. Camp Ford had log walls, 18 feet-high and consisted of 10 acres of scrub land to be confined in. The prison had a population of 6000 men as of April 1864.
The prison had streets that were given names of Waterstreet, Frontstreet, Broadway, 5th Avenue, 10 pin alley, and Mule Avenue. The men had to make their own shelters. They were A-frame, 1/2 cabin, 1/2 cave. They held from 10 to 12 men. The men gave these shelters the name of Shebangs.
Quite often, work parties would go out with their guards and cut wood for their Shebangs construction and fires. They would have one ax for 100 men. Their food consisted of a pint of meal and 1 pound of meat, and no bread. As guards ate, so did the prisoners. At times a live cow would be killed by the men, as some people from town would sell food to the Yankees for their own profit. Scurvy was rampid along with disentary and diarrhea.
Eighteen men would eat out of one pot with one wooden spoon. Your clothes were what you came in with daily boiling would kill the lice. As men died other prisoners would take their clothes and shoes.There wasn’t any prison hospital, so the Yankee’s made their own. It was staffed by one Yankee doctor. Many felt once you became sick, you died! The prisoners were from 17 states. New York had 18 regiments to lead the numbers captured. The 205 prisoners from the navy had their own quarters. The total number of officers were 7 col., 4 majors, 48 captains 90 lieutenants, 1 doctor and one naval captain. Even with the number of leadership here, there was out and out gambling and stealing among the men. Fighting was a daily occurrence among the regiments from New York City and the other fellows from elsewhere it was New York city against the world!
For Entertainment, the men made their own crafts out of wood. To have time pass they made musical instruments. They had wrestling matches between regiments. However, the most amusing form of activity were some of the first, baseball games between the Shebangs in the state of Texas. These men did receive their mail from home and produced their own newspaper called the "Old Flag".The worst part of their confinement was the rain which forced them to stay in their Shebangs most of the time. Hence, climate caused boredom and mental depression for a majority of men.
The 465 guards from the 3rd and 15th Texas Cavalry had a tough time dealing with the fact that there were escapes from Camp Ford. Most of the escapes would happen on rainy nights. The men would escape by tunnel under the walls and into the Texas night. Six hundred escaped, and only 46 were caught by Bloodhounds. To try to hasten this problem of escaping a "deadline" was established. No one was to be within 10 feet of the walls or they would be shot on the spot.
In all 286 prisoners, of 6000 died at Camp Ford from April 1864 to April 1865. As the end of the war came upon Camp Ford the last days were of exchange and parole for the Yankees waiting to go home to their loved ones. Whiskey was passed around by the guards and the members of-the Texas Cavalry escorted the remaining northerners to their lines.
On July 4, 1865 the 10th Ill. marched in and destroyed the prison. Today, at Tyler Texas, the only remembrance of this prison is granite marker five feet high. William Ryan always remembered Camp Ford and his months of incarceration in Texas. He was paroled on October.23, 1864 after he became very ill from exposure and rheumatism. He was mustered out of the Union Army on November 19, 1865 in Savannah, Georgia. He received $31.00 for clothes, a $100.00 bounty and a $200.00 for being prisoner of war.
He came back home to East Bloomfield, New York to farm the soil he so richly deserved. He became married and raised 7 children in a hamlet overlooking Honeoye Lake called "Allens Hill".The Older he got the more difficult it became for him to farm successfully. He applied for a military Pension in 1890 claiming that his "War Wound" and illness in a Confederate Prison prevented him from his livelihood of being a profitable farmer. After much Red-Tape and many delays, William Ryan died on April 9. 1897. This was 33 years to the day, that he was captured in "Bayou Country". He never saw, the money from his pension, but his wife and family did get the pittance of money that he so rightfully deserved for serving and sacrificing for his new country America!
This is a story about my great-grandfather's