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Civil War history remembers Old Douglas the camel

Heroic 'Old Douglas' remembered

The Virginia Gazette

11:42 AM EDT, July 17, 2013

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Stories of the Civil War abound during the sesquicentennial observance, including that of "Old Douglas" an animal considered heroic and remembered fondly.

For forty-seven days from the end of May to early July, Vicksburg was under siege. Union artillery bombarded the city-fortress ceaselessly. Vicksburg's citizens dug shelters into the hillsides for protection from the exploding Federal ordinance.

They equipped their caves with furnishings that survived the destruction of their homes and struggled with rats and assorted vermin in the caves. When their food ran out, they ate their starving horses, mules and dogs.

Old Douglas, perhaps the most heroic of Vicksburg's defenders, gave his life for his comrades. By the time Vicksburg came under siege, Old Douglas, assigned to the 43rd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, Company A was already a seasoned combat veteran. He'd seen been exposed to violent clashes under Major General Sterling Price and Major General Earl Van Dorn in the Iuka-Corinth Campaign and survived unscathed.

Old Douglas was still with the 43rd Mississippi during the Siege of Vicksburg when he was killed by Union sharpshooters.

Being that food was in short supply during the seven week siege, the starving men of the 43rd Mississippi according to local legend didn't let Douglas' fresh, lifeless corpse go to waste. They promptly cut Old Douglas up, cooked his remains and dined on his aged flesh.

"Douglas' story here at Vicksburg is kind of short and sweet, maybe not sweet. Short anyway," said Tim Kavanaugh, supervisory ranger for interpretive services at Vicksburg National Military Park. "They had him tethered inside the Confederate line. He gets loose and gets out in front of the Confederate line. He ends up being shot and killed by a Union sharpshooter. Douglas was out in no man's land. They would've risked life and limb to go out and try to drag him back."

The starving Confederate soldiers who were down to boiling shoe leather and eating field pea bread for sustenance were unable to reach Douglas to drag him back to the stew pot. Venturing out between the lines was far too risky.

"Soldiers were big on souvenirs in every war. The Civil War was no exception," Kavanaugh noted. "When they ran out of actual Old Douglas bones, they started carving up soup bones or any other bones, cow bones to sell as war souvenirs. "An awful lot of people bought a piece of cow femur and thought they had a piece of a camel."

Old Douglas was an aging leftover a remnant from the U.S. Camel Corps, an experimental program by the U.S. Army to develop alternative transportation in the southwestern part of the country. Jefferson Davis, then U.S. Secretary of War, was a strong advocate of the proposal to experiment with camels in the Southwest.

Among the grave markers of the 5,000 Confederate soldiers buried at Soldier's Rest in Vicksburg is a marble tablet that pays tribute to Old Douglas — "a faithful, patient animal."