Jefferson Davis and the United States Camel Corp

Jefferson Davis, future President of the Confederacy was Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce.  Davis made many reforms in the Army, helping to modernize equipment, enlarge the size of the Army, improve instruction at West Point, and in general helped improve the US Regular Army.  One of his initiatives makes for an interesting footnote in American history.

Since the 1830s the idea had been discussed about the formation of a Camel Corp in the US Army for use in desert regions of the country.  Following the Mexican War and the acquisition of large desert regions in the southwest the idea was taken more seriously in Washington.  Secretary of War Davis got behind the idea, and on March 3, 1855 Congress appropriated $30,000.00 for the purchase of camels.  In January of 1856, some 21 camels were purchased in Turkey.  The camels arrived in Indianola, Texas on May 14, 1856.  A second shipment of 41 camels arrived in the US at Indianola on February 10, 1857. 

The camels saw non-combat service in the Southwest until the onset of the Civil War.  The reviews of the utility of the camels were generally positive, although it was noted that horses and mules tended to be spooked by the camels.  With the onset of the Civil War the experiment came to an end.   (Jefferson Davis’ name being so closely associated with the Camel Corp probably didn’t help its prospects for survival in the Union Army.)  Most of the camels were sold to private owners, with some escaping into the desert.  Feral camels were spotted in the American west until 1941.   A comedy film in 1976, Hawmps, recalled the formation of the Camel Corp.

 

Published in: on January 27, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Jefferson Davis and the United States Camel Corp  
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