Sunday, June 3, 2012

Civil War Sunday - POW Newspapers

On Sundays, my blog features a United States Civil War (1861-1865) feature.  I am a very amateur historian, not any kind of Civil War expert.   I like to blog from various aspects - reenactments I go to (I am not a reenactor myself), exhibits, and not commonly discussed aspects of the war and life during the 1861-1865 period.

I am a native of New York State, but have also lived in the South (Florida and Arkansas), so try to approach this subject from the point of view of both North and South.

Sandi Tuttle, an internet radio host, talked last week about Camp Ford, a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp in the state of Texas, and a newspaper its prisoners published called The Old Flag.

I did a little Internet research (Sandi, sorry, but I am probably not going to be able to help you with your mystery flag) and came up with a very interesting story of writing under less than ideal conditions.

I have blogged before about Civil War POW camps, many of which were hellholes of disease, starvation and worse.  Both sides had these camps.  On the Confederate side, Andersonville, near Americus, Georgia, is probably the best known of any of these camps.  On the Federal side, Elmira (known also as "Helmira"), in Elmira, New York (about an hour from where I live).  In comparison, conditions as Camp Ford (which held Federal prisoners) were relatively humane, with food, fresh water, and shelter available.  Prisoners were able to advertise their skills to other prisoners and even make trade with the locals.

But life, in general, was pretty boring there.  So what else to do but write up a newspaper?  And that is just what the prisoners did.  Not only that, there were two handwritten newspapers, and possibly three.

The paper Sandi talked about was The Old Flag.  The Old Flag was published irregularly in 1864 by a Union prisoner who spent 13 months at Camp Ford.  The paper featured poetry, art, satire, chess problems, (ah!  so that's how people before the Internet entertained themselves!) and local news. Advertisements for prisoners selling their skills were included. These skills included barbering, pipe making and carvers of chessmen.  The paper was passed around and read aloud in each "mess". 

Another Camp Ford newspaper was only published once:  The Camp Ford News.

I found mention of a third paper, Right Flanker, but could find no information on it.

Camp Ford was not the only Civil War POW camp where newspapers were published.  On the Northern side, Confederate POWs at Ft. Delaware, for example, published a camp newspaper called The Prison Times.

Would some of the soldiers involved have been bloggers today?

We bloggers should take inspiration from these long ago newspaper writers and publishers.

 Does anyone have an ancestor who was in a Civil War POW Camp?  Do you know of any family members who mentioned these newspapers, or was even involved as a reporter or writer?


  1. This is amazing to me that there would have been the resources to publish a paper! Wow. Great post. Also, the help with the flag reference you make, is there an image that I could post on CHS? Maybe someone can shed some light?

  2. I contacted the woman to see if she has a photo of the flag. If she has one, I will certainly let you know. Thanks for the offer!


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